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.
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.
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.
Wear the mask. Wash the hands. Go easy on yourselves. Be kind.
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.
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.
Photo: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland.
One of my poems has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and I’m thrilled!
Editor Marie C Lecrivain nominated ‘Scent’ from the anthology Gondal Heights, which was published in Los Angeles earlier this year. The anthology features prose, poetry, and art responding to the work of the Brontë women and their brother.
‘Scent’ is written from the point of view of Mr Rochester’s dog, Pilot.ë
To be a part of their Poems and Pictures blog was on my bucket list, and I was so chuffed to receive an invitation to contribute a poem.
I nearly didn’t get it, however. Gill Stoker from the Mary Evans Library had contacted me via Facebook Messenger – and the message went into a Messenger black hole. I found it, and a few others, nearly six months later! (This is yet another reason why I hate Messenger and won’t have it on my phone.)
I contacted Gill, who was still happy for me to choose a picture from their collection and send her a poem to go with it. I spent ages looking at illustrations and photos, eventually choosing a photo of a mosque in Aleppo. I teamed it with ‘The Elsewhere Moment’ from This Little World (Doire Press).
I’ll write a brand new poem the next time. Now, here is this week’s Poem & Picture:
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?
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.
And poetry lovers – did you have a nice World Poetry Day?
I’ve just been updating d’aul Writer’s CV. It never ends, the administration!
This time last year, I was working like mad on the final drafts of This Little World. It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by. And what a wonderful, creative, engaging year it has been! I’ll write a bit more about that soon.
Sold another book today – always a nice event. There are just ten books remaining here in my literary HQ. Doire Press have a couple, and there are also copies at the Ennis Bookshop. Easter is coming up. What could be better than chocolate for Easter? Poetry AND chocolate! Jus’ sayin’.
So, I’m still scribbling away. I’ve put up a few reading events on the website; if you can get to any of them, it would be lovely to see you. I’m reading with the Poetry Collective at the DeValera Library in Ennis, next Thursday. (The Library’s hosting lunchtime readings once a month.)
So, if you’re in Ennis doing the shopping, or just want a break from the office, why not come along and hear a variety of work at 1.00pm on 29 March.
I was delighted to be interviewed by Sophie Grenham of The Gloss Magazine. The result appeared online this week, and I’ve put up the link below.
It’s lovely to be asked questions about one’s writing. Answering them is another matter! As I said to Sophie, I hope I avoided being a git and actually made some sense. Questions are good, though; like the students in NUI Galway, they made me think a bit more about what I do, and why.
I’ll be hoping for evenings like this next week when I head to Bantry – the lovely town situated between the Beara and Sheeps Head peninsulas.
I’ve been to the West Cork Literary Festival several times as part of the audience. This time – HUZZAH!! – I’m going as one of their featured writers.
I can’t wait to be there. WCLF is one of those events that has everything: a great line-up, a wonderful bunch of volunteers, a superb location, and a fantastic hinterland to explore when you get a bit of time off. If the weather is good – well, that’s a bonus.
I will be chatting to Eibhear Walshe, and reading from This Little World, at 11.30am in the Bantry Bookshop next Wednesday, 19 July. Thanks to Margaret and her staff for having us. If any of you are down for the Festival – please come, and say Hello!
This gets to be a bit of a working holiday for me. I’m taking an extra night off so that I can take in as much of the other writers’ events as possible. Lucky me.
We’re due a write-up about the whole book thing. Life in the book lane has been pretty fast and furious this past month. And, real life has also got in the way – as it does. I think time to regroup is in order; then I promise a ‘daycent’ sit-down-with-a-cuppa post over on the Writer’s Blog.
In the meantime – enjoy the summer, my lovelies. And if you want to purchase This Little World, please visit www.doirepress.com where Lisa & John will be only too happy to sell you a copy!