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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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Dinner in the Fields, by Attracta Fahy


Dinner in the Fields (Fly On The Wall Press, UK) is a recent chapbook publication from Attracta Fahy. Attracta is a Galway based poet with a background in Nursing and Social Care. She currently works as a Psychotherapist and she is a mother of three. In 2017 she completed a MA in Writing at NUIG. Her poetry has been widely published and she has been shortlisted for the Over The Edge New Writer of The Year competition 2018, and the Allingham Poetry Prize 2019. 

The poem 'Dinner in the Fields' appreciates making hay while the sun shines in that it frames a memory of being brought dinner and tea in the fields while tending a meadow, 'Finally, the sunset took us home,/before another long day,/bodies stretched in the light,/making hay.' I have comparable memories of packing dinner in the boot of my mother's car and heading off to where the silage was being cut, or to where the hay or straw was being collected (1980s style). Similarly, 'Picking Potatoes' returns to the poet's rural upbringing. This poem was published in Boyne Berries and it explores a simple way of life, the gravity again of the fields where 'our young backs arched, aching,/from spreading slits'. Fahy believes in other fields or realms outside the physical world. 'Longing connects us to fields/beyond our world' and perhaps this is the battle between staying and going, the sweet tension of youth.

Tension arises in 'Etchings (IHS)' where it is described sagely and fascinatingly as something that 'cannot hear,/it cannot bear even its own silence'. This piece describes the graveyard which 'cradled' the poet's house. It is a place of solace where headstones are 'Tall slabs like brothers'. What holds the child's interest are the ancient, faded etchings of words on the stones which she traces. In 'Vigil' such tracings are described as 'time's watermark'. Fahy is interested in uncovering the past and in naming it, 'Speaking in silence, walls tell our history'. 'The Tuam Mother and Baby Home' seeks to understand a dark period of such history which was brought to light by Catherine Corless. It is a beautiful, meticulous work. 

While 'The Priest Said' is almost unsayable, 'Fall on Me' is a gorgeous poem about a son leaving home which has an exquisite ending. 'Nesting' too has a lovely ending where there is a play on the word 'hearth'. 'Red' is an education on the colour. I never knew so many shades of it, crafted into lovely description here, 'Not jasper, fire opal or sard'. In 'Each Other's Opposite' I love how the poet pronounces a bird feeder a peaceful Jerusalem. 

If you are looking for a book on themes of nature, rural Ireland, societal change, motherhood and ageing then Dinner in the Fields is for you. This is a lovely first offering from the poet. The poems have a wisdom and compassion that ruffle on a gentle, yet deep level. I would say that you could call them a spirit level. Seer-like, Fahy always has one eye in another realm, the place of poetry, the essence of life.  In 'Sensual Nature' she asks

'What if Eros
was also a tender leaf
falling in autumn,
or a marigold,
striking light,
decomposing in soil?'

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Live Encounters Poetry and Writing June 2020

Thanks to poet Jack Grady for recommending me to Live Encounter's editor Mark Ulyseas for this issue. I have 5 poems included. This is a stellar gathering of poets and well worth reading from start to finish. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor, by Anne Tannam

From Salmon Poetry Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor is Anne Tannam's second poetry collection (her third is imminent from Salmon too). A spoken word artist, Anne's work has widely featured in poetry journals in Ireland and abroad. She is an experienced and accredited creative writing coach and offers support to writers through her business Anne Tannam Creative Coaching. She is the poet in residence at this year's online Trim Poetry Festival.

Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor is a brilliant title for a collection of poetry, it immediately lures the reader into wanting to know more and it gives a sense of change in time and space. There is the notion that this will be no stagnant collection, you better buckle up and enjoy the ride. I did. I read the book from start to finish this morning in an hour and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I felt the sea on my face reflecting an array of emotions. 

The title of the collection can be found in the closing lines of the first poem 'Airborne' in which the poet smells the sea on the wind, full of the fates. In her second poem Tannam considers what it means to be 'At Sea', to be middle-aged, to wonder what the meaning of life is, 'acknowledging the sadness/of continents and planets unexplored', and other women 'who speak of emptiness and longing'. Of course life is no scripted, existing-in-itself movie scene, and the grass is always greener.

In 'Thanksgiving' which I think I published in Boyne Berries, if not it's definitely a favourite piece, the poet bounces back in typical style to praise all the wonderful things in life, 'the small things that blue our horizon'. If you think poetry doesn't matter then read this poem if you are feeling down. It is a buoy. Tannam is again sailing, giving thanks 'for our ocean crossing'. And just what seas has she crossed?

I would recommend this collection to anyone who is grief stricken and especially to someone who has recently lost a parent. The poet's mother and father are lovingly recalled. In 'Mobile Library' she recalls how her father would 'perch his large frame/at the end of my bed/pull out books/hidden in coat pockets' offering a route to a wider world of imagination comparable to flying on a magic carpet. I do love Tannam's poems about her mother, how their relationship changed over time as the child became the adult. I had to chuckle when reading 'When We Go Shopping' as I can relate very much to the scenario of shopping with my own mother. 'Testament' is an ambitious and carefully executed poem chronicling the poet's love for and understanding of, her mother, 'sometimes the word mammy simply translates as love', she states.

Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor also takes on the perspective of now being a mother to her own children. Wisely she realises that 'Your Children Are Not Your Children', they grow up and begin their own lives. In 'Listen Here Australia!' Tannam trys to make a deal with the continent to return her child in a year, it's the stuff of fairytale. 'Final Addition'  describes the birth of a son, 'and there he is/breathing us in'.

As the title suggested this was going to be a bit of a roller coaster, and I am more refreshed for the spin in knowledge of the vitality of life when we become fully aware of it, 'of open, painful, joyful living'. This is poetry at its best, reflective, examining, lyrical, primitive and joyous. Tannam leaves us with a challenge in 'Rise'.

'Dare we let go/of all the things/we lost in the fire?'

Indeed, do we dare?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Growing Up in Colour, by Maurice Devitt

Maurice Devitt’s debut collection Growing Up in Colour was published by Doire Press in 2018. Maurice is the curator of The Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site. He was selected for Poetry Ireland Introduction Series 2016 and won the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition. He is a member of Hiberian Writers. 

The titular poem explores the uniformity of school days 'lost in a sea of slate' made better by a dash of lipstick and the thrill of a first tattoo. The sacredness of family arises in 'A Football Dynasty' when a young boy discusses soccer with an older relative. Memories of early years arise in 'Truth or Dare' and 'A Caravan in Kilkee'. In both poems Devitt surprises with delicate imagery, 'a scarf of rain' spoils the dangerous game and the caravan is a 'metal cow'. These poems offer an almost surreal, or dreamlike atmosphere so it is no surprise to see that 'Sixteenth of September' is written after Rene Magritte. It is a poem about a run where 'The oak tree marks the mid-point'. Devitt dwells on Magritte's painting and its 'nascent moon'. 

'Sinister' is a wonderful poem about wanting to be left-handed and the wormhole of lying and being caught out as a child by their parent. The poet becomes a magician travelling down a rope ladder into the 'O' he has learned to form as citeog. This poem is a great lead into Devitt's well known 'The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work' where a lion tamer absurdly heads off to work in the office. 

Devitt is conscious of difficulties in the world about him, as reflected in 'Homeless', problematic global warming arises in 'Inuit' and the painful loss that can be emigration is explored in 'Letters from Australia'. The human condition plays on the poet's mind, the secrecies of our inner lives, in 'Trajectory' for example when a man retires and wonders what to do with his time, and indeed 'The Human Condition' is a poem that seeks 'to paint the past'.

This is a book that merits reading and rereading and each poem is well crafted, painting-like in the sense that something new can be found or seen on each looking. 'Poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen', a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, could certainly be applied here. This is an intellectual and mature collection full of appreciation for culture and with a deep respect and love for family and the past. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Spoken Label Podcast

AndyN Spoken Label

I recorded a podcast with Manchester based poet AndyN, for his series Spoken Label. I had met Andy about a decade ago through a mutual friend. Andy was visiting Dublin at the time. In the podcast I speak a little about my poetry and read four poems. You can listen here.

Thursday, May 14, 2020


I'm a big fan of Killing Eve at the moment. One of the characters is called Villanelle and she's an assassin. I thought it would be cool to write a villanelle (poem) about Villanelle (the character). I'm also drawing her a bit (as above), just for fun.

“Keep your friends close…”
-          after Killing Eve

She said the paintings were very boring
whilst casing the ‘dam with “pal” Konstantin.
Keep your friends close and enemies closer.

The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers she
sent to Eve as a postcard valentine.
The other paintings had been very boring.

In Paris she broached a tentative “we”
and was stabbed, her bed the scene of the crime.
Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.

Never one to welcome orders, when he
told her to sit still, Peel ran out of line.
To her, such dead things were very boring.

Before the shooting in Rome they were free
to be together. She said, “You are mine!”
Keep your friends close and enemies closer.

Did she love or despise Eve Polastri?
Would this artful obsession prove sublime?
She found caricatures very boring,
knew to keep friends close, enemies closer.

Orla Fay

* the ‘dam refers to Amsterdam

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Cyphers 89

Mermaid Crawl by DarkWorkX - Pixabay 

Thanks to editor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin for including my poem A Sea Spell in the latest issue of Cyphers Magazine. For anyone missing the sea the poem below is a combination of two sonnets about a trip to Greystones a couple of years ago.

A Sea Spell

Greystones, August 2018

On the journey to the coast we cut through
the hillsides, tunnels locked us in darkness
while the crescent of the bay grew and grew
as the train escaped its urban harness.
We had gone there seeking peace and healing,
desperate in the search for clarity
to find hushed lapping waves reassuring,
their rhythmic to and from – sanctuary.
I saw that the beach belonged to the birds,
to their curling, warbling wailing and song
and discovered open, widened wing-glides
and I too was free to breach in soaring.
I could have laid down on the sand, not stone,
nor shell, human, evolved, remembering.

Two girls walked the front. They stopped now and then
to look in the dunes for a certain kind
of fine weed, (eelgrass, wild oat or marram),
stooped search bagging a later labelled find.
We stood before the bewitching green sea,
shifting in its shade and always calling,
lulled under the enchantment of its spell,
its timelessness tempered by jagged rocks,
basalt paved inlets and coves siren swell,
the bobbing head of a seal the selkie,
mermaid, merman, the sun and the moon clocks,
forgetfulness in vision, in dreaming.
A dog’s distant bark jolted consciousness
as wraith-like water tightly embraced us.

            I found it hard to leave, still can’t let go.

Orla Fay

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Boyne Berries 28 Launched

There will be time by Rory O'Sullivan

Boyne Berries 28 was launched on Poetry Ireland Day, 30th April. It was specially curated to mark this COVID era and its theme was "There will be time" as formulated by Poetry Ireland. The issue can be downloaded here.

Sadly, Eavan Boland passed away recently. A friend suggested I write a piece about her for an online journal called The Culture Review Mag. This can be read here. May she rest in peace.