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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

St. Knut's Day, a poem in response to The Mother and Baby Homes Report


Candles Cathedral Pixabay

St. Knut’s Day

‘What about your poor mother’ ‘Your child will be a bastard’ ‘What about the neighbours’ ‘Couldn’t you have it adopted?’ – The things they say, Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, 12 January 2021


This is a morning after a dark night of the soul,

the release of The Mother and Baby Homes Report,

a difficult to find words for account of suffering women

and children in 20th century Ireland, though it is the job


of the poet to go inward, my silence and sadness simmer.

And you cannot say oh, but it didn’t really affect you

our way to sweep it all under the carpet, that unspoken

thing in the corners of childhood, that wondering


why people were the way they were, that cover up

and put a shine on the gloomiest of weather.

We prayed in the church, looked the part. Some still do.

The Navan Road takes on new meaning, St. Patrick’s


a place hushed up aunts went to, mothers of adopted babies

seeking their mothers, went to. Tuam babies are forever crying,

caught in a cold vacuum, a mass, an unmarked grave.

Even animals look after their young, someone said.


There must be a saint’s name for every day of the year.

The Christmas Tree is down, decorations and tinsel stored.

To understand our place in time we must listen to history.

We must show light to scars and tears to wounds.


Some bird sings chat chat chat on opening the window

to swirling dawn air come in to stir the room

with a new year, fresh faced. When done, she swishes her cloth

and races back out into countryside to find spring.


Orla Fay

In Sweden St. Knut's Day marks the end of the Christmas and holiday season. It is celebrated by taking out the Christmas tree and dancing around it. Nowadays, the feast is mainly for children. - Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Hold Open the Door


The Ireland Chair of Poetry Commemorative Anthology celebrates the 25th anniversary of Seamus Heaney's Nobel Prize Award, and the subsequent legacy created by the Ireland Chair of Poetry. In May last year I responded to a call for submissions of original poems, essays and reflections by emerging poets in response to the work of creative mentors, to celebrate the work of the Ireland Chair of Poetry. One Irish poet whose work I always admired was Michael Longley, and I decided to write a response to his poem The Horses. My original poem is called What Became of the Horses. Sincere thanks to the editors of the anthology for including my piece, especially Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe. Hold Open the Door can be purchased from UCD Press here. The introduction to the anthology can be read in The Irish Times

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

A Poem for Nollaig na mBan


Two Women with a Candle, Peter Paul Reubens 1616-1617

I'd like to share this poem with you for Nollaig na mBan (Women's Christmas). I wrote it last year during a writing challenge. The weather was decidedly different to the blast of ice we're getting at the moment. Oíche Nollaig na mBan is a famous Irish poem by Seán Ó Ríordáin. Mostly this piece is dedicated to the women in my life, and to the ancestors. Thanks to The Meath Chronicle for publishing it this week too. May peace, health and happiness be with you in these times of uncertainty and in the coming year. 

Dinner Guests

Bhí fuinneamh sa stoirm a éalaigh aréir

(There was power in the storm that escaped last night)

- Oíche Nollaig na mBan, by Seán Ó Ríordáin

Through the bare fields the wind comes howling in the darkness

of the January pre-dawn, a creature born of the Cailleach’s dreams,

a spilled drop of the thought-cauldron premature of Imbolc,

a storm in a teacup of milky daylight.

There could be rain in its lashing and thrashing about,

soft, mild drizzles as it has not been so cold yet.

The witch barely stirs, turned on her side and dropped

deeply into dormancy, consciousness’ only sign snowdrops.

The making of coffee is a lure into the morning,

its bitter warm flavour a restorative, its taking a ritual

more potent on the sunrise of Nollaig na mBan

that is an ending and a beginning.

Did the old people accept transitions more readily?

Their hours were slower, less in real time, part of a feed. 

Though of course they were in real time, past and future blurred,

the present must have been everything, moments golden

in the fire’s flame, little things noticed, blades of grass,

the appearance of a bird, a tumbled stone. 

All the secret signs of nature they stored as knowledge

and a folklore passed from talk to song to paper. 

She mumbles in sleep, decides to show a bad face

and there is a séance-like static to now driving showers.

The weakness of daybreak casts watery shadows on the wall,

the gridded windowpane an open cell of rippled light.

My Great Grandmother bakes apples with a spoonful of sugar, 

my father’s mother butters toast and cuts it into squares. 

Granny and my mother share leftover pudding together.

Later I will prepare dinner for my nieces and sister.

Orla Fay

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Happy Christmas 2020

Happy Christmas to all the readers of the blog. I had After Narnia published by Dodging the Rain on Christmas Day for their 12 poems of Christmas, Dodging the Snow. Some lovely work included in this segment, including poems by Maurice Devitt and Maeve McKenna. Thanks to Neil Slevin, editor. 

20/12: Jorrell Watkins, Real Snow; Chris Pellizzari, Andalusian Christmas Noir

21/12: Ricky Ray, My Favorite Time of Day…

22/12: David Lohrey, A Charlie Brown Christmas

23/12: Al Mclimens, Anaconda

24/12: Christine Brooks, Eve

25/12: Orla Fay, After Narnia; Maurice Devitt, Christmas Day

26/12: Beth Brooke, The Draw of Winter

27/12: Maeve Bruce, The Weighing; Maeve McKenna, Grief That Swims

28/12: Olga Dermott-Bond, Christmas Lights

29/12: Robert Ford, First Overseas Christmas

30/12: Jessica Coleman, Irish Sea

31/12: Dave Stacey, Isle of Man; Sandra Fees, It Isn’t About the Flowers

1/1: Ricky Ray, Resolution

Friday, December 18, 2020

Review of Drawn to the Light by K.S. Moore


Thanks very much to poet K.S. Moore for her review of my chapbook Drawn to the Light on her YouTube channel. Karen does a wonderful job reading some of the included poems and her insights are also lovely. Karen's poem Child can be read in The Honest Ulsterman here

Drawn to the Light is available on Amazon and if anyone wants a signed copy they can contact me personally. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Colour Yellow & the Number 19, by Kevin Higgins


The Colour Yellow & the Number 19 , (Negative Thoughts That Helped One Man Mostly Retain His Sanity During 2020), by Kevin Higgins, has just been published by Nuacéalta. Kevin Higgins is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events in Galway, Ireland. He teaches poetry workshops at Galway Arts Centre, Creative Writing at Galway Technical Institute, and is Creative Writing Director for the National University of Ireland – Galway Summer School. He is poetry critic of The Galway Advertiser. Kevin’s poetry has been translated into Greek, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, German, Serbian, Russian, & Portuguese. In 2016 The Stinging Fly magazine described Kevin as ‘likely the most read living poet in Ireland.’ He has published five full collections of poetry with Salmon: The Boy With No Face (2005), Time Gentlemen, Please (2008), Frightening New Furniture (2010), The Ghost In The Lobby (2014), and most recently Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital. 

What is touching about The Colour Yellow & the Number 19 (TCYATN19) is the bravery of Higgins in surmounting the chronic auto-immune disease, sarcoidosis, with good humour and vigour. In her introduction to the book, somatic therapist Aisling Richmond explains the work's title:

The title distils the essence of these times so well; where the normal and abnormal strangely co-exist. What should be casual and mundane – the colour yellow and the number 19 – refer instead to a world that has dramatically changed; with yellow as the colour of Ireland’s public Covid signs and 19 the number of a global pandemic.

The cover image resembling two trees on fire could be taken as the poet's lungs working with reduced oxygen intake capacity. The irony in this is how the trees provide us with oxygen. How connected we all are in this world. In his Irish Times essay Sarcoidosis and Me Higgins writes 'Most of my recent poems have been satires on the crazy state of the world at the moment' and in TCYATN19 he is certainly in satirical form again. In Of the Coming Plague he vows to go out and catch COVID in mortuaries, hospitals or nightclub toilets. Of death he writes 

For, Death, what do I know of you, 

never having died before?

You’ve had a terrible press,

but could be victim

of the smear campaign.

Higgins is never one to shy away from tackling the political events of the day. His poem The Shipping Forecast predicts an ominous future for the ships of 'Britannia, Eurasia, and Sweet Land of Liberty',  'if certain particulars aren’t fixed'. Waiting for Boris is a scathing reflection on the British PM, while Look What I Found at the Triangle in Ranelagh (after Frances Fitzgerald) and The Day Stephen Donnelly Joined Foster and Allen are wry comments on the Irish political scene. In an interview with Kate Dempsey (2011) on Kevin had said 'From the age of 15-27, I was an active member of Militant, the predecessor to Joe Higgins’s Socialist Party, both here in Galway and then later in London, where I was very involved in the anti-poll tax movement in the early nineties.' It is clear that politics is very close to his heart. 

Higgins' passion for Galway shines through in The Kind of City I want Galway to be After COVID-19, which also demonstrates his support of youth and the arts. In poems such as Death Bed Amends, The After Life and The Haunting the poet is unafraid to confront mortality. The excellent Today is Brought to You was written after the making of a will, and the poem is brilliantly explained in the collection. I found these notes about the poems in the book to be very insightful and helpful to the reader. Higgins says:

Today is brought to you,

and tomorrow is probable.

But next week

and the week after are dreams

in which only the monsters are real.

One final piece I will commend is the lovely, The Vulnerable. There is a sadness and a grace to the opening lines, 'I dream I’m watching the morning train/ rattle down the platform without me.' I'm thankful for spending the afternoon with Higgins' poetic voice in The Colour Yellow & the Number 19. I am enriched culturally and spiritually by the experience. Other readers would glean further observations, having richer political minds than mine. I have no hesitation in recommending the book as a real treasure of this year past. It speaks strongly of the times in an authentic way.

The Colour Yellow & the Number 19 is available here

Friday, December 11, 2020

Galway Then, Galway Now


Galway Then, Galway Now is a celebration of Galway writers published in Crannóg Magazine since its inception 18 years ago. The anthology also honours Galway's status as a European Capital of Culture in 2020. From Wordonthestreet the issue contains the work of 104 writers. The attractive cover features Long Walk by Patricia Burke Brogan and Quay Street by Wordonthestreet. Burke Brogan's cheerful poem November is included. President Michael D. Higgins commends Crannóg Magazine on its service to literature in a foreword message. Crannóg Magazine is edited by Sandra Bunting, Ger Burke, Jarlath Fahy and Tony O'Dwyer.

Nuala O'Connor's Napoli Abú is a very entertaining story, focusing on the conversation between two middle-aged women on a trip to Naples. Claire Loader's The Workhouse is a haunting and poetic description of the past. Moya Roddy's Poetic Justice is a portrait of a young woman on the fringe of poetry and society. Maureen Gallagher, Patrick Hewitt and Aoibheann McCann are just three of the many other fine fiction writers included.

Daedalus Speaks To Icarus, His Son is a re-imagining of the myth by Liz Quirke. Of the women who mourn the idol she writes 'they can cry for you and remember/your newborn skull warm in the palm of their hand.' Majella Kelly's beautiful Dragon Pearls finds romance in jasmine and a first meeting. Noelle Lynskey's Laughter Lines is a tribute to a loved one quoting Charlie Chaplin's line 'To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it!' Emily Cullen's The Innocent Cosmopolitan is a striking poem about a backhanded compliment and Rachel Coventry's Reunion at Ceannt Station is a singing villanelle. 

And this is just a glimpse between the covers. The creative spirit of the west is wide awake and stirring in these pages. Galway Then, Galway Now can be ordered in time for Christmas here. It would be a perfect book to read while curled up by the fire over the festive season, or to peruse with a cup of tea on a January morning.