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Monday, October 19, 2020

Drawn to the Light Press Poetry Magazine


Aurora Deirdre McKernan

My new online magazine of poetry Drawn to the Light Press has just published its first issue. It can be accessed here. Submissions for Issue 2 will open in December. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Heart of Goodness / Du coeur à l'âme: The Life of Marguerite Bourgeoys in 30 Poems

Carolyne Van Der Meer has worked in corporate communications and public relations for most of her career. She has been a journalist, a university lecturer, an independent scholar and an author. Her journalistic and creative work has been featured in magazines and journals internationally. She has three published books, Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2014), Journeywoman (Inanna, 2017) and Heart of Goodness: The Life of Marguerite Bourgeoys in 30 Poems | Du coeur à l’âme : La vie de Marguerite Bourgeoys en 30 poèmes (Guernica Editions, 2020). She is from Canada. 

Coming to Van Der Meer's subject (Marguerite Bourgeoys) a complete novice (pardon the pun) it was a pleasant surprise to find the collection unputdownable. Each poem leads seamlessly to the next and a rich tapestry of the French nun's life is woven. The intricacies of Bourgeoys' steadfast faith, the challenges she faced as a missionary and the moments of doubt she experienced are all explored. The book is a wonderful channel to what life was like in the mid seventeenth century. 

One is never disinterested or burdened in reading Heart of Goodness. While the poems explore the thinking of a woman who lived over four hundred years ago I found much to relate to in her struggles, which must be testament to the talent of Van Der Meer in bringing Bourgeoys' spirit to life. Not since learning of the trials of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz have I been so captivated by the whys and wherefores of such a calling to serve.

Rejected by several orders but determined to honour Our Lady, Bourgeoys left France and founded the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal in the Colony of New France, now Quebec. She reached Fort Ville-Marie (Montreal) in 1653 where she educated young girls and the poor while developing the convent. She is the first female saint of Canada, having been canonized in 1982 by the Catholic Church. 

Those Carmelites / didn't want me / I won't give up / my gift to God / my only mission / If it's not in the cloister / it'll be somewhere else / He'll take me / even if they won't (Poem #4)

Available from Guernica Editions Heart of Goodness is for anyone seeking a spiritual top up, or a quiet, yet enthralling read away from the headline busy world. It is of course for those interested in missionary life, the New World and History. The thirty poems appear in both English and French which is a great boon to students of language. Congratulation to Carolyne on a finely crafted and ecumenically valuable work. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Giant's Footsteps at the Rock of Dunamaise, by Arthur Broomfield


Dr Arthur Broomfield is a poet and Beckett scholar from County Laois. Among his publications are The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium (Lapwing 2011), Mice at the Threshing (Lapwing 2015), Cold Coffee at Emo Court  (Revival Press 2016) and his critical study on the works of Samuel Beckett The Empty Too: Language and Philosophy in the Works of Samuel Beckett (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014). His poetry has been published in journals and anthologies in Ireland, the UK, the USA, and India. He holds a PhD degree in English literature from Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.

Broomfield leads me down a rabbit hole of surrealism in The Giant's Footsteps... (Revival Press 2019) and therefore Alice's first task is to get a grasp of what surrealism is. And thank you Arthur for reminding me of Breton's Always for the First Time.

Surrealism was an artistic, intellectual, and literary movement led by poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. The Surrealists sought to overthrow the oppressive rules of modern society by demolishing its backbone of rational thought. To do so, they attempted to tap into the “superior reality” of the subconscious mind. “Completely against the tide,” said Breton, “in a violent reaction against the impoverishment and sterility of thought processes that resulted from centuries of rationalism, we turned toward the marvellous and advocated it unconditionally. (MOMA Learning

Broomfield dedicates the book to the memory of André Breton who pictured the roses as “blue” and the wood as “glass” as he flitted between “living and ceasing to live” in the epigraph. The opening poem Bloom 2016 visits a prize-winning exhibition (Bridging the Gap) at the annual gardening festival in Dublin, and the poet might be walking this bridge himself between reality and fantasy, “The arch carries me from the escapable/to a notion of reality that mystifies the senses/I at first avert;”. 

The Bee Woman Works At Her Hive describes a scene in a painting by Mansfield in detail with language both rich and energetic. The Bee Woman maintains the hive as caretaker “During lulls in the natural order,/when the dead have been buried/and the laws of seed time and harvest/are reinstated,”. This omnipotent presence is much like the writer himself, in charge of his eclectic, wordy world. “I am here in the hum and whirr/of these zips and zooms,”. October Evening Clonreher is another beautiful piece, evoking the spirit of Kavanagh from A Christmas Childhood. Broomfield recalls “the silent moon”, the radio, “the beet train” and “a backdrop of glittered stars”. In Costa Coffee Shop is a light hearted re-enactment of an ordinary day's eavesdropping I imagine. 

I was taken with In The Beginning Was The Word, a poem written after Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ. I have written a poem about this painting myself. Here Christ appears as an unwanted actor, a has been who has “lost the dressing room”. This delight in subversion and shock can be found throughout the collection, not least in Eamonn De Valera Had A Twenty-Four-Inch Cock and The Archbishop. The poet perhaps expresses his disdain for those two pillars of the formation of the Republic, Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church.

Broomfield sees himself as an outsider in He Ponders His Own Reality. "It wasn't an easy decision/to fit in with the crowd," he says comparing the pressure to conform to an ant "navigating a block of margarine up the Rock of Dunamaise." This rock is an outcrop in Laois hosting the ruins of a castle built in the 12th c. Yet one is left with the awareness that the poet is no ant but the giant of the collection's title, saved and elevated by his art. 

The Giant's Footsteps at the Rock of Dunamaise can be purchased from Revival Press, Limerick and from Arthur himself. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Skylight 47 Issue 13 Summer 2020

I'm delighted to be back in print this week with a poem called Passover included in Skylight 47, edited by Nicki Griffin, Bernie Crawford and Ruth Quinlan. This issue features artwork by Pauline Flynn and is a great read with poems by many fine poets. 

There will be a Zoom launch of the issue tonight, Thursday 23rd July, at 6.30. The details of which you can find here. The launch will be performed by Jane Robinson with MC Susan Millar DuMars and is in association with Over The Edge Literary Events.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Boyne Berries Updates

Boyne Berries is currently closed to submissions. The magazine will now be published annually. The submission period for Boyne Berries 29 will open in November. 

Boyne Berries 28 was a special issue to mark Poetry Day, Ireland and it was also made due to the exceptional circumstance of the lockdown. Boyne Berries 28 will be included in UCD library's Special Collections as part of their Poetry in Lockdown collection.  This will be part of the Irish Poetry Reading archive in UCD Special Collections.

Thanks to all who participated in Trim Poetry Festival online. We hope to be back next year in the flesh for Trim Poetry Festival 2021. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Woman with an Owl Tattoo, by Anne Walsh Donnelly

From Fly on the Wall Press, The Woman with an Owl Tattoo was published in 2019. A single mother of two teenagers, Anne Walsh Donnelly lives in the West of Ireland. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Hennessy Literary Award for her poetry. She won the Spring 2018 Blue Nib poetry chapbook competition and was joint runner up in the Poems for Patience competition 2019. She was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2019 and read at the International Festival of Literature Dublin in May 2019. She has also been shortlisted for the Fish International Prize and the RTE Radio One Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. Her short story collection, The Demise of the Undertaker's Wife, was also published in 2019. 

This chapbook deals mainly with the process of coming out as a middle-aged woman. There are poems on 'Coming Out to to My Therapist', 'Coming Out to Myself', 'Coming Out to My Son', 'Coming Out to My Daughter', 'Coming Out to My My Mother' and 'Coming Out to My Father'. As a gay woman, I found 'Coming Out to Myself' very amusing. It's refreshing how open and honest the poet is about these experiences. Indeed there is much to relate to in the book on the experience of growing up as a lesbian, the idea of throwing 'Barbie into the slurry tank', friends telling your adolescent self that a boy is 'a ride', that pressure to conform described in 'It's Not Easy Being a Woman'. 

While this coming out is explored with gusto and a throwing of caution to the wind, the act of becoming a writer too is somewhat an act of rebellion. The work opens on 'Guide to Becoming a Writer', where Walsh Donnelly has lived a full, hectic life up to this moment of becoming the writer. It is at this juncture that the poet can say in 'Cúchulainn', 'In mid-life I grew into my childhood hero'.  

There are many sensual poems describing the pleasures of love-making, the satisfaction of the connection one feels in the acceptance and exploration of their sexuality. Walsh Donnelly says in 'I Have Lived', 'In her body/Grasped her bleached marram grass/Surfed her peaks and troughs'. 'Her Hug' too is full of desire and 'Being in Love at Fifty' speaks of its own magical significance. 'No More Fairy Tales' was published in Boyne Berries and what I loved about that was that the girl saves the girl, the subversion of the traditional, 'In my story I save the princess'. Of course the real truth of any fairy tale or quest is that you must save yourself, which the poet addresses in 'Self-love'. 

The collection is a wonderful romp through a woman's struggle to become authentic. The poems are sad, shocking, raw, courageous, comical, lusty and tender. They are always cleverly written and on point. Rural Ireland and the poet's love for her family are celebrated. Anne Walsh Donnelly has a great deal of natural talent and I look forward to her next work. In this Pride month it is a timely honour to review and recommend The Woman with an Owl Tattoo to those reading. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Raven Mothers, by Breda Wall Ryan

Raven Mothers, published by Doire Press (2018) is Breda Wall Ryan's second poetry collection. Her debut, In a Hare's Eye (2015), was awarded the Shine/Strong Poetry Award. A Pushcart and Forward Prize nominee, she won the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition, 2015 for Self Portrait in the Convex Bulge of a Hare’s Eye, which is the title poem of her first collection. In 2013, she won the iYeats Poetry Contest, Poets Meet Painters, Dromineer Poetry Competition and Over the Edge New Writer of the Year. She was selected for Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2014 and was awarded second place in the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Breda grew up on a farm in Co. Waterford and now lives in Co. Wicklow. 

The cover art of Raven Mothers (Weight of Wings by Jeanie Tomanek) and the opening poem Oneironaut, a sequence of three, set the tone for this collection. An oneironaut is one who travels through dreams, a lucid dreamer, a daydreamer. The cover image mirrors an image from Wall Ryan's Tender Loving Care in which is written 'a flock of opal wings swooping over a grave./Some say a devil exists; some say angels'. The title poem Raven Mother explains what such a parent is. She is a woman of many pieces: daughter, orphan, partner, mother, empty-nester, and widow. Yet there are other mothers, mother courage or the monster, the Raven Mother, 'one who abandons her brood' and the mother whose child dies, perhaps prematurely, 'But the raven whose chick dies first,/dies twice'. 

Wall Ryan's imagination can be an unsettling place. Strange creatures such as a bat in Intruder and the child of Merbaby are painted lovingly and of course could be metaphors for loss and abandonment. The Gate Clangs is full of loss, 'Your pillow is dented/where no head will nestle again'. Because Roses, where the scent of late November roses is appreciated, is juxtaposed against the violence of the rose which is 'shredded' in Debut.

One feels that the poem Medea Syndrome is one key to the work. It describes the not unfamiliar, though rare, scene of the death of children by the hand of the mother. Wall Ryan references Medea from Greek mythology and once again shows compassion for the other side of the tale, the reasoning of the woman. I find this admirable. (Those Greeks knew the human condition, didn't they?) I really enjoyed Firestealers in that it turns patriarchy on its head and reminds us of what we all know of course, that women are the stronger sex, 'their fire/died in the kitchen range/without a woman to tend it'. 

The book is divided into two section, Raven Mothers and Epiphanies. The opening poem of Epiphanies, Epiphany at Jamaica Plain is striking in being so relative to the current climate of civil unrest in the US and beyond. Wall Ryan describes feeling uneasy when she is an area of Boston where there have been no white people for a time on a journey. Later she realises 'this fear/is race-coloured. I have sleepwalked/my whole life, thinking myself untainted'. Wryly the poet tackles issues such as mental health in Punchline, excess and addiction in On Doing Fourteen Lines (the poem is fourteen lines long), consumerism in All Day Sunday and war in Go Ask Your Own. There is devastation in the lines 

Go ask your ancestors if breaking glass
was the music that drove them to disperse
across a hostile earth.

Playing God in the Orchard frames the saving of a pear tree that is rotting but thankfully 'a tuft of tender leaves erupts' and 'that pale green generates hope'. Prayer is a depiction of an idyllic rural scene, a praising of an Indian Summer. Irish Hare: An Assay is a gorgeous piece of writing and worth buying the collection alone for. It is against death the poet is battling in Counterhex: Against Death and the Raven, echoing the question asked in The Woman who Toasted the Owl, 'Who is the raptor?' Starveling shows a father's compassion for a starving fox in winter. I read this poem with bated breath, so thankful for kindness instead of cruelty. 

I found the line 'She wished on the Codex to be aerodynamic' wonderful in Hope is the Deadliest Sin where a bird-woman is captured. The recurring imagery of the bird in the collection cannot be ignored. While different birds are symbolic of different things the chief association I have with the bird is freedom. Of course a bird can be caged and freedom taken away.

Let Death Not Come is a moving and courageous poem. The poet asks for death to come 'at dusk when the eaves sing'. I cannot help thinking of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 when Wall Ryan writes 'Let death not come in a white room under harsh lights'. I much prefer her heralding of death than Thomas' Do No Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

There is so much to admire in Raven Mothers that I am sure that I have only glimpsed the surface of its depth. Breda Wall Ryan writes with a fearlessness and an economy of language that must only come to those who are truly skilled. Even in the last poems the tempo is accelerated and you might find yourself breathless on reading Questions that Keep me Awake and Now that the White Bear is Gone, both chilling contemplations of the future. 

Determined to continue on her meaning-making of the dream voyage she embarked on as an oneironaut Wall Ryan says in the final poem, Poetry is, 'A hand-drawn, pictorial map of the dreamscape./We walk always into the dark, whistling'. I am thankful for having travelled at least some part of this journey now too.