Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Urgent invitations

Reading a review in the TLS of a book of essays by WS Merwin in which reviewer talks about the different Merwins, the different poets that live in the neighbourhood , as it were, and I liked that idea of different kinds of poets, different impulses, co-exisiting. I find that a much more congenial notion than a poet of one aspect, one kind, recognisable and predictable. But the reviewer also made another point about Merwin that I think is important. He talked about the Merwin who writes out of impulsion, and the Merwin who writes out of invitation. The first referred to a need to write something, the second to a kind of professional writing, where the writer sits down at his desk, because this is what he does, and produces language in the hope or expectation that this invitation might lead to a discovery. This seems to me to go to the heart of the poet’s relationship with his writing, particularly in an age that favours and expects productivity. The point was that a good deal of Merwin’s work begs the question, ‘did this really need to be written?’. And should something ‘need to be written’ if it’s any good or is that just old fashioned romantic twaddle? I don’t think it is, therefore I think that one characteristic of poetry is its built-in sense of compulsion, urgency. There are many kinds and levels of urgency, of course, but if it isn’t there in some shape or form you have dead language on the page. And yet, there is something puritanical about the impulsion model too, something of the old Romantic imperative. What’s wrong with invitation as a mode of working? Not a thing. Exercising the poetry muscle seems like a very good and necessary activity to me, a way of getting at the core. Urgency sometimes has to be dug for, waited for, invited.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Playwright attacked

The literary world has been rightly exercised recently at the outrageous treatment by the Turkish government of writer Ohran Pamuk, but we don’t always have to stray too far from home to see bizarre treatment of writers. Incredible reports in today’s paper about loyalist attacks on Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell and his family. Mitchell is well known in this part of the world for plays like In a Little World of Our Own centred on a family of three brothers living in the Rathcoole District of North Belfast, produced in the Peacock. Many others were produced in the Lyric and the Royal Court. According to the report , the playwright is now in hiding ‘after a campaign of death threats and bomb attacks by loyalist paramilitaries’. Mitchell’s plays, including As the Beast Sleeps and the Force of Change, which dealt explicitly with loyalist violence, have been controversial in his own community, but this seems astonishing:
    Mitchell's home was attacked by paramilitaries carrying baseball bats, their faces hidden by football scarves. His car was petrol bombed and exploded in his driveway. His wife, Alison, grabbed their seven-year-old son from his bed, ran outside with him, put him over a wall and threw herself on top of him to protect him. She said: "I heard an explosion and I thought they've killed Gary.

Mitchell spoke to the Guardian from a secret location:
    We are in hiding now. I feel a mix of confusion, anger, frustration and despair. There is a feeling that certain people are jealous and feel that I am depicting them in a bad way. They have decided that they will do this no matter what anybody says ... I haven't done anything other than write.
    "Some say the way to deal with this is to sit down with paramilitaries and ask them why they are doing this. I have no interest in doing that because I don't want to give people authority over my writing. If I negotiated with them, I would be recognising their authority, which I don't.

The Belfast novelist Glenn Patterson has organised an open letter in support of Mitchell with 30 other writers and if I find it I’ll link to it.
Susan McKay has a strong piece about it in the Irish News:
    It is a terrible thing to hear of a child so scared he says to his mother, "I'm going to die, amn't I?"

    This is what Alison Mitchell's seven-year-old said to her after men petrol bombed their home in Glengormley two weeks ago. She was terrified her son might be right. Her father-in-law, Chuck, took a heart attack. Alison's husband, Gary, ran after the attackers but they got away. The family was told to get out of the area and they are now staying with relatives.

    Chuck and his wife had already been intimidated out of their home in Rathcoole.

    The thugs who did this would call themselves loyalists but this wasn't the usual sectarian intimidation of a Catholic family out of a Protestant area.
    Gary Mitchell is a Protestant. He is a writer. He has, in a series of excellent and award-winning plays and films, given a voice to the angry men of loyalism. He has presented their dilemmas to the world and demanded that they be understood. He is passionately committed to his own people.

It will be interesting to see what coverage this attracts in the Irish press. Had Mitchell been intimidated and driven out by republicans it would have been front page news and we would have Michael McDowell foaming at the mouth....

Blogs and more blogs

Article in today’s Guardian about the growing popularity of blogs. According to Technorati there are now 23 million of the things, with 1.8 billion links. And here are some more figgers: The Pew Internet study estimates that about 11%, or about 50 million, of Internet users are regular blog readers. According to Technorati data, there are about 70,000 new blogs a day. Bloggers update their weblogs regularly; there are about 700,000 posts daily, or about 29,100 blog updates an hour. The Cat Flap is going to have his work cut out out to cut it in the blogosphere. The specific angle of the Guardian piece , is the arrival of a blog by the inventor of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee :
    In 1989 one of the main objectives of the WWW was to be a space for sharing information. It seemed evident that it should be a space in which anyone could be creative, to which anyone could contribute. The first browser was actually a browser/editor, which allowed one to edit any page, and save it back to the web if one had access rights.
    Strangely enough, the web took off very much as a publishing medium, in which people edited offline. Bizarrely, they were prepared to edit the funny angle brackets of HTML source, and didn't demand a what you see is what you get editor. WWW was soon full of lots of interesting stuff, but not a space for communal design, for discourse through communal authorship.
    Now in 2005, we have blogs and wikis, and the fact that they are so popular makes me feel I wasn't crazy to think people needed a creative space.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Not a child in the house washed yet

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A new poem. Not sure if I like it yet. Another mushy parent piece, of which there are getting to be too many. Thinking of dedicating the next Poetry Ireland Review to parenthood, smiling babies on the cover, mushy poems inside. Actually this thought was prompted by sitting in O’Neill’s pub the other day after James McAuley’s Out to Lunch reading in Foster Place. I could see James looking around bemusedly at one point at the encumbered poets: The Cat Flap, EW and baby; MG spooning food from a jar into his son; PB with child asleep on his knee. The place awash with buggies.A pint of Guinness and a jar of organic cottage pie. ‘What’s happened to poetry?’ he said.

But enough idle gossip, time for an idle poem.

The Danger Zone

The stairs are gated, the play cage is assembled,
the electricity is hidden
and the maps have all been erased.
You can barely sit, yet still we’re afraid.

We know you by the mad
frolic of your eyes and the wild explorations
of your hands. Do you not, every morning,
with quiet concentration pull my glasses off?

And would pluck out my eyes and roll
over the edge to the mystery of the floor
and leap where you could. Don’t we see
Antarctica in your eyes, and hear

the landmasses quake in your laughter
and doesn’t the whole world loosen when you go out
in your Peruvian hat? We’re watching you,
we’re busy with our endless preparations

but already you fall between the cracks,
you slip through our fingers, you have
somehow worked free of the straps and harnesses,
and move, delightedly, towards the dangerous places.

Out and about

out and about
Originally uploaded by greenville17.

Freya in the Peruvian hat....

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Milkwoman Will Cut Our Throats

One of those brilliant sharp clear cold winter’s days. Off to Dún Laoghaire for a meeting. Brisk walk to Tara street, so long since I’ve been on a Dart I can’t find the ticket office. What’s that line of Durcan’s about the apex of happiness being ‘on a Dart to Dún Laoghaire’? That’s what it feels like today. The first glimpse of sea and something lifts. Even the canal basin gladdens, flat stretch of urban water surrounded by old stone buildings, warehouses now turned into offices and apartments. Water should be compulsory in cities. The soul is hard-wired to respond to water and stone. Two tiny kids opposite me, staring at me. Hey mister, what’s your name? Ma, where’s me dooough----nu’? My nan’s friend has that name. Are you going to the beach? Only in spirit, alas. For company I’ve brought along Continued, a selection of poems by the Polish poet Piotr Sommer, translated by various hands. I’ve coveted this book since I read Mark Ford’s review of it in The Guardian last September. In that review he quotes the late DJ Enright, one of his translators here, who characterised the work as ‘low-key and terse. Irony there is, but it keeps its head down, while the occasional uncertain joke raises an uncertain smile. Obliquity is the rule.’ Excellent, I thought. I can’t get enough uncertain jokes and obliquity. So I immediately amazoned it and waited patiently. And finally, last week, it arrived.

What I like about the work so far is that it seems to be calculatedly incidental; it’s interested in the tiny things that are happening to one side of events, and these things become the event, as in ‘A Small Treatise on Non Contradiction’, for instance:

From the kitchen window I watch the boys kick a ball.
The door opens, and while the door’s open
you can hear that the lift works today,
clicks shut and moves on, to be useful

or in the poem beside it, ‘A Maple Leaf’:

A maple leaf with the sun shining through it
at the end of summer is beautiful, but
not excessively so, and even an ordinary
electric train passing by
nearly three hundred yards away
makes music, light and unobtrusive,
and yet to be remembered, for its own sort of
usefulness perhaps....

I like the cool appraising intelligence of this, and the sense of the importance of the small human interventions, the humble quotidian machinery about its business. The poems play with inconsequentiality in order to establish a true sense of what is of consequence. That is, in their way, in their apparent casualness, they are very sure of themselves. Part of their attractiveness is precisely this indirection, the sense of the gaze being withheld from the obvious. Maybe this is a function of our perception of work from a country like Poland, where we’re schooled to expect the large gesture, the public responsibility, the speaking on behalf of...

August Kleinzahler, in his introduction, puts it well: ‘The art of the poetry – and its art is considerable, singular and memorable – is in the way it matter-of-factly transforms ordinary incident, character, landscape, object and the assorted interactions thereof, into tiny metaphysical and epistemological essays: investigations into the subjects of language, imagination, impermanence, memory, identity.’

The book also seems to me a model of how poetry translation makes available a range of utterance that is memorable and distinctive even if it necessarily involves the loss of many elements essential to the total impact of poetry. Kleinzahler talks about the musicality of Sommer in Polish, based on hearing him read aloud (though not on an understanding of Polish) and clearly much would have been lost in the transition to English. Much more interesting is what has been gained by the team of translators that includes John Ashbery, Douglas Dunn and D.J. Enright. A hard-edge worldly wit, the stamp of a distinctive poetic personality and vision.

You’re not going to find a better place
for these cosmetics, even if eventually
we wind up with some sort of bathroom cabinet and
you stop knocking them over with your towel --
there’ll still be a thousand reasons to complain
and a thousand pieces of glass on the floor
and a thousand new worries,
and we’ll still have to get up early.

(‘Believe me’, translated by D.J. Enright)

Piotr himself is a noted translator of poetry by American, British and Irish poets into Polish, and his sense of the shifting landscape of translation, of being ‘between, that is, nowhere’, informs the poetry – his earlier Bloodaxe selection was called Things to Translate :

words stay behind the doors
of strangers’ mouths, gestures
get written in the air
by strange hands, and the child
asked at school
for his father’s occupation
answers shyly ‘transportist’.


The book is hugely quotable, itself a tribute to the quality of the translations, and here, to end with, is ‘Don’t Sleep, Take Notes’, translated by Halina Janod and D.J. Enright:

Don’t Sleep, Take Notes

At four in the morning
the milkwoman was knocking
in plain clothes, threatening
she wouldn’t leave us anything,
at most remove the empties,
if I didn’t produce the receipt.

It was somewhere in my jacket,
but in any case I knew
what the outcome would be:
she’d take away yesterday’s curds,
she’d take the cheese and the eggs,
she’d take our flat away,
she’d take away the child.

If I don’t produce the receipt,
if I don’t find the receipt,
the milkwoman will cut our throats.

Continued. Poems. By Piotr Sommer. Foreword by August Kleinzahler.Bloodaxe Books, 2005.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Eddie's Own Aquarius

Eddies’ Own Aquarius is a special issue of the legendary poetry magazine put together by Constance Short and Tony Carroll for Eddie Linden’s 70th birthday. It features contributions from a host of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Americanpoets including Dannie Abse, Sebastian Barker, Seamus Heaney, Leland Bardwell, Dermot Healy, Alan Brownjohn, Robert Creeley, Anthony Cronin, the late Michael Donaghy ( who threw a party for Linden’s 60th birthday and whose idea this tribute was), Paul Durcan, Elaine Feinstein, Pearse Hutchinson, Joy Hendry, Alan Jenkins and John Montague. Handsomely produced, it also contains photographs and paintings, essays about Eddie Linden, and some of his own poetry, including his well known ‘City of Razors’ :

Cobbled streets, littered with broken milk bottles,
reeking chimneys and dirty tenement buildings,
walls scrawled with FUCK THE POPE and blue-lettered
Old woman at the corner, arms folded, babe in pram,
a drunk man’s voice from the other pavement,
And out come the Catholics from evening confessional;

A woman roars from an upper window
‘They’re at it again, Maggie!
Five stitches in our Tommie’s face, Lizzie!
Eddie’s in The Royal wi’ a sword in his stomach
and the razor’s floating in the River Clyde.’

There is roaring in Hope Street,
They’re killing in the Carlton,
There’s an ambulance in Bridgeton,
And a laddie in the Royal.

Sydney Bernard Smyth remembers Linden reading this in the bar of Murray’s hotel on Inishbofin at the Arts Festival in 1971:

‘The attendance was riveted. They understood immediately what this anguish was about. City of Razors made a startling impact.’

Sean Hutton’s essay, ‘In praise of Eddie Linden’ is a good introduction to the man and his work. The first issue of Aquarius came out in 1969 and it became an annual publication, with many special issues devoted to Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Australian and Canadian poetry, or to individual poets (Hugh McDiarmid, John Heath-Stubbs, George Barker and W.S. Graham. And there’s a slew of reminiscences about the man, his magazine and the Soho arts world that no longer exists. All in all, a worthwhile tribute and a great introduction to a fine literary magazine for those who might have missed it first time round.

Eddie’s Own Aquarius. Compiled and edited by Constance Short and Tony Carroll. Published by Cahermee Publications. €25. Book orders: constanceshort at eircom net.
ISBN -10: 0-9551584-0-0
ISBN -13: 978-0-9551584-0-7.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Setting the weathercock free

Reading a book of poems by the German poet Johann P. Tammen, recently published by Coiscéim.(Und Himmelwärts Meere/And Skyward the Seas/Farraigí i dTreo na Spéire . It's an unusual book in that it's trilingual, with translations into English by Hans-Christian Oeser (whose normal direction is English into German) and into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock, whose own selected poems, Rogha Dánta, was published recently. It's rare enough these days to see poetry published bilingually, so seeing three languages side by side is a treat in itself, even if difficult to accomplish in a relatively small format book. Tammen was born in Hohenkirchen, Friesland and works as an editor and organiser of literary events. Since 1994 he's been editor-in-chief of the literary journal die horen, and has edited it since 1968. Since 1968? How is this possible? A literary journal with a print run of 5500, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year. How many Irish journals get to celebrate their tenth anniversary? He has also ventured into book publication and one of the results is a series of books co-edited with Gregor Laschen devoted to 'Poesie der Nachbarn' (the neighbours' poetry), making available inn German selections from contemporary poets from an impressive range of other cultures.

In their afterword (and again what a civilised creature an afterword is, and how few books like this come freighted with any critical apparatus), the editors situate Tammen as 'clearly a poet from the North of Germany, deeply rooted in the austere landscape of his child- and adulthood, a denizen of the seaboard, that peculiar border zone between terra firma and the wide expanse of the sea, with its mud-flats, tides, channels, streams and groynes.' Not sure what a groyne is but I promise to find out. The editors also discuss the difficulties they had with the translations, not least, they say, because both English and Irish resist the kind of abstraction that German is quite at home with: 'Among readers of Irish there has always been a very strong gut reaction against the nebulous or the obscure....However well-intentioned the translator may be, the work of poets such as Johann P. Tammen will sound stutterish or maimed in Irish.' This is the eternal concern of poetry translators, who in the end have to be realistic about how far they can replicate the effects of the original. They have to respond to the particular genius of their own language. There's always too much talk about what translation misses, rather than about what it actually achieves. As Oeser/Rosenstock put it: ' Some literary and linguistic echoes – those specific to the German language - will, inevitably, be lost in translation. Nevertheless, we as translators affirm the importance of our art and craft because we reject a monochrome view of mankind and of the world.' And here's another bit I like: ' It may sound strange, but it is possible to read a poem without fully understanding it -- just as it is possible for a poet to write a poem that he does not fully understand himself.'

Time to see a translation, I think.

Johann P. Tammen

Kleine Aufforderung zur Freilassung des Wetterhahns

Holt doch endlich
den Hahn
vom Dach
seine Wetterfühligkeit
ist ihm schon lange
eine Last

über uns
thront er
Stunde für Stunde
Tag für Tag
mit beiden Beinen
an die Pflicht
sich drehend
sich windend
hoch über

holt ihn vom Dach
den Hahn
und er wird
noch bevor ers verlernt hat
krähen aus voller

Small request to set the weathercock free
Will you get
that bloody cock
off the roof
his sensitivity to the weather
has long weighed
him down

above us
he perches
hour after hour
day after day
both legs
to duty
and turning
high above

get him off the roof
that cock
and before
he loses the knack
he shall crow
at full throttle.

Dein gar dom agus saor an coileach gaoithe

an diabhal coiligh sin
den díon
tá a thuiscint
don aimsir
ina heire air le fada

os ár gcionn é
de ló is d’oíche
go ríogúil
a dhá chos
ceangailte dá dhualgas
ag lúbadh
is ag casadh
in airde
os ár gcionn

baintear den díon é
an coileach sin
agus sula
gcailleann sé a cheird
ligeadh sé scairt
in airde a chinn
is a ghutha.

Translated into English by Hans Christian Oeser, and into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock.
From Johann P. Tammen, Und Himmelwärts Meere/And Skyward the Sea/Farraigí i dTreo na Spéire, Ausgewälte Gedichte/Selected Poems/Rogha Dánta, Coiscéim, 2005.


Friday, December 09, 2005

After the event

A horrible rainy wind tossed night. Surely no-one would come...IADT is the kind of place where most people have gone home by 5pm, and the place was ominously deserted. In the event a few brave souls fought the elements and clambered into the theatre. Both Julie and Hugo gave excellent readings. Julie read new poems from her chapbook Problems, itself designed as a problem to be solved by the reader, with the front cover on the reverse.

Take weeds for example.
Like how they will overrun
your garden and your life
if you don't obliterate them.
But forget about weeds
-- what about leaves?
Snails use them as handy
bridges to your flowers
and hordes of thuggish leaves
will invade -- ever thought of that?

'Problems', from Problems , Pressed Wafer, 9 Columbus Square, Boston, MA 02116.

Hugo began with a passage from The Speckled People where the father attempts, disastrously, to bake a Christmas cake. And then he read a long extract from his forthcoming The Sailor in the Wardrobe, a further installment of the memoir, and if that powerfully read extract is anything to go by, it will be as memorable as The Speckled People .

Friday, December 02, 2005

Hugo Hamilton and Julie O'Callaghan

This blog has so far failed the crunch test of blogness: regularity. The true blogger refuses to sleep until the daily task has been completed, the brain properly flushed and the web page filled with a satisfying clump of print. So, I'm emerging from silence now to urge everyone who can to cancel their early Christmas shopping and come out to the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art Design and Technology next Wednesday's (7 December) for a reading with Hugo Hamilton and Julie O'Callaghan.
You can find details of the reading here

The student writing workshop has just one more session to run, and the workshop for people outside the college, in the borough of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown will start in the new year. I'll post the details here soon. You can also get them from the Dun Laoghaire Arts Office by mailing arts at dlrcoco dot ie.

Friday, October 07, 2005

ADM 105 Photography and text project

Here are the texts for the ADM105 Photography Narrative project. They're available here for a week or so and then the post will be taken down.

Charles Simic won the Griffin Poetry Prize for Poetry in 2005. Of his work the judges said

“Simic is something of a magician, a conjuror. Out of nothing it seems, out of thin air, the poems appear before our eyes. One apparently casual observation leads to another, and suddenly, exponentially, we are spellbound. It is a trick many have tried to imitate but few have achieved. At the centre of Simic’s art is a disarming, deadpan precision, which should never be mistaken for simplicity. Everything appears pared back to the solid and the essential, and it is this economy of vocabulary and clarity of diction which have made his poetry so portable and so influential wherever it is published. Simic is one of the few poets of our time to achieve both critical and popular acclaim; he is genuinely quotable, and it is entirely possible that some of his phrases and lines will lodge in the common memory. Without any hint of loftiness, then, and from a position which is entirely his own, Simic manages to speak to the many and not just the few.”

Charles Simic

The White Room

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me--
And then didn’t.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as "perfect."

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light--
And the trees waiting for the night.

Peter Sirr

Peter Street

I’d grown almost to love this street,
each time I passed looking up
to pin my father’s face to a window, feel myself

held in his gaze. Today there’s a building site
where the hospital stood and I stop and stare
stupidly at the empty air, looking for him.

I’d almost pray some ache remain
like a flaw in the structure, something unappeasable
waiting in the fabric, between floors, in some

obstinate, secret room. A crane moves
delicately in the sky, in its own language.
Forget all that, I think as I pass, make it

a marvellous house; music should roam the corridors,
joy readily occur, St Valentine’s
stubborn heart come floating from Whitefriar street

to prevail, to undo injury, to lift my father from his bed,
let himclimb down the dull red brick, effortlessly,
and run off with his life in his hands.

Miroslav Holub
The Door

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.

Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.

Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there’ll be
a draught.

The Old Dream

(after Brecht)

The old dream again: the market’s collapsed,
I can’t shift a thing, the wolf
is lunging though the door.
Outside, the fishmonger is speaking in tongues

and my friends and relations look through me
as if they’d never seen me before.
The woman I slept with for seven years
nods politely on the landing, and passes me by.

I know all the rooms are empty, I know
the furniture has vanished, the mattress is slashed
and the curtains have been ripped from the windows.
No effort has been spared: I walk into the yard and see

my washing fluttering on the line, I know it well
though closer inspection reveals
a new patch here, an extra button there – it seems
I’ve moved. Someone else is living here now,

buttoning my shirt in the gloom, reaching
for my shoes. . .

(translated by Peter Sirr)

Bob Dylan

Man in the Long Black Coat

Crickets are chirpin’, the water is high,
There’s a soft cotton dress on the line hangin’ dry,
Window wide open, African trees
Bent over backwards from a hurricane breeze.
Not a word of goodbye, not even a note,
She gone with the man
In the long black coat.

Somebody seem him hanging around
At the old dance hall on the outskirts of town.
He looked into her eyes when she stopped him to ask
If he wanted to dance, he had a face like a mask.
Somebody said from the Bible he’d quote
There was dust on the man
In the long black coat.

Preacher was a talkin’, there’s a sermon he gave,
He said every man’s conscience is vile and depraved,
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it’s you who must keep it satisfied.
It ain’t easy to swallow, it sticks in the throat,
She gave her heart to the man
In the long black coat.

There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way.
But people don’t live or die, people just float.
She went with the man
In the long black coat.

There’s smoke on the water, it’s been there since June,
Tree trunks uprooted, ‘neath the high crescent moon
Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force
Somebody is out there beating a dead horse.
She never said nothing, there was nothing she wrote,
She gone with the man
In the long black coat.

Peter Sirr



Right here, right now
on the lavender sack
by the olive trays

a scoop of olives
for your mouth
and goat’s cheese for your thighs

let me
lie down with you
in the havoc of the market. . .


Because you gust through the room
making things occur,

the fruit to fly from the fruit-bowl
and the furniture to quail,

because the olives are all over
and the meal

may never recover,
tonight’s outpost

of the empire of laughter
invents a ceremony:

the orange touch, the olive kiss,
the lying down, it seemed forever,

in juiced rain and lavender storm


Cry Hunger, Hunger
silencing the vendors, causing

the buyers to stare. Such
havocs of tenderness

wreak there
spices will fly, lavender rain

on the city,
the sky grey with November,

the heart with old anger.
With tang, with colour

baffle them, bless them,
and the sound of laughter.

Gyorgi Petri

Morning Coffee

I like the cold rooms of autumn, sitting
early in the morning at an open window,
or on the roof, dressing-gown drawn close,
the valley and the morning coffee glowing –
this cooling, that warming.

Red and yellow multiply, but the green
wanes, and into the mud the leaves
fall – fall in heaps,
the devalued currency of summer:
so much of it! so worthless !

Gradually the sky’s
downy grey turns blue, the slight
chill dies down. The tide
of day comes rolling in –
in waves, gigantic, patient, barrelling.

I can start to carry on. I give myself up
to an impersonal imperative.

Translated from the Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri

Poet in Residence

This blog is by way of introduction to me and is also intended as a channel of communication during my term of residency in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown/IADT. Think of it as the virtual office of the residency, feel free to drop in, post an idea, a response, or conduct relevant business. Check this blog first to find out what’s going on, when the next workshop is, or join in the discussion and/or the other literary excitements that may blossom on this little patch of the cyber planet.

Some information about me: I’ve published seven collections of poems with The Gallery Press. These are: Marginal Zones (1984); Talk, Talk (1987); Ways of Falling (1991); The Ledger of Fruitful Exchange (1995); Bring Everything (2000); Selected Poems (2004); Nonetheless (2004). I've lived most of my life in Dublin, with longish spells in Holland and Italy. Am married to another poet (!), Enda Wyley, and we live in the city centre with daughter Freya (born May 2005) and a mad West Highland terrier who is barking outside as I write this, looking for his breakfast. I'm also the current editor of Poetry Ireland Review, the quarterly poetry journal of the national poetry organisation. You'll find a link to Poetry Ireland, in the links column on the right. Until 2003 I was director of the Irish Writers' Centre in Parnell Square, but have now opted for the fruitful wilderness of freelance-dom. Help!

As resident writer for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown/IADT I'll be running workshops, presenting a series of readings, and performing various other writing-related tasks which will be detailed here. The first workshop will be for IADT students and will take place between September and Christmas, most likely on Thursday evenings at 5 pm. Full details to be posted later. The workshop will draw on poetry, since that's what I do, but we'll venture into all kinds of other territories since the skills and excitements and surprises of all forms of writing are connected. What you learn from a poem can be applied to a filmscript, what you learn from a story can likewise be brought to bear on the next poem. Sample texts and participants' work will also feature in the blog.

Since the residency is partly based in an institution with a variety of artistic flavours I'm particularly interested in a collaborative project that mixes up poetry with one or more of the audio/visual arts. I have a couple of ideas but would love to hear from anyone who might be interested in coming aboard for preliminary discussions. Again, if something does come out of it, details will be posted here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Readings in IADT

One of my residency tasks is to run a series of readings in IADT. This will kick off on Wednesday 16 November with my own inaugural reading, and this will be followed by four subsequent readings, each of which will involve a poet and a prose writer.The readings are presented by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council, IADT and Poetry Ireland. The full schedule will be posted here in due course. In the meantime, here are a couple of pre-Christmas dates:

Wednesday, 16 November: Inaugural Reading with Writer in Residence Peter Sirr.

Wednesday, 7 December: Readings with Hugo Hamilton and Julie O'Callaghan.

Hugo Hamilton was born in Dublin of Irish-German parentage. He has brought elements of his dual identity to his novels Surrogate City (London, Faber & Faber,1990); The Last Shot (Faber & Faber, 1991); and The Love Test (Faber & Faber, 1995) His stories were collected as Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (Faber & Faber, 1996. His later novels are Headbanger (London, Secker & Warburg, 1996); and Sad Bastard (Secker & Warburg, 1998). He has also published a memoir of his Irish-German childhood, The Speckled People (London, Fourth Estate, 2003). In 1992, he was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. He lives in Dublin.

Julie O'Callaghan was born in Chicago in 1954 and has lived in Ireland since 1974. Her collections of poetry for adults include Edible Anecdotes (Dublin, Dolmen, 1983), which was a London Poetry Society Recommendation; What's What (Newcastle Upon Tyne, Bloodaxe Books, 1991); and No Can Do (Bloodaxe Books, 2000), which was a London Poetry Book Society Choice. Her poems for older children have appeared in numerous anthologies in the UK, including the New Oxford Book of Children's Verse, and in school texts in Ireland, England, and Canada. Her children's poems are collected in Bright Lights Blaze Out (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986); Cambridge Contemporary Poets 2 (Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 1992), and in two full-length collections, Taking My Pen for a Walk (London, Orchard, 1988); and Two Banks (Bloodaxe Books, 1988). Her new collection for children will be published by Faber in 2006. She has received the Michael Hartnett Prize for poetry and is a member of the Irish academy of arts, Aosdána.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Creative Writing Workshop

The Dun Laoghaire Rathdown/IADT Poet in Residence for 2005/2006 is Peter Sirr. As part of the residency Peter Sirr will be offering a workshop in creative writing this semester to students of IADT. The workshop will cover poetry but will also explore other genres of writing. It will be practical in focus, featuring discussion of examples of good and bad writing, taking notes, using memory, keeping a diary, avoiding clichés, cultivating surprise,being your own best critic, as well looking at work produced by participants.
Prospective participants are invited to submit a sample of work (six poems, and/or a maximum of six pages of any kind of prose) to
petersirr at gmail dot com in the week of 26-30 September. Workshops will start on Thursday, 13 October at 5.00 pm. Subsequent dates as follows:
20 October, 27 October, 10 November,17 November, 24 November, 1 December, 8 December.
The workshops wil take place in Room C013 in the Carriglea building.

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