Sunday, December 9, 2012

What I looked at, what I saw

I was returning home from Dublin to Galway, on the bus that links cities from east to west. I was so busy reading about poetry that I didn’t see the lines calling out to me as head bent I whizzed by them. The book told me about watching and listening, yet I didn’t see the stanzas of fields that had no stones and so they planted trees for boundaries, girded them with alder and hawthorn, or sometimes staked with sheep wire, to keep the animals in.

I must have missed a dozen poems on that journey while busily turning another page: The rook that preened his fan of wing so close, only a pane of glass between us; the rush of grass in a meadow; the wave of a sycamore by a rusted gate, elderflower fruiting. I failed to see the crone of beech across a ditch, all gnarled and withered, bent over, leaning into futility.

There were trees sawn back, holding their amputated arms to the sky in surrender, cows sitting, waiting for the rain. So engrossed was I in the rudiments of verse making, I failed to notice the lean fragments of stone emerge somewhere between Athlone and Ballinasloe, then home beginning to form in the build up of its dry stone walls.

I lost them all, while the book I was reading ‘on freeing the writer within’ told me that the question was: not what I looked at, but what I saw.


Saturday, November 3, 2012


When I first visited my friend Lisa C.Taylor in Connecticut some years ago, it was October and Mulberry Road was a paint box of the richest colours. There was one tree outside her front door that caught my attention every morning. No one could tell me what it was called so I wrote the following poem in order to name it.

for Lisa and Russ

You bribed the leaves to hang on till I came
so I could read them in the way
they have come to shape you,
otherwise you would have to climb each tree
stitch them back up there,
match each leaflet and lobe to its own.

But they clung on for me to see butter melt,
claret spill onto branches just above my head,
persimmon leaves flaunt their brilliance
all along the Fenton river, the Grist Mill,
Horse Barn Hill, where I heard Canada geese
spearhead their going in a startle of blue.

Here I learned the argument of squirrel
that tight-roped its way across the limb of tree,
malachite lichen on the house-side of trunk,
autumn rushing ahead of me on the road, while

each morning in the warm nest of my room
I woke to the New World,
carrying dawn to my window
in a rose glow, blush, uplift of light,
− a shrub that you had no name for −,
but I have crossed an ocean to see it, so
I call it giftberry, carnaberry, stanzaberry.

Now thanks to Marc Kronisch, I have this beautiful photograph and an identification. Garden lovers will recognise it as Euonymus alata. It's common name is  Burning Bush.  It's poet name: Stanzaberry. Thank you Marc.  It is published in The Other Side of Longing (Arlen House, 2011) my collaboration with Lisa.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012



Before your daughter gets to the stage,
where she is the nothing between egg and bird,
take her to the edge of the mountain
light a fire, daub her skin with charcoal,
feed her bitter berries, the milk of dandelion.
Teach her the lore of the fox,
the wisdom of weather. Wish for her:
a spare button for her jacket,
loose change in her purse,
the taste of moon on her tongue,
a lake to mirror her eyes,
St Jude when things seem hopeless,
St Anthony when she is lost,
St Cecilia when she needs to sing,
to keep from missing
the sure heart rhythm of the womb.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scorned as Timber Beloved of the Sky

This photo taken near our home by Peter Moore reminds me of the  work of the great Canadian artist, Emily Carr.

“Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky” is one of my favourite oil paintings by her. This little old lady ‘on the edge of nowhere’ as she called herself, started her life painting people, first nations villages and totems. She ended up expressing on canvas the great forests and vast skies of her beloved British Columbia where she was born in 1871.

‘Scorned as Timber’ was painted after a visit to a great forest in 1935.  The canvas is dominated by a tall spindly pine tree. It is one of the badly shaped trees rejected by the woodcutter in favour of the pencil straight trunks that had long since been turned into telephone poles, houses, churches. This useless tree is surrounded by trees stumps, that Carr referred to as ‘screamers’.  These ‘screamers’ to her were the cry of the tree’s heart before it gave that sway and dreadful groan of falling.

This lone pine sends its branches up out of the forest. It reaches towards the heavens with a corona of bright light radiating from it and filling the canvas like a great symbol of hope.

In many ways this ‘scorned one’ is a portrait of Carr herself. Like the lone tree she made her way as an unconventional artist, struggling against adverse criticism. She always strove for what was above with no one to support or encourage her. Her unfailing belief in her own art meant that by the time she came to paint the tree with its bright circle of hope, she was widely recognised as one of Canada’s most significant artists.

 Search her out.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Shoreline Arts Festival

Sept 20th-23rd

Saturday Sept 22nd
Upstairs @ Dysons Restaurant Portumna
€10 (including brunch)

A call to all you book worms, book thieves, library lizards, book eaters, secret kindlers……

Share a Book You Want the World to read:
You have a 5 minute window of brunch time to convince those around the table that YOUR choice of book MUST be read!

Join in A Bookish Quiz and be in for a stack of prizes.

Share the obsession! Be with other people who love books too.

Booking Recommended

Call Ruth @ 086 339 2810

Andreas Nossmann

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Memories of a Residency

‘This afternoon has gone mad with figs and heated sounds,’ the poet Lorca wrote and so it has. This blast of Irish heat over the last few days reminds me of my first international residency, Fundación Valparaiso, in Mojacar in the southeast of Andalucia that I had the great fortune to experience some eighteen months ago. It provides food and board and a working space to artists every month for ten months of the year. 
 I was given the room named after Lorca, with sleeping area, workspace and balcony that looked up towards the pueblo with its white, cubed houses stacked high on the side of the mountain. Sebastian was in the garden, cutting down the almond trees. Their blackened trunks, destroyed in  the previous year’s fire were being reduced to logs of almond fuel. His chainsaw whined in the hot, Spanish air. Blue fell through my open window.
There were eight of us, six visual artists, one composer and me, the only writer. People  travelled from as far apart as the Ural Mountains in Russia to Vancouver Island in Canada and many countries in between. We met up for pre-dinner tapas and took the first tentative steps towards fellowship. We were served cockles and mussels and squid, its ink dark enough to write with.  We broke bread together, pan, brot, chleb. A gecko took the last rays of heat from the wall. I could hear the crickets singing each to each.
Morning came, gilding the tiles of my floor, and from across the balcony, Iris the Slovak composer had already started the first notes of her new composition.  I headed out into the world of figs ripening, red peppers drying on the path. On the dusty walkways around the residency I saw the devastation of the fire of the summer before that swept down from Holy Mountain and consumed the valley.  The pomegranate tree held up charred arms still bearing its exploded wine apples, their claret jewels turned to ash. The branches of an almond tree clutched onto their last, sooty harvest. I cracked one impermeable shell; the nut still firm though held an aftertaste of conflagration.  At a neighbouring house, a scorched, skeleton cactus tried to make good its escape, by pushing its only green prickly shoot through the iron bars of the gate.  I walked back to my room and wrote.
In studios opening onto the arid landscape I got a glimpse of how this terrain informed my companions’ paintings that they pinned to the walls of  their studios, dogs, stones, scorpions.  Searching for a common language, we worked with whatever words we had in common as our minds became alive to the possibilities, the difficulties of communication.  How did I get across what I wanted to say: please, bitte, por favor.  Thank you, danke schön, spasiba. The wind came up at midday, shutters slammed shut.  Ideas blew away; I ran after them and tried to tie them down in my room that looked out on the mountain with its rich Moorish past.  Hungry for stories, for images, the words came, eating up the blank screen. They crept out of shadows or flew in on the wing of an egret to drop temptation at my hands. With the urgency of fire I wrote as I had never written before. I set alight an idea across that arid landscape of page, and watched the white swallow it up. ‘This is no small gift,’ I said to myself, ‘this space that I have been given.’

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Frost Heave

Frost Heave which was a winner in the Willesden Short Story Competition earlier this year and included in the anthology New Short Stories 6 is now available in its Kindle edition from Amazon
Here is the opening extract from the story:
Frost Heave

Night and the bitterness so much in his mouth that Folan could taste his own liver. The moon full, full over the stone walls, the fields, silvering all it shone on; air frost killing the hedge around him as he sat crouched in the back of the hen house. He held his shotgun close, cold biting into his hands until he had to squeeze them under his oxters to keep the feeling alive in them. That morning he had come out, cats scratching at the door for their breakfast, and found six of his hens scattered across the dirt-floor of their coop, heads lolling to one side, the blood sucked out of them. Killing for sport, killing just to taste death. He blew on his hands again, his breath chilled before it ever got to them. He was tired of things being taken from him. He hadn’t seen it coming. He hadn’t seen it at all.
He had filled himself with the dinner before he came out. At times like this it helped to have a full belly, though he was beginning to get tired of the meat that stuffed his freezer. Still, too good to be wasted. A couple of weeks earlier, out hunting, he had come across the stag lying in the ditch. Beautiful beast. Struck by a carload of lads coming back from the pub; left lying there. Folan had taken the gun from his shoulder, pulled off his jacket and covered its indigo marble eye, glassy with pain. The import of the shot rang through the woods and was muffled by the trees as the upper body shuddered. The hind quarters, already broken, never moved. Eyes flickered out and Folan stretched over to close them.
It was a bitch to get the animal into the trailer but he did and drove it back, pulled it into the yard with its powerful antlers all rutted out. He winched it up into the roof of the barn with a pulley. Bled it, grallocked it. Threw the guts into a barrel in the corner. The ease with which the pelt came away, the animal still warm, like it had just slipped off its coat in an overheated room.
Ireland falling into the ice age and the carcass froze right through to the ribs. No choice the next morning but to take the chainsaw to it and carve it up as best he could, the meat all jag-damaged at the edges as he piled it already frozen into the freezer. It would take him a lifetime to eat so much flesh on his own. Now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012



Summer Solstice

This is the contract between light and dark,
day and night.
Each accepts when the world belongs
to the other.
This is day’s time, we know no sleep,
swallows cutting
the sky are giddy with it.

Touched by the hand of Midas, everything
turns to gold:
Common cats-ear, bird’s-foot trefoil
The sun’s monstrance gilds the high garden,
the cherry tree.
A prayer big enough to cover our best selves.

From The Other Side of Longing, a collaboration with Lisa C.Taylor
Published by Arlen House, 2011

Monday, June 18, 2012

Individual Artist's Award

I wish to acknowledge Galway County Council Arts Office  for awarding me an Individual Artist's Award to work on my third short story collection.

My gratitude to them for their continuous support  throughout the years.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reading with James Joyce on Bloomsday

Not many people can say that, but  yes, I will be reading with James Joyce on Bloomsday and another 109 Irish writers who plan to set a new Guinness World Record for the Most Authors Reading Consecutively From Their Own Work . It has been organised by the Irish Writers' Centre and it start at 10:00am on Friday 15th and finishes at 2:00pm on Saturday, Bloomsday.

It will be streamed live from the Irish Writers' Centre so everyone will get a chance to follow the readings if they cannot make it to the event and  it will be great fun. James and I will be reading  between 6:30am and 7:00am  so we will be vying with the dawn chorus. I will be reading from The Weight of Feathers (Arlen House, 2007) and James Martyn Joyce will be reading from his debut collection of short stories, What's Not Said which has just been launched by Arlen House.

This  masterly collection draws a different kind of attention to the small world of land purchase, building and resentment entrenched in the Irish psyche. These interlinked stories are populated by skinny-denimed squirrels and sawn off shot guns, where plasterers and electricians swarm over the shell of a house like fat flies cleaning out a carcass.  

With a gimlet eye he uncovers an Ireland of greed, betrayal and consequences with writing that is sharp, unsettling, lyrical, yet not without humour, throwing a spotlight on lives that fester behind the ordinary…where what he didn’t know couldn’t kick his door in at 4.00am and nail him to the bed with lead rivets. 

From the beautifully nuanced Dust Woman to such disquieting examples as Benny’s Case, What’s Not Said and Give Them Nothing, Joyce limns the shadow seam of Ireland with inference rather than statement, leaving the reader to search between the lines and bring into the light what’s not said, what can’t be said and even if it’s not said it always filters back. Now that’s what a good short story is all about.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Touched by Light

                                             Bird Sanctuary in Winter by Charlotte Kelly

When you are in the presence of true artists it is clear they become the medium through which the inspiration flows. Their very essence is brought to bear on the whole work. None of them explain or make it easy for us and they call upon us to look beyond the image and bring us to another place within ourselves.  In Elements of Place,  an exhibition currently on show at Kenny's Gallery, Liosbán Retail Park, Tuam Road, Galway, we are called to witness  the work of Leah Beggs, Joan Hogan and Charlotte Kelly through their interpretation of Connemara, the Corrib and Barna, respectively. Though the work is informed by their own experiences of the local, the quality of it ensures that it could happily take its place on the universal stage.

What Leah Beggs does superbly is that she directs us to the edge and challenges us to pull back the veil of another world that we may look at it differently.From the smaller pieces such as Land Meets Sea or Linear Landscape to the larger canvases she takes us from the ordinary world of solid matter to the essence of place.  There is a wonderful stillness in her work, a sense of the spirit of the place that is her great power.  

Born where the world looks out to Galway Bay and beyond, the sea was the first sound  Joan Hogan heard before her birth eye ever opened to its pulse. So it is not surprising that she has been drawn to its life force. The sea is in her ear, her eye, she finds a way to capture its power, its energos on canvas and it lifts out of the deep to show itself to us. She is not afraid to use strong vibrant colours and uses them with great deftness which she balances before she hands it over to the viewer. She then lets the painting continue its life in the eye of the beholder. Through her work she brings us to the edge of ourselves.
What speaks to me in Charlotte Kelly's  work is the way she gets to the core of a lived life.  There is a sensed understanding of the world around her whether it is her walks in Rusheen Bay or Barna Woods and it is very clear that she has absorbed place into her veins for it just pours out with each brush stroke. What I love about her work is the contract she holds between dark and light and this has developed even further from her previous exhibitions.  She brings an alchemy to her painting so that a bare canvas is transmute to gold.

It was an inspired choice to bring these three extraordinary artists together in one exhibition. They stand strongly on their own merit, but the synergy of the work together is a tour-de-force. The exhibition continues until 14th June.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Where You Meet Yourself

There are days you can't remember who you are.
You spend hours looking for old  pieces of yourself

behind the cushions of the sofa, the bathroom mirror,
the eye of the potato, that safe soft place

where you hid the purse of possibility,
but words slip away,

you empty out pockets full
of useless rhyme and incident.

You open your mouth and feathers fall out,
- primaries and coverts into the air -

Lifted up on the thermal of your breath,
they roost in the crown of your head

then take themselves out the window
and play puck with the plums in the high garden.

You try to follow them and meet yourself
coming back with a poem

that wants to give itself to you,
but your hands shake too much to grab onto it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

When Someone Believes in your Writing

There are days I wonder why I write at all, but I plough on nonetheless in my own self belief that this is what I want to do no matter what. Then out of the blue I get an email that one of my stories has been a runner up in the Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition and I get that rush of energy that says all is right with the world again.

When the judge is the esteemed Roddy Doyle who has considered it in the top three then I get the courage to keep going. I wish I had been able to travel to the Awards Ceremony on the night, especially as actors from the Liars' League read out extracts of the winning stories. My thanks to Silas Hawkins for bringing my story Frost Heave to the audience with great drama and pathos.

Thanks also to Stephen Moran for all his hard work in keeping me up to date on events. All those who were shortlisted get five copies of the book, and a handsome book it looks from the cover above.

Here you can listen to Silas reading the extract:

Frost Heave

Monday, March 5, 2012

Poetry Workshop at Anam Cara - Registration Open

I cannot believe my week in Seattle is almost over. And what a wonderful week it has been. Thanks to my dear friend and wonderful poet Susan Rich, who has treated me royally in her home, I have had the time of my life. Susan and I have not only read together but also taught classes at the Richard Hugo House which were a great success and I got a glimpse of what an inspiration she is as a teacher. The good news is that she is coming to Ireland to give a poetry workshop in Anam Cara, Co Cork this summer so this is a one time opportunity to learn from a masterly poet. All details posted below.

A Poetry Writing Workshop Concerning Visual Art

Susan RichSpeaking in Pictures: A Poetry Writing Workshop Concerning Visual Art
Leader: Susan Rich (
One-week Residential Workshop Retreat
Arrival: Saturday, 4 August 2012
Departure: Saturday, 11 August 2012

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
Henry Thoreau

Poetry and painting are sister arts according to the Greeks. It’s a natural collaboration to focus on ekphrastic poetry. Ekphrastic poetry simply refers to our poems inspired by visual images. Together, we will discuss traditional and experimental models of the form by Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hayden, Lisel Mueller and Rainier Maria Rilke; we will study recent examples by contemporary poets, and sharpen our powers of observation and description.

Finally, through a series of provocative exercises, we will write our own poems on a variety of works of art. For the purposes of this workshop, art includes sculpture, painting, collage, printmaking, and objects des arts. All levels of writers are welcome — from beginners to very advanced practitioners.

“Excellent delivery of info and preparation of materials.· Susan established such a safe learning environment, which really helped the ability to learn and enjoy the experience.· This was an exceptionally helpful program!”·-- Cindy S.
"I truly appreciate what you do to nurture other poets. This is truly one of the best retreats I have been on." -- Angie V.

“Thank you for providing this life-changing opportunity.·· Your generosity and enthusiastic interest has been such a blessing for me…You have given me a great gift–the courage to say what I am, and more importantly, to *live* what I am– a writer.·”· -- ·Kelley

Leader’s Bio:
Susan Rich is the author of three collections of poetry, The Alchemist’s Kitchen (2010), which was named a finalist for The Foreword Prize and the Washington State Book Award, Cures Include Travel (2006), and The Cartographer’s Tongue / Poems of the World (2000), which won the PEN USA Award for Poetry. She has received awards from The Times Literary Supplement of London, Peace Corps Writers and the Fulbright Foundation. Her featured appearances include the Cuirt Literary Festival in Galway, Ireland and the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia. Recent poems have been published in The Harvard Review, Poetry Ireland, The Southern Review and the New England Review. Born and educated in Boston, Massachusetts; Susan now makes her home in Seattle, Washington. More information is available about Susan at her website and her blog

For more information and to book a place in this workshop retreat, please contact Sue at or +353 (0)27 74441.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reading Tour of the US

Thanks to the ongoing support of Culture Ireland, my 6th US reading tour starts this week when I fly to Seattle to do some readings with Washington, award-winning, poet Susan Rich. First stop is Highline Community College in Des Moines, WA and then to Hyla Middle School in Bainbridge Island, arranged by sculptor Elllen Berdinner whom I met at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre last October.

On 4th March Susan and I read at the Elliot Bay Book Store in Seattle. Susan has been to Ireland on a number of occasions and read at Cuírt in 2004. She returns to Ireland this summer to facilitate a poetry workshop at Anam Cara Writers' Retreat in Co. Cork. My next stop is the University of Missouri, in St Louis, thanks to an invitation from poet and professor of Irish Studies there, Eamonn Wall. He and his wife Drucilla come to Galway every year and I am delighted to be meeting up with them again.

I fly to Connecticut on 9th to meet up with my friend and poetry collaborator Lisa C. Taylor. Lisa and I collaborated on a collection titled The Other Side of Longing published by Arlen House in 2011 and we continue that tour again with a reading at Eastern Connecticut State University and at Manchester Community College, on 15th March at the Misha-maya-gat Spoken Word and Music Series.

St Patrick's Day will be spent on Cape Cod where I have lots of great friends before I return to Ireland on 18th.

After the Peregrine Readings

What a great idea the Peregrine Readings are. Starting off with the launch in the Irish Writers' Centre on Tuesday 21st, I had a wonderful time reading with Ulick O'Connor and Ferdia McAnna in Parnell Square. There were pancakes and wine, a lively audience and Ulick and Ferdia in fine form. Wednesday and Thursday saw us in Roscommon town and Boyle.

Roscommon Library is housed in a very impressive building, which has just been refurbished. Our reading in Boyle was in King House which was even more elegant.

What is great about this project is the chance for readers to meet writers they may not get a chance to hear and equally it is always a treat for writers to experience new venues.

Thanks to Jack Harte and all the staff of the Writers' Centre for their kindness, to Jack Gilligan, Carolyn and Patricia for introducing the readings. If a Peregrine Reading is coming to a venue near you, grab the opportunity with both hands.Link

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Peregrine Readings at the Irish Writers' Centre

Time to get back on the road with some prose peregrinations this week.

I am delighted to be reading with Ulick O' Connor and Ferdia Mc Anna as part of the Peregrine Readings which kick off at the Irish Writers' Centre, 19 Parnell Square on Tues 21st February at 7.00pm.

Wednesday 22nd will see us in The County Library in Roscommon at 7.00pm and we finish off in Boyle Library on Thursday 23rd with our third reading starting at7.00pm.

Thanks to the Irish Writers' Centre's creativity, fiction is now being read and appreciated, not just in the major cities of Ireland, but throughout the country.

Well done to the Writers' Centre