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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Still Dancing the Seven Veils

It was truly great to see Sinéad O'Connor return to The Late Late Show last night and sing to our heart's content A Rainy Night in Soho and Nothing Compares 2 U. It's a testament to Sinéad's talent that songwriters like Shane MacGowan and Prince trusted her with their beautiful songs.

She wore a strikingly red hijab and I was reminded of past appearances on the show when she had worn a priest's collar. Mostly though today I can hear Ms. O'Connor sing Mandinka and I recall the imagery of the lyrics of that video. She is

...dancing the seven veils
want you to pick up my scarf
see how the black moon fades
soon I can give you my heart

as a wispy crimson scarf fades into the 1980s. It was a world where MTV was new. I first heard her sing this song on Dave Fanning's show on 2fm and I recall his enthusiasm for her album, The Lion and the Cobra.

Afterwards I loved You Made Me The Thief of Your Heart from In the Name of the Father. The passion of it, the questions it asked and dared not ask at the same time. Where are we now in this Brexit era, where is our island, our lovely brothers and sister in the North? I'm still in awe of Haunted from the '90s. 

I adore that Sinéad can talk about mourning her youth (she's 52) and that she can sit herself next to Sufism. I am long a fan of the mystic poet Rumi

Keep the fire lit Sinéad, rebel, philosopher, whirling dervish, thinker-outside-the-box, sister of Brigid, Joan of Arc, Sagittarian child, phoenix from the ashes!

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.
 - Rumi

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce: The Spirit of Petronelle Soars

Her Kind is the second novel by writer Niamh Boyce. Her debut, The Herbalist, was published in 2013. I finished Her Kind this morning after two days reading. I knew nothing about the Kilkenny witch trial on which the book is based and I tumbled into a medieval Ireland, unsure what to expect as I stumbled through the first few chapters blindly. The year is 1324. The pace of the novel is fast and I became comfortable in the story mid way through. From then onward the novel soars to its conclusion. I was gripped.

I loved the bravery and conviction of Boyce in telling this story. She is a gifted storyteller. It is clearly a very well researched book. Boyce also excels in passages of poetic description. I won't give much of the plot away except to say that it is the tale of a wealthy moneylender, Alice Kytler and her maid Petronelle de Midia. Though the events took place so long ago they remain pertinent and the drama played out is exploratory and relevant to our times. This is an Irish book and a world I felt at home in.

Her Kind can be purchased nationwide, (I got my copy in Easons) and here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Poem of the Week, The Irish Times

On Saturday I had a poem, The Natural Order, published in The Irish Times as poem of the week. Thanks to poetry editor, Gerard Smyth.

The poem can be read here.

The Natural Order was written earlier this year and was almost two pieces as it was sparked by separate, but related in the end, incidents. It had a life as a first draft but I went back to the poem a week later and reworked it a little. I had been thinking of writing something about ecology for a couple of years and I may explore that theme more. I always take great comfort from nature and its cyclicity.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Oliver Goldsmith Poetry Award 2019

Oliver Goldsmith

I was recently delighted to have been placed 3rd in The Oliver Goldsmith Poetry Award 2019. I also had 2 poems highly commended. Congratulations to the winners of this Longford based prize:

1st Prize Bona Fide by Margaret Nohilly
2nd Prize Connemara Waltz Time by Maria Sheridan
3rd Prize  The Woman Washing Jesus Feet by Orla Fay

Thanks very much to Anne Tully, event organiser, and to judge and poet, Noel Monahan

Goldsmith lived from 1728 to 1774 and wrote The Deserted Village.

More information about the festival can be found on the Facebook page.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

An Experience on the Tongue, A Review

An Experience on the Tongue

by Glen Wilson (Doire Press 2019)

Reviewed by Orla Fay

The first section of An Experience on the Tongue is titled "Wordless But All Verb" and this line is taken from the poem "Pipping", placed towards the end of this first section. The phrase refers to the latent strength it takes for a chick to break free at last from its shell, the act is "wordless but all verb". Such eye for exact and precise detail is a feature of Glen Wilson's poetry. He examines with a microscope the sometimes brute realities of life. This attention to detail is again found in "Angelshare" where the poet describes working in a whiskey distillery and finding a sense of belonging and lineage in its production through the centuries. It is from this poem that the title of the collection is taken. On savouring the taste of the alcohol Wilson writes

...That is what I am/
what we all are, an experience on the tongue,/
casting off from the world, hoping the taste/
gilt-edged, worth gifting on./

Throughout his poetry Wilson does seek the noble and the moral, despite being sometimes disappointed. His poems are all very well crafted and mature, with  humility and conscience. They never resort to being preachy, however. Wilson is a connoisseur of language and context. In "Orchard County" the aftertaste of stolen apples leaves him battling guilt, "...An aftertaste/we don't recognise loiters on our tongues." In "Gavage" the force feeding of geese troubles the poet, who, on seeing wild geese in the sky, wishes that he too could fly away. "Mouths to Feed" similarly deals with the dilemma of unwanted kittens on a farm, the quandary it poses, especially to the eyes of a watching child.

Wilson is very good at adopting personas in his poems, vividly imagining other lives, he becomes a bereaved man, or a man suffering from dementia in "The Stable" and a wolf in "Canis Lupus", a gamekeeper in "The Gamekeeper". Concern for the natural world and its scarring by mankind arises in "Opening the Gates" where tundra swans have been disturbed by litter and violence. This was a poem that left me feeling outrage.

Section (II) of the collection, The Lotus Gait discovers the wider world outside Armagh and Tyrone. The titular poem "The Lotus Gait" explores the foot binding practiced by women in China. Lots of poems in this section deal with women in history. History is explored through poems about the Holocaust and the plight of refugees from the Middle East. Wilson wants to see the world clearly, to shine a light on injustice through his poems.  In "The Spectacles" he says

I take a cloth, wipe, make the glass clear,/, 
hope that others will do likewise./

while "Shofar" chillingly reminds us that "winter beckons again tomorrow", echoing the quote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana-1905).

Section (III) Tipping Point opens weightily on the subject of the ruination of nature by man. The poet wonders if an egret can know regret? Still in sombre mood in "High Tide" and "The Groynes" Wilson sees the passage of time before him, realising that time and tide wait for no one. One wonders are we indeed

caught by the rotting wooden arms/
Man has thrust out into the ocean./?

In this section the poet is trying to grasp his identity and where he belongs in the world. In "Mouth of the Ford", Belfast is described as an "Oceanic, Britannic, Celtic..." city, balancing on "ever-moving currents".  In the excellent "Surface Water" the death of a homeless man is attributed to his lack of roots, flowers left by mourners are "quenching thirst with sheared roots". The very human need to belong, to be joined is found in the gorgeous "Election Night" and in "On Oresund Bridge" where the poet writes

There is a need to be joined: this body of water/
should not lie between us when we can see/
each other's coasts,/

Wilson is a voyeur on a balcony in Pamplona in "China Shop" wondering what a girl, a stranger in the streets, would think in a moment of epiphany about the running of bulls through the town.

The final part of the collection, (IV) The Founds opens with poems about a grandfather, "The Founds", and perhaps, a grandmother or elderly aunt in "Seskinore". They are followed by "View from Gullfoss" and "Traybakes" which both deal with grief. In "Brood" a beautiful pearl is described which is reclaimed, of course, by the sea. There is a lesson in this that everything we are, or have, will be washed away in death. Wilson writes

When young, I briefly held a baroque pearl,/
...before the sea made me say: Goodbye./

"The Illuminated Manuscript" portrays an enlightening encounter with a page of The Book of Kells at Trinity College. The poet feels "burdened with light" from seeing the page and believes it confirms a faith, some connection with eternity. I suppose that knowledge passed on is a thread to eternity.

"In Places with Two Names" Wilson addresses both communities that dwell in Northern Ireland, that live side by side in difference "holding a truth in each hand". The collection finishes on a poem that is a song, "The Song", to his young family where he does find belonging and connection.

An Experience on the Tongue is beautifully written. It is an impressive debut. It can be purchased from Doire Press

Glen Wilson was the winner of the inaugural Trim Poetry Competition 2019.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Poem for May

No. 5, 1948 Jackson Pollock

I'm back writing after a short hiatus. I'm hoping more poetry will follow. This, just written, is a gift to my blog.

May through the Broken Window

The long-deserted house remained
somehow intact, panes only recently smashed.    
Emancipated darkness now howls out
past jagged glass. He blunted his mind
on what went before,

the sealed emptiness of the godforsaken place,
the rooms where no one entered,
the ghosts and ghouls who pressed faces
against the world, beating their fists
to be let out, to get out.

The pre-emptive panic much worse than
the release, the actuality, the reality
of standing there, reddened in the face
with a brickful of guilt and shame.
Shame threw the first stone.

Sunlight flooded to every corner.
The dirt and grime of history spread
like soot from a summer forlorn chimney,
aged and caked, mixed with twigs
from birds who nested on high,

about the floors, the mildewed furniture.
The tabletop is a stage for crows, finches
and blackbirds who flit in and about.
Chattering birdsong has re-entered
the vacuum of the kitchen.

They paint the gloom with white dung,
berry-laden sometimes, blotches of red and purple
enhance mundanity like Pollocks,
their artistry a universe of stars
and trailing comets.

Buttons of pilgrim mayflower
and laces of hawthorn tinged by pink
stretch through the void, sketching
charcoal figures in moonlight,
limbs of trees bearing witness.

Orla Fay

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 The Long Night or Why the World Needs Fierce Girls and Strong Men

“Woman?” She chuckled. “Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap, if I took you for a man.” Dany met his stare.

George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords

"You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do."
—Jane Fonda

"Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got."
—Janis Joplin

I've been asked about this latest episode of Game of Thrones a lot since it aired, and I've avoided a response until watching it a third time.

The Night King is coming we've been told, that zombie king made of ice, who steals babies and lives beyond the wall. This fabled wall that 'crow' Jon Snow, a man of the Night's Watch protects. It is a long story of 'fire and ice' proclaimed by original author G.R.R. Martin (Tolkien anyone?)

Yet, you're into it. In the same way as you might have been into Harry Potter, or TLOTR, or Star Wars. I was concerned about Daenerys Targaryen (The Dragon Queen) and her 2 remaining dragons; Drogon, her charge, and Rhaegal, Jon's. Jon is, in fact, Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, in case you never knew that R + L = J. Jon is Dany's nephew.

I totally digress. This episode is all about the battle, the white walkers versus the Dothraki, the Unsullied versus the white walkers, the heroes against the villains. It is Arya Stark who explodes out of the thin, non whistling blue air in the end to kill the Night King with her dagger made of Valyrian steel. Arya has trained for months or years, to become who she is. She has endured trials and tribulations, many disappointments. She has never stopped believing in herself, nor her family. She has defied convention and become a warrior, rather than the lady her family believed she should be. Contrary to the  norm of what a 'lady' should be, Arya's sister, Sansa, has become  a lady/woman of leadership, diplomacy and foresight.

Daeneyrs Targaryen is standing strongly too at this dark battle. Of all women surviving surely she deservers her Iron Throne. She who has been abused, raped and tested, Daeneyrs, worthy of all her names:

Queen Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Lady of Dragonstone, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.

Lyanna Mormont stays her ground in the face of the dead and the ogres of childhood fairytale. The recently knighted Ser Brianne of Tarth is anther heroine.

Let us not forget Cersei, the antihero. What of Cersei? I think she is the subject of a blog of further inspection and introspection. Can any woman ever forget her 'Walk of Shame'? having witnessed it?

The loyal men in this episode are invaluable. Jon Snow, Ned Stark's bastard, the rightful heir of the Iron Throne, Aegon Targaryen, Jon who never gives up, Jon who is a man of honour. Greyworm and Jorah Mormont, and Theon Greyjoy, the faithful and redeemed men. The same could be said of Beric Dondarrion and Sandor Clegane.

What fate now awaits the Lannister men, Jamie and Tyrion?