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."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

So, how did poetry get into my life..?

Beware the throw-away remark about poetry, because it will always pique someone's curiosity. Recently Rachel asked on the memish blogpost about blasts from the past, just how I did get into poetry, because I had remarked that at the time of first-born's birth I wasn't much of a writer, nor a poet.

Oookaaaay. So, where do I start? I'd love,of course, to be able to say that my parents were mad into poetry and instilled a great love of it in me. The truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction.

Do I start with the scribbles I used to leave behind on my blotting sheet in the Draughting course I took, circa 1989?

Do I start with the play I wrote about St. Augustine, after a story I heard in Primary 6, circa 1979?

Although I'm sure you'd love to hear those stories, sometime, the real one is about how I found my way into poetry and got really, really hooked.

It all began with a chap who became known to me as Dermo Pegleg (back in 1994). At the time, I had recently joined the Open University, completing a foundation year in IT. I was in the second year, studying Computer Programming and not enjoying it one bit. In fact, I hated it. The only thing I had done with any success was to write code for a programme to pick Lotto numbers. I was looking for excuses not to study. And so, one night I went out, to what would now be called an open mic session in a pub, hosted by DP.

There were acoustic guitar players, interspersed with short, quickfire bursts of poetry from various contributors. Most of it was, well, shite. But there was one poem that I reacted to: it was written and delivered as a sort of rebuff to a girl (and women in general) for refusing to be interested enough to continue beyond a first date. This poem annoyed me so much that I went home ranting about it, and encouraged by my then-boyfriend, I wrote a riposte, which led on into writing other poems.

I didn't write that much in those first tentative years: maybe about fifteen poems or so. I'm really grateful that most of them have disappeared or got lost, because they were utter rubbish. Really awful rubbish. As well as writing, I was getting involved my community arts scene: I got a part time job in 1997 as a Newsletter Editor for the local arts centre where I lived, which meant I got to meet those involved in writing locally and foster friendships that have endured.

I remember sending some of those early poems to The, then recently launched, Stinging Fly (circa 1997?), and receiving a rejection that said though they weren't good enough, to keep at it: keep on writing and try sending again. Alas, I wasn't confident or savvy enough to appreciate what encouragement this actually was.

In the meantime, I read things that were recommended to me. Books about poetry. Books of poetry. Books about anything but poetry. Books like novels and books of non-fiction. I was a starved garden of weeds: books were my fertiliser, pens and paper my digging tools, language my seedbed.

In time (after producing two more children) I met my current partner (and produced three more, bringing my troop to six), I thought I should start into learning more about some of these poets and writers I had read about. I re-joined the Open University (2003) and decided to do a BA in Literature. I wrote more poems, fed by all the newly-acquired knowledge and old knowledge I had. I But I grew, and I learned to see the faults in all the stuff I had written, as well as what was salvagable. I still wanted to write poems and write them well as well as I could.

So, now I wrote and honed poems for real. I tried out forms, like sonnets or quatrains. I played with rhythm and enjoyed playing with words, just for the sake of it. I started sending out some of these later efforts. I got lucky in a journal in the States, after sending a good many submissions. One strike led to a few more, which in turn led to applying for Poetry Ireland 'Introductions' series. I got in second time around, in 2005. A whole pile of credits accumulated and I thought about submitting to a publisher. I sent out query letters to the four corners of Ireland, and one replying positively. I sent them a MS and I can still remember getting a phone call six months later, saying 'Yes, we'd love to publish it next year.'

After completing a BA in Literature, in September 2007, I started straight into an MA in Creative Writing in Queen's University, Belfast. I literally posted the last End of Course Assessment for my OU degree on the Friday and began the MA course on the following Monday in Belfast. I remember meeting the poets and writers on the first day of term and feeling like a fraud - so many there with awards and publication credits under their belt. Surely they would see through me, despite the fact that my first collection had just been published.

Across that wonderful year (07-08) I learned to trust what I knew. I learned to trust myself and to trust my work. My first collection sold very well. I learned to trust the truth of the people at readings across Ireland, in Scotland and in the UK buying the book and enthusing about it. I learned that I was also a good teacher: people trusted what I had to say about writing and poetry and I learned the thrill of seeing talent walk into my creative writing classes and watching them develop their confidence and skills.

All of this happened, because I mitched off studying computer programming and got angry with a man who wrote something I disagreed with! So now you know part of the story.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dundalk Summer School

This weekend coming, Dundalk Writing Group are having their Summer School.

On Friday, Noel Monahan from Co. Cavan will visit:

Noel has four collections of poetry published with Salmon Press: Opposite Walls (1991), Snowfire (1995), Curse of the Birds (2000) and The Funeral Game (2004). He is Co-Editor of Windows Publications. His literary awards include: Poetry Ireland’s Seacat National Award, The RTE PJ O’Connor Drama Award, The Hiberno-English Poetry Award and The Irish Writers Union Award for poetry. His play, The Children of Lir, was performed by Livin Dred Theatre in 2007. His poetry is on The Leaving Certificate English Course for examination in 2011 & 2012.

On Saturday, Kate Dempsey from Kildare, will also visit:

Kate writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Her fiction successes include a story published in the Sunday Tribune, for which she was shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing, another broadcast as part of RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Awards and another included in the Poolbeg/RTE anthology 'Do The Write Thing' for Seoige and O’Shea. Her novel was shortlisted for the London Bookfair Lit Idol. She loves teaching creative writing and has run workshops in schools and libraries, festivals including Electric Picnic and at the National Gallery.

Everyone is looking forward to the Summer School, which I set up last year and have managed to keep going despite the downturn. So, it's our chance to celebrate writing's success in the face of the current economic climate - yay!

And, I've just found out that I've been successful in a bid for teaching another summer writing course in Meath - so, go me :)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Poetic Justice - a new forum

Poetic Justice, a new poety forum, launched yesterday. In their own words, they hope to encourage the healthy discussion of "the ins and outs of gender issues within the creative arts, though especially poetry - hence the name."

Membership is not limited to women, so why not pop over and join, introduce yourself and get stuck into the discussion of the issues. I have, and already it's proving much more stretching than I'm used to, which is great!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Back Then...

Dominic Rivron sort of started this: a mini-meme where you find a photo from the past and tell the story of then and into the future. So, here's mine.

This is my first time being a mum. I have no idea what's hit me. I am very tired, and feel very overwhelmed. I also feel a bit frumpy and fat, which is why I'm wearing black. I think I'm hiding behind the colour and I will do for about another year, until I start to lose the pregnancy fat.

I love dressing him in bright colours, but I've already had to buy him bigger gros, as he weighed in at 2.4 kilos or 9 lbs and 3ozs. I have to buy him 3-6 mths clothes and will have to buy bigger for the first four years.

He is huge: as we say here, practically ready to go to school. He took eleven hours to push out, with the aid of pethidine and gas and air. I have ten stitches as well, where I was given an episiotomy (a small snip in the exit wall), so I'm feeling a little tender.

He wakes every two hours and is a guzzly baby. I've not got used to disturbed sleep and I'm making the mistake of changing his nappy as he screams because his babygro is off before feeding him, which helps to make him wide awake and me extra frazzled. I've decided to feed him myself, and will do for the next four months. I will suffer engorgment as the real milk starts to come in and have extreme discomfort in about two days, that no amount of cabbage leaves will take away. In the coming months he will become the most photographed baby in the world. He will also suffer from colic, but I won't know what that is until I discover gripe water, followed by the magic of a soother.

Every step along the way: eating his feet, learning to crawl, stand, sit up and walk will be recorded. I will be so careful with him. I will do all my learning on him and try to apply the lessons on subsequent children, and find out that each child is different, needs different rules and help along the way. Right now, the last thing on my mind is having another, never mind another five.

I am 25 and the baby, whose 16th birthday was yesterday, is just three days old, no more. Poetry hasn't even blotted my horizons yet, and won't do for another two years.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sizzling Sausages

We're having a heatwave, so with that, I am retiring to the nearest shady part of the garden with an ice cold glass of water, three Salt books, and a fly swat for the kids.

Normal service will resume - some time soon!

In the meantime: