And the craic was good …

Last winter I was awarded an Agility Award by the Arts Council of Ireland, which is helping me to research and make early drafts of my next poetry collection. I’m incredibly grateful as I wouldn’t have had the cash needed to fund what I hope to do: three short research stays in Dublin and two writing residencies over the coming year.

Surgery meant a delayed start to those plans, although I’ve been able to do online research and attend online lectures hosted by the Chester Beatty in Dublin – the subject of this project.

So, last week found me in Co Down in Northern Ireland, at the River Mill near Downpatrick. As I’ve discovered with other writing retreats, the best laid plans can often change once one gets one’s feet under the desk! I had an idea that I would work on a sequence for the book. Instead, I spent time putting online research in order – something that may appear to be procrastination, but it’s essential for accessing stuff easily. I created new work, possibly got another working title, and from that a new poem that (right now) I want to be the last poem in the book. This is a project where I want to stretch myself more; to be more fearless in how I approach shaping the ideas. I hope that I’ve begun that process in the past few days.

Looking forward to visiting the Meeting in Isfahan exhibition at the Chester Beatty later in the summer.
(c) Karen J McDonnell
Cosy bed and a lovely desk. I’ve asked Paul, who owns the River Mill, to give me first dibs if he’s ever getting rid of it!

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‘Revisiting Brideshead Revisited’ & other radio

Things were beginning to return to normal practice as we eased out of COVID late last autumn: one sign being that studios spaces re-opened to those of us who normally visited occasionally.

Although live shows are still not happening at Kinvara FM – where I’m a volunteer radiohead – some of us who didn’t have equipment at home were able to access the studio again at the end of 2021. Sanitisation all the way of course, and our own mic covers! I pre-recorded some Western Skyline shows and then in the end of January I headed off to have an operation. I had a few shows of a ‘general nature’ in the bag and they went out as I gradually began to potter around on crutches. They haven’t been podcast yet, but once I get access to them I’ll share the links as I was doing before the pandemic closed us down.

After my most recent visit to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre I arrived home with a radio essay for RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany about the 40th anniversary of the TV serialisation of Brideshead Revisited. I was delighted when they accepted it, and we got it recorded pronto to tie in with the anniversary last October. It was so nice to drive into Galway and meet John in the RTÉ studios again.

Here’s a link to the recording: https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/22024357/ – click on the URL or the highlighted text and you should get to it. Hope it brings back some memories!

UTV Times – October 1981 with Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte – and Aloysius the bear

Still pinching myself …

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had a bit of good news while I was staying in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. I had to keep my mouth shut until the public announcement a week ago. My poem Driftwood made it to the shortlist of the Irish Poem of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards 2021. The poetry award is sponsored by Listowel Writers’ Week, which makes it extra special in my eyes.

Listowel Writers’ Week has been a pillar of the Irish writing community for 50 years. I’ve a huge fondness for them: after Storm Emma forced the cancellation of the 2018 Ennis Book Club Festival, Listowel offered EBCF a slot later in the year at their own festival. Such a generous act of solidarity.  A few years ago, I managed to get to the festival and spent a fab week attending a travel writing workshop with Mary Russell in the mornings, then going to events the rest of the time. More recently, I read there as part of a festival event hosted by poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin. That was a lovely evening, made all the more magical when I realised that Brendan Kennelly was in the audience.

Co. Kerry and the Irish poetry community bid farewell to Brendan recently and – in the same few days – we bid a farewell to Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Quite a blow. If you are new to their work, click on their names for links to their bios and work. Many Irish people have their ‘Brendan’ story. I have one myself – maybe I’ll share it another day.

My thanks to everyone in the Writers’ Week office, especially Sharon who broke the good news and kept me in the loop! Thanks also to poet Ian McMillan who chose the four shortlisted poems. I’m in fine company; the big celebration is being on the list at all!

You can read our poems here and you can vote here. Voting closes on 15 November and, COVID numbers permitting, the winners will be announced at a live event in Dublin on the 23rd. Just the idea of meeting people in person is a joy!

And here is a link to an interview that I did with Clare FM about being on the shortlist, and my writing life:

Irish Poem of the Year shortlist 2021

Another week in paradise

TGC Oct 2021

Well, who wouldn’t consider this an offshoot of Paradise? Especially when the view from the desk is this –

TGC Oct 2021 view from John Jordan room TGC Oct 2021 ready to work

That was me six days ago, the desk all set up for a week’s work at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan. Previous visitors to this website/blog will know how much I love this place, and the people who work here.  This stay was a long time coming. I was lucky to have received the 2020 Tyrone Guthrie bursary from Clare Co. Council & Arts Office. COVID delayed my arrival by a year. It has also placed a great deal of extra work on the staff here, who are going above and beyond the call of duty to keep the ‘creatives’ safe. 

This time I’m in the John Jordan room, and I like it very much. I especially like the artefacts that once belonged to the Guthrie family or that have been found in the actual fabric of the house – such as this linen inventory that was stuck to a panel of a door. 

TGC Oct 2021 Linen list

I’ve just realised that I haven’t had a good snoop at the bookcase yet. Time to do that after my last dinner this evening. Yes, tomorrow it will be time to leave. And before I shut down the laptop and head downstairs to join my fellow writers, an artist, and a musician, it’s a good idea to think about the work. 

It was a mixed bag this time around: reading around my next project/new collection, researching and drafting some radio essays and a long poem that I’m working on, and a review of neglected drafts in an older notebook. I’m happy that I got through the daily lists I set myself. Today was the toughest: some of those earlier poems were drafted in grief; waiting to be reviewed and reworked. Lying in wait to ambush me.

I worked through five poems today and, while they may not be at the final stage, they are certainly in a lot better state than they were this morning. 

I keep this old birthday card with my notebooks to remind me of the age-old truth: ‘poems are hard’!

Poems are hard Oct 2021

Apart from the focus that time at Annaghmakerrig allows me to give to my writing, the fact that there’s no TV and that I don’t have Netflix on the laptop means that evenings are given over to reading and actively listening to music on my iPod. I finished Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts at the weekend, and I’m now reading Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor. It’s a novel about Bram Stoker and his relationships with Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. In a previous life, I had to research that era in theatre history: the days of melodramas, Shakespeare, and the well-made play. I still own an old biography of Ellen Terry. With the evenings drawing in and the leaves turning, it’s a good time of year to be reading about lime-lit theatres & Victorian London. 

TGC Oct 2021 downtime

Annaghmakerrig – where you learn to balance work & time out.  A writer’s paradise – where you’re greeted like an old friend & you make new friends. 

Grateful doesn’t begin to describe how I feel this evening. 

P.S.  Having arrived with two recent rejections under my belt, I leave with a bit of good news. More about that in a while!

Opening up

Poetry Town logo Sept 2021

September was a crazy month – as if opening up further during COVID was a fever in itself.

Don’t get me wrong – it has been great! A month that included a few days in west Clare with my family, and visits from friends who live abroad, or have just recently moved home. Plus Real. Live. Events.

Thanks to the wonderful initiative from Poetry Ireland, Ennistymon in north Clare was one of 20 places designated a ‘poetry town’. The place was full of poetry for over a week: in shops, appearing on the streets after rain, in schools, and during events held outdoors and – gasp! – indoors too. Not least of these events was the Poetry Town launch, when we heard the Ennistymon poet laureate Grace Wells read her poem especially composed for the project. But there was a bonus for us: another long poem that Grace had written for Ennistymon – a copy should be given to every household in the town. It was marvellous – making the point that there’s an Ennistymon for everyone, including the poet herself who made her home there a few years ago. Sarah Clancy was MC for the event, and Siobhán Mulcahy – Arts Officer for Co. Clare – gave a lovely opening speech. Afterwards a few of us sang or read poems.

I said on social media that it was a fantastic feeling to be back with my tribe. And I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit emotional. As the Beatles sang, It has been a long, cold, lonely winter. One that lasted well over eighteen months for many of us in the Arts world.

Poetry Town Ennistymon 11 Sept 2021 launch #2Poetry Town Ennistymon 11 Sept 2021 launch

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, I was asked to give a workshop to secondary school students as a part of the Poetry Town Ennistymon week. On the 16th of September, I met forty students from third year at Scoil Mhuire to discuss ‘Why Poetry?’. Thanks so much to their teacher Mary McGlennon and the students for their welcome. We still had to observe COVID protocols, and I would love to have had more time, but we managed to look at the sonnet as a form – especially in the play for the Junior Cert, Romeo & Juliet. Having shown them an example of an erasure poem, the girls were given copies of poems they will be studying later and invited to dive in and create erasure poems of their own. Take that, Heaney and Owen!

Scoil Mhuire Ennistymon workshop 16 Sept 2021

Photo courtesy of Scoil Mhuire Facebook page

Some Twitter exchanges resulted in a poets’ coffee morning at The Larder Café in my home village. Sarah, and Grace arrived from up and down the road, while Nessa and Leanne & Georgina were visiting. Such a nice way to spend a morning, and we were blessed with the weather. Thanks to Peter for the photo!

Poets' gathering The Larder 23 Sept 2021

September ended with my study/library still in a ‘state of chassis’: having pulled it apart and culled a lot of paperwork, I’ve decided to redecorate. But that will have to wait. My sister is CAT-sitting, and I am typing this during a writer’s residency that began a couple of days ago.

To be continued. Which is how I hope it goes creatively for the rest of 2021!

Take care of yourselves, loveens, and keep the dastardly COVID at bay.

So Much To Choose From, So Much to Do

Well, loveens, how are you all?

During these strange COVID times it sometimes feels as if my writer’s mind has been running mad in all directions, and with very little new work to show for its activity. The ideas are coming; sometimes at ungodly hours in the early morning. Other times, they are like the birds in my garden flitting from feeder to feeder – using up too much energy without anything to show for it. There are a couple of extended poems working their way through. The long-term project is still at research stage, but every engagement brings a strand or an-almost-idea brushing past my inner eye.

The one thing we writers are all familiar with now is the ‘online life’: whether it is one of shared readings, attending festivals, workshops, or book launches. I started with a sheet of paper last year: just a small list of events lying on the kitchen table to remind me what was coming up on any particular day. That scrawled list has grown to a closely written five pages.  I’m booked into April, and there’s no end in sight!

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This morning’s offering was from the Mountains to Sea DLR Festival in Dublin. Poetry readings from Paula Meehan and Tishani Doshi, with a discussion hosted by Doireann Ní Bhriain.  It was just marvellous. The readings were full of light and heft – the discussion clear and generous. What I loved so much was the grounded knowledge that both of these women have: knowledge of their craft; a solid sense of their creative selves as artists – both within the spaces in which they make their work, and in their relationships with the outer world. I could have listened to them all day.

Mountains to Sea Festival 27 Mar 2021

Looking through my nine months-long list, I’ve ‘attended’ lectures and seminars from Cambridge Literature Online, our National Library’s Seamus Heaney exhibition centre, the Heaney Home Place, Berkley University for a Classics lecture from Mary Beard, and the University of Manchester for lectures by Michael Wood and David Olusoga. I’ve dropped into Liverpool’s Arab Festival to hear one of my favourites, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, chat with Denyse Woods about his ‘3000 Years of Arab History’, while catching up with Samantha Power chatting to Olivia O’Leary at the Kilkenny Festival. Not to mention taking in the performance at that festival of the dramatisation of Mike McCormack’s ‘Solar Bones’.

There are been workshops for writing practitioners, workshops about reviewing poetry, writing poetry, a film about the Brontes, Roy Foster from New York, war poetry in November from the War Poetry Society in England. I’ve continued with my own research thanks to webinars from the Cheater Beatty in Dublin on subjects such as MSS conservation, Japanese fudos, and the story of Beatty’s collection of medieval Books of Hours. The business side of things has been attending funding/bursary information sessions. Can’t let that side of things slide, can we?!

In the last month, I made my first poetry video which was broadcast as one of the shortlisted poems at the 2021 Trim Poetry Festival (online again this year). And a spur of the moment entry to the Cercle Littéraire Irlandais Writing Women competition saw me reading as a finalist, ‘in Paris’, at the end of the magnificent evening hosting the French Cultural Minister’s awarding of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres to Edna O’Brien. It was such a moving event: it’s worth watching the ceremony here. Edna is one mighty woman. Her speech was superb.

The wee bonus was that my parents were zooming in to watch, so there was great excitement when it was announced that I had won the competition.  It was my mother’s first Zoom experience. My sister-in-law said she was still hyper about it days later. Every little thing helps to break the lockdown monotony!

This week, I took a poetry workshop from Birmingham with Liz Berry. And to give the whirling dervish that is my poetry head a bit of time out, I’ve begun four weeks of short fiction workshops (live from Cork!) with Billy O’Callaghan. If you haven’t read Billy’s work, off you go and check out his novels and short stories.

I’ve a date with Hilary Mantel in April. It’s mind-boggling, this zooming around the world. It can be a distraction, but I’m hearing wonderful ideas and work. Some of it is free, some of it paid for. But I know that living in the wild west of Ireland, at the edge of Europe, it would have cost me a fortune to attend some of these events in person. It’s a strange gift that the pandemic has given me. It’s a lonely gift much of the time. But then, at a book launch, or a reading like the one this week by poets Nessa O’Mahony and Eleanor Hooker, familiar names pop up in the chat and comments.

Our little band, our community of writers, is out there: sharing the moments; wrapped in comfort blankets of words and online fellowship.

As dear Sam put it: [We’ll] go on.

One more thing – this link came to me via an email from Manchester Poetry Library. Enjoy!

Exploring cities through poetry. (poetrycities.co.uk)

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Writing in the time of COVID19 & the Pendemic project

Four people, some of whom are writer buddies, began Pendemic as the impact of lockdown on our creative community became obvious. The online site went from strength to strength, and will wind up shortly.

All the contributions will find a permanent home, however. University College Dublin has decided to take the accumulation of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction that makes up Pendemic, and will archive the content.

I haven’t written a post here about COVID19 and the lockdown in the west of Ireland, though I did contribute to this article in the Irish Times during the first months.

https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/loneliness-in-lockdown-i-ve-never-been-alone-for-so-long-in-my-life-1.4247483

I’ve found it difficult to summon up any energy for writing new work about these days. To be honest, enough people seemed to have no problem doing so, and I couldn’t see that I’d add anything to the existing columns!

One poem came to me, however, quite early one morning. It was during the quiet time, here in the Burren. Hardly any cars, no overhead jet trails. Wonderful weather. I could sit on the bench in the front garden in comfort; enjoying the sun and the views over Galway Bay. If a neighbour or someone from out the road cycling into the village passed by, there was time to stop for a socially-distanced chat – in the knowledge that a stream of holiday traffic on its way to the Cliffs of Moher wasn’t going to drown out the conversation, or beep at someone pulled up inconveniently in the middle of the road. To be honest, I miss that hush around the place. Especially as I write today, when the cars passing the door haven’t given me a moment’s peace. But that’s what you get when you live on the R67 in the height of summer!

So – the poem. One morning, in the quiet time, I heard a sound overhead. It took a wee bit longer to than usual to recognise that it was a Search & Rescue helicopter. Around here, it’s not a good sound to hear. Someone walker is injured in the Burren uplands, or there’s a medical emergency in the village, or someone has fallen – or jumped – from the Cliffs of Moher. That, quite simply, is where this poem came from. It was published in Pendemic, and you can read it here.

Lockdown, early morning by Karen J McDonnell

An ambulance has just whizzed by, sirens at full tilt.

But I’ll leave you with a few photos of the place at its loveliest; during the quiet time.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, ocean, outdoor, nature and water

Photo: Ballyvaughan, the old pier. ©Karen J McDonnell

Image may contain: cloud, sky, outdoor and nature

Photo: the approach to Ballyallaban. © Karen J McDonnell

This is where things are ‘normal’ for me. Sitting in the sun outside The Larder café: with a treat, a cup of Anam coffee, and a good book. That’s when it’s almost possible to believe that COVID19 isn’t lurking somewhere.

No photo description available.

Wear the mask. Wash the hands. Go easy on yourselves. Be kind.

 

A Residency in a Writer’s Paradise

NEWSFLASH!

It’s official now, so I can say that I’m delighted and grateful to have been awarded a 2020 Tyrone Guthrie Bursary from Clare County Council/Clare Arts Office.

See the source image

This bursary is especially sweet this year as COVID 19 meant that plans I had made to go to Annaghmakerrig in April had to be abandoned – as was the workshop that would have provided some of the means of paying for my stay!

At the time of writing, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre is still closed, so I’ll have to wait a while longer before I head back up to ‘Paradise’ in the drumlins of Co. Monaghan. It’s lovely to have that to look forward to; to have something to work towards. Right now, I’m researching and drafting work for my next collection of poetry: a response to the magnificent collections held by the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin.

By the time I get to use my residency there should be a body of work to redraft and edit.

HUP!

See the source image

Photo: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland.

 

Springing into action #Ennis Book Club Festival 2020

 

Well, it’s hard to believe that another Ennis Book Club Festival is upon us – but it is!

The Seven Sisters poets are part of the programme again this year, and we will be reading in The Record Break Café – our home from poetry home – from 5pm on Saturday 7 March.

There were five of us scheduled – but Nicki is away, so you’ll have to make do with Ruth, Deirdre, Sinéad, and me.

We promise work in response to books, and other poems. I also hope to read some work from a few female poets:  after all, Sunday is International Women’s Day!

Seven Sisters Poets/EBCF

We’ll be going for a while, so if you are free at 4pm, and want a balance of poetry and prose in your afternoon, may I suggest that you take in the gig below:

Hilary Fannin and Rachael English will be in conversation with Nessa O’Mahony, at St Columba’s Church on Bindon Street. No better women!

Then run up and join us in the Record Break Café for poetry. Sure, what more could you ask for?

The Western Skyline Podcast – Spring Podcasts

We go by the old Irish/pagan calendar on this website!  Spring is February, March, & April.

FEBRUARY 2020

Kinvara-based poet Mary Madec joined me on the Western Skyline to discuss poetry, the other work!, and to read from her new collection The Egret Lands With News From Other Parts (Salmon Publishing). Mary also read several of poems from earlier collections. Good music too, of course, and the show is book-ended with arts news.
Not bad going, considering the studio had had a technical meltdown! Hope you enjoy the show.