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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 'CĂșchulainn', '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. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Trim Poetry Festival Online 2020, 5th-7th June

This weekend Trim Poetry Festival will be held online as a Facebook event, at Trim Poetry Festival blog, via Twitter @BoyneBerries and on Zoom. This event is the culmination of some great work by members of Boyne Writers Group, poet in residence Anne Tannam, and contibutors to Boyne Berries. 

Meath Writers' Circle, The Bull's Arse Navan Writing Group and Cavan/Meath LitLab will also participate. Those shortlisted in Trim Poetry Competition 2020 will read their poems. Anne Tannam will present a workshop and writing clinic. Rachel Coventry will MC a Zoom Open Mic event. There will be a video presentation of the cover designs of Boyne Berries from 2007 to 2020. Michael Farry will launch his poetry collection Troubles (Revival Press). Join us if you can!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Complete Moon

Ahead of the upcoming strawberry full moon I've made The Complete Moon into a video poem. It has just been published in the June issue of Snakeskin Poetry Webzine along with A Lotus Position. Thanks to editor George Simmers.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

All the Barbaric Glass, by David Butler

All the Barbaric Glass by David Butler (Doire Press) was published in 2017. David is a novelist, poet and playwright. His novel City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the 2015 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year. His first collection, Via Crucis, was published by Doghouse Books in 2011. David Butler's writing has won several prestigious awards. Most recently he was shortlisted in Trim Poetry Competition 2020 and he won The Maria Edgeworth Poetry Prize 2020. He lives in Bray with his wife and fellow author, Tanya Farrelly. 

The collection could be divided into three sections, partitioned by 'Ten Miniatures', ten poems in which the eye or sight feature strongly. 'Only the lover and the artist/have such Medusa eyes' Butler says in Of Love and Language while in Harbour Miniature as the sun sets 'Everything wet or metal has been fired/and winks red-eyed at the dark'. Psyche states that 'We don't see what colours our lives have' in that we may not always see (see again) or recognise our souls, my interpretation at least. Death, or the trying to come to terms with the weight of living in its shadow or light features strongly in this book.

Rilke's quote ' den Tod in sich hatte wie die Frucht den Kern' (you had your death inside you as a fruit has its core) is added beneath the title of the poem Family Album in the last section of the collection. On looking at a photograph of his mother and sister the poet wonders about the shadowy 'ghost-eye' of death. Death Watch describes the alienation and loneliness of dying, 'Mornings, solitude rises with him...Friends shy away'. In Restless, the final poem, Butler is not sure if he can see a body out on the sea or not, 'It's not, I say again, less sure...with sea and wind and world enormous about us'. This piece reminded me of Stevie Smith's Not Waving but Drowing in the way that poems sometimes answer each other. 

Butler visits his parents in the first section of All the Barbaric Glass. In These are the Dead Days he finds 'your father a child again', belonging now to Alzheimer's, a 'Man of sand'. In Watcher  he describes his mother 'ghosted in the pane' watching birds feed in the winter, 'the coal-tits, a robin/round as a bauble'. Throughout the book there are references to Greek myth. In 'Father', for example the failing mind is described as a maze, the Aegean appears in Exodus and in Minatory the Minotaur is conjured. Icarus appears in Icarus, a clever re-imaging of the ancient tale. 

The Dogfish is my favourite poem in the volume. It looks unflinchingly at a fish washed up on the beach (this fish too becomes eyeless) and imagines the innocence of a child hearing for the first time 'the song of the sand;/the whisper in the hourglass'. I was reminded here of W.B. Yeat's To A Child Dancing in the Wind which is my favourite Yeat's poem. I also love Oghma's Gift where Butler imagines how the Ogham alphabet came into being. 

Butler is at once a sailor on an ancient and a modern sea. His odyssey is epic in the sense that 'This is how it is to live' as he writes in And then the sun broke through. I like to think the voyage is worth 'sudden ochre out of a sullen ocean'. It is what the explorers and mariners hoped for, the 'hunger' that 'impelled them/to cast fortune to the winds' described in Cartographers. Yet the poet has no interest in unseeing reality, the 'spores' left behind, perhaps this is why the eye features so strongly in the collection. He does though realise in the first poem Breaking, from which the title of the collection is taken that 'There are times you need/to step outside the colloquy;/to mute the looping newsfeed'. Hell yeah, I say to that!

The poet's ability to weave the minutiae of concepts with precise words into verse is formidable as demonstrated in Mellifont Abbey where a hive of bees become a monastic order, and the poet's mind again questions faith. Butler is a powerful commander of language. In Wordplay he says 'Sometimes, stark as a wood-cut, a word/stamps the world...and a poem hits its mark'. It is certainly true that Butler is no average archer. All the Barbaric Glass is an ambitious, admirable, carefully cut work which has given me a lot to think about.