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.

No photo description available.

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

 

A Residency in a Writer’s Paradise

NEWSFLASH!

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.

See the source image

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.

HUP!

See the source image

Photo: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland.

 

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?

The Western Skyline Podcast – Spring Podcasts

We go by the old Irish/pagan calendar on this website!  Spring is February, March, & April.

FEBRUARY 2020

Kinvara-based poet Mary Madec joined me on the Western Skyline to discuss poetry, the other work!, and to read from her new collection The Egret Lands With News From Other Parts (Salmon Publishing). Mary also read several of poems from earlier collections. Good music too, of course, and the show is book-ended with arts news.
Not bad going, considering the studio had had a technical meltdown! Hope you enjoy the show.

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!)

When Push comes to Cart!

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

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46226738-gondal-heights

 

The Wonder Workshop – and a new precept!

Prepping my Wonder workshop. Under supervision!

A few weeks ago, I was asked by Clare County Library would I give a poetry workshop based around the book Wonder by RJ Palacio.  Halimah, a teacher from Ennistymon Vocational School, had approached them with the request.

At first, I was hesitant: writing poetry around another book? Would that be restrictive? How to cram a  workshop around a few hundred pages when I’ve only got 90 minutes to do so? And I don’t have children. Wonder had slipped under my radar. I watched an interview with the author on youtube.

I told Dolores in the library service that I’d develop something around several themes, especially that of bullying. [Coincidentally, this week the call-in show on our national radio station is full of adults talking about bullying: their own or their children’s; even now-grown-up bullies who have sought out their childhood victims to apologise. These discussions and stories are happening while their children are in school.]

The other thing I said was that the children would have to have read the whole book!

Well, I needn’t have worried on that score. I soon learned from a Facebook post by Banner Books in Ennistymon that this was very much a community read.  A ‘One Book, One Community’ project in fact.

The One Book, One Community has a programme of events around Wonder:
Readings with local primary schools
Poster competition with local primary schools
Ennistymon Vocational School afternoon tea book club on 13 November at the Falls Hotel & Spa
EVS Poetry workshop on 14 November [That would be me, I guess!]
EVS Coffee morning on 19 November
Wonder film showing at the Falls Hotel on 22 November to round off the whole project.

AND SO … tomorrow I head to Ennistymon to give two workshops to over forty First Years from Ennistymon Vocational School. It’s a couple of firsts for me: my first secondary-school poetry workshops, and the first time that I’ve specifically designed a workshop around a theme – let alone another genre of writing!

Thanks, Ennistymon and thanks, Clare County Library Service. It’s good to be pushed beyond our comfort zones. That’s today’s precept. I’m sure Auggie would approve.

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Best of the Net 2019: and the nominees are …

During National Poetry Month in April this year, I had two poems published with Al-Khemia Poetica in the US.

I’ve just heard from the editor, Marie Lecrivain, that ‘An Invitation to the Late Mr Yeats’  has been nominated for Best of the Net, 2019.  Delira & excira, so I am!

If you’re interested, you can buy last year’s Best of the Net Anthology here 

Here’s a  link to the original post on Al-Khemia Poetica:

http://alkhemiapoetica.blogspot.com/2019/04/karen-j-mcdonnell-two-poems-invitation.html