Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What is a Poem?

I enjoy arguing about possible definitions of poetry - well I enjoy arguing anyway but it's especially pleasurable to argue about something which is as difficult to define as the above. I usually say something like: The only thing which defines a poem is that the lines don't run to the edge of the page. (I disregard so called prose poems).

I was delighted then when Terry Eagleton in his book How to Read a Poem offers this definition: A poem is a fictional, verbally inventive moral statement in which it is the author, rather than the printer or word processor, who decides where the lines should end.

I'm enjoying the book. It's a wide ranging and comprehensive look at poetry criticism which the author says seems to be something of a dying art. It's also highly entertaining with quite a number of Irish references as you would expect from Eagleton. Yeats figures prominently in it as well as Mahon and Heaney and the author even has a swipe at the way Van Morrison uses sudden snatches of passion and heartfelt breathing to try to enhance his singing of old Irish songs.

Terry Eagleton in the Times online on how to read a poem here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Books

I got some nice Christmas presents, presents which will last well into the New Year:

I'm a great fan of Banville, reviews of this new one suggest that its up with his best.

Eagleton is always an interesting read, able to poke fun where appropriate. I read his Introduction to Theory and The Meaning of Life - A Very Short Introduction (I won't tell you, you have to read it yourself) last year and enjoyed both.

I have read too many how to write books most of which are depressingly similar. This one looks a little different. I'm not familiar with any of Kooser's poetry so this may make me want to read it or possibly the opposite.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Tree

The sycamore tree on Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas from Trim!

Outdoor crib at St Patrick's Church, Trim.

You see no treasures there outspread,
No dazzling wealth display'd;
But see a manger poor instead
Wherein a child is laid.

You see no mark of royalty,
No guard of honour nigh;
And yet that humble babe is He
Who built the starry sky:

from Verses on the Nativity in Verses on Doctrinal and Devotional Subjects by Rev. James Casey PP, (1824 - 1909) a native of Riverstown, Co Sligo. The book was published by James Duffy and Sons in 1882 and was such a success that a second volume was published in 1886. He also published books of poetry on Home Rule and on Temperance.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bob Dylan - Christmas in the Heart

Ok so finally I come to the Dylan Christmas album Christmas in the Heart. I bought this some weeks ago, the deluxe version which included ten Christmas cards of the album cover! I didn't dare send them to anyone. I held off listening to it for two reasons. 1. I don't like the premature arrival of Christmas - the Christmas trumpery and the Christmas songs in shopping centres in September and 2. the fear based on snippets heard that it was a terrible album.

I've listened to it a few times this week and I'm relieved. It's a Christmas album with a mixture of the secular and spiritual, the serious and jocular. A good listen and well worth the wait. Best tracks ? Must be Santa - where the list of reindeer names include US presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton - and O Come All Ye Faithful - just to hear Dylan sing in Latin.

All proceeds from the album go to feed the hungry.

Of course the critics have had a great time trying to analyse the album. If it's by Dylan then there must be some deeper significance, hidden sub plot. It's just a collection of favourite Christmas songs delivered in a traditional way. Here and there the man has difficulty with high notes - as on Hark the Herald Angels Sing - but come on, it's Bob Dylan after all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Basil Bunting Poetry Award Results

So I didn't win a prize, get commended, or even get shortlisted in the Basil Bunting Poetry Award. The organisers are to be commended for putting the results online promptly, putting the winning poems online and including the judges comments. In some competitions the results don't even appear on the internet.

I like these comments by the judges Sean O'Brien, Linda France, Paul Batchelor: The weaker material had usually failed to address form at all, and thus had few strategies for shaping a poem at the points where imagery faltered or narrative lost impetus. The judges would have liked to see more generally a greater control over language and form, more clarity of argument and narrative and a stronger sense of risk and urgency in the entries.

I think more and more that form is crucial in all kinds of writing not just poetry but in poetry it is crucial. A well wrought poem should demand its own form which often can only be arrived at by a tedious process of experimentation. The sense of risk and urgency mentioned seems to be what often attracts the attention of judges. You do need something to make your entry stand out among the 913 other entries as in the Basil Bunting Award.

The only Irish resident among the winners and listed is Louth writer Barbara Smith who blogs here. Well done Barbara!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Arbeit Macht Frei

Above my picture from 2007 of the entrance to Auschwitz under the Arbeit Macht Frei sign which has been recently stolen. The slogan is usually translated as Work makes you free. The Wikipedia article here gives an account of its widespread use before the Nazi era in Germany (assuming that the information is correct) starting with its use as the title of a novel in German in 1872. It even suggests that at Auschwitz it may not have been intended as a mockery or a cruel joke.

It seems to me that the slogan or variations of it such as A Career Will Set You Free has been widespread all through the twentieth century as an enticement to people, men generally at first and then women to give their best years to their work.

Calling work or the job a career was a master move by employers raising what is and was a means of earning a living, putting bread on the table, to something which pretends to be far more significant or important. How important a person's career actually is is best seen in a recession when unemployment is rampant and careers are cut short without mercy or warning.

And then there is the attack on the public service! But don't get me started on that. Thank God I was able to retire when I did.

I wrote a poem after my visit to Auschwitz which this year was published in The Stony Thursday Book, Limerick.

Anyway I note that the stolen Auschwitz slogan has been replaced by a replica.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Reading

Good turn out for the Readings and Open Mic last night in spite of the inclement conditions. Just short of twenty people there to hear two contrasting reading, each spell-binding in its own way.

Michael Clemenger read from his recently published Holy Terrors. He read an extract describing the experience of his confirmation in Tralee where he was an inmate of the Industrial School. He also read a poem he wrote recently after visiting the grave of an inmate who had been killed there.

The other reader, Brendan Carey Kinane, launched his poetry chapbook Racket in the Air and read from it. His poems are closely written, carefully crafted meditations on real life situations with wonderful use of language.

Among the open mic readers were Caroline Finn who read on Sunday Miscellany last Sunday and Peter Goulding (who blogs here) who made the trip from Dublin to read some of his humorous Christmas poetry from his recently published A Flash of Orange. A feature of the open mic was the great variety of material and style to be heard, congratulations to all who took part.

MC Paddy Smith ended the night suitably with his We Three Kings prose piece? monologue?

Picture above: Featured readers Michael Clemenger and Brendan Carey Kinane.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Open Mic and Juvenal's Satires

The great Roman satirist, Juvenal, starts his first satire thus:

WHAT? Must I always be a listener at these readings?
Never get my own word in, get my own back
on he who so often bores me with his rants
or he who spouts his endless farces
not to mention that one's love ditties.
Shall I never be avenged?
Shall I have no revenge on one
who takes up the whole session

with his interminable epic
which after filling even the margin
at the front of the page
and the back as well,

shows no sign of coming to an end?

Obviously they didn't have Open Mic sessions in Rome. Luckily we have now and we also have vigilant MCs who ensure that participants don't rant or spout on too long. An open mic session is a bargain - I'll listen to yours if you listen to mine. It gives writers a wonderful opportunity to get feedback from an audience for their work.

Our Open Mic is on tonight in the Village Hall, Knightsbridge Retirement Village, Longwood Road, Trim at 8pm. We have two very interesting featured readers as mentioned in yesterday's post and we welcome participants in the Open Mic. Our MC, Paddy, decides on time allowed based on the number of participants and keeps very strict time.

Expressions such as "rare bird," "who watches the watchers?" and "bread and circuses" come from the Satires of Juvenal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reading and Open Mic - Trim

Our next Boyne Reading and Open Mic takes place tomorrow, Thursday in the Village Hall, Knightsbridge, Longwood Road, Trim. The two featured readers are Michael Clemenger (right) and Brendan Carey Kinane.

Michael Clemenger will read from his book Holy Terrors published last month by O'Brien Press. This is his inspirational account of how he rose above years of sexual abuse to become a psychiatric nurse and a lecturer in biological sciences. He lives in Trim. Report in the Meath Chronicle here.

Brendan Carey Kinane is a member of Boyne Writers Group and has won numerous awards in international poetry competitions. He wrote the winning entry in the 2007 Boyle Arts Festival Poetry Competition. Born in St Margarets, Co Dublin he now lives with his family in Athboy, Co Meath.

Monday, December 14, 2009

GAA - Leinster Junior Club Football Final

Whatever you say about the GAA and its place in modern Ireland you can't beat the fervour of a local club game for excitement and passion. I was at the Leinster Junior Club Football Final last Sunday in Louth village, Co Louth. The local team, St Mochta's, won the Louth championship and were playing against the Meath champions Longwood. The final had been drawn the previous Sunday in Longwood. I was supporting Longwood.

After a ding dong struggle Longwood managed to win by a point. The game had everything, noisy fans, a missed penalty, plenty of yellow cards, three red cards, great scores and bad misses.

And my connection with the south Meath village of Longwood? My son-in-law plays at number 4 for the team. Small for a corner back he makes up in tackling ability what he lacks in height. He had a good game, made a number of vital score-saving tackles especially in the second half and displayed an acting ability which up to now had been hidden!

The Irish Independent match report is here.

I had never been to that part of Louth before between Ardee and Dundalk. I passed through he award winning village of Tallonstown, Co Louth. I noticed an almost life size sculpture in the village but didn't have time to stop and investigate. An internet search reveals that it is a very recent work by sculptor Ann Meldon Hugh of Vere Foster, the founder and first president of the INTO, who introduced a series of famous copybooks into Irish schools. A place to return to and linger in . . . . sometime.

Yale Lectures - Dante

I've just finished a course of lectures at Yale University. No I haven't been out of the country I listened to them via the wonderful Open Yale Courses site. You can download the lectures as audio and as video as well as transcripts of the lectures and extra notes for each lecture. You can even download the exams and have a go!

The course I listened to was Dante in Translation with Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta which consisted of twenty four one hour lectures. The course is an introduction to Dante and his cultural milieu through a critical reading of the Divine Comedy and selected minor works (Vita nuova, Convivio, De vulgari eloquentia, Epistle to Cangrande).

Very enjoyable. The professor, as we used to say, "knows his stuff" and from the two video lectures I watched seemed to lecture without the use of notes.

As a former teacher I was most interested in his methods and the equipment he used. Talk and chalk were his preferred option; no powerpoints, no slides, just talk and the odd phrase or work written on the board. He also spent quite a while answering questions from the students and the last session was a recap mostly by answering such questions.

I was delighted to see that the front rows of seats in the lecture theatre were empty, students and lecture goers are the same the world over!!

Picture: One of the many excerpts from the Divine Comedy in the streets of Florence. This one reads: I was born and grew up on the fair stream of Arno in the great city. (Sinclair translation)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Trim Tourist Walk

Launch of a new tourist walk in Trim yesterday - I was shopping in Dublin but I sent my reporter Paddy Smith - he has a bit of experience - and this is his report and his photographs:

Some classy-looking plaques have made their appearance at various points around the town recently and we learned yesterday (Friday) that they mark the 22 historic sites on a new tourist walk around Trim and its environs. The walk was officially launched by the Town Council Cathaoirleach, Ray Butler, at a pleasant ceremony in the Visitor Centre in the Town Hall. Tea and scones helped to make the occasion even more enjoyable, though it was a little too soon after lunch for me to partake with my normal enthusiasm.

Not all that many local dignitaries in attendance, which is a pity because it's little things like this that complete the jigsaw - a word used by several of the speakers at the opening. We had a representative from Failte Ireland, which put up a significant amount of the money that the whole venture cost. Some of this money went on printing an A4 map of the walk on good quality card-type paper, though I notice a small error; although St Patrick's Church and St Patrick's Cathedral are correctly marked on the map, a picture of St Patrick's Cathedral has the caption: St Patrick's Church. Tsk, tsk.

Noel French lived up to his description at the function as the eminent local historian by taking the small crowd on part of the walk and giving an entertaining and very wide-ranging little talk at each stop.

Two pictures of Noel conducting the walk, above at the bog oak sculpture of the Salmon of Knowledge by Oldcastle sculptor Joe Burns, with the Rowan Hamilton mathematical formula inscribed on it and below at Trim Castle.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sunday Miscellany

Congratulations to Boyne Writers Group member, Caroline Finn, whose piece entitled The Holly Gatherers will be broadcast on Sunday Miscellany on RTE1 this Sunday 13 December. The programme will be available for listening on the website and as a podcast after broadcast.

Caroline read this piece at one of our recent meetings and we were very impressed with it. Well done!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

LitLab Christmas Cheer

Last night's Christmas Cheer with LitLab members in the Cavan County Museum Ballyjamesduff was an enjoyable affair. Plenty of good poetry, prose and songs mostly with a Christmas theme. No holly - jolly rhymes either but a great mixture of the funny and the serious.

The night was organised by Heather Brett whose enthusiasm and ability to get things done is unsurpassed. This has been a good year for LitLab with members being published in many places, being noticed in competition and being included in Writers and Artists 9 by Windows Publications.

The County Museum, in a former convent, seems an interesting place and I made a mental note to visit it in the new year.

Tonight our Boyne Writers Group Christmas meeting.

Paddy Smith cleverly disguised as a Wise Man reading his piece with that title.

Paddy Halligan contacting the Samaritians though he thinks it is a dating agency.
Is that a mobile phone?

The food and the company was just as good as the readings and the music.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Francis Ledwidge Awards

Sorry Sir, We don't actually serve many coffees here, the barman told me in McDowell's bar, Inchicore, last evening when I asked him if they had any biscuits or bars to go with my coffee. I was there for the annual Francis Ledwidge Poetry Awards and he probably served more coffee last night than he did the whole rest of the year.

A most enjoyable event, a very friendly atmosphere with great poetry some serious and some not at all serious. Inchicore Ledwidge Society chairman Liam O'Meara and secretary Michael O'Flanagan made everyone feel at home, remarking on the mix of old friends of the competition and new names present.

Liam has done extensive work on Ledwidge and has published a biography of the poet. He explained why there is an Inchicore Ledwidge society - the poet spent some time in the nearby Richmond Barracks. Liam is working on a history of the barracks.

Most of those mentioned in the awards were present to read their offerings and receive their awards. Third prize winner, our group member Evan Costigan was represented by his parents and his poem was read by a friend. Second prize winner, Mary Turley McGrath, travelled from Donegal to read her poem Transitions.

This year's winner Ray Mullen (pictured above with Liam O'Meara) had only to come from Tallaght. His poem Lucia was short, abrupt even with a wonderful ending. A worthy winner! He paid tribute to the Virginia House Writers Group in Tallaght of which he is a member.

Ledwidge would have been proud of the poetic representation from his native Meath. As well as myself- a blow-in of forty years standing - Orla Fay and Sinead McDevitt read their commended poems. Orla's got special mention being on the theme of Ledwidge himself. Sean Ross, also from Meath, was unable to be present.

I was asked to read the highly commended poet by Adrienne Leavy a Dundalk native now living and studying in Arizona. A daunting pleasure to read someone else's work in public, not full aware of all the nuances of its language but determined to do it as well as possible.

After the awards there were readings from society members, former winners and Liam and Michael read from their work to great acclaim. Kilkenny poet, Willie Joe Meally, who was also at the Kavanagh weekend, was present and recited one of his poems about Kilkenny coalminers by heart and also gave us a song.

All in all a great night. Tonight Ballyjamesduff for poetry, prose, songs and Christmas Cheer!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cavan Christmas Reading

A night of poetry, story and song in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan tomorrow evening Wednesday 9 December, 8pm. The LitLab crowd will be there. All welcome.

All readings don't have to be Christmas-themed but it would be nice if most were. Now what rhymes with holly? (apart from jolly that is.)

Tonight off to Inchicore, Dublin for the Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Awards to collect my Commended certificate and read my poem.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Castle Art Group, Trim Exhibition

Do you paint yourself? was the question I was asked most often last night at the launch of the annual exhibition by the Castle Art Group, Trim . No I don't paint myself though I would probably look better if I did. Two of the group members are also members of our Writing Group. Where do they get the time?

The large attendance at the launch included the local government minister, Noel Dempsey, our new Parish Priest and Yvette Bloomfield, President of Trim Chamber of Commerce, who launched the exhibition.

There are, as you might expect of such a historic town, many paintings of Trim Castle, the Yellow Steeple, the Wellington Monument and various other streets and scenes in the town. But it's not just Trim. There are paintings of Moore Street and Grafton Street, Dublin, Ross Castle and Killarney Cathedral, Kerry, Kilkenny, Venice, and even Havana and Australia.

The most striking painting is the large one pictured above of Trim Castle as it was for the film Braveheart. (More on the film here.) This painting is a co-operative effort by six members of the group - Teresa McCole, June Smith, Jenny Andersson, Anne Crinion, Sheila Keating and Angela Kelliher. An impressive record of a historic event in Trim, it would look well in a public building in the town, a hotel, tourist office or the like.

Eight artists are represented in the exhibition and ten per cent of sales go to Meath Palliative Care. The artists in addition to those mentioned above are June Hesnan and Christy O'Reilly. The exhibition, in Trim Castle Hotel, will continue for five days.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Small World Story

At the Patrick Kavanagh Awards presentation last week-end one of Martin Dyar's relations, his father I think, told me that I had mentioned Martin's great grand father in my book on sligo in the War of Independence. He was Patrick Dyar (pictured above), a shopboy in Cooke's shop in Tubbercurry, who was an early advocate of Sinn Fein and the Volunteers in Sligo.

He organised an anti-recruiting campaign in the area in late 1915 and for this he was arrested and put on trial and sentenced to one month hard labour. On December 27, 1915 Dyar returned to Tubbercurry after being released from Mountjoy jail and there was a great welcome for him in spite of inclement weather. The brass band met him at the train and a bonfire blazed at the square. Local dignitaries welcomed him and presented him with an address of welcome. Patrick Dyar left Tubbercurry early in 1916 and set up a business in Castlerea, County Roscommon where he spent the rest of his life.

I presume that Martin, his grandson, (above)was not welcomed by a brass band when he returned home to Swinford with the Patrick Kavanagh Award last week-end.

Friday, December 4, 2009

From the Aesthetica Creative Works Annual

This is one of the most striking images in the Annual. It's by Irish artist Emma Gamble. The bio says "She has continued to create work designed to question accepted notions, such as the belief in the existence of a childlike innocence." This work seems to be in that vein. That chilling knowing look on the child's face and that row of dog (jackal? Anubis?) headed creatues waiting patiently for . . .? And the box? A confession box? I haven't heard of this artist and found nothing on the internet but the image is striking.

The Aesthetica Creative Works Annual 2010 can be purchased on the website.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Aesthetica Creative Works Annual 2010

Just got my copy of the 2010 Aesthetica Creative Works Annual published by Aesthetica magazine the bi-monthly arts and culture publication. One of my entries, a poem called Flying to Krakow, was a finalist and so is included in the annual which also contains artwork and stories.

They had over 12,000 images submitted, 3000 poems and 3000 short stories. There were 40 finalists per category. As far as I can see the only other Irish poet included is Paul Jeffcott who lives beside the Mountains of Mourne. The graphic art in the annual seems to me to be terrific, very varied and very impressive. Graphic artists from or working in Ireland whose work is included are Debbie Chapman, Emma Gamble, Emmet Mullins and Katarzyna Gajewska.

I was surprised and delighted to be so lucky. The poem selected is much more traditional in form and theme than the one successful in the Kavanagh competition. When a poem you've written some time ago is noticed you look at it with fresh eyes almost as if it was written by someone else. This poem is a fourteen line sonnet-like poem with the first eight lines setting a scene and the last six making a personal reflection on the scene.

First four lines:
Cloud crust cracks and a country
appears. House clusters at river road
confluences – towers, white gables,

spires – tarnish hectares of conifers.

This is the blurb for the annual: The second Aesthetica Creative Works Annual explores the imagination. This book showcases artwork and creative writing from over 30 countries. The anthology contextualises the larger cultural framework by asking probing questions about the current state of affairs: the economy, globalisation, technology and the environment. Moreover it offers a platform from which to analyse the art we producing today. Its cutting-edge nature offers you autonomy. As the reader, this book provides an insight into our deepest thoughts, anxieties and aspirations. Art becomes the tonic for the modern world.

The cover image above is by mixed-media artist Shadric Toop.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December Poetry

Just got the December issue of the American Poetry magazine. Thankfully no Christmas poems though it has a very good one called Advent by Nate Klug.

In a previous issue a letter to the editor by Christopher Conlon criticised this statement by Katha Pollitt’s in her memoir of Elizabeth Bishop: whatever way a poet reads his or her own work is fine, is, in fact, perfect, because the way they read is part of their sensibility, their own personal expression of their poem.

Conlon said: As someone who has run a poetry reading series for the past ten years, I can state most assuredly that Pollitt is wrong. I have watched countless poets — deeply talented, even brilliant poets — utterly wreck their readings and bore the audience nearly to tears.

This December issue has a further letter to the editor on the issue by Belle Randall, Seattle, who says: Judging poets as performers can only lead to poets who cultivate the skills of news anchors, Broadway actors, or other performers. This may be right for some poets, but certainly it is not right for all. Indeed, many of us value poetry precisely because it does not speak with the glibness of the polished public speaker.

It's a large and most interesting issue and you could argue for delightful hours on the topic. I think I actually agree with all three viewpoints above which don't actually contradict each other:
1. It is very interesting to hear the individual way a poet perform his/hers own work.
2. Some readers of their own work do it very badly.
3. Poets reading their own work should not think of themselves as performers and should value their individual style.

You can read most if not all of the magazine online and there is also a podcast.

There is an Open Mic event in Kells, Co Meath tonight at 9pm in the Railway Bar near the GAA grounds.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Patrick Kavanagh and John McEnaney

I love this! On the side of the Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Inniskeen, the former parish Church, is this plaque commemorating another local poet John McEnaney. It's as if to remind us that poets like Kavanagh don't arrive from nowhere and that there are many levels of poetry.

I don't know much about McEnaney but on the Carrickmacross tour on last Saturday morning Larry McDermott the excellent guide mentioned that if you had a dispute with a neighbour instead of going to a solicitor you went to McEnaney the Bard and he would write a scurrilous attack on the neighbour for you. He also wrote ballads commemorating important local events and one of his most famous poems celebrated the victory of the Inniskeen Grattan Irish footballers in 1888.

There is a mention of the Bard here in the book Patrick Kavanagh by Darcy O'Brien and Kavanagh mentions McEnaney in his article A Poet's Country in The Word. There is also an article The Bard of Callenberg’ in the Irish Farmers’ Journal, February 4,1961.