Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shh, don't mention the C word

My word, is it that time of year already?

Well, here's wishing you a very warm and happy time with your families and friends, and may 2011 be not only the first year of a brand new decade, but the start of many great things.

I will be glad to see the back of 2010, having spent a good deal of it in me bed.

Normal-ish service has since resumed, in the last three months - sure I'm even writing again! Shhh - lets not jinx it :)

In the meantime, I leave with a little something about critic/poet Randall Jarrell's book of reviews/critiques/ essays: Kipling, Auden & Co.: Essays and Reviews, 1935-1964. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.

Jarrell (hadn't he a fab name? He gave good photos too - every ounce old-school beard going on there!), had a great facility in writing about the poets he wished were better than they were, and praising (without sycophancy) the poets whose work he admired(Bishop, Stevens, Auden, Yeats and of course, Frost). There's a really brilliant essay on what made Yeats write the way he did, in the book, which I am looking forward to re-reading. I think he's right on the money, with his approach on Yeats. I want more of his work!

Reading with the benefit of fifty-sixty + years later, you recognise the writers whose work has endured, and the writers whose work was not as good - well, guess what? You've never heard them... or you may have but in a very slight sense (ooh, he was harsh on Stephen Spender). Makes you think about today's writers quite carefully, as well as what went into Jarrell's close reading of poetry.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Poets do say it better

Colm Keegan features nicely in the end of an article in this week's Sunday Times Culture magazine (no url, I'm afraid, they've gone subscription). The commentary, written by Harry Browne, offers a broad survey of how Irish culture has responded to the economic times we live in.

Theatre, says Browne, a more immediate medium, seems to have turned to re-interpretations of old classics to try and help re-define ourselves, with plays such as Phaedra, or Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman. Cultural commentators, in the form of writers, haven't had the same impact - perhaps not having the economic nous to deliver pronouncements - I love the line about 'Irish intellectuals mak[ing] a good case for being the world's leading blatherers'!

So, Browne turns to the spoken word piece by Clondalkin poet Colm (and his cohorts of the Unruly Trinity) for some lovely quotes: 'Ireland is a Glock pointed at someone's son. Or a Christian Brother. Or it's own mother because she won't move into a nursing home.'

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nearly - Never Made It..

Just home after trying to get to London today, to do the Oxfam reading.

Guess where I was trying to fly to? London Gatwick.

Guess where is closed until who knows when? London Gatwick.

There are some things you just have to console yourself with: that your home is still warm, and you have a nice warm curry waiting for you and that in the grand scheme of things, you're actually quite lucky, compared to some poor buggers caught out in the snow.

And there's always next year :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reading Reminder

Brr, it's cold here this afternoon. To add to the state of our nation, in these hangdog days, it's snowing quite hard outside - and it's sticking. The papers are full of 'nuclear winter' analogies about the way things are going in Ireland, while everyone is pretty sick of the misery, doom and gloom on all media outlets. 50, 000 protested in Dublin yesterday to show their annoyance. I'm trying to tell myself that the wintry scenes outside look pretty, but you know how it is.

Anyhoo, a little reminder of Wednesday's impending reading. If you're thinking of going, be sure and book a place, so you can be sure of a seat!

Oxfam Christmas Poetry Night
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
7.30 pm

Oxfam Books and Music Shop
91 Marylebone High Street, London W1
near Baker Street tube.

The Oxfam Poetry Reading in Marylebone series ends its 7th year of events on
a high note with six guest poets - including two coming especially from
Scotland for the occasion - TS Eliot Prize winning Bloodaxe poet Jen
Hadfield and Picador poet John Glenday whose recent collection Grain has
been shortlisted for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work In Poetry.

This internationally-minded series will also be featuring a poet from
Ireland (Barbara Smith), reading on her birthday, two prize-winning American
poets, Dante Micheaux and Michelle Boisseau and England's own Sheila
Hillier, whose recent collection was shortlisted for this year's Aldeburgh

The host for the evening will be Todd Swift.

The event is supported by Kingston University. Tickets are £5 / £3
concession (students) in advance or at the door (if seats remain). Do call
or email the shop to buy or book tickets:

Telephone : 020 7487 3570.


Now, all I have to worry about is whether the weather be cold or not, making sure I get there!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reading for Oxfam, London

Readings don't get any better than this one coming up in London, in support of Oxfam on the 1st of December (my birthday!) - just under three weeks away:

Oxfam Christmas Poetry Reading hosted by Todd Swift.
Oxfam is very pleased to be featuring six fine poets, from America, England, Ireland, and Scotland, with special guests Bloodaxe poet Jen Hadfield (TS Eliot Prize winner) and Picador poet John Glenday (Grain) headlining. Other poets reading are: Barbara Smith (Ireland); Sheila Hillier (England) and two visiting Americans, Dante Micheaux and Michelle Boisseau. This event will be ticketed. Tickets £5, concessions £3. Tickets available in advance from the shop or by phone: 020 7487 3570.

The observant among you might have noticed something a wee bit 'odd' about the line-up... :)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

All Ireland Poetry Day...countdown

On LMFM tomorrow at 12.15pm talking about the events lined up for Louth county this year. I'll also be talking a little about myself, The Poetry Divas, and other diverse poetry related things.

You can listen on the web live at the time - if you're local, LMFM broadcast on 95.8FM.

Hey ho, the addy oh!

Now, where did I leave that feather boa... The Divas fly again tomorrow e'en in McGeough's Bar, Roden Place, Dundalk as part of the Open Mic night - woohoo!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All Ireland Poetry Day

I'm really excited this year by All Ireland Poetry Day, which this year falls on Thursday 7th October - the same day as in the UK, so ye'll be having it every which way this year.

I've been busy putting together the programme for Louth county, on behalf of the Louth Arts Services (and Poetry Ireland, too) since the mid-summer and it's a real cracker this year.

At Lunchtime, there are two readings in Louth - Drogheda Library host Marie McSweeney at 1.30pm, where Marie will be reading from her recent work. Marie has won many prizes for her short stories and poetry, including the Francis MacManus award. DkIT Library host a reading in the library's rooftop atrium garden, where people can come and listen to poets, past and present.

Later that evening in Drogheda, the Viaduct Bards host a poetry session in Drogheda Library from 6.30 - 7.30pm, whilst in Carlingford, Jaki McCarrick reads at 7.30pm in the Holy Trinity Heritage Centre. Jaki was a featured poet at the Poetry Ireland Introduction series last year, and her plays and short stories have been winning prizes galore lately.

Finally, and I'm really excited by this one, Meitheal, is a new open mic session launching in McGeough's Bar in Roden Place, Dundalk from 8pm onwards. Featured readers on the night are The Poetry Divas collective. Run what ya brung!

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Review

My review of An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry, edited by Wes Davis, from Harvard University Press is now online at Eyewear!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Another Year On

Back to school time... and back to college for one as well! Trying to overcome the tiredness is proving a challenge, as I try to meter out the jobs that need to be done: the uniforms, the tracksuits, the contents of pencil cases, the trousers that need hemming, the books that need ticking off. This year, I won't moan about the price of all that stuff that has to be got - for me, it's worth spending on!

But I do it all with a slight of glee - there's no escaping that feeling that mammies up and down the country must be feeling: the feckers are going to be back at school and my house will be my own - to bathe in the peaceful silence (well as silent as a housing estate will get with all known children between the ages of 4 and 17 away being edumucated) of my CLEAN house.

What will I do with all that silence - hopefully a bit of what Nuala Ni is doing - some writing! Now, if I can only manage two hours, I'll be doing well :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Poems in Southword

We interrupt this illness to bring you some poems in the latest, brand-spanking new Southword 18.

You will find me just underneath Matthew Sweeney - not figuratively (helas!) - with five poems that belong to a much longer sonnet sequence about George Mallory, the British mountaineer who died attempting Everest in 1924, with his co-climber, Andrew Irvine.

James Harpur retires as Poetry Editor at Southword, to be replaced by Leanne O'Sullivan, and Tania Hershman is taking up Fiction Editor-ship there too. All good stuff. Check out the other poems, stories and reviews, it's a meaty issue.

Waiting results from tests...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Back after this short break - I hope!

It's been quiet here for a good reason. Apart from three days in Donegal, during which the rain rained like a rainy thing (did-ya-know it's been the wettest July since, er, last year?), I've been trying to get over various chest-related things which have been leaving me drained and... er... well... still unwell.

Some of you might remember me moaning (Feb) about general unwellness long before the pneumonia (Apr) episode. If not, a quick recap: pain in abdomen, pain in chest, general fatigue etc. etc. hospital, home, bed, hospital, home, more bed, back to work ya-di-da-da.

I returned recently to the doctor after diagnosed pleurisy seemed to be refusing to go away. Conversation went like something this:

Me: The pain is still there.
Doc: Well, your chest is clear.
But, the pain is still there - it's tender to touch under my tight armpit; exactly where I had the pneumonia. In fact I've had this pain there since before I had the pneumonia. Me and this pain know each other so well, we could be bosom buddies.
Is that so?
Maybe it's not pleurisy.
Then what is it?
It might be costochondroitis.
Could be caused by pneumonia. Here's a prescription for some heavy-duty painkillers and some prednisone. Go home and go to bed.

Again? Sheesh...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gawn Fishin

Back when I get some well-needed chest rest!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Salt, Neruda and Ten more years

To help keep Salt Publishing's head above water there's the Just One (more)Book campaign, which is simple enough: browse and buy one book. Recessionary times have been incredibly tough on publishing: more so on poetry! There are some great books there, and if you've been promising yourself a book from Salt, now's the time.

But there's also a 'flashmob' gathering in London today - er, just now - at the Southbank Centre, at 3pm London time, to celebrate ten years of Salt Publishing with a mass public recital of Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Salt."

To get you in the mood:

Ode to Salt

This salt
in the salt cellar
I once saw in the salt mines.
I know
you won't
believe me
it sings
salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.

by Pablo Neruda

Much more here at this link

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Younger Poetry Magazine

There's an online magazine, YM, available for the younger reader who's dipping their toe into poetry: Ben Wilkinson calls attention to it over on his blog, for a short article he has written on Louis MacNeice's last collection The Burning Perch, which if I didn't already know, I'd definitely be more curious about.

It reminds me of the book on my shelf by Ted Hughes: Poetry in the Making, a Handbook for Writing and Teaching. These were a series of lectures for younger people on poetry that were once broadcast by the BBC, collected into book form. I read these again and again for inspiration and angles: it's available second hand, on certain websites, but I think it really could bear being re-issued.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

You - Nuala Ní Chonchúir

You was a complete delight to read and is the latest offering from Irish writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir. Nuala is an Irish short fiction writer and poet, born in Dublin in 1970. Her short fiction includes Nude (2009), To the World of Men, Welcome (2005) and The Wind Across the Grass (2004). She has won many literary prizes, including RTÉ Radio’s Francis MacManus Award and the Cecil Day-Lewis Award.

In 2009, her pamphlet, Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car was one of the four finalists in the prestigious UK Templar Poetry Pamphlet competition. To say that Nuala is a writer who is going places, in a literary sense, is something of a understatement: her short story collection, Nude (2009), is currently shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize - results due this week - so fingers crossed for Nuala!

I'm delighted to have you on the blog again for some scones and morning tea - milk or lemon? - and the scones are, of course, freshly baked - there's some freshly potted strawberry jam too. Congratulations on the publication of your first novel, 'You'. It's a riveting read!

Oh milk for me, Barbara, and a brown scone, thanks; with dollops of jam, mmmm. Thanks for having me over to Dundalk.

I’m glad you were riveted to You; it’s amazingly nice when someone says they like something you’ve written.

Firstly, I'd like to ask you how you came to the decision to use the second person. In reading the book, I found that voice deeply compelling; it seems to speak to an inner child in me in a way, as well as getting across the girl's angle, so was this a deeply concious decision or one that you came to more quickly/intuitively?

I have an unnatural grá for the second person voice, really. When I start to write a story, it often emerges in the second person (it’s like my head thinks it’s the first person). I find it a very comfortable voice to work in and I’ve written several short stories in it. So doing the novel in the second person was a very instinctive thing for me. It’s not a conscious act at all – I just love it, as both writer and reader. I like its peculiarity, its distance and, paradoxically, its intimacy.

This sort of leads me into the next question: telling the story from the point of view of the child allows for a slower reveal than if we'd seen it from an omniscient narrator's point of view; we've got to work a little harder as readers to put together the pieces (which is appreciated from this reader's pov). How much thought do you put into how the reader will perceive the story?

You know, I never think about the reader per se. When I edit, I obviously aim for clarity for the reader’s sake but she is not in my head as I write. So how the story is perceived doesn’t come into my writing equation. I don’t workshop my fiction so usually the first inkling I get of whether something has worked or not is from an editor’s perspective. And I prefer it that way.

The child’s voice is a device, like any other literary device, and I like its limitations. There’s only so much a child will understand and as the writer you have to be aware of that. And tread carefully.

There's something about the fact that the girl's name is avoided, which reminded me of the narrator of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca (although your narrator is much more feisty!), who is never named, but takes other people's names (i.e her husband's name but not her own - Mrs de Winter). How important are names in your creation's worlds?

Names are huge for me and not openly naming the novel’s narrator was deliberate – she has nicknames instead e.g. Little Miss Prim. (I know her real name, though!)

I find naming one of the most joyous aspects of creating characters and often their entire personality will hinge on their name. I am like a blackbird, foraging for names all the time: in newspapers, in TV credits, in spam etc. My husband brought home a new cookbook the other night and the author’s name was so quirky and cute, I’ve stolen it for my list of character names. I like odd and memorable names. I love the way Dickens used names in his fiction, and Annie Proulx is a consummate namer.

Barbara, thanks a million for hosting me today and for the delicious home-baking; it’s been lovely chatting to you. Next week my virtual tour brings me to England to the home of short story writer and novelist Elizabeth Baines. I'd love if some of your readers would join me there.

It's been a real pleasure, Nuala. To readers out there who haven't managed to get/read You just yet, it is stocked in all good bookshops in Ireland, or can be ordered directly from New Island - postage is included if you live in Ireland!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Guess who's coming tomorrow?

Nuala Ni Chonchuir and her debut novel You will virtually drop by for a quick cup of tea and jammy scones tomorrow.

She's busy in West Cork this week, tutoring a creative fiction workshop, but she'll find time in her day tomorrow to answer some intriguing questions on voice.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Liffey Sound

I had a great time yakking my head off to Niamh - fair play to her and Liffey Sound for inviting me round to tea and allowing me to bring some poetry to air there.

The theme of the show was A Woman's View and it is now available to DL, thanks to the wonder of Niamh. Fastest hour I've ever had, even as we were keeping half eye on the England v Germany match.

Take a look on the side bar too, there are so many different writers to choose from to listen to, such as David Mohan, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Maeve O'Sullivan and Kate Dempsey - even the bould Peter Goulding (who is busy writing World Cup poems - as you read!) to pick just a few. The shows last an hour long, but be warned, it's a quick hour!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is that the time already?

In response to a previous commenter (yes, you Dick! :) )Body and Soul was fabulous - the weather and the craic there too. I met a good few musicians, and not a few poets either. We Divas rocked the kasbah of course, even managing to sell copies of Poetry Divas 2 (or Divas in Blue, as it may well become known), the new pamphlet released by the Divas Collective. We're planning an even bigger version for the Electric Picnic, but more of that later.

Tomorrow I'm on Sunday Scrapbook, Liffey Sound 96.4FM with Niamh Bagnell from 4pm to 5pm. It is possible to listen live on the web - I hope. If you get lost, try the ordinary website: Liffey Sound . I will be reading the, by now, infamous 'boob' poem on the programme, so there's an excuse to escape the droning vuvuzela on the footy for a wee while! Ahem.

I have so much teaching work on at the moment it's really not funny, but I am looking forward to July immensely - I have a nice, chunky review to write on Wes Davis' Anthology of Irish Poetry, which had an 'interesting' review in the Irish Times today. I must save my own myriad thoughts for the review, which will appear on Eyewear in July... but the IT review has already been garnering attention on FB today, and not just because of the feckin'size of it. God help the students it may be aimed at (take that one whatever way you want), is all I can say. It is massive. And has shamrocks all over it. Hmm.

The only worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Think Wilde might've said that. Right?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shh, Don't Tell Anyone

But the Poetry Divas are all set to ride again. . . there is a really special boutique festival this weekend at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath.

Those lovely people from Body & Soul at Electric Picnic have organised a discrete summer solstice celebration - and the weather forecast is set to be an absolute cracker! In case you don't know what I'm on about, Body & Soul at EP was the really chilled out area with small tents and teepees and lots of like-minded relaxed dudes 'n dudettes with great attitudes, lovely mugs of tea and the occasional freebird hairstyles.

But don't let on - right..? We wouldn't want too many people there...

Now, I am off to think about my outfit, nails and other sundry things that Divas must do - oh yes, and some poems too... think I'll bring me boob poem to this one for an outing... always goes down well... :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Books beget more books

At least books always seem to do so in my case. There I am, on Friday, in Dublin's Chapter's bookshop on Parnell Street, as part of the audience, to help welcome Salmon Poetry's Prophesying the Past by Noel King into the world, and I just can't help myself: arriving early, picking and sifting from the poetry bookshelves.

What do I find? Michael Donaghy's Collected, as well as The Shape of the Dance. Oh joy! I spent all yesterday (Saturday) and today devouring them. God Donaghy was so good (!) - in prose as well as poetry - and I did like him before in poetry, but now I am totally besotted (!) and I have a much better understanding of all the varying schools of poetry (and what nonsense it all is) as well a good overview of why form is a good tool to have in the poetry kitbag. Lucky those who attended his classes in London back in the day. . .

I also found Material by Ros Barber on the bookshelves (alas the last copy), and have been dipping in and out of this extraordinary book. The title poem is practically faultless and there are so many gems in it that it will take some unpacking. Somehow I also came home with Peter Porter's Afterburner as well...

Back to Prophesying the Past, though. I confess to having more than a passing interest in this one: I've proofed it and read the poems many times, and Noel King is also editor of Doghouse who published me back in 2007. It was a real delight to hear the poems given voice and for us to finally see this long-awaited book delivered. Noel reads in the Poetry Cafe in London with Eileen Sheehan on Wednesday 16th June at 7.30pm.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Magpie Has Landed...

... in Dundalk. It's a great pleasure today, to welcome Elizabeth Baines' Flying With Magpies tour to sunny Dundalk on the east coast of Ireland, with her new novel, Too Many Magpies.

I devoured this book in one sitting: I am a quick reader, but when a book grabs one's attention the way that Too Many Magpies does, I find it extremely hard to put it down.This book was amazing for its exploration of that disturbing sense of guilt that women experience as parents and the build-up of worry and tension in the novel just kept on ratchetting up. I thought TMM was very well written and I loved the opacity of the language; everything adding to that sense of heightened awareness. Anyhow, on we go with Elizabeth's visit.

Elizabeth Baines was born in South Wales and lives in Manchester. She is a prizewinning author of prose fiction and plays for radio and stage. Too Many Magpies was published by Salt in 2009. Previously Salt published her collection of short stories, (2007) which was pronounced ‘a stunning debut collection’ (The Short Review). In October 2010 Salt will reissue her first, acclaimed novel Balancing on the Edge of the WorldThe Birth Machine. She is also a performer and has been a teacher.

About the book: How do we safeguard our children in a changing and dangerous world? And what if the greatest danger is from ourselves? A young mother fearful for her children’s safety falls under the spell of a charismatic but sinister stranger. A novel about our hidden desires and the scientific and magical modes of thinking which have got us to where we are now.

  • Elizabeth, you write your main characters very strongly, and the issues and themes that are raised are those that affect women in particular. I enjoyed particularly the voice, that to me was the main strength of the novel; the voice of this woman. How hard is it to articulate a character like the narrator in Too Many Magpies?

Well, to me voice is all-important - to my mind, it's HOW a novel or story is told that is its real essence, and which carries its real meaning. I really can't begin writing until I hear the narrative voice. Sometimes that happens quickly and sometimes it doesn't, I find: you can have the theme and the story and even the characters, but you still can't hear the voice in which the story will be told - whether it's the voice of one of the characters, or of a separate narrator etc, and how precisely that voice sounds. I don't really find that I can do much actively to make this happen: basically I find it's a question of waiting to hear it, and if it doesn't come quickly, you just need to let the novel/story grow in your head. In fact, the voice of Too Many Magpies came to me very quickly right from the start (along with the first sentence that just dropped into my head): that of the main character, a woman trapped in a crisis and fearful for her children. Once the voice comes, I find, you're away, and it feels more like listening than thinking or working anything out. So all in all I found the voice of this particular novel very easy to achieve and as a result I wrote it very quickly. As I say, though, it's not always like that!

  • Although the woman is having an affair, I still found I had good sympathy with her. Again this is a real strength of the character’s complexity – how much thought do you give to the development of a character: their flaws, their foibles, their strengths?

Again, once I heard this woman's voice, I had her whole person, so I didn't put a lot of conscious thought into developing a profile of her. I know some writers draw up character profiles with backstories etc but I think I'd find that process distracting and defocussing from the bit of a character's story I'm writing and indeed distancing from characters themselves. As with acting (which I also do sometimes) I need to inhabit the story and the characters rather than stand back from them in the way that I think (though I may be wrong) 'profiling' or 'developing' them would require. You know the actor's saying that if you get the right shoes on you know exactly how your character will behave? Well, that's how I feel about voice: once I've got the right voice I feel I know as much as I need to about the character(s) for the story I'm telling, and with a first-person voice like this one I'm right inside the character's head. I know that in reality it's the converse of this last that's true: the characters are actually inside my head, they are constructs of my imagination, and merely aspects of the story I've made up! But for me it's more a question of daydreaming them than thinking them out. And once you're in that state of 'being inside a character's head' (and as long as there's no overall authorial irony, which there isn't in this novel) you're no longer judging him or her, and so the reader, one hopes, is less likely to judge him/her and more likely to identify. I suppose I must say that I did identify with this particular character in some of the more objective, non-writerly ways - which must have helped! - as naturally I drew on some of my own experience of having children, and, more specifically, the thing that happens to her elder child also happened to mine.

  • I found a magical realism element to the novel: sometimes I felt that the setting was real, sometimes I felt that there was a slippage between a created reality and a second created universe (that may be because I was ill whilst reading, admittedly). This added a real sense of urgency to the novel's progress; I wondered how this atmosphere came about?

I'd say this comes from the narrator's psychology and situation. Her problem is precisely how to view the world and how to work out which is the reality, the empirical world of facts her husband works in, or a world of charms and spells and luck and intuition represented by her lover. And she is indeed slipping from one to the other world as she turns emotionally from one to the other of the two men. And there's another level she slips towards, away from them both: the uncertainty which neither world view properly acknowledges.

Thank you Elizabeth for such an interesting insight into this intriguing novel. For those who want to follow this interview up, you can read about Too Many Magpies on the Salt website; you can watch Elizabeth talking about her novel; and you can hear Elizabeth's podcasts too.

Next week, the Flying With Magpies tour lands at Vanessa Gebbie's Blog, and the last date of the tour is at Eco Libris. All thanks to Elizabeth and the Salt publishing crew.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Poem, A Plaque

A few weeks ago, Dundalk Town Council's Arts Office invited me to come over and launch the poem they commissioned me to write, celebrating 15 years of the Arts Office existing in Dundalk, at their annual music bursary awards. They had the poem cast in bronze, which is wonderful although a tad daunting, because it's permanent - so I just hope I got it right.

The poem grew from a recording I was invited to be part of back in August 2009. Dundalk Arts Office was leaving its then premises and moving back into the Town Hall, in the Basement Gallery. Many prominent figures in Dundalk's arts life were asked to come and talk to Harry Lee, of Dundalk FM about how the arts had developed over the past fifteen years.

There were musicians, artists, writers and people involved in drama who spoke of the importance of the arts office and how it enabled people to become more involved in the artistic development of different areas in Dundalk. I enjoyed being a part of that programme, as well as listening to all the figures talking about their experiences. Whether politicians or people on the ground, each person's perspective was interesting and I tried to encapsulate that into the poem.

I know it has especial resonance for those in Dundalk, but perhaps it may not make sense to those outside the town - but that's okay. That's the thing about a commission - you can't please (fool) all the people, all of the time.

Feel free to click on the picture - you should be able to read the poem :)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Being Silent is Good for you

Photo credit: The Sunday Tribune - the name of the photographer isn't given, alas.

On Saturday I took part in 'Chris Doris: 10 Poets Observe in Silence,' in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. There was a piece about it in the Sunday Tribune yesterday and a photo of us all in the round. This is the most challenging, and yet most rewarding, piece of art I have contributed to in a long time.

What we were asked to do was simply to remain in the present, be silent and observe across the day, for just under six hours. We took breaks every hour and had a lunch break. And so the hours passed, with each of us trying to remain in the now, not wander off in our own thoughts, but let the day pass. And it did pass, serenely, quietly - the Hugh Lane has the sort of acoustics you get in a church or cathedral, which I thought lent a sort of 'holy' quality to the day.

You can call me barmy, if you wish, but I got a lot from it. Maybe you had to be there :)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Drivin' in a straight line...

Picture thanks to Ireland Genealogy Projects and Roots Web Ancestry

... in a poem is not as easy as it looks on TFE's 'oul bus. I think it might be one of them 'oul-fashioned wans dat dey used ta droive in da 70s & 80s (okay, meybe da 60s) in Dublin - see above.

I gave you all this line: 'I got down on my knees and smelled the brand new linoleum,' from a story by Edna O'Brien (another class act) in her short story collection The Pagan Place.

What you did with it was another matter entirely. Well fair play to you all, you got into it. I'm very impressed with the response - you all engaged with the line and took it your own varied and many ways - and the round up begins here:

Niamh has her Ear To The Ground

Rachel Fox is Flat Down

Emerging Writer is on the bus too

NanU's The Ineffable Scent of Linoleum

JoAnne's in The Kitchen

Don't Feed the Pixies has a quirky take in Out of Gas

TFE's has a Pilgrims Progress sort of moment amongst others

Peter Goulding's pulled out all the rhyming stops for ium

Bill gets technical Close to the Ground

DanaBug dishes the dirt on Willow ware and linoleum

Jeanne Iris is a Mom Interrupted

Poetikat uses her olfactory muscles

Enchanted Oak has a strongly coloured lino: The Red Floor

Pure Fiction breaks Virgin Territory

Padhraig lays it on us in Trackstopper

Colin looks at the roots of it all in Flax

and Watercats with a right kitchen sink drama,

Jessica Maybury talks straight about what you find on the lino

and Linoleum's Fresh Dreams from Chiccoreal

Swiss is better late than never with the process and scents of a Lino cut

I hope that's everyone now! As for the driver well...

The Mechanics of Movement

I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum,
adopted the cat stance, then threaded the needle
hand under each arm, slowly in turn, shoulder to floor.
Back to the cat stance, spine arched up and back to rest
and folded my legs with my bum in the bow crook
of my calves. All the while breathin, deeper and deeper.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Drivin' The Poetry Bus

Next Monday, the 17th of May, I get to grip the wheel of TFE's poetry bus for the day. So I thought I'd better leave what I'm thinking of, out for ye to think of.

"I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum..."

Start with that line and see where you go with a poem - this line should give you somewhere to go using longer lines, and that's what I'm interested in seeing you develop, nice long lines: think Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Sinead Morrissey... the Bible

Simples. (I can't make that sucky/squeaky sound those meerkats make...)

You know the drill - leave a comment below if you're contributing and I'll come and look and post your link in my post next Monday - ding, ding, ding!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Krapp's Last Tape

Last night, I went to see Krapp's Last Tape in the Gate Theatre, Dublin, with Michael Gambon in the title role. Woah.

From the opening, when Krapp's hand comes slowly up from underneath the desk to rub his head and scratch his hair (and I was sitting there thinking about how to convey the 'handness of hands' as he did so well), to the closing scene with Krapp sitting there, aghast, resigned, displaying all the gamut of emotion and none, simultaneously - I was truly spellbound in the second row. The one hour one-hander felt like fifteen minutes in the presence of someone very, very good at what they do.

Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times must have been at it last night too - his review is far more eloquent than I ever could be, describing Gambon as 'an alchemist of the soul'. I know one thing he doesn't though: last night was really, really special - I saw tears in Michael Gambon's eyes as he took three curtain calls. That's what you get for sitting in the second row..

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Irish Pages Annual Lecture

If you're in Belfast this Friday, here's a thing you might be interested in:

The Fifth Annual Irish Pages Lecture
Friday, 7 May 2010 at 7.30pm
Belfast Exposed, 23 Donegall Street, Belfast

Free Entry & Refreshments

To Scullabogue Backwards from Belfast
Against Sectarian Preconceptions
by Patricia Craig
Introduced by Glenn Patterson

A critic, essayist and anthologist, Patricia Craig was born and grew up in Belfast and
lived for many years in London before returning to Northern Ireland in 1999. She
has written biographies of Elizabeth Bowen and Brian Moore, and edited many
anthologies, including The Oxford Books of Ireland, English Detective Stories and Modern
Women’s Stories, The Belfast Anthology and The Ulster Anthology. Her memoir Asking for
Trouble was published in 2007. She is a regular contributor to The Irish Times, The
Independent and the Times Literary Supplement.

In case anyone's wondering, Scullabogue is the name of a townland in County Wexford (VInegar Hill and all that), at which a certain barn was used as a staging post for the rebels in the Irish 1798 Rebellion. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it (the end part rhymes with vogue, if you're not sure how we pronounce it here)?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Solving Sylvia?

I almost regret getting stuck into Ariel's Gift last week, as it ended up with me re-reading Birthday Letters, Ariel (the facsimile of her original ms), reading Her Husband, by Diane Middlebrook, and then turning to the internet to order Plath's Collected Poems (I did have this, but don't know where it's gone), as well as her Journals, Letters Home (you need these both, apparently, to balance each other out), and Johnny Panic & her collected Prose. I stopped myself just as the bill came to the 100 mark, at the children's stories - but only just.

I've also ordered some Anne Sexton, and Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame, oh and AS's Collected too, I read her work at AMK and decided I really should have my own copy. But that's by the by.

Anyhoo, what do I think of the whole thing? I find S&T's whole story appallingly fascinating. Their sad story reminds me of my own parents: miserable together, miserable without each other. My mother felt trapped by the whole marriage versus a creative life. Like SP, my mother had an American upbringing and education (her parents fled France when WWII broke out). In Dublin at the end of the 60s, at the age of twenty-one, she met my dad, at uni, and got pregnant, married and ended up living in the back-of-beyond in a border-town-land just as the Troubles were starting away from the city lights, trying to raise children and have a creative life. The strain of trying, coupled with the loss of a baby, I think, caused her mental unravelling, and contributed to the subsequent demise of the marriage. He too had his own mental and personal issues - there are always two sides, and then ten more, to any story.

Weirdly (or perhaps not, if you're a psychologist), I've found myself in slightly similar circumstances to my mother: six children and all the concomitant responsibilities that go with those different personalities; as well as my own wants, wishes and desires for a working creative life. I guess you could say that I'm looking at my options; weighing my life and wondering, Have I got the balance right? Am I doing what I want to be doing? I'm beginning to think that the answer may not be what I want it to be; so I'm going to have to think strongly about what's important to me: the writing I should be doing, instead of the energy I give to others in the teaching process (Plath & Hughes taught in the US for a year; they didn't do much writing).

But back to the original spark of this journal-post: Ariel's Gift is designed as a sort of primer; like a literary York notes to Hughes' Birthday Letters. Erica Wagner takes each part of the couple's life together and matches the poems of that period. It begins with the infamous meeting of Plath & Hughes (she reciting his recently published poem back to him; he being snarling and manly - and all the rest) and goes on from there.

After a certain point, I couldn't escape feeling that Birthday Letters is more than an apologia gleaned from a lifetime of mourning and regret. Hughes would always write from the vantage point of selectively looking in his rear-view mirror; how he sees things and how he has to re-read her work in cataloguing it for posterity (and sale to Smith College) -memory being a trickster too. BL is in some aspects a synthesis of both of their work; the working relationship they had once shared was almost symbiotic: they re-used each other's mss to write on, they seized on each other's images and metaphors from poem to poem. In Hughes re-reading of her work, re-working of this material personal to them both, perhaps he came more to terms with the psychic rift that occured between them - but this is to trivialise the whole matter, and to re-hash what a whole pile of other people have written as well; I do realise.

Our fascination as a reader is with the what-ifs: what if she had lived and gone on to develop her writing talent; what could her riposte have been. That is why their story is enduringly fascinating to me - almost fifty years later; that and the personal similarities that I identify with.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mad Yaks & Everyman & Ariel's Gift

This week's been great - all these books started arriving in the post and then yesterday my youngest son brought up an envelope that my husband had missed: a book that arrived while I was away, before I got sick - The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Cafe! I'd been looking forward to buying this and reading it, but it was a real unexpected surprise to find it already here :)

I ripped open the envelope and was delighted to read Colin Will's work inside - intially impressed by the closing Far Eastern sequence, which includes the title poem; avoids being 'tourist poetry' by the fact of being calm and examining, without trying to judge by Western standards. Others that jump out at me are 'Mr Self-Destruct does not want to workshop today' (great title, huh?); 'Old campaigner,' 'Exiles,' and these are just for starters. I recommend this book, just for the whispering subtlety that is shown in poems like 'The Jewel in the Gym.' Imagined or real emotion-scapes, I think its hard to tell the difference between them; here's a writer who's invested a great deal in the act of imagining and making art from that act. Something about it, which reminded me strongly of the work I'd been reading earlier in the week, Michael Donaghy's Safest.

Other books received: from Michael Farry, (thank-you - so much) a whole block of Roths (could that be a new turn of phrase). I started with American Pastoral, which I found heavy-going, but brilliant at turns. I read the shorter Everyman yesterday and I actually loved it: the grim, gutsy Jewish humour behind every twist and turn of the protaganist's fate. It starts in a graveyard at a funeral, and tells the story of how the bloke in the coffin came to end up there; supplying all his faults and failings in between. As an examination of the life of a man and an exposition on the theme of regret, I thought it was pretty masterful. I did wonder though, if it was a healthy thing to be reading about someone with dodgy health, when my own health is dodgy! I have The Plot Against America to go, but I might wait for a few days; Roths are rich and need digesting.

Currently reading Ariel's Gift, which TFE had a spare copy of, and am reading it in tandem with Birthday Letters and Ariel, which are staring at me from the bookcases in my bedroom. A'sG is meaty and interesting; how we are all obsessed with Hughes and Plath and what happened to them both. Underneath, they were people -deeply flawed, deeply talented, but people. Erica Wagner seems to want to show how Hughes paid for his repression of his part of the experience, but tried to make up for it with Birthday Letters. More on this when I've read it, if I haven't got fed up with it...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


It's nice to be mollycoddled like I have been in the last four days. Breakfast in bed; lunch and dinner made for me. All I have to do is eat and not complain. He is becoming a very good cook - I trained him well ;)

I don't have to worry about shopping, laundry, what the kids are up to - nothing. It's a bit weird and takes a lot of getting used to, as I normally hold the reins of control quite tightly. Too tightly, he says. It's a bit like being a kid, not having these responsibilities. All I have to worry about is eating, sleeping and the mere body basics.

So, I'm reading: Elizabeth Baines new book, Too Many Magpies arrived yesterday. I read that to the strains of a programme on Madwomen in the Attic. How appropriate; the undercurrent of paranoia is so well maintained in EB's tightly woven book. I also have some Philip Roths coming in the post - and I'm getting a chance to look around the web and catch up on people's blogs.

Everything has slowed down to the pace of the Radio 4 programmes I listen to. There is nowhere I have to be or do. I just have to learn to be better and not push it at all - I paid for that yesterday and ended up sleeping in this morning. Softly, softly.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Readings and settings

Before I headed off to hospital Friday a week ago, I had the rare pleasure of hearing Martin Dyar, winner of the 2009 Patrick Kavanagh Award for an unpublished ms, reading to a select group of about 40 - 50 people.

The setting was magical: the drawing room of an old country house, Annaverna House, in the middle of a forest, on the slopes of Cuchulainn country - Ravensdale and the Cooley Peninsula. First, some readings by local writers; some who are getting started in the trade and some more established (yeah, I read too).

After drinkies and chat, Martin Dyar totally wooed the audience with his tales of characters from Mayo, his muscular language - I heard comparisons being made with Ted Hughes' work! Long poems, short poems, humorous and restrained, he brought something for everyone and had us all utterly spellbound. He even read the poem he read last year at the Irish Writers' Centre, Dublin for the Stinging Fly launch, which I think is called 'Death and the Post Office.'

That reading has sustained me over what became a very trying week. I ended up in hospital (again) from Sunday, with a partially collapsed lung, as a result of pneumonia - which I think I may have had for some time - fatigue and a persistant pain under my left ribs had been diagnosed as, well, something 'muscular' ... hmm.

It's going to be a long recovery, and you can help me: what I'm looking for are a list of books, easily obtainable, (think Easons for a start - possibly Amazon) that I might enjoy - come on guys, save my poetry & prose soul!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sore but still here

I never knew how much pain two tiny wee holes could cause you! Well, it's all over bar the shouting, but it went well yesterday, despite me blubbering like a baby in the ante-room before I went in - last November I hadn't a good experience with the medication I was given before the colonoscopy; I was lucid for some of that experience and it gave me nightmares for weeks afterwards. Put it this way, yesterday I was scared witless.

Needless to say, the anaesthesia staff were really kind to me, and I was away with the fairies before you could say 'general anaesthetic.' I came round after a forty min op which sorted me all out for now. Into the wee holes they made, one under the belly-button, one above the bikini line, they inserted cameras and instruments, as well as Carbon Dioxide which helps to make space so that they can see around the organs a bit easier.

So, today, apart from these weird pains in my diaphragm and shoulders (which is caused by the dispersion of the CO2 and is normal after a laparoscopy) and my stomach feeling like someone peformed Riverdance on it with elephants that were high on red bull (maybe they did, who knows what they get up to in Theatre when you're out for the count!), I'm grand. Nothing that a bit of Difene and some extra strength Nurofen, as well as a good night's sleep won't cure. Aren't we women fierce resilient all the same?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Wish me luck...

... tomorrow I go under the knife - well, only a tiny hole actually; that's the beauty of a laparoscopy, a teeny, tiny hole, through which they insert a camera, CO2, the kitchen sink and whatever else they can get up the tube that goes into my tummy.

I'm just concerned about whatever it is that may come out... or, there being nothing in there and the pain is just 'in my mind' (thank you Eddie Izzard, for that one).

Either which way, I will be out of my mind for at least one day. No change there, then... :)

See you on the far side!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Snowy start to spring

Pics of the great house at Annamakerrig, otherwise known as the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for Writers and Artists, and the lake in front of it from the far side - a bit mucky but worth the walk.

So, there we were in March, and we thought spring had finally arrived, but it turned out that winter still had a sting in its tail to deliver.Still, I've had a great time sorting out my poems, writing a few more and letting some air into the cobwebbed spaces that were my mind. I feel refreshed, recharged and ready to face the next few weeks...!

The snow is now melting here and the sun is quite warm - and it's April.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Annamakerrig Awaits

I'll be off writing for a whole week, undisturbed (sans hub, sans kids, sans everything - bar the sense), at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for Artists and Writers.

Tyrone Guthrie, playwright, was a rare spirit. He gifted his estate, deep in the drumlins of Co. Monaghan, to the Irish state upon his death in 1971, as a place to be developed for giving artists a space to work in.

I've already received a couple of bursary residencies to this magical place, last year (one lot from Dundalk Town Council, another from the centre itself), and by the Goddess did I make the most of those three weeks.

This coming week is my last gifted week there, making the most of Tyrone Guthrie's far-sighted hospitality, which is continued through the friendly staff who mind the place on his behalf, for us writers and artists: Guests of the Nation, indeed!

Thanks TG.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Chimaera

The new issue of The Chimaera is online, and there's a review of Nigel McLoughlin's Chora, a new and selected from Templar Poetry.

There are also other reviews from Angela France on Alison Brackenbury & Paul Stevens on Jee Leong Koh's book, Equal to the Earth (lovely title, don't you think?), and poems galore, themed and unthemed, from all sorts of poets (Alison Brackenbury & Anna Evans to name but a few).

Check out this lovely online poetry ezine, it's presented well and easy to navigate and some of the poems can also be heard as well as read.

Oh yeah, I wrote the NMcL review... nearly forgot!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"With a shillelagh under me arm...

Photo courtesy of St. Patrick's Shamrock Company at - a website where you can buy shamrock - jaypers I'll be getting mine out in the field, as usual!

...and a twinkle in me eye,
I'm off to Tipperary in the morning!"

I wish - but, it is good that St. Patrick's Day falls on a Wednesday this year, as it gives me a chance to mitch off from teaching - no I mean take a well-earned rest and have a bit of family time.

I'm just surfacing from what has to have been my own worst winter of discontent: illness after illness, pain after pain, strange swellings and shrinkings, ultra-mood swings - it could be viewed as being funny, in that understated way that Irish women have, except that all the way along since last September I've remained undiagnosed - but I'm finally getting closer to a diagnosis! Progress indeed. I've had a colonoscopy (basically, a camera up me bum -unneeded, but apparently an elimination that was needed), and an OGD, both of which thankfully I was knocked out for (camera lowered into the tummy and small intestine). Nice, I suppose, to know that at least that part of me is okay and has been passed as fit. Wish the rest of me was :/

But it seems that the pains and the mood-swings and the awful, awful mind-numbing tiredness is down to wandering bits of endometrium; the lining of the womb.

You'd think that this stuff would stay put, where it belongs - but no, in some women it likes to go off and have an ould grow on other organs, causing 'adhesions' which are when one bit sticks to another - say your ovary to your womb, or your ovary to every other organ around it.

What happens every month as you go through the cycle is that these extraneous bits grow and shed, just like your womb would, except that there's nowhere for the shedding to go... which is why you get strange, regular pains (that were frankly the most excruciating thing I've ever been through - I'd much rather have had a baby, without any anaesthesia any day!). I'm far from having the whole thing sorted out, but it's nice to have a name for the symptoms - endometriosis - and not feel like I'm simply going doolally.

So, wherever you are, have a Happy St. Patrick's Day : enjoy the wearing of the green and have an ould pint of shtout for me!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lovely things to read

This week, into my mailbox arrived Paul Maddern's Kelpdings (great title); The Stinging Fly (so many good stories/poems in there - and congrats to Kit Fryatt on winning piece of the year), The Dark Horse from Scotland/US (really enjoyed this last subscription and now they've gone 'buy online' so there's no excuse!). Last but not least is the Poetry Divas 1(still a few copies left- go there to buy!) pamphlet with those brazen poetry huss... lovely ladies! The Divas work hard and play hard as is evidenced by the poems in this first edition, complete with a cover of pink wellie-booties in a love-heart - oh yah.

Paul Maddern's pamphlet from Templar was one of the winners of their pamphlet competition last year and it's just gorgeous. The poems, the cover (how can you not like a cover that colour), the pamphlet, the words... it's like taking a vacation in your head in much warmer Island waters... how I long for some real heat in the sunshine now.

This year's Templar pamphlet comp. is already open, in fact it closes mid-April, so you'd want to get a move on soon. The judge is Pat Winslow (get her poetry if you can - very, very talented poet) and the comp. closes on the 8th May 2010. Get cracking now (that last bit was to myself ) B)

Monday, March 08, 2010

International Women's Day

So, what are you doing to celebrate International Women's Day?

I remember when I was expecting the twins being asked to read at a poetry event in Drogheda to celebrate, with Susan Connolly - that's eleven years ago now, in 1999! Frightening.

Today, I'll content myself with hugging some quiet poetry news to myself and thinking about the achievements of some great women in writing: Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Dorothy Molloy, Adrienne Rich - and some more contemporary ones: Emerging Writer, Nuala, Apprentice, Peony Moon, Jane Holland, Pascale Petit, Kay MacKenzie Cooke... and that's just a quick glance around the blogospere - here's to us grils (yes, that is deliberate!).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Christening Through Binoculars

‘I can see God through my nocliers,’ you said
and we indulged your three-year-old self
with shushing smiles as the priest intoned the rites
that would make you one of theirs.

I held your baby sister in my arms as we waited
our turn for water droplets, for you and her.
You scrutinised the ceiling, hunted for loose angels,
asked ‘ If heaven was inside the chapel walls?'

I thought not, but didn’t say, as you were bundled
up by a burly Godfather, to receive your blessing,
and I offered the crowns of both your downy heads
in return for confirmation that binoculars allowed.

This is pure rough, I'll take it down later for work!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bookshops going Bust

I heard this morning in class, and it was later confirmed, that the newish kids on the block, Hughes and Hughes, the Irish booksellers have gone into receivership. Odd, I thought to myself, didn't they post a profit last year?

We're gutted here in Dundalk, as it was a great bookshop with a coffee-shop area, and a lovely children's section, and they were the sort of bookshop that would order it in for you, if they didn't have it. Hell, they'd even ring you to tell you it had arrived. They didn't mind you looking around and the sort of stock they held was definitely a cut above the Easons that we have here - you could buy decent poetry books in it for a start, or more obscure books that you mightn't find. Jeepers, I even found Claire Keegan's last book in it, Walk the Blue Fields.

It means now that for book-purchasing and browsing, I'm constrained to having to go to Dublin, or to rely more heavily on that internet book crowd, than I was before. I'll admit that doesn't help matters, as far as H&H were concerned - I had a tendency to go to the internet quicker than ask a bookshop to order; but that was down to the constraints in the past of juggling kids as well as the sort of books I wanted to get my hands on.

Here, on the outer rim of Europe, sometimes you have to try that little bit harder if you're looking for books that are better known in the UK, or US or beyond: last year I remember going to Waterstones in Dublin and asking for Mick Imlah's The Lost Leader, and them not knowing what I was on about.

So what's a girl to do? Books are moving in a similar direction that music moved in; online access, downloading onto these new fangled reader devices. But does that mean the death of books? And does that mean the death of bookshops? And where does the library fit in to all this, with their (surely by now) reduced budgets in the recession? Am I to become a weird oddity with all those feicin bookshelves I bought to hold all the card-bound paper sheets (that I bought) - with black typing on those sheets!

News reports are saying that high rents were partly to blame for H&H's sudden demise, and that landlords might need to get a little more real with their expectations in the CEC (current economic climate). But the fact that a big bookstore like Waterstones could say that their business was down by 10-15% over the Christmas period tells us a lot (as if we needed to be told) about what people are cutting back on. It can't be good in the long run for writers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Get Your Love Groove On,

Okay, get your Barry White out, your half dozen oysters, your peppercorn steaks and chocolate puds and in your bestest, deepest chocolate voice get it on, on the Lurve Bus...

The Garden of Earthly Delights

In the kitchen, Valentine,
it will begin with the green
curlicues of garlic shoots hid
in the cold shelf of the fridge.

The prying, bulging eyes of spuds
will wink in the clammy closeness
of their plastic bag. All being pulled
spring-tight tonight, through the tilting

built into their bolting seed husks.
And you too will respond with the flick
in your loins, the click in your head
as my hands riot in the radishes,

tease out the aubergine chunks,
toss together pillows of cherry tomatoes
and delight in these firm ruins
of last year's seedpods. There,

Valentine, is where you will begin.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I received, this day last week, an anthology of creative writing from the Deansgrange Writer's Group, based in Dublin, called Crossroads. It's edited by Katie Donovan, a poet whose work I've admired in the library up at the TGC at Annaghmakerrig. Katie has a new & selected due in 2010 from Bloodaxe, entitled Rootling.

Katie modestly describes her input as that of a selector, and her choice of work throws up some interesting poems, stories and memoir - and when you look at the bios in the back you realise that many of these names are people you've seen namechecked before in journals and mags around the country.

11 contributors, too many to mention, all interesting work, with a good opener (William and Eileen - Catherine Paradise) and a great close (The Coat - John Piggott). I'm still dipping into it, alongside the great tome from RTE's Sunday Miscellany programme, and they're a good complement to each other for bedside reading.

It's a great credit to the group to organise the anthology - I know exactly how much hard work goes into them, from my own foray into anthologies last year (Drogheda Writes 2, anyone?) and I know DWG would appreciate the support. The group are donating proceeds to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin; a worthy cause from a worthy group of writers. Copies are available at their website for only €10.00.

Oh and did I mention how lovely the cover is...? ;)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Weary Spring-start

Sorry that there hasn't been much going on in here for a while, but I've been under the weather. The weather as in cold - it plays havoc with my shoulders, and a long standing stiffness that I have (no sniggering at the back there). Basically the colder it gets, the stiffer I get and it got to the stage that I couldn't move out of my bed for a couple of days.

But on the bright side, I got to read at the new Brat Bride Dundalk festival last Sunday, which featured, weirdly, another Bee Smyth, and the Poetry Chicks. I'm already a big fan of these girls (and Conor the pianist), as I've seen them and met them at Flatlake and Electric Picnic last year, where I read too (part of the ever-changing Poetry Divas, don't ya know). They moved the audience with their rousing aural-work and got genuine gasps and wows - what more could you ask for.

Now, in an aside, I've heard tell that Flatlake is moving its dates to June - anyone know anything about this?

In other news, it's competition time again - Strokestown has passed, but there's still time to enter Wigtown in Scotland, they don't close until Friday 12th, and there's word from Cavan, about the Cavan Crystal Poetry Competition which opens its doors to Adults this year. €10 for three poems and it closes March 31st. Bridport is of course open once again, plenty of time to think about your entries of either short stories or poems - but I'd given up on them because it is such a big/high-class field. Still, time to think outside the box, eh?

What else do you be doing when spring is a-coming in, but clear the decks of that stuff you've been a-writing ;)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mainstream Love Hotel & Other Books

This week sees a lot of books flying in my letterbox. I've been reading Mainstream Love Hotel, Todd Swift's latest offering, and bought copies of Elizabeth Bishop's Collected, Robert Lowell's Life Studies, Wallace Steven's Collected - and The New York Poets anthology from Carcanet, while I was at it, because I wanted Frank O'Hara's work all in the one place - in fact that was why I bought the others, so that I can more easily refer to them as I want, instead of rooting about at the various Nortons stashed away (besides, I had a book clear-out, enabling me to buy some... oh, you know how it is with a book-sickness!).

Anyhow, back to MLH from tall-lighthouse - all week I've been reading this, as well as catching up on new episodes of Mad Men (we're a few weeks ahead of the UK - bless RTE). One seems to compliment the other in a weird connected way: smart, sophisticated, sexy, psyco-analytical, egotistical, and old-school with a new-twist this book plays with you, toys with you, right from the opener, 'Mirror', with its cryptic ending, 'The sister of knowing is making.'

In fact, there's a wonderful playfulness about the whole book, a lightness that carries each poem's deeper layered sense, as in 'The talking cure,' which is also one of my favourite poems in the collection: yes, 'Bold. / Bad Baby' indeed. There's also a wonderful facility with language, again playful and fizzing, as in 'French poem,' where the sonics gleefully bounce down the lines from 'Elle' to 'Eiffel' and on to 'Zola' and then 'novel.' Stylish, sexy and smart? Yes. But there's great grist in there too, and a wonderful joie-de-vivre, no doubt because of Swift's Canadian background, and varied European living experiences.

And there's a waryness too in his work: 'These days,' again another well-wrought sonic and rhythmically cadenced poem balances each of its phrases carefully carrying the poem's motion softly down the page:

These are the days
not other days
these are the days I was
working towards
as other further weeks,
working for days
that now I see have come in,
fish from the street

sold fresh, the man
in his whites, ringing to bring
fish just off the boats,
days that were in the sea


I'd thought to have my work
done by now, to have reached

the goals set out long ago,
I won't get there now

But you must read the book to reach the poem's shimmering conclusion!

Known as a tireless promoter of poetry wherever he has travelled in the past, Swift now lives in London where he continues finding and pushing new (and established) poetic talent in his Oxfam Marylebone reading series. I think Mainstream Love Hotel sees a sure move forward from the previous Seaway: New & Selected from Salmon Poetry, which spanned a twenty year writing career. It's great to see his work becoming available to a broader audience and it will be interesting to watch the trajectory of his next twenty poetic years.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Meme about Books

I haven't indulged in these for a while, but this one intrigued me. I nicked it from Sheenagh Pugh's blog which is well worth reading in any case.

1. Which book has been on your shelves the longest?

Lord of the Rings – sorry!

2. What is your current read, your last read and the book you'll read next?

Currently reading Mainstream Love Hotel. Just finished The Lost Symbol, because I like reading pulp and giving out about it just as much as anyone else!

3. What book did everyone like and you hated?

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I really wanted to like it, but I got a bit annoyed with the heroine in the end. Probably just me being curmudgeonly, because I know the book went on to win great honours for its author, so it must be good.

4. Which book do you keep telling yourself you'll read, but you probably won't?

Ulysses by you-know-who. I know the plot, the characters and the story: I just need to read the damn thing.

5. Which book are you saving for "retirement?"

Isn’t that a bit ahead – who knows what I’ll be doing then!

6. Last page: read it first or wait till the end?

If I get annoyed with the book I will do this, but I’ll still read the rest of it. Mainly I wouldn’t do this on myself, as I enjoy holding back too much.

7. Acknowledgments: waste of ink and paper or interesting aside?

I can see both sides to that argument. A publisher I know said it was better to try and be concise, rather than thanking everyone, including the cat. Funnily enough, established writers don’t have long Ack. lists, if at all.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?

Watson, from Sherlock Holmes. I’d love to see Holmes in action, see the way his mind worked. I reckon I might have a bit of trouble in the trouser department, though.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time)?

I have a book that I bought second-hand: Richard Scarry’s Big Book of Words. I bought it because it was the first book my parents bought me after a trip they had away and I loved it the way some kids love a teddy bear, or doll. I did let the kids read it – I’m not that precious – but I have reclaimed it, to ‘pass on.’

10. Name a book you acquired in some interesting way.

The Crowning Privilege, a book of Oxford lectures by Robert Graves. It was the first, and probably the last, book I bought on eBay. It was brilliant – Graves had a strange mind when it came to poetry and how it worked – if you’re in any doubt about that, try reading The White Goddess.

11. Have you ever given away a book for a special reason to a special person?

I find it extremely hard to part with books, but I have given them away - I gave a signed copy of a Billy Collins poetry collection to a dear friend of mine. I regretted it instantly, but she adored it.

12. Which book has been with you to the most places?

Probably that copy of The Lord of the Rings. It has moved house with me countless times.

13. Any "required reading" you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad ten years later?

Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. I hated it in secondary school, but loved it later as one of twelve 19th c novels I had to read for a literature course.

14. What is the strangest item you’ve ever found in a book?

Dried flowers. And a shopping list. Not in the same book, obviously. Although who knows..?

15. Used or brand new?

I like both. I love the smell that second-hand books have, slightly musty and, well, bookish, but I love the feel of a book that hasn’t been opened yet, cracking the spine of it – that sort of thing.

16. Stephen King: Literary genius or opiate of the masses?

I’ve read him, but I don’t like categorising. Pass.

17. Have you ever seen a movie you liked better than the book?

I had reservations about Peter Jackson tackling LOTR. But I thought he did very well in the end. Can’t think of any movies that are better than the book, because I do like both mediums and also I like the world I create in my own head when I read a book.

18. Conversely, which book should NEVER have been introduced to celluloid?

Uh, can't think.

19. Have you ever read a book that's made you hungry, cookbooks being excluded from this question?

Paradise by Abdul Razzak Gurnah. It was aching. It made me hungry to experience eastern Africa. But that part of Africa probably doesn’t exist any more. All the more reason why the book worked for me.

20. Who is the person whose book advice you'll always take?

I used to have a great friend who was always dropping in really interesting books and CDs. Alas we don’t live in the same town anymore, but I always read those books – many of which I still have.

Now, if you feel like having a go at this yourself - nominate yourself. Go on, you know you want to!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Spring Sap - Already?

So, only a few days since this area shook off its white winter coat and assumed its green one and what a relief to see green again. I think that you can feel a little ill if you don't get to see the colours you're used to seeing out in the garden. It's so warm today I've even turned off the heating, which is a bit mad. I even saw a few buds on my clematis outside, which is great because I was worried it had been killed by the cold.

I think they used to call these days Halcyon days; country people that is. I remember that great Weather Eye columnist Brendan McWilliams writing about them in the back pages of the Irish Times. He talked about those rare days you get in winter when the sun actually shines and people and the country take a wee breather.

It's nice, I can tell you, not to be feeling my feet going numb or my fingers going stiff over the keyboard. I know, you think I'm probably some old crock, the way I'm going on. Thing is, as I get older I'm getting a lot stiffer, a lot earlier than I'd like. So days like today are a blessing, halcyon or not. It makes me think forward to the summer.

And someone outside is running a machine that sounds like a lawn-mower. Incroyable! Brid's Day isn't even here yet...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Changing the Numbers

Isn't it great to be able to say twenty-ten, instead of the mouthful of two-thousand-and-nine, and all the previous year incarnations up 'til the end of the decade?

I remember when I was a little girl watching some programme on the TV, in the seventies, about what life might be like post-millenia, and seeing a picture of the then-BBC-newsreader Richard Baker put through special ageing makeup in order to see what he'd look like thirty or forty something years from then. Basically it was just a grey wig they used, plus some crow's feet around the eyes. I remember thinking that it was a long time away to me, a little girl - but look how the years have just plinkity-plinked past. Jeepers, I didn't even feel that last decade at all, at all.
All this is by way of remarking on how quickly forty-two years have snuck past when I wasn't looking; somehow I don't think I'll feel the next forty-odd either. This time thing: you can waste it and spend it, some say you can even save it (but I've never seen a time bank, have you?) - but you can't keep it from flowing through your fingers - each day, each hour, each second - all those labels to help us move along our seven days, our months, our years... and time only ever moves one way. Time's slow arrow moves into a future that we cannot see - a little like shooting over your shoulder without taking aim. Hmm.