Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Poetry news update – three new poems coming soon

Happy Poetry Month! It has certainly been a strange time of flux for the creative impulse during the past year. Like many others, I worried, during the first lockdown, that my pull towards poetry would be compromised - even indefinitely suspended. With universal pandemic anxiety, fear of the unknown and our national sense of grief for the casualties of covid-19, making new art was no longer a priority; it became something I genuinely jostled with. In the depths of the prevailing stasis, however, I found that my hunger for reading poetry had in no way subsided. And little by little, my appetite to create my own new work reawakened, so that when “Henrietta’s Confession” was published in the June 2020 issue of The Honest Ulsterman, I actually did a little happy dance. Subsequently, when I was invited by Galway Contemporary Music Project to compose a poem in response to Debussy’s string quartet, I was truly excited to take up the ekphrastic challenge. Indeed, I’ve written a short article about this experience elsewhere on this blog. By that stage, I was making my peace with lockdowns, recognising that, in spite of all, the seasons remained constant around me and life went on, albeit in a radically altered world. I also published a poem for a dear new friend, Cassie, whom I met immediately prior to the first lockdown, and about our friendship which flourished, in spite of the challenges of social distancing, and this poem appeared on that wonderful nurturing blog, Pendemic. Lastly, I wrote an essay on the value of literary citizenship which appeared in issue 13 of Skylight 47, a journal I greatly admire. Unsurprisingly, there were dodgy, existential covid-anxiety poems along the road too, but on the whole, I kept the pen moving, without forcing the words forth on stickier days. And so, when the year turned, and we had survived, all things poetic seemed to be looking up considerably. Since early February of this year, I’ve been teaching ‘The Craft of Poetry’ to a dedicated, vibrant group of poets for the Centre for Adult Education at NUI Galway and that conversation with a community of writers has been wholly energising. And I’m also delighted to share with you that three newly composed poems will be coming out shortly. Firstly, my poem “Ode to Blue Cheese” will feature in issue 14 of Skylight 47, due to be launched in early May. I certainly indulged my love of cheese varieties during the three consecutive lockdowns, and sometimes we just have to eulogise the little things that keep us going, don't we? Hopefully that ode supremo, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), won't be turning in his grave! My poem, “Adam’s Apple” features in a brand new anthology about climate change that has just come out from the wonderful Doire Press: Empty House: poems and prose on the climate crisis and which is due to be launched on Earth Day, 22 April. See invitation to this online launch below and please do join us!
My poem was inspired by the observation that creation myths in First Nation cultures tend to be much closer to the natural world, and in much greater harmony to it, than our own Western myth of origins, which positions us as masters lording it over earth and the food chain. Last but not least, I was recently commissioned by Strokestown Poetry Festival to compose a poem on the theme of ‘new beginnings’ as the country slowly starts to re-open and as more and more people are safely vacinated against covid-19. My poem, “Summering” takes inspiration from that famous quote, once uttered by Seamus Heaney, which gave solace to many through the various stages of the pandemic: “If we winter this one out, we can Summer anywhere.” But that’s about all I can divulge at this stage as a recording of the poem will be going out on the Strokestown Poetry Festival website during the festival between 1-2 May. Stay tuned for further updates soon. In the meantime, thanks so much for checking in, stay safe and enjoy Poetry Month to the full!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Nuala O'Connor is my final guest for the Women Writers of the West online book club

In the final two weeks of the 'Women Writers of the West' online book club we will be discussing Nuala O'Connor's Becoming Belle - a gorgeous novel based on the life of Isabel Bilton - the entertainer in Victorian London who lived on Garbally estate, Co. Galway after she married her Viscount of the Clancarty earls.
It's a wonderfully rich read, full of period detail and depicting a vibrant life. I got my copy in Charlie Byrnes and you should be able to get your hands on a copy from any of the book shops.
Nuala will also give us a sneak preview into her latest highly acclaimed novel, NORA - about Galway's own Nora Barnacle - in the final session too. Don't miss the chance for more book-lover's camaraderie in an atmosphere that is equal parts fun, sociable and informative! Register for your free place here. #womenwritersofthewest #galwaypubliclibraries In other, somewhat related, news all four sessions of the previous online book club I facilitated for Galway Public Librares - 'Journeys in Words - From Galway to Dublin' - exploring the short fiction of Maeve Brennan and Liam O'Flaherty are now up on the Galway Public Libraries Youtube channel and can be enjoyed at your leisure. In the final session I had the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Maurice Casey about the life, times and politics of Liam O'Flaherty as well as about the translations of his work in soviet Russia. Casey has fascinating new research on O'Flaherty and you can enjoy our discussion at the link below. Thank you to all our special guests during the course of the 'Journeys in Words' book club and to everyone who participated and contributed to the success of this immensely enjoyable textual voyage.

Monday, March 8, 2021

On International Women's Day - reflecting on the recovery of women's voices

Not only has the historical record often underestimated the contribution of women to society, but art can also be guilty of this travesty, consciously or unconsciously. The title poem of my debut poetry collection, "No Vague Utopia", is a short monologue in the voice of Eva Gore-Booth who is politely, but adroitly, addressing W.B. Yeats beyond the grave (since he was so taken with communication from the spirit world!). Eva (1870-1926) was a poet, dramatist, suffragist, committed social worker and labour activist who was especially vocal about the conditions for women workers in the cotton factories in England.
Yet, in his poem "In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz" Yeats writes about Eva: "I know not what the younger dreams - / Some vague Utopia...". His wistful and understandably human nostalgia for by-gone days still glosses over Eva's achievement as she is memorialised as a vague dreamer, now wizened and gaunt.
Should Con and Eva have frozen in time by the great windows of Lissadell, eternally youthful and gazelle-like in their silk kimonos just to placate Yeats's aesthetic reverie? My poem is a gentle riposte to Yeats as Eva seeks to make the point that her life and vision did not amount to 'some vague utopia.' No Vague Utopia was published by Ainnir Publishing in 2003 and I hope you enjoy this poem. Happy International Women's Day and here's to the ongoing recovery of all those important female voices muted by history, patriarchy, art....!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Between a rock and a soft place

A bit of a magpie, I’ve always been fascinated by gemstones; by their colours, textures and especially their exotic names. Some time ago, during my years as a doctoral researcher, I found myself working in a jewellery shop; the owner knew me from coming in to hover and purchase small gifts and offered me a part-time job. I was smitten with a large slab of labradorite at the time. Set in silver, its discreet iridescent flash of blue lit up its swampy grey as if declaring: don't judge by surface appearances! Look deeper to find the energy. I took the job. Though I’ve never been fully ‘on board’ with New Age theories about the healing vibrations of crystals, I was in love with everything else about them. Carrying secret stories about how the earth evolved over millions of years, they are full of the hidden music of its DNA. It was inevitable that a poem would gradually crystalise and here it is! I’m delighted to discover that it was last Friday’s ‘Poetry Break’ on Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s youtube channel and you can enjoy it here

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Happy Ireland Reads Day!

I was invited by Galway Public Libraries to read one of my poems for #IrelandReads Day today, and I'm delighted to share this one with you, "Envoi in Chalk". It features in my collection, Conditional Perfect, published by the wonderful Doire Press. Here is a link to the book if you'd like to get or gift a copy. Happy reading everyone! #SqueezeInARead #IrelandReads #LoveGalwayLibraries

Monday, February 22, 2021

Week 2 - Women Writers of the West online book club - a few more spots available

Due to high demand, a few extra tickets have just been made available for our second 'Women Writers of the West' online book club session tomorrow evening. The session sold out early on but some new places have been added. We got off to a great start last week with plenty of lively group discussions about Elaine Feeney's novel, AS YOU WERE and ending with an enjoyable and insightful chat with the author herself. Each session is unique so don't worry if you missed the first one. We are finishing our discussion of Elaine's book tomorrow and topping it off with another fun and informative chat with the writer, who will be sharing writing tips and talking about new work-in-progress. In weeks 3 & 4 we are moving on to Mary Costello's ACADEMY STREET. Don't miss the chance for some book-lover's camaraderie sprinkled with writing tips and insights from the author herself. See you in cyberspace tomorrow from 7 - 8! Event page is linked here.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Announcing the Women Writers of the West online book club - starting soon!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the new online book club, 'Women Writers of the West,' organised by Galway Public Libraries with the support of Creative Ireland, will be kicking off in just under two weeks time, featuring three wonderful writers, Elaine Feeney, Mary Costello and Nuala O'Connor and facilitated by yours truly!
The 'Women Writers of the West' book club, which aims to shine a spotlight on the especially vibrant space of contemporary women’s writing in the West of Ireland, will feature special guest appearances each week from each of the authors during the second half of the book club sessions. Tickets are always free but places are limited and you can register for your spot by clicking on the event page below. We will be reading As You Were(Harvill Secker, 2020), Academy Street(Canongate Books, 2015) and Becoming Belle(Piatkus, 2019) so don't hesitate to grab your copies now and get reading!
Join us for another exciting voyage as we enter the diverse, vivid worlds of three memorable characters: Sinéad Hynes, Tess Lohan and Isabel Bilton. The event page, with full information, is linked here.