Poetry & Tiramisu Too

I’m back in writer heaven – the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan. Nearing the end of my week’s stay, it’s time to put down a few words. 

This residency is the second funded by the Agility Award I received from the Arts Council of Ireland. With just one more research trip to the Chester Beatty left to happen at the end of next month, I can say that I’ve truly put the bursary to good use. 

This week, the many months of online research & lectures, followed by the research trips and my stay at the River Mill in early June, are beginning to re-form in the notebook; and even in fourth or fifth drafts in the ‘Chester Beatty’ folder on the laptop. 

I’m staying next to the Big House, in the Stewards House – downstairs accommodation that the recovering knee and I appreciate! I have a separate living area with a desk. In the large airy bedroom that looks out to the lawn – and beyond it, the lake – there’s a shelved area by the lovely metal-latticed window that I’ve made my notebook area. The desk in the sitting room, facing a wall, is where I am now at the laptop: the editing suite, as it were! 

Photos: (c) Karen J McDonnell

This way of working really suits me. I usually keep the notebook work separate; but this being Annaghmakerrig, I’ve really noticed how setting aside ‘notebook’ time and ‘editing’ time actually focusses the mind and concentration on each specific act of writing. 

In my naive prescriptive, pre-Annaghmakerrig, way I had decided that I’d try to get 20 no-thinking-just-writing poems in the bag before I leave here tomorrow. Of course, that didn’t work out! BUT, within two hours of arriving I had completed a submission for a mentorship. And since then, there have been submissions to competitions – including two brand new poems – and an anthology. I spent nearly a day bringing a poem that has been in my head and notebook for nearly two years to the laptop. At nearly 90 lines it’s no longer suitable for a competition I had earmarked, but now I have extra time to review it for a couple of months before sending it out into the world. (Wish us luck!)

There has been admin stuff & emails – we never really escape those, do we? Also, I’ve been reading around this poetry project: catalogues, digital material, and a small Book of Hours. It looks like I’ll go home with 11 new drafts – some of them ‘nearly there’.  

Those of you who follow my meanderings on this website know that there’s so much more to ‘Annaghmakerrig’ than the work we put in. This stay coincided with Ireland’s Culture Night 2022. The Tyrone Guthrie Centre took part for the first time. We artists, singers, and writers were a part of it all. Such a joy! 

 

Photos: Tyrone Guthrie Centre.

It has been a truly wonderful week. I’ve worked hard. But I also found a bit of time to begin reading Lucy Worsley’s biography of Agatha Christie – the perfect antidote to writing poetry! And music, of course. Lots of music. Bach is providing the backdrop as I write this post.

The company has been varied and stimulating – such conversations and discussions! And always, always always, the shortcut that comes when creative people are together. An innate understanding that precedes anything articulated. Thanks to all my fellow residents. I needed this special week, and the gift of your fellowship. 

My thanks too to the Centre’s director, Dr Éimear O’Connor, for the invitation to participate in the Culture Night event and to all of the staff who look after us so well. I leave you with some autumnal photos and two other images – Lavina’s miraculous tiramisu, and the alluring Ariel who lives here – dropping by just when you need a purr. In fact – and I’m not making this up – she just appeared at the window as I typed her name!

Photos: (c) Karen J McDonnell

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

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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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?

Burns, baby, Burns! – Readings for #BurnsNight

Burns Night reading at Banner Books

I’m really looking forward to this – as listener as much as reader!

Ruth Marshall – one of our Seven Sisters Poets – and I will be reading on Burns Night in Banner Books, Ennistymon. It’s all happening this coming Saturday the 25th, 6-8pm.  Sally, the owner,  is promising a wee dram and vegan ‘haggis’, so what’s keeping you?  PLUS Bookshop Dog may be in attendance.

Ruth is from Scotland, so in my eyes she’s a Burns expert.  She’s a great performer of her own work, and I’d say she’ll do Robbie proud.

We’ll both read some of our own work as well.  I’ll just give you one or two Burns poems – maybe even sing a verse, if I can keep my nerve.

Photo © Banner Books

Follow Banner Books on Twitter and like their Facebook Page – and if you’re in north Clare, drop in. Sally has a great selection of new and old books, great cards, and quirky gifts too.

 

 

Winter Poetry – warming the soul

Hope some of you can join four of the seven sisters for an evening of poetry next Friday in the library in Shannon. Readings kick off at 7pm.

I’ll read some of my own work – but also other poets’ winter offerings.

Do come along for an evening of poetry, before the Christmas mayhem begins!

(Thanks to Ruth for the great poster!)

Poet’s Corner Readings – June 2019

 

Cover for This Little World
© Karen J McDonnell & Doire Press

Hard to believe this baby is nearly two years old!

Sinéad continues to host monthly readings at the Record Break Café tomorrow 1 June – with turns from yours truly and musician Brigid O’Neill, who is on a UK & Ireland tour at the moment.  Read more about Brigid here.

We will be splitting the time into fifteen minute slots – so I promise not to bore you with too much ‘recitation’! I’ve decided to read some short fiction too.

It’s a mix-it-up kinda gig!

Hope some of you can make it.

#WorldPoetryDay

It’s World Poetry Day!

Here’s an offering from my poetry collection, This Little World (Doire Press)                                The path of poetry doesn’t always run smooth!

Birthing

Not away on a mystery

train. First class. Fine

coffee, and a book

in my hand.

 

No. Stuck.

Here with a

weighting inside me

cutting off the flow.

 

Birthing.

 

Not always joyful.

Forceping dactyls.

Similes I’ll never like.

Elusive adjectives.

 

Stillborn. Or an awkward

child, mutinous in the face

of inadequacy.

And, all the overcompensation.

© Karen J McDonnell