Thursday, December 31, 2009

Asking a Shadow to Dance

I rather wish that I had had this sooner so I could recommend it as something to be added to a Christmas wish-list, but still - this DVD from Oxfam Marylebone is a real treasure trove.

What is it? A DVD featuring 35 (yes, that many!) young British poets: some filmed on the occasion of the The Manhattan Review launch (remember, I madly flew off to be at that?) back in March 5th; others were filmed in interesting locations such as the Poetry Library, Southbank and Norwich. The poets were selected by Todd Swift, he of Eyewear (and lately of Mainstream Love Hotel fame too!).

It's good value, it's a worthy cause and if you want to pop an oul thermometer under the tongue of British poetry and wallop its knees for a reflex check, this is where you should start. I don't profess to like everything on this - but nor should I. It is as diverse and wide-ranging as the sheer breadth of voices (and faces) that feature.

My own favourites? Emily Berry (yes, that rather brilliant corset poem), Ben Wilkinson, Joe Dunthorne, Colette Sensier, Agnes Lehoczky, Kavita Joshi... actually, on reflection I am wondering what's not to like...?

It's available online, for the meagre sum of £12.99, and could be looked at as a good glimpse of what's happened in British poetry since the millenium - go on, you know its worth it :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ooh - another nearly made it

I just found out today (thanks Michael Farry!) that I got shortlisted for the Basil Bunting Award, the new poetry competition that was launched this year.

I was delighted for a number of reasons: well, validation being one of them, but Achieving the Lotus Gait, is part of a longer sequence of poems I've been writing on and off during the year on the grisly subject of torture.

I think it may be some sort of sublimated desire to deal with yucky things from the past. Anyway, I'm delighted to see my name on that short list, along with names I recognise, like Dawn Wood from Scotland. I think I'm the only Irish name in there... that's twice that's happened now :))))

Congratulations to the worthy winners, of course. I think the judges' report shows just how tough their criteria were.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Meeting Roddy Doyle

It's always nice when you can get work and your own interests together in the same room, and it didn't come any better than this afternoon, when the long-awaited 'One Author, One Community' initiative finally came to fruition in Navan, and Roddy Doyle sailed into our midst for a totally spellbound two-hour visit.

We had chosen to read and work on one of his lesser known novels, 'Mad Weekend,' written in 2006, the year after Liverpool had won the European silverware (after a dramatic match: first half - no score, second half, score 3 - 0... remember...?). Anyhoo, the plot of this novella, saw three 20 something Dub male mates organise to go to a match in Liverpool on the night they are watching the European final. When they eventually get to Liverpool, they spend a great deal of time in The Beehive pub chatting up girls and losing one of their number - as well as seeing a Chelsea v Liverpool match... and the rest - well, you'd have to read it :)

Featuring Roddy's trademark snappy Dub (and Liverpudlian) dialogue, all the groups of learners involved really got into appreciating Roddy's work in the lead-up to today: some wrote him letters, some wrote him reviews, and some thought up some fiendishly difficult questions, which Roddy answered with generosity and aplomb - heck, even panache.

Well, he won a definite fan in me - not that that was ever in doubt. I still fondly remember going to see The Committments in Camden Town in London, back in 1991 with my mates and feeling very proud of being Irish afterwards, even we were all eejits. I was so proud today to see how well everyone acquitted themselves - and I think I won a few fans over to the cause of reading and writing - not bad for a few weeks work :)

Word up: Roddy's own favourite book is actually The Snapper; he told us a great story about how he was in the Rotunda, waiting for his own wife to give birth, and while there the camera crew turned up to film the pregnant girl arriving to the hospital - talk about life imitating art.

Excellent day - deadly buzz man!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

More Lovely Poetry Books...

... being launched in Dublin on Tuesday 8th December @ 6.30pm at the Unitarian Church, St. Stephens Green, by Director of Poetry Ireland, Joseph Woods. This is a lovely venue for a launch, as you get to read your work from a pulpit and the acoustics are very good in poetry terms. Plus, there are interesting stain-glass windows to gaze at as you hear the words.

The books in question? Well, Arlen Houseare are launching five books; Red Riding Hood's Dilemma, by Orfhlaith Foyle, Shedding Skin, by James Martyn, imram/odyssey by Celia De Freine, An Urgency of Stars, by Geraldine Mills and The Truth in Mustard, by Terry McDonagh.

All interesting titles, I think you'd agree. I can't go myself, because I must teach... but I shall be looking forward to ogling the books and getting inside the covers before too long :)

Good luck to them all on the night - maybe you might fit this line-up in :)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Michelle's Peony Favourite Poetry Books 2009

Michelle of Peony Moon has a great series running just now: writers with their favourite books of 2009.

Part 5 includes my choices, but not my whys... more on this rumination later. As you can guess, I was hard pushed to actually nail three, never mind six - there are so many great poetry books out there.

If you were stuck for a Christmas present for someone who likes poetry, and wanted to get them something out of the usual for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than browse these lists and google the results. It just shows you there's some mighty fine poetry out there...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nude Launch Afters

Sorry I wasn't back here sooner, I was a little, um, busy this last two days.

Anyhow, Nuala's launch for Nude went very well indeed: quite a crowd turned out in the delightful No Grants Gallery for the night and many copies were sold - good job too. What great timing to have a nude exhibition, as a backdrop for the launch.

I collected my bag of copies for my creative writers and they can't wait to receive them tomorrow - they've been made wait a little longer than I first anticipated, so I'm glad to be delivering them.

Afraid I had to swing away early, I had an appointment with a large dose of preparatory lower-tummy medicine, and a toilet (and the least said about that the better - yuk!).

But I did manage to quickly swing by the Irish Writer's Centre to pick up a copy of the Davy Byrnes Six Stories shortlists and winners - and you gotta take your hat off to Claire Keegan - 'Foster', her winning story, is a pure blow-away. Feic me.

If you want to see pics, pop on over to Nuala's blog. My favourite is the one with all the chaps under the nude pictures ... :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dublin Nude Launch

I hope I have your attention now. I'm in Dublin tomorrow night for the launch of Nude, from Salt Publishing, by Nuala Ni Chonchuir (sorry about your fadas, N, this new version of Windows Internet Explorer won't let me copy and paste your name into Blogger, grrr! - give me Mozilla Firefox anytime!).

Where: No Grants Gallery, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

When: 6pm

Who: Nuala Ni Chonchuir

What: Nude

How: by any means possible!

So, you've been warned :)

PS. Did I mention I'm launching it..? Better go and write me speech now, hadn't I?

Friday, November 20, 2009

List Making

We are making lists here in Barbara-land. Ones that decide whether certain people have been naughty or nice, as well as ones that make fine promises about culinary standards that need to be addressed for the Yule season (whether to use Jamie's turkey treatment, or the stuffing as per the recipe on the back of the stuffing bag last year) - as well as outer rings of lists that orbit around the inner lists in a sort of black-hole-singularity kind of way (see, I've been reading the blogs tonight and paying attenshun).

So, I wondered: what goes on your lists for Christmas? Do you make lists of things that have to be done, or is it more a mental checklist (because you now know exactly what those lists should contain (besides socks and jocks))?

Do you worry about your lists; do you make a master-list of lists; and, more to the point, what happens when you start to list under the lists that you've made...?

Here's one thing that's going on my list: wasabi!

Friday, November 13, 2009

StAnza virtual poetry fest

Have a look at the post on Colin Will's blog about tomorrow, Saturday 14th's web festival of poetry, brought to you by the folks at StAnza.

They're beaming in live poetry from all over the world, from Mumbai, India to Sacramento, USA and everywhere in between, by satellite to St Andrews and then it's simultaneouly being webcast - so you can enjoy the action from the comfort of your own laptop.

StAnza website is here The festival kicks off at 1pm and finishes at around 10pm with live music etc to close. Remember this is a live stream; there won't be any catching up if you've missed anything, but you can tune in at any stage during the day.

Colin has the full line up in his post, mentioned above, along with poems, pics and translations. Do check out this exciting virtual poetry festival if you can, Saturday!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ouroboros Review

Another fine issue is just out, with poems by Susan Millar DuMars, John Walsh, Michelle McGrane, Arlene Ang and so many, many more.

Why not spread it around - it looks and reads really well, even on screen and you can embiggen it too - it's practically a magazine on your desktop. All you're missing is the licking of your finger to flick the pages - and lets face it, in these swiney-fluey days, that's probably not a bad thing ;)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

On the Subject of Forty-Two

There is a machine in Douglas Adam's trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (okay, I know it outgrew being a trilogy), that is set up to calculate the exact meaning of life, the universe and everything. Deep Thought is its name and the answer it comes up with is the number of 42.

42 is quickly becoming an important number for me. It has some resonance in my husband's family: his mother and father both lived in houses that held that number. For me, it is the number of years I will have on my next birthday - a number of years that is beginning to sound far older than I thought it would.

A few days ago, at the doctors I was asked if I smoked and for how long. I horrified myself by answering that I had been smoking for about twenty years. Where in the name of holy jeans did those years sneak off to? And that got me thinking again about how quickly a year seems to pass these days.

Years, when you are small, seem to pass very, very slowly indeed. I spent a great deal of time wishing them away: wishing I was wiser, cooler, popular and a lot of other various attributes that I associated with being older. Now I wonder how much of my life I've spent wishing, wishing.

As the years have gone by, I have found that each year doesn't last as long as the previous. I wonder is that because certain things have an inevitability about them, once you have learned how to get the hang of them: like Christmas, or Easter, or poxy Valentine's Day, or the start of school holidays, or the new school year. All these events stack up to make a year, and they just flash past - like swallows flitting in for spring and away again for autumn.

I suppose I'm supposed to feel contented with where I am now. After all, if the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42, then it stands to reason that perhaps I know it all now, doesn't it? If only that were true. Someone once told me that by the time you reach 40, you have crystallised; you have somehow hardened into the person you will be for much of the rest of your life.

Trouble is, it's very hard to appreciate whether this is true or not, when the view you have is always a close up, and only a frontal one at that (the back of you being very difficult to see in the mirror). I used to think I had done well to reach the age that Christ was allegedly crucified at. Now, looking back, I think that I was really only getting the hang of life at that stage, and it was only a very tenuous hang, I might add.

I wonder what I'll think in ten years time? I wonder what I'll feel about having been 42 in retrospect? I wonder if I'll even make it to 52. Time was (especially in my twenties) when you didn't worry about things like that. Old was something that happened to your aged grandparents - or their contemporaries. It was never going to happen to you.

Ah, how youth is wasted on the young- isn't that what they say?

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Latest Stinging Fly has ...

... loads of poems, dark stories and some reviews too.

Liz Gallagher's The Wrong Miracle gets a good look-see by Grace Wells - her 'linguistic dexterity' and the 'sheer verve of her style' is mentioned; this comes alongside five other worthy first collections.

Highlights for me: 'Road Trip,' well-written non-fiction (although it had me completely absorbed in the way that fiction usually does) by Robert Hopkins; an interview with Deirdre Madden and two fine poems that sat well together - 'A Little Knowledge' by Val Nolan and 'Grapefruit' by Alan Garvey.

But hey, don't take my word for it: go get your own copy of the Stinging Fly, why don't you.

And the cover - so, so sumptuous - and red! I like.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Falling Back

Autumn Herself

She leaves notes on the brambles:
glistening blackberry globes for stewed
desserts and jam, or damsons ready
for eager childrens' hands to scrump.

She flirts with a passer-by in the quickened
blaze she leaves on a ten year old beech,
fire licks going quickly over to bronzed yellow.
They cling until the first hard storm
spins their dry crunches into a limp mess
down the muddy street drains.

She's the crush of burnt sienna velvet
in a dress fondled in a department store.
She's low angled sunshine across a field
of beige barley-stubble. Her scent
is the must of late saucer mushrooms;
her jewellery scarlet berries hiding
in the dark, green prickles of paired Holly trees.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Gallery of Poets

Last night, like I hadn't enough to be doing, I headed to Dublin's Waterstones to a Gallery launch of five poets' latest poetry collections. The poets didn't disppoint. I ended up going home with an armful of books, and really enjoyed hearing them sound their poems out. I met the lovely Hugh O'Donnell hob-nobbing with Denis O'Driscoll and chatted to quite a few poetry g-literati (hi Teresa!).

In order of appearance: Tom French, with The Fire Step (his first collection, Touching the Bones won the Forward Prize in 2001); Vona Groarke with the very accomplished Spindrift (I've seen quite a few of her poems from the collection in various journals and papers over the last while); Kerry Hardie, with Only This Room; Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, with The Sun-Fish (a PBS recommendation this quarter); and Peter Sirr, with The Thing Is.

I like all of them very much and am having a good read of them all, being suitably impressed by their writing, skill and techique. Peter Sirr's remarks about the complexities and wrestling with the minutiae of editing, and how it is always taxing raised a few chuckles in the room, as did editor, Peter Fallon's ripostulary remarks about how we all submit to the editor - hmm.

On a more serious note, Peter Fallon referred to the dangerous currents of uncertainty in the arts world and how none of us know how these will play out, especially now that the Celtic Tiger has well and truly scampered off over the horizon - eastwards. Tough times are coming. Small comfort I know, but in the end, it was still a good turn-out last night, all things considered.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Work on Horizon and more...

I received word the other day that Horizon Review 3 has gone live this week. Yet another feast of poetry, short stories, reviews, criticism and so much more. I'm really lucky to have 3 poems on there, as well as a separate collaborative piece I wrote with poet Tony Williams during the summer. That's towards the bottom of the side-links. It's quite different to what I normally do, but I really enjoyed doing it with Tony (hmm, perhaps I should rephrase that... ;) ).

If you haven't done already, you should take a look at this fast-growing e-journal. Edited by Jane Holland, it also has Nuala Ni Chonchuir as fiction editor and George Ttouli as reviews editor. HR just grows on you!

In other news, I have work in the latest edition of Mimesis, which just arrived on Monday. There's me in the same journal as Paul Muldoon... and Rob MacKenzie, not to mention a lot of other names I recognise. Imagine!

And I've a brace of work forthcoming in the new edition of The Yellow Nib, the journal of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Writing at Queen's University Belfast. They're sonnets about Mallory. I won't say any more until it comes out, but I am very excited by it :)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Teaching and Writing - do they mix?

I've been super-duper busy since the beginning of September - the observant among you can't have failed to notice the dearth of posts here. Why? Well, I got hours teaching for Navan VEC, as well as getting my own Saturday Creative Writing classes back up and running again (in a lovely new venue, DKIT).

So something had to give; the writing. And there's the rub. If I don't write, I don't have material to work on or send out. If I don't write, I don't develop all the ideas I have percolating away. If I don't write, I start to feel a little bit nuts.

I have just been coming back to the idea of writing this last few days - that must mean that I'm getting used to the teaching - thank goodness. And I still have one unused week from my residential bursary coming up: on the mid-term break. I should feel a little guilty about going off to write for a week at Annaghmakerrig and abandoning my husband to the six mini-monsters (okay, kids), but the truth is, I don't have time to feel guilty about it.

In that magical place I'll have the space to think, walk, eat, write and fool around with words, but more importantly I'll have the space to get three mini-projects nailed that have been rocketing around my brain for the last three weeks. The best thing about having to drive to Navan from Dundalk is the head space it allows for me to think. No time wasted, eh?

I can't bloody wait!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

All Ireland Poetry Day in Louth

So how did it go in Louth on Thursday, 1st of October 2009, All Ireland National Poetry Day? It went very, very well indeed, thanks for asking :)

First off, our radio interview on Harry Lee's Dundalk Daily turned out to be one small part in a huge poetry-packed programme. I was lucky enough to arrive just as Pat McKenna of the youth theatre programme was finishing reading a poem, and Damien Kelly gave a recital of beautiful classical guitar music. He was followed by Nessa O'Mahony who read a poem from her latest verse novel, In Sight of Home, published by Salmon Poetry, who had been workshopping in Dundalk Library with children from Realt naMara National School - and that's all I got to see of an action packed programme that celebrated poetry local and national, rhymed and unrhymed!

I, and three members of Dundalk Writing Group then read from our work, and then I had to scoot and get ready for the lunchtime reading being held at Dundalk Institute of Technology, with Susan Connolly. Our reading ended up being over-subscribed. We had just started, with about eight or ten people sitting in the room, when the door opened and about twenty more people, students and lecturers crowded into the room. We were stunned by the turn-out and delighted, naturally. I am of course, very grateful to head-librarians Concepta and Lorna who gave us a big build-up via posters and the DKIT website, and of course hosted us there.

The evening reading in Carlingford featured Catherine Ann Cullen, who read work from A Bone in My Throat, as well as new work that has been featured on Sunday Miscellany, RTE radio's early morning programme that features writing and poetry. Her work was received very well by the local audience, which included members from the Dundalk Writing Group - way to support NPD, guys! Carlingford Heritage Centre is located at the Holy Trinity Church, and is run by a very enthusiastic and friendly committee - the venue really suited the poetry reading very well indeed.

Drogheda's Poetry Slam, held in Boyne Books, Narrow West Street, Drogheda turned out to be a huge success: over 60 people turned up; 22 people took part in the slam; and the grand winner was Noel Sweeney from Dublin, with Paul Timoney from Dundalk a close runner up. Fair play to the organisers, Roger Hudson and Mark Kearns for a successful first Slam.

Now, about next year ...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nude Makes Landfall in Dundalk

Got your attention, haven't I?

Today, I am delighted to welcome
Nuala Ní Chonchúir and her wonderful new collection of short stories, 'Nude' from Salt Publishing to my humble blog. I have to say, I've read them very quickly, because I was pulled into them very easily. Always a good sign, when you can't tear yourself away from a book.

Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in County Galway. Her third short fiction collection Nude was published by Salt in September 2009. She is one of four winners of the 2009 Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection competition. Her pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car will be published in November. Nuala's website is:

Pull up a comfy armchair there Nuala, here's a very large mug of strong writer's tea and some homemade scones & blackberry jam (freshly picked from the Cooley Peninsula on Sunday!). Tuck in!

Hi Barbara and big thanks for having me here at your blog. I know and admire your own work, so I’m honoured to be here.

Thank you Nuala, now down to questions: firstly, how and where do characters come from, for you? Do you find characters re-visiting you or is it the other way around, do you like to tease out other nuances of them in related stories?

Gosh, that’s hard to answer because, in a sense, there’s no one way that characters ‘arrive’ to me. Sometimes I have a sense of someone or a relationship between two people and I want to write about them. Take Magda and Jackson in the story ‘Jackson & Jerusalem’. She’s an older woman artist and he’s a teenager who models for her; I liked the idea of that dynamic – a friendship across generations/sexes. I based the physical descriptions on my own son when he was a bit younger. Magda isn’t based on anyone but she’s very real to me. She’s also featured in the story ‘Madonna Irlanda’ as a younger woman; if I like a character, it’s irresistible to write more about them.

Other times characters arrive like a voice in my ear – I hear their voices and I work from there.

How do you delineate so well between older and younger characters, such as Jackson and Magda in 'Jackson and Jerusalem'? Do you find it hard to switch between the headspace needed to make each character live and breathe in the rounded manner that they do?

I’m glad you think I do it well...I was one of those children who preferred the company of adults; I loved listening to their conversation. I had my poor neighbours plagued as a child, always in their houses talking to them. I find younger people harder to relate to but having kids myself has given me some understanding of what makes them tick. All of that knowledge gets ploughed into fiction, I guess – into my characters.

My stories are generally from one POV so there isn’t really a problem switching headspace. I’m not sure that I find it problematic anyway. It’s fun to get inside the heads of people who are nothing like you; I enjoy that escape thoroughly.

Have you ever experienced great difficulty with a story - say for example, getting the ending right, or losing your way through the story? I ask this, because I find your stories are so absorbingly complete and well-imagined, that I can't imagine difficulties!

Yes, lots of difficulties! I don’t plot so I never have a clue what’s going to happen next. I used to almost fear endings but I’m more relaxed about them now.

And I suppose only the stories that work get into the book. I start, and then abandon, lots of stories – some just don’t lift off the page. I’ve written plenty of what Richard Ford calls ‘minor aesthetic nullities’. I’m rarely happy with anything. There are a handful of stories in Nude that I really love – the rest I just like, in whole or in part. But it doesn’t matter what I think – it’s impossible to be objective about your own work – I just hope that readers enjoy them.

Are you compelled to write or can you save ideas for work, for later on when you get the chance? Which method works better for you?

Writing is a compulsion for some people and I’m one of them; I’m always in writing mode. Henry James said, ‘Be one of those people on whom nothing is lost’. I think I am one of them – I seem to notice a lot and, as I notice things, I’m writing a narrative in my head. I presume all writers are the same.

Lately though, with my new baby and with promoting Nude, I’m too tired and busy to write anything more than the bones of a few poems. I want to be writing above all else, but the headspace is just not there. So, instead, I take notes!

Thanks so much for having me here, Barbara, and for your great questions. Next week my virtual tour takes me to Petina Gappah’s blog in Geneva, via Zimbabwe, which is where Petina is from. Do join us!

Thank you for coming by, Nuala, it's been a pleasure and I hope that Nude garners the attention it deserves.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Sparks on Arthur's Day

I’m very pleased to welcome Ben Wilkinson to my humble blog today, on what turns out to be Arthur’s Day. We’ve just missed the 17:59 time slot, but still, raise yourself a nice, slowly-poured creamy-headed pint of porter with me, pull up a stool and we’ll get down to some poetry appreciation.

Ben Wilkinson was born in Stafford in 1985 and studied English and Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. He is currently completing an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.

His poems have appeared in a wide variety of publications including Poetry Review, Poetry London, Magma, and the TLS. He has also reviewed poetry for Poetry Review, Stand and the TLS, and writes critical perspectives of contemporary poets for the British Council’s Contemporary Writers website.

His first pamphlet of poems, The Sparks, was published in 2008 as part of Tall-Lighthouse’s Pilot scheme, showcasing the best British poets under 30.

Wilkinson: to an outlier, it’s a name that whispers steel and Sheffield, and makes you think of a certain set of double crossed swords. But, before you wince, Ben Wilkinson crosses pens, not swords (perhaps there’s a new coat of arms) and makes Sparks with his pen. Hmm, does that remind you of anyone else in the poetry world? Digging..?

I really liked a great deal about The Sparks when it arrived in the post, so much so that I felt a little discontented that there wasn’t more to read, to contextualise the poems as part of a larger body of work. That is sometimes the shortfall of the pamphlet; a delicious taste that leaves you wanting (a little like fine-dining).

Still, there’s more than enough to show Wilkinson’s dexterity with words. My favourite is ‘Byroads’, a poem I can actually see in my head. I see it as a filmic slow-run film, intriguing in the way that Derry based artist Willie Doherty's work is. Doherty's art explores the complexities of living in a divided society, and I think this poem gets under that skin in a similar way.

In ‘Byroads', there are moments capturing a state of mind, or just a state. Or is it? I see the colours, borders and 'unapproved roads' (yeah, yer man is definitely to the forefront of my mind now) in the poem, and my mind fills in the rest: the north of Ireland and that not-so-simple-situation once you’ve looked.

Hanging baskets frosted white
in the orange blur of a maple wood dusk,
ice stalactite rigid towards the pavements.

The firing of some gun from the wood's
clearing. A bus rumbles on, coughing,
and a local makes his turn at the pub's carpark.

Living goes on despite the divides, but surface stillness betrays its depths. Like Doherty, there is a juxtaposition of image and language, through which a careful reader can extract a deeper meaning. This is but one example of Ben’s restraint, all the more remarkable given that sometimes our younger selves can tend towards a brashness that some might construe as vivid talent, and others showiness.

Anyway, intrigued by Ben’s pamphlet, I sent him some questions by email, to give us all a wee insight into what makes him tick poetry-wise.

When did you realise that poetry was going to be such a major part of your life? Was it in school or university?

Hi Barbara – thanks for featuring The Sparks on your blog. I suppose I first ‘found’ poetry in school, around my late teens. Something clicked while reading the stuff I was studying back then (Larkin, Hughes, Duffy, Armitage – the usual poetry taught in English comprehensives). And I guess at first, that ‘something’ was nothing more than a feeling that “this is doing things which, in my experience, prose isn’t capable of”. But over time, my interest in poetry grew into a sort of secret obsession, and I started privately reading as much poetry as I could, particularly twentieth century and contemporary stuff. I was also tentatively writing stuff at the same time – mainly while I was studying for my A-levels.

Things changed when I went to university. I joined the poetry society there and found likeminded people to share my interests with. A bunch of us would meet once a week for a couple of hours – sharing work by poets we’d recently discovered, playing writing games, reading our poems to each other and occasionally swapping drafts. I carried on attending these meetings until the end of my time at uni. How useful the group was to my actual writing, I don’t know, but it was good fun and I met some interesting people, and it introduced me to some great poetry. By my second year, I was pretty much convinced that poetry wasn’t going to leave me alone, even if I wanted it to.

What’s the best buzz you ever got from a poem - one you’ve written and one you’ve read.

Though I compulsively edit poems and am rarely satisfied with them (beyond the initial, distorted euphoria experienced after naively thinking I’ve just finished one), I have written a few things which buck this trend. ‘Filter’, a poem in The Sparks and my first to appear in Poetry Review (so something of a confidence-boosting milestone), was written in the summer after my second year at university. It emerged over the course of about an hour, almost fully formed – so much so that, unlike most other poems in the pamphlet, it is still pretty much identical to when I first saved it onto the computer, aside a few alterations. That was a really satisfying poem to write – the lines almost just seemed to appear, as if I’d been subconsciously preparing to write the thing for ages. If you’ve ever written a poem in that way – and I reckon most poets have at some time – you’ll know what I mean. For me at least, it doesn’t happen very often.

The best buzz I ever got from a poem… that’s a difficult one. I enjoy many poems for the unique experience they offer, so it’s hard to narrow it down beyond a handful. But I have to pick Philip Larkin’s ‘Here’, simply because when I first read his collection The Whitsun Weddings, and particularly that poem, it made me realise that in the right hands, poetry could encompass, reconcile, and attempt to make sense out of anything and everything. It could switch seemingly effortlessly between the totally insignificant and trivial and the utterly profound and existential (and often pull apart the false boundaries between these). Of course, I now realise the limits to Larkin’s style, but as a young lad I found poems such as ‘Here’ made me see poetry in a completely new way, and helped to validate my own first attempts at writing.

But I might also be tempted to choose Mick Imlah’s ‘Tusking’, simply because, despite having had little influence on my own work that I’m aware of, it is such a haunting and beautiful and absorbing poem it refuses to leave me alone. Memorability is an important factor. I want the initial buzz of the first reading, but I also want that feeling to carry on and make me return to the poem later; for it to persist and stick in my thoughts, even if it’s just a stanza or a few lines. What I reckon all great poems have in common is that persuasive musicality and distinctiveness, but also an intoxicating emotional and intellectual potency. They also have a (perhaps deceptive) sense of necessity and purpose – as if they almost willed themselves to be written.

Do you play word games, like Scrabble, and if so, what's the highest score you've ever had with one word (can you remember it)?

I used to play Scrabble quite a lot – with my grandparents as a young kid, and occasionally with friends when I was in my teens – but I don’t so much anymore. I guess I like to think I was – and still am – pretty good at it, so I suppose my highest score for one word was halfway decent. I don’t remember it though. Besides, the thing with Scrabble, as I’m sure you know, is that an impressively complex or obscure word doesn’t always equal an impressive score. My highest score probably involved placing something really boring, but creating new words from existing words in the process, while landing on a triple word square or whatever. It wasn’t “quixotry” though, I’m afraid.

Who have been the most important poets you have come across?

It depends what we mean by ‘important’. If we’re talking about which poets I think have had the most noticeable influence and effect on my work, I’d say Eliot, Auden, Larkin and Gunn have all been very important. More contemporary poets would include Simon Armitage, Don Paterson, Michael Hofmann, Glyn Maxwell, Roddy Lumsden, Carol Ann Duffy and Paul Farley – essentially, those poets which I feel are most interestingly engaged with the British lyric tradition. In my own work, I’ve always been interested in attempting to combine a colloquial, everyday register with an inventive use of poetic diction, syntax, rhythm and form – particularly segueing from one to the other (and sometimes back again) in a single poem.

But I read much more widely than that list perhaps suggests, and poets whose work currently interests me include Christopher Middleton, James Lasdun, Frederick Seidel and Todd Boss. I’m not one for factions or ideas about ‘where poetry is headed’. Michael Donaghy – who is so eminently quotable that anyone even remotely interested in poetry should read his recently published collected prose – once pointed out that “art has no direction”. That makes sense to me. All poets are plodding along together, trying to write the best poetry they can, with only instinct to guide them. I think Donaghy also rightly said that you can always tell bad poetry because it’s always bad in the same ways, whereas a good poem surprises and delights in unexpected, inventive and often artful ways. For that reason, I’m always interested to read widely, and uncover new and different approaches to writing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

All Ireland National Poetry Day, Oct 1st

Last year saw the inauguration of a National Poetry Day in Ireland, by Poetry Ireland, in celebration of 30 years of that organisation serving the Irish poetry reading public. Every county in Ireland held at least one poetry event, be it reading or workshop and it proved to be a great success.

You may remember me blogging about it last year
, as I was invited to be one of three poets representing Louth, along with Patrick Chapman and Patrick Dillon. We first did an outside broadcast at Dundalk Arts Office in the morning with Harry Lee of Dundalk Daily on Dundalk FM 100, and then gave a lunchtime reading at Dundalk Town Hall.

This year, I was (honoured and privileged to be) asked by Louth County Arts Office to curate the events for Louth, so this year, we've got all sorts of events in Dundalk, Drogheda and Carlingford, happening on the one day, Thursday October 1st 2009. If you're round and about, come one, come all!

Dundalk: Lunchtime reading, at 1pm in the library, Dundalk Institute of Technology, with Susan Connolly and Barbara Smith, Dublin Road, Dundalk. T. 042 9392950

Drogheda: Evening Poetry Slam, at 8pm in Boyne Books, Narrow West St. Drogheda with special guest, Dixie Nugent. T. 041 9875140

Carlingford: Evening reading, at 8pm, with Catherine Ann Cullen, The Trinity Church Heritage Centre; a beautifully restored medieval church in the picturesque setting of Carlingford, County Louth. T. 042 9392950

Other events:
Dundalk F.M Radio and Harry Lee of Dundalk Daily will celebrate National Poetry Day from 10.00. am to 12.00. pm, including live readings by Dundalk Writers Group with Barbara Smith at 11.00. am.

Sandy Sneddon will read from his collection of children's poem's in Drogheda Library, Stockwell Street, for selected schools at 11am.

So, it's all happening here, isn't it? If you know of a poetry event in Ireland happening near you on NPD, October 1st, why not tell us all about it in the comments box?

Ask not what your county can do for you, and all that jazz... or poetry... :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gimme Some Extra Energy...

There are times lately when I find myself looking back fondly to the days of study at home, slow-cooked casseroles and a slightly guilty feeling at being able to spend some time online catching up with what writing friends and colleagues are up to.

This is because my life seems to have seriously stepped up a gear! I'm doing hours teaching for Meath VEC delivering classes to adults. This is all on the back of the creative writing classes that I began with, oh two years ago..?(!)

So now my days are full of me bashing the keyboard on my computer, form filling, and making session plans and schemes of work... Oh, don't you just love the chalk face - it's no wonder that teachers look forward to their summer holidays; I'm seriously knackered and we're only two weeks into courses.

In other news, I've received a commission to write a poem. Just one poem - imagine! Much more about this closer to the time when it comes to fruition... exciting stuff, eh?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I survived Electric Picnic...

and lived to tell the tale.

My tale involved wellies, lots of mud and an inordinate amount of walking. I think I may have shed a few pounds this weekend too. And my blisters have blisters..!

It was brilliant. I arrived (after three hours walking around outside) on Saturday afternoon to support writer Kate Dempsey's children's writing workshop in the Kids area, where we and Niamh B helped some very imaginative retellings of fairytales come to life on the page.

I caught a quick blast of Rita Ann Higgins on the Literary State in the Mindfield area, followed by Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan reading from William Burroughs' iconic classic, Naked Lunch.

The rain managed to hold off and later on I caught the last ten minutes of Billy Bragg's set in the Crawdaddy big-top tent. Billy hasn't changed a bit, still angry and still giving out about politics and capitalism, but still giving us a fresh take on it all, aided by his lonesome electric guitar.

Later after a quick chill-session watching a bit of Heath Ledger in Dark Knight, I watched Imelda May, with mi amigas from the Divas (and hubs!), and we enjoyed the tight band, complete with slicked hair, and rockabilly shirts - ooh and a strummed double bass.

Highlight of Saturday: Madness. Even better second time around, their saxophonist is bonkers and Suggs, well, is Suggs. We had prime positions for this hour-long gig, and the band actually started early - and encored late! Yay, "Madness, Madness, they call it Madness..."

Sunday was a much wetter affair, alas, with our own Poetry Divas collective kicking off the day's lineup on the Literary Stage. Photos here, courtesy of EW - thanks! Can you see the state of my wellies?

Some of us Divas went off to the Body and Soul area, to hit the Bog Cottage with more poetry, and that random hit seemed to go down very well, after some session muscians kindly allowed to us to read.

Later I enjoyed the Poetry Chicks' set on the Spoken Word stage, being ably managed by Marty Mulligan - also saw Raven, Miceal Kearney, Billy Ramsell and Maighread Medbh in the crowd relaxing on cushions and taking in the show.

Long story short: the mud was really sucky and mucky. It took me an hour to find my car afterwards, and I had to get a very nice gentleman on a tractor to drag me out of the field - backwards - adding a new twist to that expression, 'looking like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards...

I'd do it again though!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Electric Picnic - here I come!

I confess: I am an EP virgin, as in, I've never been. This weekend, I not only get to go there, I get to perform there too, as part of the Poetry Divas collective.

Things to expect: me airing my boobs again..! Great poetry, and from the website: 'sequins, sparkles, tiaras and willies plentifully mixed among metaphors, similes and sonnets." I kid you not about the 'willies'!

When: Sunday September 6th at 12 midday.

Where: Art Council Literary Stage, Electric Picnic, Stradbally Co. Laois.

So nice to be sharing the bill with wondrous writers as well as ... ooh, Billy Bragg, Brian Wilson, Bat for Lashes, Lamb... oh my - who let me out for the weekend...

See ye on the far side! Pictures to follow :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How Tara's Halls resounded...

You know, you can't beat the sound of a well-tuned harp on a wet day at Tara. That and the sound of specially picked words.

The recital went very well, considering the rain did its best to mar proceedings. Paul Muldoon acted as master of ceremonies and did an able and relaxed job of shepherding proceedings along. Unfortunately, the event had to repair to the disused church from the planned outdoor, that has been plainly restored, but the acoustics suited the gig very well.

I came a little late, just as Susan McKeown was giving a beautiful rendition of a song in Irish and English (for us heathens with little Gaeilge), accompanied by Aidan Brennan on a beautiful acoustic guitar. Paul Muldoon then quickly gave us a few poems; one about Beagles hunting the great Hare seemed to set a thread running for the next few turns at the mic, and the great Michael Longley gave us some beautiful poems that come from his time spent at Carrigskeewaun, over in County Mayo. He commented in his introduction that fifteen years before, he and a good few other poets and musicians had taken another 'turn' at Tara, to try and invoke peace. It seemed to have worked, he said and the audience loved this wry comment.

One of his set, about his first grandaughter, who came after four grandsons, was really touching. I think it is called 'The Foaled'? But I'll need to check that in my Longley Selected later on. Michael Longley was then followed by Laoise Kelly, an amazing harpist, who actually comes from Mayo.

Laoise has been involved with the protests against the motorway development for a long time, and told us of how she had met Paul Muldoon in, of all places, New Zealand, at an event. Her harping was a great addition to the programme, as she played 'tunes' that were collected over hundreds of years by people like Petrie and harp gatherings in Belfast - never mind the usual Carolan tunes that people expect from a harpist. I enjoyed her sets very much, as it reminded me of my own days spent on the harp from age fourteen to sixteen. Harping ruined my fingers for guitar playing, as I found out later on: I pluck instead of strumming - something which drove my later guitar teacher mad.

Just before I left, Paul Muldoon read from a sequence he has called 'The Old Country' - not a mocking poem about Ireland, but one that celebrates the localisms and colloquilisms of Irish cliches. I liked this very much, as did the audience.

Anyway, there was an email sheet sent around to collect addresses, and it is hoped that they will repeat this gathering next year to celebrate Tara's heritage and keep its plight in the public eye. So, I'll keep ye posted!

A Turn at Tara

I'm going to this reading today at Tara Hill, which is organised as part of Ireland's National Heritage Week. Paul Muldoon and Michael Longley are reading there, with music from Susan McKeown with Laoise Kelly, Steve Cooney, Aidan Brennan, with perhaps more performers on the day.

I've loved Tara Hill a long time. When I lived in Drogheda, it was in easy reach and often on a Sunday we'd go there as a family and wander over the hill, past the Mound of Hostages, and the Rath of Cormac , the Lia Fail - the stone of destiny, and we'd always finish with a digression over to the lonely Rath of Diarmaid and Grainne; me imagining the two fugitive lovers of Irish legend spending some time there, and finally go back round and cut through the Banqueting Hall to the exit gate.

Of course it sounds like there are buildings on Tara, but there aren't. What there are instead, are shapes in the ground, which have acquired names through folklore and legend glosses. There are mounds, and circles of ridges - to keep someone or something in, or possibly out. And usually on Tara there are sheep grazing. Lucky sheep to be wandering around on the hill where it is thought High Kings and courtiers might have gazed out over the plains of Meath at the distant blue and purple mountains to the North and West and South.

Today, we're going back there after an absence of about two or three years. I'm wondering what it will look like, since the-powers-that-be decided that it was a good idea to build a motorway just below it. And I know my kids will enjoy going to the place with the sheep - perhaps they might enjoy the poetry and music too. After all, "The harp that once through Tara's halls /The soul of music shed / Now hangs as mute on Tara's walls / As if that soul were fled ..."

Not today though. Not today.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to School - with a bang

This back-to-school malarkey doesn't get any easier each year. I'm just in the last throes of it today and tomorrow: hemming trousers for the boys in extra strong stitching, so they don't pull down their hems through repeated putting in of their legs; extra sewing on the box pleats of the skirts, so that they don't end up ripping up to the waistband. Ironing on about 30 labels with names on, not so much for the benefit of the schools, but to save kids here rowing in the mornings about whose tracksuit bottoms belong to whom.

I still have a list of things to get as long as my arm. It's not that I'm a last minute lassie, it's just that it really does take the whole summer to organise things. Things like a pack of twistables x 3, or rubbers x 20, or even copies (exercise books to forn readers) x 100. And that's not a joke.

I buy pencils by the box load, pens by the bucket. And don't talk to me about pencil parers (I actually invested in an industrial strength one of those a few years ago - best €15 I ever spent). But somehow when we get to Christmas they're all gone - poof - vanished into thin air. I reckon there must be a hole in each classroom where stationary fairies live with a huge hoard of the little buggers. Maybe they re-sell them on fairy-eBay...

Ah well. The upside of all this expense is that next week I get my house back to myself between the hours of 8.30am and 2.45pm, Monday to Friday. I think that's something to look forward to: the sweet smelling sound of silence. Oh yeah.

And in between all that I've been writing poems, and getting ready for my own new term of writing classes to begin. You know what they say: ask a busy woman ...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Flatlake - bloody brilliant!

I'm just about revived from the Flatlake Festival in Monaghan. Pat and Kevin and their very able crew ran a very tight ship and I got to see quite a few other acts as well as reading with the Prufrocks, and the Diva Collective.

I saw a brilliant one-act solo show about the wife of Dylan Thomas, Cait McNamara. The actress doing this ran the whole gamut of emotions and really got across what it might have been like living with someone like Thomas, being tied down with babies and wanting to have a life of their own too.

Our act, The Prufrocks, was sandwiched between this show and a Harold Pinter tribute (which included the lovely Keith Allen, nowadays better known as Lily's dad).

Liz Gallagher led us off down the path reading from her brand new, hot-off-the-press collection from Salt books, The Wrong Miracle. She was followed by Jaki McCarrick, who not only writes poems and prose, but writes plays (award winning ones too!). Mary Mullen, originally from Alaska but who now lives in Galway gave us some poems that evoked living in Alaska in the 60s, and then Nuala Ni Chonchuir took the stage to read some poems that will feature in her new pamphlet forthcoming from Templar, Portrait of the Artist in a Red Car. I finished up the set, and I got a bit of a fright when I stood up to read. I had been sitting in the front seat, focussed on the readers, so I hadn't been aware of the crowds pouring into the tent. It was by now packed to the rafters!

*** Late edit: Nuala Ni Chonchuir has posted her report, complete with pictures of all the Prufrocks who read - do pop over and take a look! ***

Some pics:
If you embiggen this one, you'll see Cillian Murphy, star of Breakfast on Pluto, gazing enraptured at, well aparently it was me! EW took the picture.

And this is meself in my reading garb, complete with de-rigeur wellies! Despite the shadows, we had a lot of sunshine on the day - some weather gods smiled on us!

Later on I read with the Diva collective, at Radio Butty/Mondo Rancho, compered by Pat McCabe himself. We were on after The Poetry Chicks, who did a specially commissioned piece by Dermot Healy for the occasion as well as some of their own inspired performance pieces. If you get a chance to see them anywhere, you should go along for a look, they are brilliant.

As for ourselves, the Divas, we also amazed with our own work, and that poem about boobs I may have mentioned a good while back finally got a good airing in public. Seemed to go down pretty well, judging by the laughter it got...

Unexpected highlight of the day: Jinx Lennon's act in the Butty Barn. I'm willing to bet you've never heard such a great song title as 'Gobshite in the House,' or 'Everyone's got a mental home inside their head.' Jinx is described as a "a proper seanchaí, a punk, a poet, a troubadour and fuckin nutjob to boot," in a review over on his website - and I'm not joking, I was mesmerised by the whole act that I saw. Words just don't do him justice - go and see him if you can. He's got my respect and he lives here in Dundalk, right under my nose and I never knew what he was up to!

Now, I must get on with this back-to-school malarkey and do me other job: being mum-of-six ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Flatlake - Stop Press!

A quickie from holiday land in Ciarrai to let you know about - Flatlake Literary and Arts Festival on this weekend, 14th, 15th & 16th August at Hilton Park, Co. Monaghan.

I'm in two acts: The Poetry Divas, and separately with the Prufrocks, which also features, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Liz Gallagher, Mary Mullen and Jaki McCarrick. Saturday for Prufrocks and I think the same for the Divas ... my (limited) internet connection here in the wilds of Kerry is a bit intermittent.

Links later dudes - in the meantime, think Butty Barns, madcap antics, possible mud and definite enjoyment - then you have the essence of Flatlake!

Bring your stylish wellies and your feather boas... :)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Great Outdoors

I have a story in Indieoma's latest feature: The Great Outdoors.

It's called Jacob's Ladder. Have a look see and discover why rock-climbing is something of a passion of mine.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Deep Cleanse and Escape

Well, I've been back almost a week from the wonderous getaway writer's hotel (okay you get artists there too and dancers and musicians) that is the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig. It was brilliant, I wrote loads and met loads of new and interesting people and talked the face of myself. About writing, art, that I like.

And I feel like it was a month ago. I was whisked off to Cabra Castle, home of the romantic getaway, by mon cheri, for our fifth wedding anniversary. Imagine: five years. People in prison get parole ... only joking!

From Our wedding + Kerry

Back in 2004... ah, God be with the days. Feel free to embiggen. And laugh!

So of course once I got back, there was the state of the house to be contended with. I've just got over the brow of the washing, cleaning and scrubbing mountain today. Even the goldfish were washed.

And very soon I am off to the Kingdom, Ciarrai, for my annual dose of mountains, sea and obligatory Irish-style picnics: sandwiches complete with sand and 'hang' (ham to those not Irish).

From Kerry pictures 03

The western view from our (rented) holiday house in Ciarrai. From the sitting room window.

When I get back, there's Flatlake Literary & Arts Festival, where I'm reading in not one, but two acts, with some really top notch poets and writers! This summer gets more active by the day. Keep an eye on WRW's blog and Musings for more info, as well as Emerging Writer's

See y'all on the far side :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Cabbage Cometh Forth

So, who is Rob Mackenzie? Well, Rob was born in Glasgow, and currently lives in Edinburgh. He originally studied law and then turned to theology. He has spent periods of time in Seoul, Lanarkshire and Turin and is involved in organising Edinburgh’s ‘Poetry at the…’ monthly reading series.

Rob’s pamphlet, The Clown of Natural Sorrow (Happenstance, 2005), was what brought him to people’s attention first, and a debut full-length poetry collection was published by Salt books this year, The Opposite of Cabbage, and is already receiving a great deal of critical attention, not only in Scotland but further afield. Current reviews (and they are very encouraging) include Magma 44 and the latest edition of Poetry London.
Failte Rob go blóg Barbara.

Today we celebrate your arrival at this stop in the Cyclone Blog Tour and offer a little Irish sustenance to keep you going on your travels. Our meal will be simple fare: cabbage, bacon and spuds, with homemade parsley sauce (none of that packet stuff, here), which goes well with your collection The Opposite of Cabbage. And of course a creamy pint of plain black porter. Complete with shamrock … or should that be a harp? Anyway, let’s get started on the questions.

In your interview on Nic Sebastian's Very like a whale, you mention when you began to work for real on your poems towards a first collection. Did you find it easy to tell the difference between good poems and better ones? Were there any you wanted to put in but were dissuaded from doing so?

Sometimes I know when I’ve written a good poem; sometimes it’s really difficult to know. It’s easier when the poems are many months or even years old. I often feel my most recent poem is my best one and only realise that it’s crap months later.

Two types of poem particularly resist self-assessment. Firstly, those which seem weird or adventurous, in which I’ve entered territory I’m unsure about, which I’m not sure the reader is going to ‘get’ in any meaningful way, especially those poems when I’m pleased with my own writing.

Writers can bewitch themselves by their own writing. Sometimes that’s because it’s good. Sometimes it’s because writing poetry is partly about casting spells, spells which should act on the reader. However, the writer has to examine his/her material more clinically. Self-deception is a common ingredient in many spells and can involve the writer returning to a poem months or years later and realising, with a high degree of self loathing, that the spell has worn off and the poem is awful.

In contrast, the second kind of poem I find hard to assess is the one that seems quite normal, fairly mainstream. I don’t want to write boring poems that mirror hundreds of others. The question is – does this one stand out from the pack? Is there something about it that’s distinctive? These questions are very hard to answer, although surprisingly easy to answer when it comes to assessing other people’s poems!

I was dissuaded (by a few writers who read my manuscript) from including certain poems. I took some out, revised some, and stubbornly held onto others. I always asked the question as to how important the inclusion of a poem was to me. If it wasn’t really important, it was easy enough to ditch. That’s all a writer can do, I think. You can’t ever guess which poems will go down well with readers. In two reviews I’ve had recently, a poem one critic pointed out as among his favourites was labelled a dud by another (in an otherwise very positive review).

In your other life, would you say that your pastoral work informs your poetry? I detected that behind the poem 'White Noise,' and wondered how faith (and in turn poetry) can be a consolation when we flawed humans feel most frail.

Yes, my work as a Church of Scotland minister does inform certain poems. I have to be careful with issues of confidentiality, so I never write about any individual directly or in a way in which a person could be identified, but many images and ideas come from my experience of working alongside people, often in difficult circumstances. ‘White Noise’ (scroll down the webpage) is a direct example of this – the character ‘Frank’ is entirely fictional, although informed by the death of a baby after a few days in a real family. The trumpet notes and cherry blossom were factual, and come from a house I pass daily on my walk down to my parish, although I’ve manipulated them for poetic purposes. That poem is one of those I wondered whether people would engage with or not, one I found particularly difficult to assess, but I’ve had as much positive reaction to it as to any poem in the collection.

I think poetry (and faith) can act as a consolation for people, but I tend not to write with that in mind. I try not to force poems to fulfil a role. I begin a poem with whatever has sparked it off and go with the flow until it’s done, whether that takes a few minutes or a few years. I then revise sections that seem dull or predictable. The poem may console, celebrate, challenge, illuminate, or discomfort. I don’t go out of my way to do any of these things (I go wherever a poem appears to lead me), but I hope each individual poem generates a reaction of one kind or another in individual readers.

The Opposite of Cabbage uses the device of a narrator that seems unable to help themselves but look, say for example in 'Girl Playing Sudoku on the Seven-Fifteen. They ‘bear witness’ but cannot do anything about it. I think that this points to the way that society tends to avoid having to get involved, and wondered if that was a valid reading?

I hadn’t considered that as a reading of that poem, but it’s a fair way to read it. At least, I think what you’re reading into it is mirrored in several other poems and in society. Paralysis is the dominant political reality of the day, I’d say. Governments do things, often against the will of the majority, and no one can work out what the hell to do about it. It’s no good to vote the party-in-power out because the opposition is just as bad and probably worse. Protest falls on deaf ears.

What’s odd is that mass demonstrations (against the war in Iraq, for example) are ignored and problems concerning young people, education, poverty and the health service are talked away, but when a newspaper reveals financial irregularities at the heart of Government, a whole load of MPs are forced to resign. I find that really disturbing. Scandal always seems to have more effect in the UK than political necessity. Why no resignations over Iraq and Afghanistan, over the dire state of many areas of our cities etc? A financial scandal is shameful, of course, but the resignations won’t change anything in our society. We are paralysed as far as that goes. Some poems in the collection reflect that, bear witness to it, reveal it. Sadly, they don’t, in themselves, have power to ensure change, but I do believe that poetry – and literature as a whole – is important for any society and the very fact that people often turn to it in times of tragedy and turmoil is compelling evidence of its continuing importance.

And finally, Some of your poems are self-referential (and humorous) in that they invoke the poet in the poem as well as the poet looking on from outside the poem. I'm thinking of 'Advice from the Lion Tamer to the Poetry Critic,' and 'A Creative Writing Tutor Addresses his Star Pupil.' Using the sestina form in particular in 'A Creative Writing ...' seems to undercut both content and the form. How did you get the idea to take this approach?

I’ve read quite a number of modern sestinas which undercut their own form. I know some people who would argue that such ‘anti-sestinas’ represent the only way to make the form work these days. I wouldn’t go that far (although good sestinas of any kind are few and far between), but there is something ridiculous about the form. It’s so difficult to write one without becoming repetitious and tedious that the challenge is irresistible for someone like me. I wrote numerous sestinas but only one made the book.

I use ‘John Ashbery’ as an end-word, which is a daft idea in itself. It references the fact that Ashbery has written at least one celebrated (typically oddball) sestina, ‘Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape’. I wrote an earlier draft of the poem in response to a sestina by Stephen Burt called ‘Six Kinds of Noodles’, which employed ‘Ashbery’ as an end word. I was then directed to another example, by Kent Johnson, ‘Avantforte’,in which the increasing length of the lines only adds to the farce.

I wrote my sestina in iambic pentameter while the tutor in the poem pontificates about how form and metre are effectively outmoded concepts, which I thought had humorous potential. Also, ‘John Ashbery’ was a helpfully iambic name! The poem is a satire on the creative writing industry. Not that the industry is all bad, of course. There are many excellent teachers I’d be delighted to receive a few lessons from myself, and many CW students go on to produce excellent work. The poem is a satire and I do think the sestina has real potential as a vehicle for satire.

Thank you Rob, for these full and informative answers, which I think add greatly to reading your collection. Please scoot along to Rob’s Salt Page, where you can read samples from the collection – it might persuade you to make a purchase, which you won’t regret. I hope you enjoyed the quick meal, Rob, and a pint of plain. Rob’s next Cyclone stop is at poet Michelle McGrane’s blog, Peony Moon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cabbage comes to Dinner

... and will be served with bacon and spuds - yes, we are going to toast it in Irish-style!

Yes, Rob Mackenzie is swinging by this blog on Monday 27th of July, as part of his Decabbage Yourself Cyclone Tour, which recently stopped by the blog of Bernardine Evaristo (author of the excellent Blonde Roots).

We will dine in simple Irish style, and raise a pint of the black stuff while we're at it. And of course, we will investigate aspects of Rob's book from Salt, The Opposite of Cabbage, reviewed recently here, as well as other pressing questions on writing.

In the meantime, you can see what Rob has to say at the photographer and poet Apprentice at My (Elastic) Gap Year, when he chats about his book and other musings.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A tiny bit of good news

Those energetic guys who organised the UK Latitude Festival linkup with Pen Pusher magazine had a competiton running for poems about one's postcode.

Today they announced the winner from a shortlist of ten poems that they liked, and the winner is Inua Ellams with 'Lovers, Liars, Conjurors and Thieves'. Inua's poem is an 'ode to Southwark', London, and his poem will be published in issue 13 of Pen Pusher due on July 23rd. He will read on the New Voices stage on Sunday 19th July at 11.40am at the Latitude Festival and will also receive a cool T-shirt with the winning postcode on it, provided by I love my postcode. Well done to him!

Why am I telling you this? Because this poem, about dear old Dundalk, 'Because I Heard About the Harp', made it into the final ten! Oh my :) I knew there was something good about having a beer factory in the town - hai (as we say here!).

Two Irish Winners at the Templar Pamphlet Comp

Congratulations are due to Paul Maddern and Nuala Ni Chonchuir. Strictly speaking Paul is from Bermuda, but we've adopted him in Belfast, and what's theirs is ours and vice versa. I know Paul from my days in Queen's last year and where he is just finishing off a doctorate on sound and poetry.

In Templar's words:

Templar Poetry is delighted to announce the winners of the 2009 Templar Poetry Pamphlet Prizes. The full results, including the anthology poets, and other new titles will be placed on the Templar Poetry Website on Sunday 12th July. The publication of all new pamphlets and collection will be celebrated at the Derwent Poetry Festival in late autumn.

Nuala Ni Chonchuir: 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car'

Paul Maddern: Kelpdings

David Morley: The Rose of the Moon

Dawn Wood: Connoiseur

A huge congrats to all the winners -and a special shout out for Nuala - yay!

Work from Kairos

is featured on Peony Moon, Michelle McGrane's blog. She is very kind to host Roosters, which is one of those poems that keeps getting comments, whether by mail, email or at readings. If only we knew what we were doing when we wrote them!

Michelle has work featured on the latest issue of ouroboros which you really should check out - it's packed to the rafters with work, including John Walsh from Galway; not just in print but in sound and vision too.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

More on The Wounded Deer & Frida Kahlo's Art

I pulled down a book I had forgotten I had at the weekend, it's a bio-art book on Frida Kahlo's work, and I read it very quickly, and had a good stare at all the pictures in it and a read of the details of her life. Dear me, but she had a tough life, physically-wise, but she never let it get her down, and in her 47 years on earth managed to produce some amazing art.

Then I read 'The Wounded Deer' again, and I really feel that Petit has gotten Kahlo's voice, or as close as you could dare without the services of a medium. My absolute favourite poem in this pamphlet is based on, and is also titled, 'My Birth,' which you can view here . Don't let the picture put you off in any way, the poem is the most positive thing I've ever read, a real making of good, life-affirming art from -well, good life-affirming art. Art was what kept Kahlo sane and allowed her a true expression of her soul.

Another favourite line comes from 'The Wounded Deer,' also available to view here. 'And once, when I opened my eyes / too quickly after the graft, / I could see right through / all the glass ceilings...' Love that glass ceiling - class.

Pascale has two poems up on her blog today to celebrate Frida's birthday, one just happening to be, yes you've guessed it - 'The Wounded Deer'. She's also reading down in Bantry (thanks Liz) at the West Cork Literary Festival, Ireland on Thursday morning at 11am in Bantry Bookshop. I can't go (sob, sob), so I shall just have to make do with me imagination... ah well!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Poetry Collaborations for Horizon Review

Editor Jane Holland, of Salt's online Horizon Review, has been looking for poets to link up with other poets to create collaborative work for the new issue, Horizon III. The deadline is 30th August, and there's no limit on the topic or the length. I assume that it's poets working with poets and I've seen really successful results coming from projects like these, especially in the last but one issue of qarrtsiluni, where they had some very thougtful collaborations between artists and writers. Gorgeous stuff.

So what are you waiting for? Link up with another poet and get collaborating! Submission guidelines for Horizon Review can be found here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

First Thoughts... on The Zoo Father et al

... are how disturbing I find the poems in this compact collection (but not in a bad way). I can see why The Zoo Father was much talked about when it came out. There's a fusion of personal mythology with a wider mythology which really works: it's scary in places and has you asking lots of questions, not just of the text, but of yourself too. It makes me excited by the possibilities of poetry: what you can do with material when you're not prepared to just go with ordinary face value.

It also makes me question what I'm doing in my own work - no bad thing. My own stuff has gotten steadily darker lately, and I was wondering if I was going the right way. I'm a bit obsessed with people who are fallen and implements of torture and it's all very heavy going at times. I know I haven't finished mining the present seam I'm excavating, and I can see that in Petit's work, the way that her themes continued into a follow-up collection, The Huntress.

I'm very excited by the pamphlet I got, The Wounded Deer, (only £3.00!) which will be developed into a full 50 poem collection, What The Water Gave Me, expected next year from Seren. I think that Pascale captures not only Frida Kahlo's voice, but the way that she made art, very well. I have a real soft spot for Frida's work, ever since I came across it in an article in the Sunday Times magazine a good few years ago. I like the allegory and symbology that Kahlo uses, which is why her work makes a good subject for Petit to work with.

If you like the sounds of these, go over and check out Pascale Petit's site, there are sample poems you can read, including the award winning The Strait-Jackets.

Now, I'm off to mind this lamb tagine I'm cooking. I'm so sick of salads!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another yummy book

While waiting for my Pascale Pettit books to arrive, I've got this lovely book to read: The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women's Poety, 1967-2000. I found a copy of it in the library at DKIT, Dundalk Institute of Technology, last week, when I was up there on other business. I came home and sourced a copy of it online, because books like this you really want to own.

On the day I opened it randomly in Medbh McGuckian's section and ended up spending a good half hour lost in her work. The more I read her poetry the more I want to read it. It doesn't offer its meaning up easily but still I find that I do understand it inherently.

Her work is widely read and enjoyed by 'Merkans. I know of one young man, a student from Harvard (well now he's finished there and is going to Notre Dame to do a doctorate), who specifically made a point of going to Queen's to do an exchange semester there so that he could attend her poetry workshops. That's a small example of her weight in poetry terms.

Anyway, I will enjoy it, especially as a counter to the lovely Penguin anthology of Irish Poetry (1990) that my sister found in a second hand bookshop. In which there were very few women poets.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things I really ought to do

Stock up on drinks and sun-lotion and get boys' hair cut. Apparently the weather is about to get even hotter again. Temperatures of 30 degrees are expected.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Browsing: a Slice of Life

Right now I'm sitting on the sofa with half an eye on the sun sinking westward - okay I know the earth is turning instead, but still - and one ear is on cartoons, (Chowder) from the six slinking stinkers' habitat, and the other is listening to a scrunching guitar riff from upstairs - a slinker practicing Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing in the Name' - which is bizarre as I was into this first time around, ah, God bless the nineties. One child is indoors due to sunstroke, the rest are out running around with their friends absorbing Vitamin D from the unusual sun patch. I'm browsing around and I find this lovely poetry book ... and I really want to get it ... now ... but I must wait until July 15th!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Moved by Cabbage

The Opposite of Cabbage
Rob Mackenzie
Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2009

The biggest enemy of the poet is patience: having the patience to sit tight and wait for your voice to develop, wait for your style and craft to be fully absorbed inside you. Having the patience to send your work out into the world and wait for acceptance or, more usually rejection. Having the patience (and the wit) to know when your first collection is ready to go out there, having been polished to within an inch of its life, to face the slings and arrows of your poetry peers.

There are no such quibbles against The Opposite of Cabbage, by Rob Mackenzie. This collection is as finely kneaded as a well-risen loaf. The poems in it lean nicely against each other, setting a steady andante through the collection with the occasional two-step, just to keep us extra-vigilant. Reading it closely, as I have done over the last few days, with a pencil, reveals just how well the poems stack up.

Mackenzie does urban modernity in all its guises: not as the flâneur, the well-heeled insouciant gad-about town, but as a deeply concerned citizen from and of the world. Popular culture is absorbed and synthesised fully, coming out of the end of his pen in unexpected ways, such as in ‘Benediction.’ This poem conflates the old and the new by taking the age old procession of the Madonna and smothering it with our materialistic obsessions: the 'Gucci bikini, geologic surgery, and bottle-blonde wig'. The result is a heady mix, but not without its own comment on subjectivity: ‘Her eyelids shut, / open, and lava-hot tears steam towards the crowd.’ This is what happens when mass culture meets moving statues.

My favourite moments in The Opposite of Cabbage occur when Mackenzie manages to climb right inside what I can only think of as Cubism in poetry. This is when you get the impression that the moment you are reading - in the poem - is actually two or three viewpoints concurrently captured. ‘In the Last Few Seconds,’ Mackenzie’s commended poem from the National Poetry Competition 2005, is one example of this metaphysical imagining of gathered moments. There is the ‘smudge of tail-lights’, and the ‘spin round corners’, as a soul seems to let go and become apart from the wreckage scene that is about to unfold. The reality of a crash isn’t a ‘flashback, a potted bio’, as we’ve been led to believe. Instead it’s when ‘stars blister across the sunroof. / Cracks appear.’ Fractured reality reveals much more to us, especially when under the compression of form.

Another of these strange meldings of moments happens in ‘Shopping List’. Ostensibly a list of things to buy, it becomes a close-woven flit between these material objects and a fantasy world, as well as the real world. We are forced to decipher the signs as we read and work out the true position of the poem’s subject. And that is never fully revealed either. In scalpelling as close as Mackenzie does with language, we are left to make our own minds up, rather than corralled into the value judgments of the poet.

But to analyse this collection that closely is to deny the humour that glitters darkly just below the slick of this collection, binding it together. In poems such as ‘Scottish Sonnet Ending in American,’ Mackenzie amply demonstrates that you can be ‘one foot short of a rhythmic swing,’ and still kick a bit of life into one of the oldest forms, whilst cocking a slight snook at the establishment.

And there is the not-too-small matter of deeply felt compassion, especially in a poem like ‘White Noise,’ that navigates a taut thread between the materialistic outside world of the ‘FTSE trampolining the pound’ and the individual tragedy of ‘Frank’s baby’s breath […]/ like the cherry blossom […] raised briefly with every // loitering hope and passing bus.’ The lynch pin of this poem comes towards the end, in the line, ‘disappointment // and music are made possible only by love' - a line that I have to say breaks my heart. It does it in a sort of Tom Waits/Frank's Wild Years way, and that's probably as close as I dare go with analogies for now.

It’s because each of us cares about things such as these individual disasters, ultimately, that poets can make art such as there is in this collection. Patience allows poets like Mackenzie that full realisation on the page in texture of sound and language that in turn, can evoke the truth of compassion in all of us. For the full experience, I can only suggest that you try out Rob Mackenzie's debut collection, The Opposite of Cabbage, for yourself.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Books Received - and a Cabbage!

I've gotten a few books in the recent past, so I thought I'd better give them a shout out here.

From Throckmortons Bookshop in Warwick, I received the new journal on the block, Under the Radar, Issues 1 & 2 published by Nine Arches Press; On Warwick, by Jane Holland, Lady Godiva & Me, by Liam Guilar and The Terrors by Tom Chivers.

From Salt Publishing, I've got The Opposite of Cabbage by Rob Mackenzie, The Ambulance Box by Andrew Philips and another Jane Holland collection, Camper Van Blues.

And dainty of dainties, I just received Ben Wilkinson's The Sparks, published by tall-lighthouse (and which I'm quite excited about -but I'm excited by them all!).

So, why am I not talking about them yet? Because I am knee-deep in Denis O'Driscoll's epistolary biography of Seamus Heaney - far too interesting a book to rush...

In the next few weeks, I intend to fully explore Rob Mackenzie's collection The Opposite of Cabbage, with the intention of reviewing it, because Rob is paying us a virtual visit on his Decabbage Yourself Cyclone Tour which is currently whizzing around the blogosphere. I think I may put cabbage on the menu that day - a nice green York cabbage with leafy green and plenty of heart, as we say here.

One of my favourite poems from this collection so far is White Noise, which you can read as well on this sample of his work at Salt. Why do I like it? Because it isn't obvious - you read it and then you read it again and then you go off about your day and you have a little 'ping' moment, and you come back and you read it again: it makes me think of choirs of angels, but mucky angels, ones a little like us flawed humans. It makes me envious!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday

Picture courtesy of Public Art Around the World, statue sculpted by: Marjorie Fitzgibbon.

If you're in Dublin today and want to partake of some of the Bloomsday celebrations, why not try this:

"Tuesday 16 June, 11am-3pm in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar.

Our MC, Leo Enright hosts a star-studded afternoon of readings and songs from 'Ulysses'. Joyceans of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to join in, so come one, come all, and celebrate the book of day!

Minister of State Dr. Martin Mansergh will officially launch the readings.

Among those taking part are:
Mia Dillon
Keir Dullea
Anne Doyle
Len Cariou
Maureen O’Sullivan, TD & Councillor Mick Rafferty
Justice Adrian Hardiman
Fiona Bell
Cathy Belton
Fr Peter McVerry
Noel O’Grady

WITH MUSIC FROM 'ULYSSES' by tenor John Scott, soprano Clare Kavanagh, & Dearbhla Brosnan, on piano."