The Story of a Poem #Armistice2018

Great Gran-Uncle Bill Collier

PLEASE NOTE:  All photos are copyright and may not be used without permission

Limerick in Spring, 1918

Seated quietly by the April fireside,
Lucy May Fitzell reads Rupert Brooke’s poems.
Joshua, whose first gift to her was a pair of gloves,
offers titbits of news: Ottoman gains in the East;
butter prices; rumours of a general strike.
He rises and riddles the failing embers.

In the Methodist Sunday morning
Lucy May’s hymnal is bookmarked
with a photograph of her brother Bill –
away with the Seaforths in Palestine.
Her gloved hand touches his sepia face.
She remembers picnics in Kilkee and sings
‘For Those in Peril on the Sea’.

Lucy May watches Royal Welch Fusiliers
playing with her children in the garden.
Mr. Sassoon has returned to the front; Mr. Graves
remains. Her affection lies with the parade of boys
who sprawl on the lawn, on scratchy rugs, firing bullets
of Manchester vowels and Welsh consonants.

She calls Eileen from the piano in the drawing room
and Amy from the flowerbed where worms are.
Private Davies lifts Louie high on his shoulder.
Captain Swales walks with bent knees as he
holds Joan’s hand. Lucy May shepherds them
in to the dining room where there is
honey still for tea.

I wrote about this poem in my  writer’s blog a few years ago – when it was first published in the Stony Thursday Book. (It’s also in my collection This Little World.) I had the joy of reading it in Limerick when the journal was launched; bringing the poem home, so to speak. When I began to research this poem about my family’s connection to the first World War, I didn’t realise I’d find Limerick connections to some of the most famous war poets of that era.

In autumn 2011, I was writing a series of poems about women on the edges, the margins, of history. I wanted to explore the Irish domestic experience of World War l.  I was able to do that through my great-grandmother, using stories my grandmother told me about that time:

Limerick was a garrison town. My great- grandmother used to give Sunday teas for some of the soldiers in the barracks. I suspect they met at Church. My granny remembered the soldiers marching through Limerick every Sunday, on their way to religious services.
Grannie had a box of photos of some of those visitors to the house. Over the years, I’d ask her to take out the photos and tell me about them. The soldiers mentioned in my poem are the men in those old photographs.

Did Sassoon and Graves come to tea?
Well, I took a bit of poetic licence – telescoping events.  In ‘Goodbye to All That’, Graves mentions being posted to Limerick at the end of the war. And, the Graves family had a long association with Limerick – Robert’s grandfather was a Bishop of Limerick. Though I think Graves had mixed feelings about his Irish ancestry! An email I have from the curator of the RWF Museum states that Graves was in Limerick from 1917 until he was demobbed in 1919.
Since writing the poem I’ve discovered that the poet and artist David Jones (‘In Parenthesis’) was also stationed in Limerick. He moved there from the Western Front after a severe bout of trench fever. There’s more of a chance that he  could have sat at Lucy May’s tea table.
As for Sassoon visiting my family? Well, I don’t think Sassoon was a ‘chapel’ sort of chap. While he wrote several poems during his stay in Limerick, there’s also an account of his going to a hunt in County Limerick. On that occasion, he got ‘high tea’ from a Mrs. McDonnell of Ballinacurra House. There would be a lovely symmetry to the episode, but I don’t think I’m related to her!

Sassoon was in Limerick with the Third Battalion for less than two months – early in 1918. Like Graves and Jones, he was in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I’m not a military historian, but the best way I can describe the Third Battalion is as a feeder unit, or a posting for soldiers as respite before going back to the Front. Sassoon wasn’t long out of Craiglockhart War Hospital when he was posted to Ireland. He was impatient to get back to the war.

There are seven, possibly eight, poems from his time in Limerick – including one called ‘In Barracks’. (Another interesting poem is from in July 1918 – ‘Letter to Robert Graves’.)
‘Remorse’, was written in Limerick on 4 February 1918, just four days before he left for Palestine. He was there until May 1918, when he returned to the Western Front.

REMORSE                                                                                                                                           Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
“Could anything be worse than this?”–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees. . .
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs . . . “O hell!”
He thought–“there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds.”

As for my great-granduncle, and the other soldiers who came to tea . . .

After I’d written the poem, my mother told me another story: my gran-aunts used to sing for the soldiers. Seemingly there was one song they hadn’t heard before, and one of the children copied it out for a soldier. His family later wrote to my great-grandmother;  he had been killed and the sheet of paper with the song on it was among his belongings when he died. One soldier wrote to Lucy May until the 1950s. We also have a Christmas card that was sent to her in December 1918. It’s printed in Welsh & English. I’ll post a copy of of it in December.

Bill survived, but he didn’t remain in Ireland. Family connections were lost, and I never met him although he died when I was a teenager. I believe he is buried in Cheltenham. So, there’s more research to be done.

A few years ago, I found Bill’s original WWI photos and digitised them with the help of a friend who’s a photographer. There are photos from Egypt, the Sudan, Palestine and, I think, Salonika.

How many of the pals in these photos came home?

© Karen J McDonnell
© Karen J McDonnell
© Karen J McDonnell

 

I started writing this post at dawn.  The sky-chill lifted gradually as the clouds pinkened from the east. There was rain during the night, but the sky is fairly clear now: the bare branches fan out against the increasing blue. The harbour is still. The tide is going out.

Impossible to imagine, truly, the last few hours before eleven o’ clock one hundred years ago.

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The Western Skyline Podcast – 04 November 2017

 

The Western Skyline was delighted to host two poets who have contributed to ‘Bosom Pals’ a new poetry collection by eight women who share their experience of breast cancer. ALL proceeds from the book go to Breast Cancer Research Ireland – a national organisation based in Galway. With a foreward by Prof. Michael Kerin and introduction by Áine Lawlor, this is a book to dip into alone, or to share with friends. You can buy it via breastcancerresearch.ie or at Charlie Byrnes in Galway. Kudos to editor Marie Cadden for making it all happen.
Music today from fab female singers: Sheryl Crow, Anastacia, Kylie, Marianne Faithful, & Carly Simon. The common thread? They have all survived breast cancer.
Enjoy the show!
And think about buying the book – it would make a great gift as we head towards Christmas.
Here are some links about the book:
Here is a link to the podcast of the show:

Poems On The Wireless #1

Recently, I brought ‘the childer’ up to Capital City!

A major trip for both me & and my poems. It was the first time I actually drove around Dublin.

I spent a very enjoyable time at RTÉ radio chatting to Seán Rocks on Arenaand reading a few poems from This Little World . The Arena team made the selection:  ‘I’ll Tell Me Ma’ seems to appeal to a lot of people!

Anyhoo, if you’d like to hear it – here’s the link to the Arena podcast 28 July 2017

Thanks to everyone in Team Arena for the great welcome.

 

Broadcast News!

Hello my lovelies!

Just to let you know that I will be talking to Rick O’Shea on RTÉ’s Poetry Programme. The show goes out at 7.30pm this Saturday 23 April on Radio 1.

In this week’s programme – just ahead of ANZAC Day – Australian poet Robyn Rowland will read from her collection This Intimate War:Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915. You can find out more about Robyn here.

I will be taking a look at an anthology of women’s verse & poetry from World War 1 – Scars Upon My Heart. The interview briefly looks at the range of work, women’s roles in WWI and we read three of the poems from the anthology. The collection was edited by Catherine Reilly and first published in 1981 by Virago. It was republished in 2006 and is available to buy online:  Virago imprints: here .    Amazon: here .

I hope you will listen in – I’d love to get some feedback! If you can’t catch the programme live on Saturday, you can always listen back on the RTÉ Radio Player            See you on the radio!

scars upon my heart

 

 

Salmon Fishing in the Banner County

I just couldn’t resist that title.

salmon poetry

Last week I was up at the Courthouse Gallery in Ennistymon for a reading hosted by Jessie Lendennie & Salmon Poetry. Find out more about Salmon Poetry, and the bookshop here.

thesineater

It was lovely to meet Gabriel Fitzmaurice again and to finally meet Thomas Lynch. Click on the gents’ names to find out more about them. There was also a guest star in the presence of Teresa Scollon, over from the American Mid-West. And boy, were we treated to a great evening of poetry. As I said on Facebook that evening – it was more like a session around a hearth. The banter between the poets, and the engagement with the audience, was mighty. The three read turn upon turn, which added an energy to us all – and kept the listeners on our aural toes, so to speak!

21Sonnets

It’s always lovely to be introduced to new writing: I was really taken with Teresa’s poems; and the way she delivered them. So, off I went  – fishing online. You can read more about Teresa here. And you can order some of her work such as this collection (gorgeous artwork).

Teresa Scollon

So my lovelies … there’s a bit of reading for you!

The literary festival season is seriously kicking off. This weekend there are two to choose from: The Ennis Book Club Festival and Doolin Writers’ Weekend.  My bi-location cloak is at the dry cleaners yet again, so what can I do?  I will be in Ennis: this trip involves The Mammy, and one can’t let down one’s mammy. Especially when Sunday is Mothers’ Day.

The rest of yez can go where you like.  But, may I just say that Jessie and all at Salmon Poetry will be celebrating 35 years of Salmon publishing tomorrow, Saturday 5 March in the Doolin Hotel. At 8pm they will launch a celebratory anthology, Even the Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry

I can’t be there, unfortunately. Maybe some of you can. Either way, have a great reading weekend.

doolin writers wkend

Defying the Elements

Burren College of Art ©Discover Ballyvaughan.com
Burren College of Art ©Discover Ballyvaughan.com

I will be reading poems with writer Frank Golden and students of the Burren College of Art at 8pm this evening, here in Ballyvaughan.

As Storm Desmond batters the country, the fire and candles will be lit in the old tower and we will hunker down and speak (if not shout) words in defiance of the weather!!

Bígí linn … if you dare!

Totally Baffled!

The Baffle Turnip
The Baffle Turnip

There is, in the town of Loughrea, an organisation.

A group of people capable of severe seriousness, and rowdiness of the highest order.

This group, friends, is the Baffle Writers’ Group. And they’ve been going at it hammer and tongs for many’s the year. In fact, I overheard someone say 2016 is their 30th anniversary. You can find out more about them here. And the full details of the all the events.

Now, summat baffling popped up on Facebook during the week, so I emailed a writer well-versed (ahem) in the comings and goings of said Society. Yes, she said. There’s a DO. A bit of an EVENT. An annual SHINDIG. Get over to Loughrea pronto, and join the fun.   So I did.

And I was in such a rush I never posted it here under ‘Events’. Tut tut.

On Saturday night I met Anne Marie Kennedy (she being my Baffle ‘mole’) in Harney’s pub in Loughrea and registered for the Baffle poetry competition. Two heats  took place in different pubs, and fifteen people were picked to compete last night in the final, which was held at the Loughrea Hotel.

Well, all I can say is: this lot know how to put on a gig! Great emceeing by Declan, and super interval music from Cian, and – important this, poets are a hungry lot – lovely finger food from the hotel. Heartiest congratulations to all on ‘de comm-itt-eeee’.

The competition for the Baffle Turnip was fierce, and there was also the People’s Choice – voted by everyone in the audience. This year’s theme was ‘The Lady’s Revenge’. Why a turnip? You might well ask. Well, this time of year has the whiff of turnips about it, and I also heard the story of a man hanged for stealing a turnip during the Famine. Now, I heard a lot of stories last night. Those Bafflers are fierce men and women for shtooooorrrries!

The competition was judged by the writer Geraldine Mills. I would urge you to seek out some of her work. Before announcing the winners, she went through the list; with a positive word for everyone. A lady.

Noelle Lynskey took first prize with a lovely poem The Bed, and Tony Callinan (hope I spelt that correctly, Tony!) won both second prize and the People’s Choice for his extremely clever and funny poem about the Bafflers’ patron saint – Lady Margaret Kildysart.

My poem ‘Elizabeth Pepys Contemplates Adultery’ took third prize; I was chuffed to bits. That totally unexpected result was the icing on the cake on my first Baffle weekend.

Then it was home, and as the bould Samuel Pepys often said,  ‘So to bed.’

(With a celebratory cuppa)

celebratory bedtime

Away to Beara

Wild Atlantic words

I’m delighted to say that my poem At Sea has won second prize in the Wild Atlantic Words poetry competition, organized by the good people at Hungry Hill Writing. You can find out more about them here, and you can buy the Wild Atlantic Words Anthology, and those from previous years, via the website.

I won a fantastic prize – and can’t wait to use it!

More about that on my writer’s blog, readwritehere.wordpress.com later. For now, it’s tooty-pip as I’m off to the beautiful Beara pensinsula to hang out with poets, read my work, and take a workshop with Breda Wall Ryan.

Lucky me.