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.

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