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Saturday, May 14, 2022

Cork International Poetry Festival 2022


I'll be reading from Green Carnations, an anthology of LGBTQ+ poetry next Saturday afternoon at the wonderful Cork International Poetry Festival. The festival begins on Wednesday, 18th May and runs through to the 21st. Thanks very much to Patrick Cotter, director of Munster Literature Centre and John Ennis, editor of Green Carnations for asking me to be involved. I'll be sharing the stage with fellow contributors Diarmuid Fitzgerald and Leah Keane. The event will be moderated by Kate Moore at 4.30 in Cork Arts Theatre. More information here.

Tickets can be bought here

Full programme of events here

“Why the green carnation?”

The short answer is that it’s a symbol of Oscar himself. In 1892, Wilde had one of the actors in Lady Windermere’s Fan wear a green carnation on opening night and told a dozen of his young followers to wear them too. Soon the carnation became an emblem of Wilde and his group—no doubt aided by his having scandalized critics after the play by appearing on stage smoking a cigarette! Indeed, an amusing parody of Wilde was published in 1894 called The Green Carnation—and which the horrified author withdrew from publication during the Wilde trial because he felt it had helped bring Oscar down.

One poem I'll be including from Green Carnations is...

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Washing Windows Too: Irish Women Write Poetry


Washing Windows Too: Irish Women Write Poetry has recently been published by Arlen House and is available from Books Upstairs. It contains 100 new poems, selected by co-editors Alan Hayes and Nuala O'Connor, by women who have not yet published a full collection. It is the successor to Washing Windows? which was published in 2017. 

Alan Hayes’ preface on ‘Poetry, Power and Privilege’ makes for very interesting reading. In it he details the inequality of opportunity between male and female poets. He writes that 'from the 1950s onwards, conservative powerbrokers chose to champion their male peers, and in most instances female voices were silenced.' He believes that women authors today owe a debt of gratitude to Catherine Rose (founder of  Arlen House, Ireland's first feminist press), Dr Margaret Mac Curtain (feminist activist and seer), and Eavan Boland. Apparently, Eavan Boland travelled Ireland in the ‘80s giving workshops to women. One woman didn’t want to ‘go public’ as a poet because her neighbours would think she didn’t wash her windows. Hayes calls for a more open, independent and honest arts world.

I'd like to thank Nuala O'Connor for her introduction, 'A Voice Answering a Voice'. She opens 

'...let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves' Mary Oliver wrote in her poem 'Wild Geese', and what a pleasure it is for a reader to see what subjects new poets love enough - feel urgently enough about - to be moved to create poetry.

What subjects these are, you'll have to have the joy of discovering for yourself within the pages. I was more than delighted to get a mention in the introduction (along with many others) in the same paragraph as Virginia Woolf's Orlando. It was a book I read in my late teens and I've never really recovered from Woolf's soaring stream of consciousness and oft beautiful imagery. She left an indelible mark on me. She's still one of the most stylish writers out there.

Available to order here

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Bitumen and Pitch by Eithne de Lacy

Thanks to Dr. Cathy Fowley of Silver Thread for asking me to launch Bitumen & Pitch by Eithne de Lacy. Silver Thread believe in the power of stories. Their mission is to listen and encourage older people to tell their stories, and to publish them as part of their legacy.  Their ethos is to be inclusive and person-focused. Silver Thread was founded in Spring 2017 by Dr. Cathy Fowley and Carmel Conroy, who both had a background in education for older people in third level institutions.  

In her introduction de Lacy says, "The cover of the book depicts a woven basket placed among reeds on a river, an image taken from the Book of Exodus... The Bitumen & Pitch were used to make the basket of Moses waterproof, thus ensuring his safe journey on the Nile." Further she notes, "Bitumen & Pitch ensured Moses' safety as he was passed from one mother to another...just as I was."

And so we begin the journey with the poet in this exploring collection. As a 43 year old de Lacy discovered, before her mother's death with dementia, that she had been adopted as a baby. The collection pays homage to her mother, Moyra, and her birth mother, freshly discovered, Bridget. She writes, "My pen refused to stop. It led me into an exploration of my two mothers, Moyra, the mother I knew, and Bridget, my birth mother who had died before I discovered I had been adopted. Two secrets. A hidden birth, a hidden adoption. Secrets, always secrets, the backdrop to many lives." Such words of truth. In the poem Rúnda (Irish word for secret) we find 

She named her baby

Rúnda, and though

She never suckled her

She kept her close,

And held her tight,

Cradling her in the

Pulsing chambers of her heart.

Lovingly written and produced, the collection is divided into 5 sections; Childhood, Unearthing, Mothers, And Now, and, Finally. In the last poem of the book, On Elephants, fittingly de Lacy writes

'Well done to you

And to your women folk.

So very well done.'

Bitumen & Pitch is a poetry collection and memoir of a woman relearning who she is. Calling on the Irish language, religious iconography, myths, stories and childhood, these poems, filled with scents and sounds, colour and wonder, are an exploration of a daughter, the mother she knew, and the mother she never met.

Available here.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Times Present and Past by Liam McNevin

Published by Swan Press, Dublin, Times Present & Past is Liam McNevin's first collection of poetry. Liam is from Dublin and has been writing for many years. He is a member of Virginia House Creative Writers. His work has appeared in journals such as Boyne Berries and FlareTallaght Soundings anthologies, and online in Pendemic, Drawn to the Light Press and Live Encounters, among others.

Opening with Amour Vitae Meae (love of my life), a serenade to his wife, McNevin has an unsullied sensitivity of spirit found throughout the book in poems such as Soulmate, where he feels the calming presence of his passed father come to him on his son's confirmation day. He appreciates moments. The poet has a talent for rhyme. Of falling leaves in Autumn he writes,

They remind me of dying embers,
of life coming to a close;
fiery blenheim garlands,
in restful repose. 

McNevin has a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature and nuances of light. In Campus he notes 'Early sunrise, IT Tallaght', and stops 'to take a photo/to put into verse and leave grass frost/footprints in my wake.' In Morning, while observing the crescent moon he sees 'jet lines and pinkish cloud/paint a winter sunrise'. While in Skyscape he is 'enthralled by the dawn/of a winter sky.' He spies in the darkness a 

flickering star,
a lighthouse flung-far
amidst a sea
of inky blue.

McNevin remembers those who have touched his life in character poems. Of Buddy he says 'Of course I'd like to see you as you always were./When as a young fella we'd meet', continuing with the wisdom of the line '...elders give credit...saw our show for attention as the anxious/thing.' He recalls the man who sold the Evening Herald newspaper with 'face similar to his tanned cap' in Selling the news. From another in Fisherman's blues he learns the perk of fishing, 'To step away from the routine of everyday/and let his mind wander at random.' Of a colleague, Valerie, he pens, 'No words spoken could ease your going;/but time allows for a tribute in a poem.'

The poet is concerned with the art of writing and in improving craft. In Ballpoint, an ode to the pen, he muses, 'should I really say that?' Sombre days finds him experiencing 'this threading water/while waiting for a topic to arrive.' Work in progress unearths his mission and mantra,

The task: To have a piece of writing
that is sturdy when the unveiling mist lifts
which assists in keeping lit, the pilot light
of confidence. 

I enjoyed the grace of this collection. Liam McNevin wears the true, heart-and-soul cloak of a poet, sensitive to moments of beauty and wonder about him, and ready to step out of the ordinary into the act. I particularly loved Holiday morning which captures the quiet, stillness of a moonlit night so vividly. Looking again to the skies he understands, 'Creation I'm a part of;/significant, though small.'

For more information contact 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Odd as F*ck by Anne Walsh Donnelly

Odd as F*ck is the debut poetry collection from Anne Walsh Donnelly, published by Fly on the Wall Press. Anne Walsh Donnelly writes poetry, prose and plays. She is a single mother of two teenagers. Originally from Carlow in the south-east of Ireland, she now lives in Mayo in the west of Ireland. She is the Poet Laureate for the town of Belmullet in the west of Ireland. Her poetry was shortlisted for the 2019 Hennessy/Irish Times New Irish Writing Literary Award. She won 2nd place in the International Poetry Book Awards, 2020 for her chapbook, The Woman With An Owl Tattoo, and was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2019, and Words Ireland Mentorship Programme in 2020. Her work has been shortlisted for the Fish International Prize and the RTE Radio One Francis Mac Manus competitions. Her play My Dead Husband's Hereford Bull will be performed at this year's Claremorris Drama and Fringe Festival. 

The title poem is a conversation between two women on the breakdown of a marriage between Victoria, who has 'dyed her hair,/same colour as a hawthorn berry', and Jim, who has 'applied for an annulment.' It demonstrates the potential for judgement and small mindedness in a provincial town, through subjective chatter, 'Paid no heed to my warnings./I know sons never do', and humour, 'Ma, the only virgins in this town are the nuns.' A wry and droll cynicism that disguises suffering and the healing process is at the heart of many of Walsh Donnelly's poems. In  My Therapist's Dog the golden retriever asks, 'When are you going to stop coming here?/She has to have two coffee pods/before your session.' In Talk To Me Like Lovers Do she says, 'I write a poem about having sex at sixty./You should be knitting scarfs for grandchildren.'

Divided into seven section, the first is a long poem, Days Like These, a meandering mind on the river of life in quest for the sea, in this case some sort of faith, or peace with God, which the writer, in philosophical battle, finds in herself, 'But maybe, just maybe, God is,/My Greatness/My Ordinariness/In Days like these.' Part two and four explore childhood, grief, and sadness. Soon describes a child's panic on being left in an isolation ward, awaiting her mother who does not return quickly enough, 'you vacuum-packed your heart/promised never to unwrap it,/expose yourself to germs again.' Mother's Day 2020 expresses the anguish of not being able to see one's mother, 'I don't know when I can be with you again. Weeks? Months?' Death is Nothing  At All finds the poet stricken at the loss of her mother,

Death is not - 


It is everything. 

There are personal works where the poet's journey through her sexuality is navigated with no-holds-barred honesty. I found I'm a Jack Hammer ('I come to life when he grabs my neck/plugs me into the power socket'), and The Knife Thrower's Wife, fearless, and sad; 

Knowing that she'll survive

his onslaught, she tells him,

to do what he has to do,

no matter how bloody that might be.

While joy is literal in Joy, a gusty celebration of the female body, 'Joy is a naked woman/sitting astride/a speckled-grey mare/raising her arms', and in The Wonder of You two women in St Stephen's Green 'dare to lick/each other's cone'. Walsh Donnelly does not flinch in the discussion of the ageing process and sex, in My Menopausal WombMy Menopausal Vagina and Vagina

Part seven of the book, Voices, is dedicated to Martina Evans. In this fragment objects such as a Ford Fiesta, an eel, the moon, a dreamcatcher, an umbrella and a surf board speak to the author. This is an extensive collection. It documents the struggle, personal growth, healing, liberation and hope of a woman. The butterfly who alights on the poet's shoulder in Red Admiral tells her, 'it's much too soon for me to die,/we still have a lot of living to do.' And in the final, Cygnet, after Emily Dickinson, we are urged to 'listen', 'hope', 'rise', skitter' and 'soar'. 

Odd as F*ck is recommended reading for the LGBTQ community, and wider. Mr Sun and Wrench are loving poems to the poet's son. Preparing for Death, Desecration of Time and To Be a Stranger in Your Own Home caught my eye for their philosophizing and imagery. This is an extremely well written and versatile edition. It raises questions about sexuality, mental health, women's bodies and the ageing process in particular. It does so with courageous, unwavering and stout conviction. It is available to purchase here.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Bone House by Moyra Donaldson

Bone House (Doire Press 2021) is the latest collection from Moyra Donaldson. She has published eight collections of poetry, including a Selected Poems and most recently, Carnivorous from Doire Press. Her awards include the Women’s National Poetry Competition, The Allingham Award, Cúirt New Writing Award, North West Words Poetry Award and the Belfast Year of the Writer Award. She has received five awards from the ACNI, including the Major Artist Award in 2019. Her poems have featured on BBC Radio and television, as well as on American national radio and television. She has read at festivals in Europe, Canada and America. Moyra has been involved in an array of other projects, including a collaboration with photographic artist Victoria J Dean, resulting in an exhibition and the publication Abridged 0 -36 Dis-Ease. Blood Horses, a collaboration with Wexford artist Paddy Lennon, culminated in a limited-edition publication of artworks and poems. She has also worked with Big Telly Theatre Company on a number of projects.

This is a brave, courageous book that does not compromise, as the opening poem says of the 'good glasses' So What if We Break Them. A beautiful, carefully wrought, cohesive collection, it is certainly a work of art, one you can dip in and out of, read from cover to cover in a single sitting, and one you can come back to time and again. There is so much to admire in Bone House, economical, classical, adventurous, and with a finger on the pulse. It has a daring spirit that sprints forward like the horses in Samhain, while falling back, masking an intellect and compassion that is never gaudy.

Mother as a figure, and motherhood feature strongly in the compilation. She is a mercurial character, literally in Mother was the Weather when 'hearts became barometers'. In the Movie of Her Life, which is the title of two poems, the mother's past is explored, the freedom she could have tasted before children and marriage, before succumbing to her father's expectation. In the duplicate title Donaldson again inspects 'My mother before she was my mother'. 

Unusual is the fact that the collection has four title poems (which could be read as one I suppose). In its first iteration mother gets no rest 'parading through the night/eternal like the moon.' The second places the poet as mother, and eternity here is in the 'milky breath' of her own daughter. In the third, poet comes face to face with the moon, 'I see the moon/and the moon sees me'. In the final phase Donaldson confronts mortality, 'is the girl already dead I loved'. This girl could be Alice in Wonderland of Untitled 'walking the roads/fearing what I might find; which one of us is missing?'

I particularly loved Beltane in the Time of Virus when Donaldson compares the topsy-turviness of COVID days to 'like being a teenager again, sitting out in the garden...thinking what the fuck'. Here there is gorgeous sensuality in 'the breeze finding its way beneath my robe and over/my body like a lover'. My First 10 Months as a Monk addresses the times too, in such a stylish way, juxtaposing the acedia of a monk's life with the monotony of the isolation we all felt 'In this year of blur/hours'. 

Hecuba in the Bowtown Estate is a teriffic poem about rage, 'I am the bitch-mother that howls outside your window'. Donaldson as matriarch fears for her own daughter's life in Daughter Competing on Her Horse. While in Daughters Who Dance with Death she relates to Amy Winehouse's mother who said 'Each time I saw her I thought it would be the last.' This angst is beautifully reflected in the succeeding poem, The Adoration of the Shepherds with a Lamp, where Rembrandt portrays Mary cloaking her son, and in another painting by the artist the foreseen woe manifests, which the poet calls 'the dark night over Golgotha.'

The cover art of the collection depicts a foetus in utero and Anatomy of the Gravid Womb - William Hunter addresses the legacy of the physician who dissected the bodies of women who died not having reached full term pregnancy. It leaves one queasy to think of this 'Foetus whole and intact: mother butchered.' In an article I found online Camilla Rostvik writes 'It is a reminder of the long patriarchal past of obstetrics.' God of the patriarchy is of the Old Testament in None Righteous and Rock of Ages. Tiresias, the ancient Greek prophet who spent seven years as a woman, leaves the reader dumbfounded by the sole interest of the old gods in 'whether the sex was better or worse.'

I adore this publication for Prayer to Black, Give Yourself Peace and Crone Song. This is an outstanding production and it is probably not fair for me to say anymore, except advise you get a copy to read. It is a master class on how a collection could be written, the composition of a maestro. Bone House is dedicated to Donaldson's granddaughter, Daisy. It contains an introduction by Paula Meehan. Like the sound of the 'singing bowl' struck like a gong in the final poem, Hearing, the artistry of these verse will continue to ring through my consciousness. 

Available here