Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Home and Gardens

Good to be home! The torrential rain in western England yesterday turned to bright sunshine in Wales and I arrived in north Wales way too early for the ferry. I took a detour and visited the National Trust garden at Bodnant near Conwy. The great magnolia borders were past their best but the irises and foxgloves were splendid.

This is an 80-acre estate more than a garden with long walks through classic borders, rose gardens, a wonderful laburnum archway, lots of trees including some sequoia, ponds, lakes, streams, waterfalls, cliffs, and even an old mill. The word garden covers a lot.

When I returned my tiny piece of earth was also showing off its irises and foxgloves (and its poppies and peonies too) though the wind had caused some toppling. Some work to be done there. But first a rest after 1248 miles driving. And then check out the Bedfordshire Regiment information - there's a book to finish, and then satire for the Battle of the Books at the Swift Festival. Rest!!

Monday, May 30, 2011


After Bedford back towards the west again. A stop in Coventry to see the city centre and the new cathedral. New in the sense that it was built after the second world war beside the ruins of the old cathedral. Very impressive building with much to admire especially the great Graham Sutherland tapestry behind the altar.

Then further west to the city of Worcester on the river Severn. Another cathedral here, with the tomb of King John, and lots about the quintessential English composer Edward Elgar who was born and lived locally. The cottage where he was born is preserved and open to the public. A lovely quiet place with a beautiful English country garden. It has a recently installed sculpture of the composer by Jemma Pearson at the end of the garden. You can sit beside him and look at the distant Malvern Hills.

Elgar, though he was awarded a knighthood, was an outsider, a Catholic, from a poor background and without much formal music training. A very interesting character.

I watched the European final last night in a local pub. I was surprised that there appeared to be little interest and hardly any support for Manchester United, the English champions after all. Most were supporting Barcelona and were delighted with the result. I kept quiet.

Drive in the rain to Holyhead today and cross to Dublin Port late tonight.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bedford Archives Friday

And so to Bedford. This is the reason behind the whole journey, a visit to the archives here which has material on the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment which served in Sligo and north Roscommon in 1921-22. Some interesting material with some new viewpoints and some very nice quotes for the book. It's great to see those years from the viewpoint of "the other side".

The Regiment had two fatalities during those years, one soldier killed in an ambush in Co. Leitrim and one killed in an accident in Sligo Gaol. They were glad to get out of this strange country where you couldn't be sure who was friend or enemy. They had friends especially in Sligo where concerts and dances were regularly arranged and it seems that at least two soldiers went home with Sligo wives.

Many from the Regiment went back to England and then on to India. At least it was warmer there!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bromham, Wiltshire

I found Bromham, Wiltshire, parked in the village car park and walked the two hundred metres (sorry, yards, it's the UK) and went into the churchyard to find Thomas Mooore's resting place. Unmissable, it's the tall Celtic Cross among all the box tombs and the small headstones. I took the photos and walked round to the front.

"You're the man from Cavan" the local gentleman said. "No", I replied, "My car is from Cavan but I'm from Meath". It could have been an Irish village where the news of a stranger in town spreads faster than walking pace. He showed me the Moore windows in the church, one to Thomas and one to his wife Bessie.

Bromham is twinned with Avoca, Co Wicklow and my guide has been among a group who were treated very well on a trip to Avoca. Moore and family settled nearby because his patron Lord Lansdowne lived in the area. Moore's five children predeceased him.

Martin Dyar who won the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award two years ago has a show about Moore - Tom Loves A Lord. We often read Moore's Oft in the Stilly Night at our Knightsbridge Poetry Readings for the residents of the home.

Then to Salisbury Cathedral and afterwards to the wonderful Sandham Memorial Chapel designed and painted by Stanley Spencer as a memorial to a World War 1 soldier victim. The pictures on the website don't prepare you for the effect of the work in such a small building.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Seven Ages of Bob Dylan Conference, Bristol

A great day yesterday in the University of Bristol with the Dylan professors and enthusiasts on the great man's 70th birthday. An introduction, nine individual papers/talks, a poetry reading and a keynote address by expert Michael Gray made for a very full, tiring day. Difficult to summarize everything that was said but here are a few impressions.

A common theme dealt with the old question of whether Dylan can be regarded as a poet or not and the consensus was that his songs cannot be considered as texts alone. It seemed to be agreed that if we were only reading his words on the page then there would be no conference and no celebration of his 70th birthday.

Two talks were close readings of individual songs. Aidan Day looked at Man in the Long Black Coat and with references to Blake and Milton saw it as a as a celebration of someone who chooses imagination, creativity and risk rather than convention. Craig Savage talked about Cross the Green Mountain from the film Gods and Generals and the way Dylan uses the American Civil War.

Katherine Peddie spoke about "I is somebody else" a translation by Dylan of a line by the French poet Rimbaud and talked about Dylan's use of Rimbaud's mythmaking of the poet as vagrant wanderer and the sense of the divided self and the lack of the stable "I". "What does this mean?" is the wrong question to ask about poetry and song.

Mark Ford talked about Dylan's use of the vignette, mini-narratives or anecdotes which avoid coherence. Characters appear and disappear, drawn with razor-sharp lyrics. These use the collage techniques of modernism and while they may look silly on the page they take on life in the singing.

David Boucher from Cardiff asked why did Robert Zimmermann take Dylan Thomas' name. His answer was that Dylan Thomas who died in 1953 was seen by the beat poets and others in the USA as an irresponsible Bohemian who achieved fame and popularity. Thomas' first American published poem was "O Make me a Mask" and this may have also influenced Dylan who has always been fascinated by the mask image.

Richard Brown dealt with Dylan's visions of endings and the apocalyptic references in much of his work and Philip Horne's talk resonated with this as he considered Dylan's Flood Songs with reference to the body of blues and other songs about the 1927 and 1937 great Mississippi floods.

David Punter considered Dylan's fascination with the word pity in his work and the last paper by Neil Corcoran was a delightful look at some of his early work. Dylan as editor of his own work is responsible for the reissue of these early albums in mono. They stand as a great achievement but he managed to avoid what many others did not, early achievement followed by stagnation. He talked about the melancholy and the awareness of death in these early works and the difficulty he had in the Cynthia Gooding interview in answering the question "What age is Bob Dylan?" because that is not the same question as "What age is Robert Zimmermann?"

And then Michael Gray's keynote address but that's for another day maybe.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy 70th Birthday Bob from Bristol

Sunday Hay-on-Wye, yesterday Somerset - Wells Cathedral (awesome) and East Coker (T.S. Eliot's Quartet and resting place) - in the sunshine.

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter (Eliot)

And today?
I'm still on the road
Heading for another joint (Dylan)

At the Bristol University Conference The Seven Ages of Bob Dylan to mark his 70th birthday. It's a great lineup of speakers, each apparently speaking for about 20 minutes, and promises to be very enjoyable, thoughtful and probably controversial as well.

Prize for best title probably goes to Dr. Richard Brown (Leeds) for The Dylanesque and the Dylennium. Professor Neil Corcoran (Liverpool) who has written extensively about Irish poetry and poets will speak on Dylan Now and Then: Notes and Queries. The day ends with a keynote address by Michael Gray entitled Our Back Pages.

There is also a poetry recital by Lavinia Greenlaw and Mark Ford at lunchtime. The Conference is mentioned in the Telegraph in this article.

Thousand of media stories about Dylan today. Many reporting the Dylan heroin story which as usual with such packaged media snippets is not quite as simple as it is reported. This is Bob Dylan after all. See this Rolling Stone comment.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ludlow, Shropshire

And then there's Ludlow, a historic South Shropshire town on the English-Welsh border. A Norman Castle here as in Trim and some close connections. Hugh de Lacy who built the castle at Trim or its predecessor was from the Ludlow area as was the Mortimers who came to Trim with him. Noel French from Trim is the Hugh de Lacy expert and is finished a comprehensive book on him to be published soon.

Ludlow is a picturesque town with wonderful streets, timber framed buildings, bridges and town gates. It even has a captured Russian Crimean War cannon in front of the castle as has Trim Castle. They must have brought back shiploads of captured cannon:
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them.

The poet of Ludlow is A.E. Housman (1859-1936) whose sad wistful A Shropshire Lad poems seem both out of date and prophetic as if he knew so many lads would die in the Great War. He is commemorated by this plaque on the church and by a cherry tree in the church grounds.

Lovliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough

And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

No blooms on the cherry tree at the moment.

Some interesting facts:

Signposting on English roads is just as bad as on Irish roads.
Being on the correct road is no good if you are going in the wrong direction.
The full English breakfast is actually quite good.
Broad generalisations are not facts.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Oswestry, Shropshire

Nice to drop into towns I never heard of and walk the streets, see the sights, take the pictures, check the details on the internet. Yesterday I visited Oswestry, a town in Shropshire near the Welsh border. Sheep country so this sculpture, Borderland Farmer by local artist Ivor Roberts-Jones, is suitable. Could be in the middle of Tubbercurry or Coolaney.

Wilfred Owen, the poet famous for his poetry of the first World War, was born in Oswestry and there is a memorial seat beside the ancient St Oswald's Church in the town. The plaque on the wall behind has the text of two of his poems, Anthem for Doomed Youth and Futility. He died a week before the end of the war.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Poetry Divas in Trim

Our May Boyne Readings last Thursday evening featured The Poetry Divas, pictured above left to right Kate Dempsey, Triona Walsh and Barbara Smith. I hadn't seen them before and was impressed with their material and performance.

Lots of poems about the reality of having and rearing children and also a couple about calf and fruitfly (I think) castration which caused some uneasy shifting on chairs! Most of the poems were individual but they began and ended with joint readings where the poem was shared among the three. Well done divas!

At the Open Mic I read my two satires from the Trim Swift Festival Battle of the Books 2009 and 2010 as a reminder that we need to get working on our satire. We can't be the runners-up two years in a row.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The UK Tour

Ok that's it. I need a break. Seeing the great welcome the Queen got in Ireland I'm off to the UK to sample the hospitality. Ferry to Holyhead then driving through Wales, southern England. No definite itinerary but I have to be in Bristol on 24 May (Bob's Birthday- he'll be 70) to attend the Bob Dylan Academic conference. I can't wait - Dylan and Academia!!

Then I have to be in Bedford at the end of the week to research the records of the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Regiment which spent some time in Sligo during 1920-21.

Apart from that just wander around, see some churches, monuments, poets' graves, bookshops (Hay-on-Wye especially), attend a poetry reading or two if I can find any.

Above: the headlines in the Sligo Independent celebrating the visit to Ireland of the present Queen's grandfather in 1911.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Introductions Second Night

The second quartet of this years Poetry Ireland Introductions took the stage last evening in the Irish Writers' Centre. The audience was enthralled by variety in style and delivery on show. It's difficult to comment on readings when you hear each poem only once but here are a few impressions.

Eleanor Hooker from Dromineer on Lough Derg featured the lake prominently in her work which might give the impression of light, rural themes and scenes. Yes they were there but there was a wonderful almost surreal darkness breaking through in many of the poems which gave a great edge to the reading.

Susan Lindsay's poems are spare and her delivery emphasised the almost disjointed nature of the phrases and ideas. She read a couple of poems each from her Dancing on Breaches and her Late Loves sequences and finished, if I remember correctly, with her wonderful Of No Substance dealing with images and reflections of herself.

Barbara Morton read her poems without any introductions or titles in a staccato style, creating a rhythm which had nothing to do with the words hanging together, more with the words as individual assertions. The effect was mesmeric and I was left with wanting to see how these poems are presented on the page.

Jane Robinson's subject matter ranged far and wide. She had a wonderful informal sonnet about the Natural History Museum with the great whales hanging from the ceiling and a poem about the first atomic test in the desert. She included the poem about the Tube in London which she had used at the workshop with Alan Jude Moore and thanked her fellow poets for their input. She probably wins the prize for the best title of the whole Introductions 2011 with What the Stolen Handbag said to its Owner.

I really enjoyed the night, pressure off since I was not reading, and thought the four poets put on a great show. Well done.

So now it's all over!! Thanks to Poetry Ireland, judge Alan Jude Moore and the other seven poets for a great experience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Boyne Readings and Open Mic

We are in for a treat this Thursday at our Readings, not one poet, not two poets but THE POETRY DIVAS!

The Poetry Divas are a glittery (and glittering) group of well published women poets. They are very well known and respected on the poetry circuit and have read at various festivals and events around the country including Electric Picnic, CastlePalooza, Flat Lake, Body and Soul, Uisneach, Glor and Caca Milis cabaret.

The members include Kate Dempsey, Maeve O'Sullivan, Triona Walsh and Barbara Smith but each lineup and show is different, blended to the occasion. They have guaranteed a deliciously infectious show that's bound to touch a nerve and blur the wobbly boundaries between page and stage.

The talented Kate Dempsey, a well-known blogger, was a solo reader at a previous Knightsbridge reading and made a big impression. Since then she has won the prestigious Plough Prize in the UK.

The Boyne Readings and Open Mic take place in the Coffee Shop (just inside the main door), Knightsbridge Retirement Village, Longwood Road, Trim at 8pm this Thursday 19 May.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Clematis Killed by Cold Winter

The garden is really coming to life after the recent rain.

Alas it looks like my clematis is finished. No sign of life. Pictures Top: This year. Below: last year. It survived the cold of January 2010 but obviously the second cold winter in a row was too much for it. The plant on the right climbing through the dead clematis is a woodbine/ honeysuckle.

I think it's best to leave the clematis there until the autumn and then cut it down. The wallflowers and bluebells under the tree look well. Must plant more for next year.

My magnolia has not flowered at all this year, presumably as a result of the cold but still looks healthy. All the fuchsia are dead but the ferns which I was worried about have burst into life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Poetry Ireland Introductions Part One

The first night of Poetry Ireland Introductions went very well last evening. A great audience, great listeners, sympathetic and ready to respond to every nuance. I was very pleased with my final selection, seven poems sandwiched by two past/present poems, the Ball of Twine to start and the Journey Back to finish.

The Ball of Twine was a late addition but got positive comments afterwards. I had my introductions scripted to ensure that I didn't ramble on so they may have been a bit brief and lacking in spontaneity but I was determined to avoid rambling. The poems were the most important element.

Thanks to all who attended including Honor from LitLab and Orla, Paddy and Evan from Boyne Writers. Great to see fellow poets and bloggers Kate, Peter, Padhraig there as well. Thanks to Paddy and Donna's husband for the photos.

The Writers' Centre is a great venue. It's nice to read upstairs in a pub with an audience of fellow enthusiasts but there is an air of illegal back-room conspiracy about it. The Writers' Centre is a dedicated space, books on the shelves, art on the walls, notices of lots of other events and very friendly welcoming staff and audience. I read there once before at a Windows launch and loved the size of the room, the solid podium and the Sean MacSweeney Sligo bogscape on the wall makes me feel at home.

My fellow readers, Ainín Ní Bhroin, Kimberly Campanello and Donna Sørensen (right to left in the picture above) did very well. Many people remarked on the variety of styles and it's a tribute to Poetry Ireland and the judge, poet Alan Jude Moore that no narrow conception of poetry or poetic style was favoured. As I said before, I was the only male and the oldest by quite a distance and I played on both of these to get a little audience sympathy.

The second part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions 2011 takes place on Wednesday evening next in the Irish Writers' Centre at 6.30. The readers are Eleanor Hooker, Susan Lindsay, Barbara A. Morton, and J.S. Robinson.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Poetry Ireland Introductions

A good night at the Ó Bhéal reading in Cork on Monday night. A great audience who took part in the five word challenge at the start and the open mic at the end and listened to my poems in between. Half an hour gave me a chance to read quite a number of the contenders for the shortlist for the Poetry Ireland Introductions tomorrow evening. Ten minutes so seven poems will just fit in with short introductions.

I have felt a bit like Alex Ferguson must feel having to select a line up for a match - so much good material available! My Manchester United poem went down well in Cork but is not being included, a bit too long.

One older poem I included at the last minute in Cork got a couple of nice remarks so it has pushed itself into the final line up. Others failed to live up to earlier promise and have been dropped. The reading list is ready and at the final rehearsal came in at 9 minutes 55 seconds. Perfect!

Ainín, Kimberly, Donna and myself are on tomorrow evening, Thursday 12 May, 6.30pm in the Irish Writers' Centre, Parnell Square. The other four on Wednesday of the following week.

Now to decide what to wear!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Poetry and Short Stories Publishing Seminar

This looks very interesting!
On Saturday 2 July the Irish Writers' Centre is hosting a day-long Poetry and Short Stories Publishing Seminar with leading figures across a variety of branches of the publishing industry.

Talks will be given by Ciaran Carty, Editor of New Irish Writing; Declan Meade, Editor of the Stinging Fly; Jessie Lendennie, Managing Director of Salmon Poetry; Kevin Barry, Short Story Writer and Novelist; and Kevin Higgins, Poet and Co-organiser of Over The Edge Reading Series.

From 10.30am to 4.30pm. Tickets €60 or €50 for members. More details from Irish Writers' Centre, 19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1. Telephone: +353 (0)1 872 1302. Email: info@writerscentre.ie

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ó Bhéal Poetry Reading Cork

Off to Cork tomorrow to read at Ó Bhéal, Winthorp Street, Cork. I've never been there but I've heard great reports about it. Really looking forward to it but a bit apprehensive as well. The night begins with a Poetry Challenge starting around 9.00pm. Guest poets begin about 10.00pm for between 30-45 minutes, after which there is an open-mic session.

Quite a long reading then so an opportunity to try out a variety of stuff and see what goes down well with a view to the final selection for the Introduction on Thursday night next. That set list not finalised yet! Like most of these reading the audience is composed of fellow poets, who are both sympathetic and critical.

This reading is held weekly and the list is impressive: Pat Borthwick, Rita Kelly, Anne-Marie Fyfe most recently and Kathy D’Arcy next week. The accomplished Richard Halperin who I have been bumping into here and there, most recently in Limerick on Thursday night - he has a poem in Revival 19 - is the guest reader on 23 May.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"I Shouldn't be Telling you This" launched in Limerick

A quick trip to Limerick yesterday to attend the On The Nail event at Locke's Bar. A visit to Limerick poetry venues is always enjoyable and this was a three hour extravaganza which included the launch of and readings from Revival 19, the launch of Mae Leonard's book of poems I Shouldn't be Telling you This which is published by Doghouse, a reading by the other featured reader Patricia Byrne and an open mic.

The venue is great, an upstairs area in the pub with a good stage, nice seating and good acoustics. I was first to read, reading Frank Miller which is included in Revival. Limerick audiences are great and they responded well.

Mae Leonard's book got a great introduction from Frank Prendergast, former Mayor of Limerick and Labour Party TD who is an expert on the history of Limerick and had high praise for the collection. Mae is a Limerick native now living in Naas, Co Kildare and is a regular on Sunday Miscellany. Her poems are full of close observation, some based in her youth in Limerick other in Kildare, some sad, some happy, all vibrant and sharp. Her collection gets its Kildare launch tonight, Friday 6 May, in the Council Chamber, Naas Town Council, Naas, Co Kildare at 8pm. Admission: free. All are welcome.

Patricia is a native of Mayo living in Limerick who has written poetry and prose. Her nonfiction book The Friar & the Felon will be published by Collins Press in spring 2012. The book tells the story of the Achill Island atrocity of 1894 involving the infamous James Lynchehaun, who was one of the influences on John Millington Synge in writing The Playboy of the Western World.

She read the opening section of the book last night which describes the scene in Achill when in 1894, the first train on the Achill railway carried the bodies of victims of the Clew Bay Drowning. This tragedy occurred when a boat overturned in Clew Bay, drowning thirty two young people who were on their way to Scotland for the seasonal potato picking. This makes a great opening to the book setting the scene and the context and introducing the main characters in the story.

Patricia blogs here.

More about Revival later maybe.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Seven Towers Poetry Reading

There's something special about an early afternoon poetry reading especially when the audience is small. A bit like a parallel universe - you step in from the hustle and bustle and sunlight to a dark back room and read strange collections of words and listen to other read similar stuff and applaud and then go back out to the hustle and bustle.

A small audience in the Twisted Pepper yesterday. Thanks to Kate and Eamon who turned up, hope you both enjoyed the poems. I had a good time, tried out some different poems and got good feedback. You know when you finish a poem whether it has gone down well or not. My cafe poems didn't perform well so probably will be dropped from the list. My opener The Truth got a good response so will probably get that slot for the Poetry Ireland Introductions.

I wasn't familiar with the other readers. Roger Hudson uses colloquial speech in a disjointed real way which amuses and intrigues. Bernadette O'Reilly writes about Dublin, her childhood, the difference between Finglas and Foxrock. What I liked about her poems was that she knows when to stop. The temptation in this sort of material is to include too much. She knows that a taster is usually more effective.

And the reading started with the accomplished Liz McSkeane reading from her two collections. She is an accomplished reader as well and held us spellbound with her brilliant use of words and sentences, varying tone and line length and amount of information to draw us in and leave us almost knowing all.

Thanks to Seven Towers for putting the event on and to Oran for making us feel at home.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Launch of Revival 19 Locke Bar, Limerick

The 'On The Nail' Reading @ The Locke Bar, Limerick on tomorrow Thursday 5th May 2011 at 8.00pm will include the launch of issue 19 of their Revival Literary Journal.

I have a poem, Frank Miller, in this issue. This is one of my High Noon poems. Frank Miller is the outlaw who is arriving on the noon train so we don't see him until near the end. In my poem he represents each of those annoying people who seem to haunt our lives.

The guest readers this month are Patrica Byrne and Mae Leonard. Patricia Byrne's poetry collection Unstable Time was published in 2009.

Her nonfiction book The Friar & the Felon will be published by Collins Press in spring 2012. The book tells the story of the Achill Island atrocity of 1894 involving the infamous James Lynchehaun, who was one of the influences on John Millington Synge in writing The Playboy of the Western World. Patricia blogs here.

Mae Leonard is originally from Limerick now living in Co. Kildare: Writer, Writer in Schools/Libraries, Poet and Broadcaster. Winner of several short story and poetry literary awards including Scottish International, Francis MacManus, Belmont Prize etc. Her new Poetry collection with Doghouse, I Shouldn't be Telling you This, will be launched on the night by Frank Prendergast.

A magazine launch, a poetry book launch, two featured readers and an open mic. Seems like it will be a great night. Hope to make it. Today it's the Twisted Pepper.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Poetry Ireland Introductions

The Irish Writers' Centre have a notice about the upcoming 12 May Poetry Ireland Introductions on their website. (Scroll down) I'm really chuffed that they used my picture to illustrate the notice since I'm the only male among the eight Introducees (?). The blue pullover looks well doesn't it. Sorry Ainín, Kimberly and Donna.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Yeats, Birds, Poetry, Sligo

I think there has to be a moratorium on the use of birds in poetry especially as symbols of freedom, the spirit, independence, inebriation, etc etc. We've had enough stuffed birds.

Yeats was fond of using birds in his work. He said in a note on his play Calvary: "Certain birds, especially as I see things, such lonely birds as the heron, hawk, eagle, and swan, are the natural symbols of subjectivity, especially when floating upon the wind alone or alighting upon some pool or river".

I was in Sligo last week and walking along the Garavogue in the town centre waiting for the library to open (Too early again!) I saw a swan and a heron between the two bridges.

I'm writing a poem about a robin myself, symbol of greed, gluttony, dependence and treachery.