Tag Archives: Poetry

Spotty memories seen in reverse

Greg

Writer & poet Greg Kirkorian, member of the Irish Writers’ Centre

At the lonely start, I wobbled into the Irish Writers’ Centre in search of heat, feeling like the run off of a stream and hoping someone had some answers for me. The answers remained elusive, but a cup of tea was welcome and I remember thinking the tall girl who welcomed me had a cut of wit hidden behind her kindness. I decided to stay a while and paid my pittance for a seat in the warmth and the chance to pester the centre’s beleaguered staff.I had no idea I would spend my whole time in Dublin there: haunting the rooms and insinuating myself in conversations, meeting my best friends, glowering at fellow Americans. I was the worst kind of houseguest. Reeking of fish for eight months, I still had a place to warm my cockles and scandalise the locals. I played the boor every chance given, berating Irish ears with unwelcome words of late night scandals and dreams of Arcadia.

I spent the first month living in a hostel leaning over the Liffey. The environment was dizzying with a high paced flow of guests, so I leaned on the front house staff for a bit of stability. Typical of Dublin, I had no problem finding the comfort of a friendly ear.

Also typical of Dublin, I had no problem finding junkies. Downing vending machine brews and too many bags of Tayto salt and vinegar chips, I enjoyed many dawns walking along the brown of the river in a half-drunk cloud taking it all in. It seemed surreal that you could buy a ticket on a whim and find yourself in a different life. Eventually some weekend hooligan high as a kite off an MDMA/cocaine cocktail would wake me with a shriek, shake my bunk like a gorilla in heat, and accidentally kick me in the stomach while clambering up to the bed above me. I figured it was time to leave.

thebeardnardshaw_gallery2The rest of the time I spent in a swirl: boozing at the Bernard Shaw, Ear Inn and by the canal; bantering through half hour drives to eight-hour gay hikes; hobnobbing with the judiciary at a judge’s soiree; biking with my best friend to Howth for the day. Working a job at Ulster Bank call centre, listening to the cancer, the rancor, the madness and mindless jabber until my insides curdled. Watching so many open mics and so many concerts, which featured overwhelming highs and disastrous lows.

Fondness washes against my insides when I think back. My friends feel too far away and I miss the warped curve around Trinity. I miss Dame street, her clusters of teens, tourists and addicts mixing under the Central Bank, and Georges’ Street, salacious as it was perpendicularly fused to Dame at the crotch. I miss days in Stephen’s Green playing young again with delirium dreams of poetic grandeur floating freely with the pollen. I even miss Grafton Street’s fire spinner guy… complaining about how ridiculous and terrible he was made me feel like a true Irishman.

Wandering back through my memory, I land again and again in the Irish Writers’ Centre. There my experience started and there’s where I made those friends. There when the sun was up (never) or when things were gloomy (always). There where my most potent memory of Dublin resides with muted light filtering through windows overlooking the Garden of Remembrance, where the people turn into geese and fly.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Irish Writers Centre, Membership of Irish Writers' Centre, writing, writing groups

Denise Blake: work, read, sprint through poetry

Denise Blake will read this Friday at the Irish Writers’ Centre (1pm) as part of the Lunctime Readings. She was born in Lakewood Ohio in 1958 and returned to Ireland with her parents and family to live in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal in 1969. Her first collection of poetry, Take a Deep Breath, was published by Summer Palace Press. Her second collection, How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy, was published in Spring 2010. She is a regular contributor to RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany and her work is in five Sunday Miscellany anthologies. She read as part of Poetry Ireland Introductions series, Out to Lunch readings and took part in the Clé Author and Publisher library tour. Her work has been published in The SHOp, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly and West 47. She is a founder of the Errigal Writers’ Group and received an MA in poetry from Lancaster University through the Poets’ House. She has wide experience of giving creative writing workshops in national and secondary schools in Donegal as well as working with adult groups.

When did you start writing poetry? Firstly, I know the moment when I started to love poetry, it was when I read Seamus Heaney’s poem, Docker. We were studying the poem as part of the English segment in a foundation course in Magee College and I loved the imagery in the line; He sits, strong and blunt as a Celtic cross. It was the first time that I could see into a poem for myself. The course was to be my return to education but instead it was my awakening to poetry. I was in my thirties and I had young children. I would never have considered writing a poem before that time. I started reading poetry and writing my own pieces. I was so thrilled with myself when I started producing work. The excitement of seeing new words appear has never left me. There were two strong forces in Co. Donegal at the time – The Killybegs Writers Group and Letterkenny Writers Group – so there were people who were supportive and showed great encouragement. Eventually a group of us evolved into Errigal Writers and we still meet twice a month.

What’s been the greatest obstacle to becoming (and remaining) a poet? The “who do you think you are?” chorus sitting on my shoulder. But the question could be; what has helped you stay writing? This is a great country for writing and I have had so much support, starting with my local community. There isn’t a week goes by that I am not asked “are you still writing?” by someone who is willing you on. When we first started Errigal Writers we organized Gerard Byrne to give us workshops and the Irish Writers Centre helped us out. We continued to bring other established writers to Donegal over the years and they have all treated us with a professional respect. I was lucky to be chosen for the Writers Workshop in UCG ( as it was then) with Paula Meehan as our facilitator. You can’t get a more professional, and yet compassionate, person to work with. I was fortunate also to be able to do the MA course in the Poets’ House in Falcaragh. There are so many established writers who are generous with their time and energy. I’m on the directory for Poetry Ireland’s Writers in the Schools and that experience is wonderful.

What gets you started on a poem—idea, image, personal experience? The greatest motivation I have is being a member of the Errigal Writers. When I know we are due to meet things start moving in the back of my mind for a while. I become more aware of my surroundings and more susceptible to imagery around me. I will read more poetry in those days and watch performances on you tube. And then I try to find a silence that lets creativity come into the room. I have found my favourite type of moleskine notebooks and I always write the first drafts in longhand. I just love that moment when the first draft is finished.

How did you go about getting your poetry published? You have to get work published in magazines; Poetry Ireland Review, the Stinging Fly, The SHOp were the magazines who first accepted my work. I also had pieces on Sunday Miscellany and I love recording for radio. Again I’m fortunate in that Joan and Kate Newmann of Summer Palace Press have a home in Donegal. They used to hold wonderful workshops and readings in their home in Kilcar. Eventually they accepted my manuscript and published Take a Deep Breath in 2004. They put so much work into the editing process that it is a gift when the book is published. My second book , How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy came out in 2010.

You are very involved in community-based projects, how did this happen and why is it important to you? I’m not as involved as I should be but I live in Co. Donegal, we don’t have organisations running readings and workshops on an ongoing basis so the Arts Scene kind of works from the earth upwards. Our Arts Officer, Traolach O’Fionnain is very approachable and he encourages us to create events. There were times in the group energy where we needed to perform, or meet other writers, or work with established writers or publish work, so the only thing for it was to organise it ourselves. North West Words is a group who now hold readings with featured writers and open-mic on the last Thursday of every month. I do think there is a hunger for poetry readings here.

Are festivals a good outlet for poets? Festivals have the funding for organising events and advertising. Anything that gets poets and writers performing in an area is good.

Do female poets face particular challenges? Do young male poets seem to have a higher profile? Yes. But whether that means that female poets face more challenges I’m not sure. It is a very long road.

What are you writing next? I’m writing poems for now. That is what is coming when I put the pen to paper and I’m grateful for them. Hopefully it will shape into a third manuscript.

Any advice for emerging writers? Love what you are doing. Work at the craft. Read. Be prepared for the long distance not a sprint. Don’t be crucified by rejections. Look carefully at the word emerging, it carries hope and a future. It isn’t: never-going-to-happen writers, but emerging. I love the feeling that anything can happen once you are writing and sending out work.

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Filed under Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Lunchtime Readings, poetry

Poet Laureate at IWC Open Mic

Jill Battson is an internationally published poet and poetry activist who is Poet Laureate Emeritus of Cobourg, Ontario. She is a guest at this Friday’s Spoke open mic night at the Irish Writers’ Centre. The event is free (including wine!), and all are welcome along to perform work. To sign up to the event: arrive punctually at 7.30pm! Sign-ups can’t be taken by email. We welcome spoken word artists, writers and musicians of all kinds.

Her first book, Hard Candy, was received to great acclaim and nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award. She has written several plays and solo works, including How I Learned to Live with Obsession as well as Ecce Homo and Hard Candy – enhanced monologues for dance and voice. She has written the libretti for two short operas, Netsuke and Ashlike on the Cradle of the Wind, produced by Tapestry New Opera Works, and produced an electro acoustic sound art project, LinguaElastic, as part of the Canadian Music Centre’s New Music in New Places series. Dark Star Requiem, for which she wrote the libretto, premiered at Toronto’s Luminato Festival in June 2010. Jill’s third book of poems, Dark Star Requiem, was recently published by Folded & Gathered Press.

Morgan’s Bones by Jill Battson

When Frank said

put something of you in the place

he plunged me into a rest-of-the day funk

like I could never be the jazz-loosened loose bone thing he is

the improv that jazz is all about

a conversation that moves across the stage

lightening moments between the instruments

as the response is rethought

the voice that jazz speaks

tell me in that voice

 

When Frank plays his horn

it’s like yesterday never happened

or tomorrow doesn’t need thinking about

the music is just there, his breath following the voice

his fingers squeezing the notes

melody he sees on his darkened retina

like nothing written and everything felt

when Frank says

Always leave room to do what’s in your heart

I feel squeezed like an exhalation of breath

like I cannot do what he does

even with my words

 

When Frank plays live

I am hearing the breathy intake of air beneath music

the tack of saliva between tongue and reed

a cushioned tap of brass keys

his life’s history in the metallic edge of methadone

I am hearing a life lived, a man learning

I am hearing Bird and Miles and Louis

in countless hotel rooms and back alleys, the weed urine aroma

when Frank says

I’m no good at taking care of myself

I remember Thelonius with his wife packing a cardboard suitcase

and Frank’s toffee skin, the reed leaning bottom teeth

I know it’s too late for me to live that life

 

When Frank’s music envelopes me

in 7am rising light, the Chamisa blooming in my breathing

I am driving up through mountains, along the high road past Chimayo

carried away with the salty extravagance of sound

the smooth quality of knowing one’s heart

remembrance of love lost and regained

a floating cushion of familiarity

and Frank’s notes breathing across a landscape serene

the modulated security of distance

when Frank says

All I want to do is rehearse my craft

I understand the need for selfishness

the quality of genius

Jill Battson’s works copyright © to the author

 

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Filed under Irish Writers Centre, poetry, Spoke (open mic night)

Interview with poet Paul Grattan

How did you become interested in poetry? Betty McMahon. She was my primal Jean Brodie, my crème de la crème, my Sweet Afton twenty a day tab merchant, for five out of seven years at St Mirren’s Primary School. We had a text-book way back when, something like ‘Mainlining English’, so I was clearly a word junkie from around the ages of eight or nine I reckon. At home my Mother was a fierce reader of devoutly catholic tastes, still is, lovely pocket leather-bound sets of Dickens, Trollope, Thackery, Austen, the Brontes, Faery Tales – Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. My Father was more of a Harold Robbins/Mickey Spillane/Willbur Smith kind of prod but as a young Glaswegian Merchant Seaman, he’d picked up a hard back copy of ULYSSES in some port of ill-repute – it’s the ‘durty’ Bodley Head 1967 Seventh impression, with the wrap around black & white cover of stills from Joseph Strick’s film version, with Blazes Boylan and mad-eyed Molly staring up from the crumpled bed sheets on the front cover and Milo O’Shea as Bloom, looking pleased as punch beneath his Homburg on the rear. The sleeve note talked about its wit, its poetry and it sat on the shelf with its white spine greying untouched and unread – my Da’ having quickly discovered it wasn’t the kind of filth he’d been led to believe during the ‘cultural revolution’ – until I was able to reach on tiptoe, able for the first few pages, to swim in its forty-foot echoes of Introibo ad altare Dei. Betty McMahon taught me poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. She also told me I wasn’t as green as my cabbage looked. I was and remain confused. And smitten.daytime_astronomy1

Why poetry (as opposed to other forms)? I don’t think of poetry as being ‘opposed’ to other forms (see above). Look at Tarkovsky and the primacy of music in his compositional approach to cinematography, his ‘poetics’. Or Bill Douglas in his use of silence to embody specific sounds, amplify images that might otherwise go unseen. Paul Klee said, “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible”,  and later you have Rilke saying of Klee, ‘even if you hadn’t told me he plays the violin, I would have guessed on many occasions his drawings were transcriptions of music’.

Your latest collection, eight years in the making: Daytime Astronomy covers topics as varied as abandoned love, prison camp, birds, birth, death, hill climbing, body painting, and recession. Do you choose the subject matter or is it the other way around? Me…Prison camp, birds, body painting? Sounds kinky. I’m reminded of Bertrand Russell citing Heraclitus, ‘The Lord who is the oracle at Delphi neither utters nor hides his meaning, but shows it by a sign’. Or as a wiser man than me once said, sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes the bar, well, he eats you.

Do you consider yourself a certain type of poet? If I’m any kind of poet, a lucky poet; lucky to be alive and out of hospital; lucky to be a peredvizhniki with a pen and a pot to piss in.

How long do you spend on a poem? How long’s a piece of string (theory). As long as it takes, I suppose is the honest and mundane answer. I used to measure them in cigarettes, but the price of a twenty deck these days, it’s just not on. I tend to work like the kind of painter who goes at several canvases at once, sometimes concentrated bursts, other times constipated fits of rage. I’ll stop that when the oul’ Duke of Argylls kick in.

What’s your favourite poem by someone else? The Tryst, by William Soutar, gives me the horn every time but the poem I’d go to the wall for is Water, by Robert Lowell.

What’s been the greatest obstacle to becoming (and remaining) a poet? My undiminished fondness for the road of excess leading to the palace of wisdom.

Do you think a poet’s power diminishes (or grows), as the poet gets older? Indubitably. Dependent on the tigers of wrath being wiser than the horses of instruction.

Is too much Irish poetry rooted in the soil, too much of it centred on rural existence and nature as opposed to the urban experience? As a blow in, I wouldn’t like to say. But between yourself and myself, It seems to me that for every Rough Field and Great Hunger there are five hundred poems about fuchsia and having the quiet pint in some Nama infested rural bog water. Bertie had the right idea with beacons of shite like Adamstown, a car park and a carvery for everyone in the audience and not a blackthorn bush or dry stone wall left standing.

Is poetry in Ireland perhaps too serious? Are we not in need in these gloomy times of some mock-heroic/satirical poetry? Proper order! My next collection is provisionally titled: I Rattled it into Gerty, While her Mother was out for Turf.

How much does poetry intersect with forms of popular culture such as music lyrics or rap? When its horses for courses, my horse is distorted, as Scroobius Pip would have it in his introduction to Distraction Pieces.

We have a president who writes poetry. Is Michael D Higgins’ elevation to the highest office in the land an opportunity for poetry in Ireland? Can he be a force for encouragement? That would be an ecumenical matter.

Who were/are your biggest influences? See first answer, above.

With the rise of electronic poetry and digital books—what do you see for the future of poetry? It will all end in tears, under a bridge or in some batshit besmirched cave, two fetid packs of homunculi gouging lumps out of each other with the sharpened ends of their iPad 3s and Kindle Fires. This way to the Zombie Apocalypse Ladies and Gentlemen.

Readers are often apprehensive about poetry; do you have any advice about how to approach poetry as a reader? Be wise before you rise. Protect your vulnerable brain. They will want to eat it.

grattan_paulPaul was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1971. He moved to the Northern Ireland in 1995, completing an MA in Creative Writing at the Poets’ House/Lancaster University; studying under the late James Simmons. In 2002 The Edinburgh Review published his first collection, The End of Napoleon’s Nose. His work has appeared in several anthologies including: The New Irish Poets, ed. Selina Guinness (Bloodaxe 2004); Magnetic North, ed. John Brown (Lagan Press 2006); The New North, ed. Chris Agee (Wake Forest 2008); Landing Places, eds. Eva Bourke & Borbala Farago, (Dedalus2009). He lives in Belfast and is currently researching a PhD on the work of the Scottish poet and cultural philosopher Kenneth White for the University of Ulster. Paul’s most recent poetry collection Daytime Astronomy was published in 2011 by Salmon Poetry. If you’re interested in seeing Paul Grattan perform, he’s taking part in the Irish Writers’ Centre Luncthtime Series, next Friday, 17th February.

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Cork Spring Literary Festival – A True Festival Spirit

Last week, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Cork Spring Literary Festival in the capacity of official festival blogger. Highly impressed by the list of world-class writers, as well as the programme variety, I set off to Cork city expecting a fantastic festival.

What I didn’t realise was that my expectations would be exceeded.

From the very start, it was clear that this was festival was going to be something special. The organisation was fabulous, with every detail carefully thought out and managed. From the programme to the Facebook updates to the venue (complete with a beautifully decorated stage), every detail exuded the spirit of the festival. This certainly paid off, with packed readings for the festival duration – though this should not have come as a surprise, given the quality of writers in attendance.

Over the course of the festival, the audience were treated to seductive and powerful poetry by Maram al-Masri (Syria), insightful, nature-centric poetry by Zhao Lihong (China’s answer to Seamus Heaney) as well as passionate and exciting readings by Julijana Velakovska (Macedonia), Valerie Rouseau and Kristiina Ehin (Estonia). In addition, there was plenty of home-grown talent such as Leanne O’Sullivan, Gerry Murphy, Dave Lordan, and Patrick Cotter, (it was great to see Pat step out from behind the organisational side and include himself in the line-up) to name but a few. The programme boasted a variety of poetry, prose, book launches, workshops (the haiku workshop that I attended was awe-inspiring), film and the Catch the Moon poetry collective which included a traditional harpist.

But I think what impressed me the most was the atmosphere of the festival – at all times it was friendly, fun, vibrant and respectful. Every member of the Munster Literature Centre staff was extremely welcoming and all of the writers were supportive, attending each other’s events and revelling in the celebration of the written word. The writer’s were also extremely supportive of the festival blog, providing lots of posts – essays, poems, sections of novel, stories, advice – and taking an active interest in its progress.

Coming away from the festival, I felt as though I’d witnessed a great meeting of literary minds – as well as some exquisite performces. I also felt like I’d made lots of friends. Writing can be a lonely business, so meeting and enjoying the talents of other writers is an essential part of keeping the solitude at bay.

I’d rank the Cork Spring Literary Festival as one of the best events I’ve attended in Ireland and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what else is in store.

You can read the full account of the festival on the Cork Spring Literary Festival blog.

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National Day of Action

In solidarity with all the other arts organisations concerned that funding for the arts might be regarded as less important than other demands on the public purse, the Writers’ Centre is participating wholeheartedly in this Day of Action. We hold that writers and writing are highly effective contributors to our society and our economy, and that some of the income generated by our sector particularly through cultural tourism should be re-invested in the sector to nurture writing for the future and to cultivate a society of readers.

Our action on the day will be as follows:

At 1.00 pm the Chairman of the Irish Writers’ Centre, Jack Harte, will walk from our premises, 19 Parnell Square, accompanied by a piper to lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in honour and in recognition of all the dead generations of writers who contributed to the creation of our state and the formation of our national identity. As part of this ceremony, Liam Mac Uistin will read his poem that is inscribed on the back wall of the Garden and that encapsulates the spirit of this commemorative shrine.

All present will then return to the Writers’ Centre, where writers and members of the public will read short pieces from the writers we are commemorating. For this purpose we are inviting the public in advance to nominate the writers who should be recognised, to choose a suitable poem or piece of prose that is representative of that writer’s work, and to come along and read it on the day. The obvious writers such as Pearse, Connolly, McDonagh, and Plunkett, will be included but we have already nominations for such people as John McGahern, Benedict Kiely, and Kate O’Brien.

The Invitation: Any of our supporters or members of the public who would like to nominate a writer and be considered for participation in this event should submit their proposals, titled Day of Action, to info@writerscentre.ie

More information can be found at http://www.ncfa.ie/

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Filed under free event, Irish Writers Centre, poetry, Readings

What’s the use of a creative writing course?

People write. If they’re good enough, they get published. Then they write more and get more things published. Then they earn lots of money. All this happens smoothly and words flow in a constant stream of inspiration.

Pah! If only the business of writing were that simple!

Human beings are a complicated lot and writers themselves are a scruffy, jumbled bag. They write very different things and in very different ways. One thing holds true though, whether you wop words out on the page quicker than a laser-jet printer, or mull over your masterpiece for decades; it’s a long, tough road and you will probably write alone. You may get lonely and self-doubt could well tag along for the ride.

Creative writing courses are a great way to shake off pesky cling-ons of uncertainty and isolation that can be so severe as to make some writers give up completely. The chance to sit in amongst like-minded people who love to shuffle words around and tell stories, coming with their own ideas and angles, can be an invigorating experience not just for a complete beginner, but just as much for a writer who’s been battling along alone for a good while. And a writer at absolutely any stage can meet an inspirational writer or teacher who highlights something about their writing that they could not themselves see.

Want some hard proof of the brilliant revitalising power a writing course can have? No problem…

Poet Jane Clarke took part in a poetry course at the IWC back in 2007 led by Catherine Phil MacCarthy. She sowed the seeds of a poem there, The Lighthouse Keeper, drawing on Catherine’s encouragement to explore persona and to absorb herself completely in someone else’s life

Jane finished the course and abandoned the poem, thinking it was not really working and that she would return to it later. It didn’t happen. That is until, three years later, Jane found herself in another poetry course at the Centre, this time led by Paula Meehan, whose focus was very different; breath, rhythm and line. Inspired once more, Jane rustled through her papers at home, pulled out that poem and reworked it from a new angle. She then submitted it to an international poetry competition, the iYeats Poetry Contest, and won first prize.

Jane, a member of the Airfield Writers’ Group, has been writing for a long time and has had many poems published, but she has no doubt that putting yourself into different, creative experiences can take you in exciting writing directions. So as well as a chance to learn new things, a creative writing course could be just as useful in giving you an external stimulus; to put it another way, a blooming good kick up the typewriter!

Congratulations to Jane on her win and we look forward to seeing more of her work published in the future.

Donna Sorensen

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Filed under competition winner, creative writing course, poetry, writing groups