Tuesday, January 19, 2021
It’s a week since the 'Journeys in Words' online bookclub reached its final destination (ending last Tuesday night) and I’m still thinking about the two writers we explored and, specifically, about the animal world Liam O’Flaherty evokes so keenly. At the weekend, Kevin, myself and our two boys walked to Mutton Island for some fresh air and exercise. It was a cool, clear Saturday afternoon and, gazing at the ocean, I kept thinking of the conger eel’s struggle, firstly to placate his hunger by catching mackerel and secondly, to writhe free of the fishermens' net. In my mind’s eye, I could see that net lowering into the Atlantic and scaling it. This is surely the mark of a great writer; someone whose words stay with you, linger in your head, mingling vision and imagination with your present reality. A recent study, highlighted again in an article last week, has shown that crows are self-aware and I'm reminded of that seagull O'Flaherty poises on a ledge, goaded by his mother into finally taking his ‘first flight’. Jennifer Ackerman notes in The Genius of Birds, that our expression "bird brain" is long redundant. Both science and the stories of O'Flaherty remind us of the need to keep refreshing our knowledge about the animal kingdom lest we continue to underestimate our fellow earthly creatures. Eileen Battersby aptly reminded us that it "remains too easy to confine a reading of O'Flaherty's highly cinematic art to 150 often superb, short stories - many of them fables which present him as an intense primitive, preoccupied with the brutal inevitably of nature in its dealings with animal and man, while missing out on the political and socio-cultural dimension of his vision. O'Flaherty never forgot the landscape and lifestyle of his island home but, through his travels soon became quite cosmopolitan.” And we certainly broadened our bookclub discussions beyond O'Flaherty the naturalist to consider his nomadic spirit, his political activism (the 99th anniversary of his seizure of the Rotunda on 21 January, 1922 is just a few days away) and, more generally, his entire corpus – (O’Flaherty was remarkably prolific, producing a novel per year throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s). Maeve Brennan is a master of fraught interior spaces. In fact, the former externalises inner tumult in the great outdoors and the latter does something similar, but very much indoors, under a roof. Brennan’s detailed descriptions of confined domestic settings are often objective correlatives for the sense of claustrophobia her protagonists feel. A mixture of memoir and a study of two unhappy marriages, featuring the Derdons and the Bagots, The Springs of Affection has justly earned its classic status, finding republication in 2016 with Stinging Fly Press. Her attunement to the Ranelagh suburbs of the 1920s (her childhood home was at 48, Cherryfield Avenue) affords fascinating glimpses into the formation of the young writer’s mind and worldview and also of a unique and rarified era. Like Eilís Dillon, (the subject of our first book club at Galway Public Libraries during the month of October) Brennan was the child of Irish revolutionaries, Robert Brennan and Una Bolger. (Lucy McDiarmid has written a fascinating article that highlights the friendship between Dillon’s and Brennan’s parents). Domestic space plays a crucial role in these vignettes as her characters are increasingly marked by their perception of confinement. Prof. Patricia Coughlan (UCC), Prof. Elke D’hoker (University of Leuven), Seamus Cashman(founder of Wolfhound Press) and Dr. Maurice Casey(historian at EPIC Museum). I also want to thank all of our participants – we had regular members in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Achill Island and even one member in Greece! And, last but not least, thank you to my colleagues at Galway Public Libraries: Josephine Vahey, Sharleen McAndrew and Niamh O'Donovan as well as Teresa Lavina and Gavin of Nova Productions. It now gives me great pleasure to announce here that Galway Public Libraries and yours truly, with the support of Creative Ireland, will be bringing you another online book club soon – commencing in mid-February – and focusing this time, on contemporary Irish writers. More information to follow soon! Watch this space!
Friday, January 8, 2021
Saturday, January 2, 2021
Inis Mór born writer, Liam O'Flaherty fascinates me. A man of action & rebel who travelled the world twice over, fought in WWI and on the Republican side in the Civil War, raised the red flag of revolution over the Rotunda in 1922, visited soviet Russia, produced nearly a novel per year during the 1920s and into the 1930s, ranged from romantic realist to caustic social satirist. His memoirs, especially Shame the Devil (1937), make for an electrifying read. Witness its striking opening provocation: “Man is a born liar. Otherwise he would not have invented the proverb: “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” He is truly one of our great Irish writers and I love that he and his work can't easily be 'pinned down' by the critical establishment. Over the next two Tuesdays I have the pleasure of exploring his short stories in the free online book club I'm facilitating for Galway Public Libraries, Journeys in Words - From Galway to Dublin, which resumes at 7pm on Tuesday, 5 January with our final session on Tuesday, 12 January. This Tuesday we will be joined by poet and publisher, Seamus Cashman who played an important role in the recovery of Liam's work in the 1970s and 80s at Wolfhound Press, and who was also the author's friend. There are still a few places left and this book club is for the general public - for everyone who likes reading. Click on this link to bag one of the few remaining places!
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
here to book your place! #galwaypubliclibraries #maevebrennan #liamoflaherty #greatirishwriters
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Despite all the challenges of 2020, Galway's own internationally acclaimed writer, Eilís Dillon (1920-1994) has been enjoying renewed appreciation and celebration in her centenary year. It has been a privilege to be part of some of the many events on her life and work that have taken place - some just before lockdown in early March - and others [fully socially distanced] since October and November. Galway Public Libraries have been busy commemorating Dillon and reappraising her legacy in a weekly book club during October (which I was honoured to facilitate), in education with the 5 Islands One Author project with Sadbh Devlin and also in three seminars exploring Dillon's times and writings around her politics and patriotism, historical fictions and detective novels (with special art and music commissions also ahead). The first of these seminars, Eilís Dillon: Politics & Patriotism, will be streamed online this evening at 7pm and features poet and Dillon's daughter, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Dr. Cathríona Clear and Honor O Brolchain, Dillon's niece and yours truly as convenor. Special musicians featured are Carmel Dempsey and Tomás Mannion. Visit the Galway Public Libraries YouTube channel and tune in to this unique event which integrates discussion with readings and music.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
“Music is colours and time in rhythm,” remarked Claude Debussy, memorably. One wonders if he was actually synaesthetic, ie. if he experienced sound as colour, or perhaps what he is referring to here are the tonal textures of music. Whatever his intention, Debussy is a fascinating composer, often credited with pioneering musical Impressionism, (though he had also some issues with that particular term) so I was thrilled to be invited by Maeve Bryan of Galway Music Residency to participate in their Creative Responses project. The task: to respond in poetry to Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, as performed by ConTempo - Galway’s wonderful quartet-in-residence. Composed when Debussy was just 31, this work in G Minor is his only string quartet, and what a dazzling opus it is. I'm always up for an ekphrastic challenge as well as the adventure of collaboration, (and have long admired and appreciated ConTempo's brilliant work) so this was an immensely enjoyable project to sink my teeth into. The only tricky part was grabbing a figurative bite to chew on since this piece dances, vacillates, heaves and swoons all over the place! Bursting with ingenuity, Debussy’s opening theme moves with a vibrant staccato swagger through various shades of interrogation, doubt, anger, whimsy, nostalgia and a final decisive resolution, that is utterly altered, but unequivocally firm. I tried, initally, to write a line-by-line rhetort to the changing moods of the piece, but eventually plumped for a different approach: to use one of the more curious lines that came up as a springboard for a poem that would also have a kind of syncopated sonority, oscillating in tone and movement. I corralled the following sentence to explore and unpack further and had plenty of fun along the way: “What would it look like if I were to modulate out of Mum into another mode?” The premise: a busy mother with a full morning of freedom ahead of her leaves the chores to one side and let her thoughts meander and feelings fulminate... So I ran with this and am pleased with the resulting poem, which is read beautifully by Maeve Bryan in the video clip below, with Debussy's composition following immediately after, along with many stunning visual responses to the music by a host of exciting artists from Galway and Mayo. I hope you enjoy it too! I’m delighted, also, to have a poem entitled “Time” in the current Autumn 2020 issue of Crannóg magazine. This Galway-based international publication has a special place in my heart and it’s great to learn that this edition - no. 53 - has already gone to a second printing. Their biggest issue yet, it features 45 poets and 9 fiction writers. here. Below is my poem, “Time” which features in Crannog 53 and captures something of my ongoing turbulent relationship with the eponymous entity! I hope you like it.