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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A Working Holiday: Bellaghy, Annaghmakerrig, AT the Edge

It’s impossible not to feel that autumn is creeping in. Had to put on the woolly socks last night, and the light is dying in the western sky so much earlier these evenings. Even Bessa the cat is back sitting on my lap, or on her car mat in the sitting room!

Sanctuary!                                                                                                                                                    After a busy summer, I can’t wait to get back to the haven that awaits at Annaghmakerrig: a whole week to myself. And though it is a working week, it will be fantastic to have no distractions; to knuckle down to a steady period of writing. This stay will be interesting. No new collection to redraft or to edit and collate. A variety of focus:  a poetry project with national school children to prepare, a radio brief, and then – only then – more poetry.

But first, to Bellaghy . . .                                                                                                                              … and the overnight stay that had to be abandoned a couple of years ago. Since then, the Home Place has been built, and I’m looking forward to my overnight visit.  The poem ‘Grave Good’, in my collection This Little World was written about my first, flying trip to Bellaghy; made less than a year after Seamus Heaney died.  This time around, I’ll be there just a few days before the fifth anniversary of his death. Hard to believe it’s been five years.

No rest for the wicked.                                                                                                                While I’m up Ulster way, I’ll be reading on Tuesday 28 August at Cavan Library for AT the Edge – hosted by the indefatigable Kate Ennals. There are three AT the Edge sessions this year, so I’m chuffed to have been invited to take part in one of them. Tanya Farrelly and David Butler are motoring up from Bray, Co. Wicklow for the evening, and there’ll be an open mic also. Kick off is at 6.30pm.

If you happen to be in the neighbourhood, drop by!

 

 

Poetry Month: keeping on keeping on

There’s quite a post waiting to be written about ‘The Year of the Book’.

This time last year, I had just submitted the final MS of This Little World to Doire Press, and was waiting for the first editor/writer discussion. It was an exciting time, and everything was so new. Well, it was my first book, after all!

And the new experiences continue … 

The new year was barely a week old when I received some invitations to take part in readings during the year ahead. In a way, it’s hard to believe that it’s April already.

This week I got news that I’ve been awarded a writer’s residency, I was invited to participate in the Wild Voices Writers Salon readings at Listowel Writers Week, and I was invited to be a part of the special Take Heart edition of spontaneity.com The edition links up with the Take Heart Pop Up Exhibition which takes place in Dublin on 10 May. More details of that here.  Images and signed books will be auctioned, with all proceeds going to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Congrats to Ruth, Angela, and all the organisers of this great event.

For such good news, my thanks go to Co. Offaly Arts Office, Annemarie Ní Churreáin, and Ruth McKee.

Finally – It’s Poetry Month! April 26th is Ireland’s Poetry Day.

On Thursday the 26th, at 4 pm, in Ennis Educational Centre we will announce the winners of the Every Child A Poet Competition – organised and judged by the Poetry Collective. I helped draw up the shortlist, so I’m looking forward to hearing the children read their work. We had an increase in entries from last year. It’s fantastic that the kids engage with poetry, and to see the support that’s given to the competition by their teachers and parents.

Before all that fun, I’ll be reading at the DeValera Library with other members of the Poetry Collective at 11 am. The theme this year is Poetry Without Borders: we will read poems by non-Irish poets, and works we’ve written about places & people encountered abroad.  The lovely people in the Library will supply morning coffee/tea, and everyone is welcome. What we REALLY would like is if you would also bring along a favourite poem to read.

Poets and librarians don’t bite – generally! You would be so welcome.

#Poetry AND #Chocolate for Easter!

Loveens! Are you well?

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 WorldIt’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.

If we don’t see you there – Happy Easter.

Remember … Poetry & Chocolate, Chocolate & Poetry!

‘This Little World’ – Made by the Blarney Chocolate Factory, Blarney, Co. Cork.

 

Putting myself on the Writer’s Block

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.

The most daunting question is, What’s Next?

I hope you enjoy the interview.

http://thegloss.ie/writers-block-with-karen-j-mcdonnell/

Cover for This Little World
© Karen J McDonnell & Doire Press

Highfalutin’ in Capital City

Just booked my train tickets to Capital City – and I’m high as a highfalutin’ gal can be!

SO looking forward to joining the rest of the gang for the gig  tomorrow at the Liquor Rooms on Wellington Quay.  It’s organised by the amazing Anne Tannam, so we know that it’s going to be fantastic. Still haven’t finalised what poems I’ll read from This Little World.  There’ll be a few copies for sale, by the way.   The fun kicks off at 7.30pm – so bigí linn!

Now, where did I put my ‘good’ handbag …

 

Ennis Book Club Festival – Launching!

Tomorrow, I’m heading into Ennis to help launch this year’s Ennis Book Club Festival.

Not too long to go now, and the excitement is mounting!

If you’re around the town, drop in to the Temple Gate Hotel at 12.30pm to get the party started. If you can’t join us tomorrow, you can find out all you need to know about the Festival by clicking here.

Time to get some of the work by authors who are visiting Ennis in March, so I’ll also be dropping in to the Ennis Bookshop to spend my Christmas book token. They also have a few copies of my book, This Little World in stock. Ahem.

Cover for This Little World
© Karen J McDonnell & Doire Press

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.

 

If it’s another Wednesday, it must be Bantry

West Cork Sunset
©Karen J McDonnell

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. 

WCLF brochure. Artwork by William Crozier

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!

Cover for This Little World
© Karen J McDonnell & Doire Press

If it’s Tuesday … it must be Limerick

Loveens!!

Pass it on to any friends or rellies in the Limerick area:

On Tuesday 4 July 2017 I’ll be reading from This Little World at the ‘On the Nail Literary Gathering’ hosted by the Limerick Writers’ Centre.

Venue: Chez le Fab Café at Arthur’s Quay       Time: 8pm

I will be reading with Terry McDonagh, and signing copies of THE BOOK, of course!!

And don’t forget … there’s an Open Mic afterwards, so bring some writing or music of your own to entertain us all.  Many thanks to Dominic Taylor for the invitation. Chuffed to have been asked to do the gig.