Monday, March 30, 2009

Heaney Birthday Celebrations

Poet and Editor, Michael Farry has already flagged this up, but it is far too good to keep to myself.

You really should have a look at this beautiful combination of photography and poetry, in celebration of Seamus Heaney's birthday. It offers a comprehensive look at one poem, as evocative as Heaney's work always is, with Heaney's distinctive gravelly voice reading the said poem (and some lovely Irish music thrown in, to boot.

If you're not a Heaney fan - look away now!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another five writers

I had been going on along grand thinking about 25 writers, until that big job I'm doing got in the way. Now that I've got a spare Sunday morning (what are they..?), I'll turn back to thinking about the books and writers of my early twenties.

I met one boyfriend through books. At the time, I was doing a Draughting course - it's what people did in the late 80s in Ireland, when there were no job opportunities (sound familiar?). Anyway, once we had most of the course done, you either sat there doodling on the great white sheets clipped to your green swivel-desk, or you positioned your desk so that you could read, undetected. I did the first and then the second, and the boyfriend, or at least, boyfriend-to-be supplied all the books, from his extensive collection. I read most of his books, and then I went out with him ;)

Behind that desk I began to discover fantasy and science-fiction, like Julian May's The Many Coloured Land, 'the saga of the exiles,' and all the other books in this series.

Behind this desk, I also read Isaac Asimov's I Robot, Robots and Empire, The Naked Sun... oh dear, I am a bit of a serial reader. What else, oh yes, Suldrun's Garden, and The Green Pearl and Madouc, by Jack Vance - the Lyonesse series.

I also remember spending a very cold winter in my bed-sit reading Brian Aldiss' Helliconia saga. It seemed to match the weather very well. This is a tough read: both my hub and eldest son have given up reading them once they got to the second book; the mind-numbing cold portrayed in the trilogy is often cited as the reason - realistic writing, eh?

Lastly, from this period of my life, I'd have to pick Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry trilogy as an must-read. I've even re-purchased and re-read this one lately and it's still one of his best offerings, although I have a special place in my heart for A Song for Arbonne and Tigana. The Fionavar Tapestry was his first venture into writing, and someone once told me that he worked under Christopher Tolkien, researching the famous J.R.R's writing. Having said that, I wasn't as impressed by Kay's last book, Ysabel, which saw him revisit some of the characters from the Fionavar tapestry... maybe it's because I'm not the person I used to be.

So, I have only ten writers/books left to mention - what will they be?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The SHOp

I got my contributor copy of The SHOp on Monday. Other events have been keeping me away from the keyboard, but I am delighted to see my poem 'The Keeper,' keeping company with many other fine poets (pardon the pun).

If you don't subscribe, it's worth thinking about - very reasonable rates and top quality poetry.

Now, it's back to this 'other thing,' for now... more about that anon!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Another Review

This time at Todd Swift's Eyewear, where I investigate the Oystercatcher pamphlet, by Rufo Quintavalle.

It's like waiting for a bus, you wait around long enough and a lorry-load of them come along!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Strokestown Shortlist

And the shortlists have been announced on the Strokestown website!

A Small Dose of Paddywhackery

Don't mind the opening glimpse. This is The Pogues with Ronnie Drew from The Dubliners. Alas Ronnie is no more, but you can enjoy his deep bass tones in this clip which I think comes from the Late, Late Show, RTE from the late 80s. From one recession to another...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review Up

In the veritable literary & arts glut fest that is the brand new Horizon Review you will find a review of Duncan Wu's William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man... by me :)

Go check it out - there's fiction, poetry, reviews, art, theatre... and a translation of Prufrock into Piratese..!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another five writers or should that be books?

This time I move from childhood into adolescence, with some of the writers and books I discovered then.

Like Rachel Fox, I too remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird, being part of the curriculum of growing up in Norn Ireland. Harper Lee wrote a novel that convincingly told of a youngster, Scout Finch, growing up in the South of the US and whose father Atticus had taken on what seemed like a no-hope case. The man her father is defending, Tom Robinson, is accused of raping a white girl. The themes of racial discrimination and childhood are so well drawn in this book that I remember racing through it long before our English teacher had got us to finish the book. Deeply affecting at the time, I guess, about thirteen?

In third to fifth year, about fifteen years old, there was a textbook we had in English, which I remember as being called Soundings. Try as I might, I can't locate this on t'net, probably because it's not a terribly original name, or I have it all wrong. Anyway, herein lay poets like Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ted Hughes (oh, how we tittered at Dick Straightup), Wilfred Owens, Siegfried Sassoon and many more. I still recall lines from 'The Windhover' and 'Dulce et Decorum Est,' whether I want to or not.

Just as influential was a book called Exploring English, which was an import from the South. In this I read the stories of Frank O'Connor (First Confession, Guests of The Nation), Brian Friel (The Potato Gatherers, A Man's World), Brian MacMahon (The Windows of Wonder) and Sean O'Faolain (Up the Bare Stairs).

Macbeth was a revelation, the way our English teacher showed us - in fact all three, poetry, prose and plays were well handled by Sister Olive, as I remember her. I'm not so good at quoting from Shakespeare by rote (I developed a bit of a phobia against the rote (or rot, as me Mum used to call it) way of learning), but I remember how the words turned, in Sister Olive's patient distillations, into clear drops of understanding that came alive. She has a lot to be thanked for, that lady.

The most important book, in our house at least, was the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There's a myth in our house as to why we are missing one volume of this heavy reference book set. One version of it involves a bet, a drinking spree and an inability to pay for that month's edition of the series. Another version of it involves a simple loan-out that was never returned. Whichever it was, I'd often cause to curse the reasons why we hadn't got it, when the index books referred you to M-N... or was it P-Q...? These days, google is so much handier... and just as hard to interpret correctly!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Concern Creative Writing Competition

Very late in the day: Concern are running a CW competition. Closing date is Sunday 22nd of March

What you must do:

The President of the USA is a busy man but you have a chance to tell him about some critical issues facing the world today.

Could you help him to understand the life of a child who goes to work instead of school?
Maybe you can describe how climate change is affecting people in developing countries? Or perhaps you can advise him on how to tackle world hunger to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Your Task

Tell us what you would write to President Obama on one of these critical global issues:

Your letter can be in the style of a factual essay or a fictional story on one of the issues.

Competition rules and age categories are here

Thursday, March 12, 2009

25 Writers & their Influences

This is going to have to be one of those posts that gets carried across a couple of days, because I'm hoping to have a good look into some of the early stuff that I liked, which means less than the usual cursory posting.

I don't remember very much of the things I read in primary school. I was a very early reader and I munched my way through the Ladybird books, reading about the adventures of Peter and Jane through a good few of them before I actually started school. But I don't know who the writer would have been for them, so this probably doesn't count.

Later on, my dad joined the Children's Book Club, London (1976?)on my behalf. I can still remember, what I am convinced is the first book of this series arriving. It was Ludo and the Star Horse by Mary Stewart and I remember having a very vague notion about star signs from reading my mum's womens' magazines, and finding this such a compelling story.

Ludo and the Star Horse told the tale of a peasant boy Ludo who tries to bring his family's faithful old workhorse Renti back home when the horse breaks out and wanders off one winter's night. Lost in snow, Ludo and Renti fall into a ravine and somehow find themselves at the entrance to a realm in which there are twelve houses corresponding to signs of the zodiac. In order to return home, they must catch up to the sun on its journey through each of the houses, and they meet the owner of each house along the way - some being more friendly than others! I am afraid I cried at the end of this. You can actually get it now, and I did to see what my kids thought of it.

I can remember reading Robinsheugh by Eileen Dunlop and being totally carried away by the plot. The protaganist is a young preteen, Elizabeth, who's sent to live with her studious aunt in Scotland. Her aunt is busy researching about the 18thc, and Elizabeth amuses herself through 'dreaming' herself back in time to the period (or does she really dream!) that her aunt is researching in the great house at Robinsheugh. She almost pays the ultimate price though... another book that affected me greatly.

Another book that I remember from that series (I think) was titled Bella. I can't find anything about it on the net but I do remember that the plot centred around a porcelain doll, Bella, that seemed to be haunted and inspired those who came across her to become obsessive about minding her, almost to the point of their own deaths. I'd love to find out who the writer was... I loved that book! Believe me I have trawled the internet in search of it!

Conshelf Ten, by Monica Hughes and Albatross Two, by Colin Thiele come from the very same series and I enjoyed Conshelf Ten, because it was my first ever taste of science fiction, and I liked it very much (more about that later). Albatross Two was the first time I'd ever read about lives outside of the northern hemisphere, and I enjoyed it for it's setting being in the Australian world and I suppose it also introduced me to the notion of protecting our planet from pollution. It planted the seed that I wanted to go down under, (Aus & NZ) which I hope some day I will do.

And then there was the Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The great thing about being a kid is that you have no notion of who T. S. Eliot is, or how important his poetry was. All I knew was that there was this great book that my mum had bought, with fabulous pictures and the words were very funny in places too. They sounded great when you read them aloud, which I often did.

No one read this book to me, not because I was deprived or anything, but because I loved reading for myself. I really didn't like to hear other people taking over the words, I wanted to say them and see what they sounded like myself. (Precocious or what? I want to slap that child, now!) How could you not like the sound of names like Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer? And as for Mister Mistoffelees, just roll that name around your mouth like a piece of clove rock - there, doesn't that take you back...?

Another five will pop up in a day or two, when I've gotten over this sudden onslaught of nostalgia! Oh dear, what have I started?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Wowed by the'Young Brits.'

I have just come home after what has been the most exciting reading I have been to. I was in London to attend the Oxfam extravaganza of launches: The Manhattan Review, a US journal. In this is a huge feature, introduced by Todd Swift, of seventeen up and coming poets from the British poetry scene. Of those seventeen, thirteen were able to give readings of their work - and bonus of bonuses, Penelope Shuttle was also in attendance.

MR is edited by Philip Fried, of New York, and not only did I go home with a copy of his journal, but I also brought back a copy of his latest slim volume from Salmon, Cohort, which is also very good indeed.

The readings from the poets were magnificent. Todd did a great job of giving each and every one of poets a great introduction: most were very buoyed by his warm words and I have to say that I think it was the best entertainment in poetry I've ever experienced.

First poet up was Sally Read, whose poem 'The Lullaby Hours' I thought was an exquisite rendering of the time and the way that a new baby takes up all of your life.

Luke Kennard, who was next read 'The Dusty Era,' a prose poem: I've previously seen his work in Mimesis, and thought it was really interesting. Apparently he is researching a PhD in prose poetry, so one passion is feeding another in his case.

The rather good looking Joe Dunthorne (I know one shouldn't say things like this, but hey!) read a very clever 'Sestina for my friends,' even though he was a little under the weather.

I was very, very taken with Zoe Brigley's poem, 'The Jewel-box,' which she told us was based on the famous Freud 'Dora' case.

Nathan Hamilton read 'Clearances,' which went down very well.

Another poem which struck a chord with me was Helen Mort's 'A Bear in the City of Bicycles.' A really clever poem which used a very funny reference from a letter by Byron.

The first half closed with Daljit Nagra reading 'The Gob-Smacking Taste of Mine Inheritance!' A pleasure to see and hear a poet whose first collection Look We Have Coming to Dover was such a big surprise in 2007.

After the mingling and jingling of coinage, the second half opened with Emily Berry reading her really thrilling poem, 'A Short Guide to Corseting.' I know of one Galway based poet who would really enjoy that poem, if indeed not all her work.

James Byrne read 'Apprentice Work,' a poem I.M. of Peter Redgrove, which worked out really well, since Penelope Shuttle was there.

I also loved Kathryn Simmonds reading 'Sunday Morning' another clever poem, with such a simple premise.

And Alex McRae's reading of her 'West of Ireland Fly-Fishing Champion 1952' used separate but related images to carry a chilling message quite simply.

Jack Underwood was quite the charmer, and read both poems from the anthology, 'Certain' about an onion (yes!) and 'And what do you do?'

The last of the young Brits was Isobel Dixon who read 'The Buried Butterfly' a wonderful elegy in imagery.

Lastly there was Penelope Shuttle closing this poetry extravaganza (I do not use that word lightly!!!), with a short reading of her work, which also features in The Manhattan Review.

Just one disappointment for me: unfortunately work pressures kept Ben Wilkinson away from this gig - he was the intial reason why I decided to go over to this gig, when he posted about the Young British Poets line up in The Manhattan Review and the subsequent reading. And also Jacob Polley, who I also wished I could have heard read. However, I'm not sorry I went, Ben: thanks for the heads up!

Like I said, it was a really great night... I couldn't help feeling that I was seeing history being made and it was nice to witness it. Fair play to Todd, Phil Fried, Oxfam and all that great poetry talent.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Short Season over the way

Regular readers of Raw Light, Jane Holland's blog, will know that she is running a short season of other poets and their work.

Today, I got a wee spot with 'On Not Seeing inside the Sistine Chapel.' Do pop over and read through some of the other offerings too - I'm in very, very good company there. *modest blush*

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

She's Off Gallivanting Again

I'm up to Dublin tomorrow for the International Women's Day reading in the Central Hotel, Exchequer St. I'll be airing a few poems of my own at it, (like maybe that villanelle about Bras), as well as looking forward to hearing Medbh McGuckian, my old tutor, reading from her work...and a good friend, Catherine Ann Cullen, reading hers too. There are many more of us reading on the night, and I'm raring at the bit with excitement.

On Thursday, I'm heading to London, to meet up with a few blogger friends, and Thursday evening I'm going to the Oxfam Reading @ Marylebone to check out these 'Young British Poets' that everyone's raving about.

It's the launch of The Manhattan Review and some of the British poets that have a big feature in it will be reading there:

Thursday, 5 March - 7 pm start time; ends at 10 pm
Oxfam Books and Music shop, 91 Marylebone High Street
London W1 (5 minutes from Baker Street tube station)

With special guests
Philip Fried, poet and editor, in from New York and Penelope Shuttle
And with short readings by 14 of "The Young British Poets"

Ooh, what a night it's going to be :)) Now I'd better get on, this hair of mine won't dye itself.