29 November 2008
A retirement presentation last evening for me by Navan Education Centre. A wonderful occasion. I was presented with a beautiful watercolour of Trim Castle ( right) by well known artist John Ryan who lives locally.
I made a short speech and finished by reading this poem of mine which seemed appropriate. It was published in the magazine Revival in October 2008.
His penmanship a legend across two parishes,
he dipped his split nib in ceramic inkwell
and copied wisdom in cursive handwriting,
headlining each stale proverb with precision.
Perfect loops embellished routine phrases,
steep ascenders flattered prone platitudes.
His flourishes conceived a perfect universe
of joined-up letters and rococo capitals.
Now his nibs scratch and tarnish white sheets.
Wayward scribbles, ignoring blue and red, dip
and rise at random, crossing ruled lines at awkward
angles. So he prefers to type in Comic Sans,
Ariel or Times New Roman. The script is lucid
but the meaning problematic, the uneven rhythm
and ambiguous phrase challenging, his confidence
in cursive scripts and handed-down cognition
all rubbed out. But remnants of old sayings ghost
his blackboards and typing from class memories
A stitch in time saves too many cooks
To err is human when in Rome,
All good things . . .
There's no place . . .
26 November 2008
Just got a new book of poetry by local poet Frank Murphy. It’s called Excursions and is available in Trim from Antonia’s Bookshop. More details on Frank’s blog here. http://thetarapoetryblog.blogspot.com/
This is Frank’s second book and contains forty seven poems. I loved his foreword which briefly and succinctly discusses what poetry is about - language? technical competence? originality of thought? “Poetry . . . is neither a lighthouse in a bog nor is it a messenger service. It just is, and in either case it may be folly. The contention that it makes nothing happen is by the way. It may.”
The poems are divided into sections: Rhyme and Reason, The Possessive Type etc. One section in particular, The Dead Wood, seemed to me to be particularly strong. Eight short poems of very short lines, sometimes one word only, hint at trauma and almost tell a tale. It entices the reader to read the section again to see connections and begin to put a story together.
In the long grass
It was hard to tell
You were on.
When he wants Frank can use rhyme with great skill and he has a talent for throwing in the commonplace phrase which challenges rather than comforts.
As a work in
It had its moments
(The Gilded Cage)
This is a collection to be dipped into again and again.
25 November 2008
On Thursday last I visited Galway and attended the Over the Edge Open Reading at Galway City Library. Over The Edge is organised by Galway-based writers Susan Millar DuMars and Kevin Higgins (right). This was a completely different experience to the White House reading but just as enjoyable.
The three featured readers were Elizabeth Power, Gordon Hewitt & John Goodby. A great mix, Elizabeth read from a novel in progress, powerful writing concerning witches, the Aran Islands, the past, the present. Gordon from Belfast performed in his unique blend of spoken word, performance poetry, song and chant, involving the audience singing - well sort of! John Goodby, a poet and translator who lectures at the University of Swansea, read some of his poems and translations including some of his uncaged sea (2008), a cut-up version of the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. He is the founder of Wales’s only poetry performance group Boiled String. He is featured on Poetcasting here.
Unlike Limerick the open-mic took place after featured readers. Again a good mix of styles and experience. I abandoned the disaster poems and read "What is a Poem?" which won second prize in a poetry competition during the summer. It seemed to be well received by the sizable crowd.
Over the Edge website.
24 November 2008
When in the west last week I did what I have been threatening to do for a long time, visit the the White House Poetry Revival session. This has being going for five years. Every Wednesday the famous old world bar in O'Connell St, Limerick (picture left) is transformed into a centre of poetry as poets recite their latest work. Barney Sheehan and Dominic Taylor are behind the event. They start with the open-mic and then the featured readers do their business. Last Wednesday the readers were Eamon Carr of Horslips fame who read from his The Origami Crow: Journey into Japan, World Cup Summer 2002 which is Eamon's first collection of poetry and New Zealand born Ross Hattaway whose book entitled The Gentle Art of Rotting was published by Seven Towers in 2006. Both were excellent and were very well received. Seven Towers website is here.
The open-mic was as usual very enjoyable, a great mix of first-time and more experienced readers and a wonderful mixture of styles. There was a lot of rugby comment and some rugby poems, it being the night after the All Black-Munster game. I balanced this by reading a soccer poem about the Munich air disaster. I also read one about a visit to Auschwitz - happy stuff to read in a pub! I really enjoyed the evening, great audience, great welcome and some very fine poetry.
There is a slideshow of some of the readers here: http://whitehousepoets.blogspot.com/
23 November 2008
And then Drumcliff to pay homage at the graveside. Few visitors around, bare Benbulben's head clear in the cold air. Yeats' grave is just one of many in the graveyard of course, and less ostentatious than many. Bare trees, fallen leaves, a cold wind all made it a much more enjoyable experience than a visit in summer among busloads of tourists. The high cross is also well worth a look, thinner than many of the great crosses, Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice, for instance and some of the carving in much higher relief. Also has a representation of the virgin which is unusual. I hadn't seen the new sculpture by north Leitrim artist Jackie McKenna before and was very impressed. Based on the poem "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" it was especially impressive with much of the text covered with fallen autumn leaves.
22 November 2008
Just back from a visit to the west, Galway, Sligo and a diversion to Limerick. I visited Yeats' tower at Thoor Ballylee. A wonderfully atmospheric place especially in winter when it is closed and there is no one around. Dark and wet and somewhat brooding it calls to mind those great Tower poems of his.
An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower,
A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall,
An acre of stony ground,
Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,
Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable . . .
A slideshow of pictures on the left.
16 November 2008
I have, as I mentioned here recently, read a couple of books by writer and critic Terry Eagleton. The good news is that he has just been appointed by NUI Galway as Adjunct Professor of Cultural Theory based at the Moore’s Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies. According to a press release "Eagleton, as adjunct Professor of Cultural Theory, will provide each semester master-classes for doctoral students and junior staff, in addition to open lectures and seminars on modern literature”. Something to look out for. I finished recently his The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction in the excellent Oxford Very Short Introductions series. An enthralling read, only just over 100 pages. And what, you ask, is his answer to the meaning of life? I won't spoil your reading by telling you.
Professor Eagleton will deliver his Inaugural Lecture entitled "The Death of Criticism" at NUI Galway on 10 December. I presume this is a public lecture.
More information here.
15 November 2008
Great results for Sligo Rovers last night. In the last games of the season they beat Bray Wanderers and Cork City lost to Bohemians allowing Sligo to finish fourth in the Premier Division and qualify for European football next season. Well done!
Sligo Rovers' website.
14 November 2008
Just finished Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture. Of great interest because of my work on the war of independence and civil war in Sligo. An engrossing book, wonderfully crafted. Two characters are writing secret accounts of their lives. One, Roseanne, is over one hundred years old and lives in an asylum about to be closed. The other, Dr. Grene, is the staff psychiatrist and has to assess her condition. His wife has just died suddenly and he is in mourning.
Neither are reliable narrators. In particular we are never sure if Roseanne's memories are correct. Indeed at times she herself wonders. Dr Grene gets a copy of an account written by Fr Gaunt of Sligo which is at variance with Roseanne's account.
I liked the arrangement of the book. It initially appears choppy, with sections from each of the principal characters "secret scriptures" thrown together almost at random. However it is soon apparent that this is not the case and the arrangement is a key story telling factor.
However the book is marred in my opinion by a completely unexpected twist in the plot almost at the end. Indeed the last few pages have that feel of tidying up, putting everything right that I don't like in novels. For example the doctor finds a letter in a book which explains quite a bit of the complicated plot, a deus ex machina.
In spite of this there is at the end a feeling that we have heard stories from two human beings who have reported events as they saw and remembered them. We are also very well aware that what they have said may not be the full and complete truth and that there may be other viewpoints on the same occurences. How reliable is any narrative? "Is not most history written in a sort of wayward sincerity?" as Dr Grene says.
Irish Times review
13 November 2008
Listening to the poetry of Danny Abse from the Poetry Archive CD from Navan Library. Abse is one of the elder statesmen of British poetry, born in 1923, first collection published in 1948. His memoir, The Presence, was the Welsh Book of the Year 2008. I haven't read much by him over the years but I do have the Penguin Modern Poets 26 which includes him. Again I find it so much better to look at the poem on the page when listening. The form is essential to a poem and you often can't hear the form. Abse has a wonderful reading voice and his poetry is full of dialogue, reflections and asides. You can see and hear him on YouTube reading "Cousin Sidney" for the Oxfam CD, a wonderful poem, funny and sad at the same time. It has these unforgettable lines telling what happened Sydney in the war:
"And soon, somewhere near Dunkirk
some foreign corner was forever Sidney
though uncle would not believe it".
You can hear Dannie Abse read some poems here at the Poetry Archive.
12 November 2008
Recorded Anna Christie, the first Garbo talkie, which was on TCM recently and started to watch it today. It has much of the feel of a silent film including many intertitles introducing new scenes. Some wonderful background shots on New York including the harbour.
Garbo's first on screen words? "Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby!" The play was by Eugene O'Neill and had been a great hit. This version, the second film version, was directed by Clarence Brown who was a well known and successful director. In 1920 he had directed a major portion of the wonderful silent version of The Last of the Mohicans after Maurice Tourneur was injured in a fall.
What suprised me about this version of Anna Christie was the stage Irish dialogue of the sailor who is rescued by Anna and her father. His dialogue straight out of The Playboy of the Western World: "Anna, sure if I could only be believing that I was the only man in the world ever you had love for I would be forgetting the rest maybe"; "Ah faith we'll be having a grand beautiful life together till the end of our days"; "Anna is it making game of me you'd be? sure isn't it a quare time to be joking". I haven't a copy of O'Neill's play to hand so can't check if this is also in the original.
More about the film here. You can find most if not all of the film on YouTube.
11 November 2008
Attended a session with Shane Connaughton in Bailieborough tonight as part of the Cavan/Meath LitLab initiative. Shane is best known for co-authoring the script for the film My Left Foot but he has many more achievements to his credit. His Irish Writers Onbline biography is here.
A very interesting evening, full of advice mixed with anecdotes of stage and screen. Some of the things I jotted down included: "Writers must listen": "The writer must know all about his/her character including what the character dreams about" : "The basic rule is that all drama is about conflict" : "You must know why you want to write" : "Never turn yourself down, there's loads of people who will do that".
He has just completed the screenplay of his book A Border Station which he hopes will be made into a film in the near future.
Left: Paddy Smith, Shane Connaughton and myself in Bailieborough.
10 November 2008
November issue of Poetry magazine just arrived from Chicago. I usually read the letters and the reviews first, then the poetry. A review entitled "Five from Ireland" in this issue by Carmine Starnino deals with some new Irish poetry.
New Collected Poems, by Eavan Boland: He deals with Boland's career seeing The Journey (1987) as "One of the high points, surely, of English language poetry, and a hard act to follow. Except that she did it again. Outside History (1990) is an absolute page-turner". He is less enthusiastic about her later work: "A voice that has outlived its ability to respond to the felt needs of its subject. This is what happens, you realize, when the message runs on after the music for it has fallen away".
Secular Eden, by Harry Clifton. Starnino regards this as rather tame: "too many words saying similar things, creating, in the reader, a persistent sense of having already read certain lines. One wishes Clifton had worn his wanderlust more lightly, and worked his words harder".
The Currach Requires No Harbours, by Medbh McGuckian. More qualified praise here but for different reasons, her poetry is "dense, diffuse, and dimly apprehensible". "McGuckian's poems don't make sense, they make mist".
The Fifty Minute Mermaid, by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. Translated by Paul Muldoon. He liked this! "Like The Decameron, The Fifty Minute Mermaid explores the way our lives are constructed of fictions—fictions that both shelter us from painful facts and allow us to face up to them. It is a tale told in crisis, and a must-read".
He also liked For All We Know, by Ciaran Carson. He likes the way Carson plays with story, atmosphere, plot and considers that the form fits. "The mesmerizing roteness pushes the poems halfway to allegory, and, at times, all the way to brilliant. For All We Know is an intelligence operation in the truest sense".
The issue also has twelve visual poems. You should be able to access some of the contents on the website. There is also a podcast for each issue of the magazine. Check the website.
7 November 2008
Bob Dylan is notoriously non communicative during his concerts usually saying no more than introducing his band. No "Nice to be in Dublin" for Bob. He did utter a few words on last Wednesday night at his University of Minnesota gig. Introducing band member Tony Garnier he referred to the Obama sticker Tony was wearing saying “Tony Garnier over there wearing his Obama button…..Tony thinks it’s gonna be an Age of Light ….. Well I was born in 1941, the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Been living in darkness ever since……Looks like that’s all gonna change now.” There's a debate on whether this was an endorsement of sorts for Obama or just a cynical remark. He followed this with "Blowing in the Wind".
Links to the YouTube audio and other sites on the essential Dylan expectingrain website.
4 November 2008
Attended a reading tonight by novelist Noelle Harrison (right) from her new book I Remember in Bailieborough Library, Co Cavan. I've read the book and enjoyed it. Partly set in Sligo it is a well written, well plotted account which interweaves the past and the present and deals with the working out of the past in the present. It is also partly set in London and in the Camargue, France.
Noelle Harrison lives in County Meath and launched the second issue of our Boyne Berries. Her inspiring talk on the occasion is available on the website. She also facilitated an excellent workshop for our group earlier this year.
Her reading was very enjoyable and consisted of five or six sections illustrating differect aspects of the book interspersed with comments about the writing process. She managed to give an excellent flavour of the novel without revealing too much of the plot.
The only quibbles I have with the novel are the almost off-hand way it was revealed that John Finch was not guilty of trying to kill his daughter and the slightly too neat, happy-ever-after ending. In spite of those minor quibbles an excellent read.
Review of "I Remember" in the Irish Times.
1 November 2008
Boyne Writers Group's magazine Boyne Berries 4 was launched last week by Peter Fallon, poet and publisher.
In his address he stressed the importance of writers groups in assisting the writer in what was basically a very solitary occupation. He congratulated Boyne Writers Group on their achievements since their foundation. He mentioned their successes in competitions and the involvement of three members, Orla Fay, Brendan Carey Kinane and Michael Farry, in the recent inaugural All Ireland Poetry Day event. He congratulated the group on the establishment of the magazine and complimented them and the contributors on the quality of material it contained. He was delighted to see a mix of established writers and new writers included in the publication.
Contributors then read their pieces. Brid Fitzpatrick, who spent a happy early childhood in Navan, began by reading her poem “Boyne” a hymn to the river goddess. Another local reference was provided by Mark Lloyd who travelled from Limerick to be present. Mark’s mother, Cepta, is a Trim native and his poem “Memories of Athboy Gate” recalled happy summer holidays spent in Trim. Another contributor to travel a long distance was Lizann Gorman from Mayo who read her poem “Fishhooks”. Kells poet Eamon Cooke read his “Fuerteventura Variation” and Navan native Sinead MacDevitt read her story “The Last Piano Lesson”.
Left - Peter Fallon speaking at the launch. Below - a section of the audience.