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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