Poetry Please

more poetry swanseaIt’s Poetry Day Ireland tomorrow (April 28th 2016), when you’ll hardly be able to avoid poetry as it pops up all over the place.

I will be leading a poetry workshop in Roscommon Library (as will Jessamine O’Connor and Catherine Ryan).  The fun starts at 10.30am, when I’ll be looking at what makes good poetry (very subjective!) and revealing some of my favourite poems. Of course for the year that’s in it, the theme is ‘Revolution’ and we’ll take that as one of our writing prompts – but I intend to squeeze every drop of meaning from the word, as well as the obvious.

My personal poetry choices are fairly mainstream – I like Wendy Cope, Seamus Heaney, Roger McGough, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver  (and many others).  I like poets who use clever language to make me think – but I also like to be able to understand what they’re getting at. Roscommon poet Jane Clarke is included in my selection – her first collection ‘The River’ was published last year, and it is now one of my favourites.  (She’ll be reading at Strokestown Poetry Festival on Sunday morning, alongside excellent poets Gerry Boland and Margaret Hickey).

Tomorrow, I will be reading some of my own poems at 12.30pm, still in Roscommon Library, as will some other writers’ groups members, showcasing some of our work with the hope of encouraging would-be writers to join one of our groups.

In Ballaghaderreen Library there’s a display of poems by local writers, which includes me (I think!) but I won’t make it there for the public reading at 6pm because I’ll be on my way to the Dock in Carrick on Shannon to join the Word Corner Café regulars to read some of my poems there at 6.30pm.

Then there’s an interesting evening ahead in King House, Boyle, with music, art and poetry, starting at 8pm. Poet Breda Wall Ryan will be reading, Helen Grehan will be singing and playing, there’ll be some of Jessamine O’Connor’s work, Gerry Boland will be reading, Siobhan Wilmot will be singing, there’ll be art by Emma Stroude, harp and words by John Wilmott and Claire Roche, and there’ll be music from some of the Hermit Collective regulars, Gregory Daly, Barry Stevens and Dee Andrews. Should be an excellent evening.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, I get to hear how I’ve fared in the Strokestown Poetry Festival’s Roscommon Poets’ Prize – you can read the six finalists’ poems here .

PS The picture is of an otherwise blank wall in central Swansea, South Wales, birthplace of Dylan Thomas  – they love their poetry there!


The reason my house is a mess


I have good intentions when it comes to housework – I don’t like living in a tip. But really,when there’s a choice, what to do?  Read a book or mop the kitchen floor? It really is a no-brainer for me.

Only the thought of visitors copping a sight of my unwashed floors/windows/dishes (delete as appropriate) will spur me into action, and then only if its people who have never been to my house before.

Joan Rivers had it right when she said: “I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again”.

On some level, I must mind what people think of my housekeeping skills (or lack of them), although most of my friends know that I live in a kind of eclectic chaos, surrounded by unfinished writing projects, cats, a dog and a jungle of potted plants, so they don’t expect anything other than dust bunnies and tea stains everywhere. And books, of course. Lotsabooks. Step through the front door and there are two big bookcases in the hall stuffed to overflowing. And that’s just the entrance.

Of course, some of the books I love, some I’ve never read, some I never will, and some of them I wish I hadn’t bothered (and still more, I’m likely to read again).  But that’s the point really, they are there for me to dip into if I have the inclination. And for me, it has to be paper, it’s just not the same as firing up an e-reader (although I have one, surprisingly).

The book pile in the picture is some of my recent reading. I haven’t read the Anthony Doer yet (‘All the Light We Cannot See’), I’m saving it for next week and a book club discussion the week after. Today,  I’m reading the Anne Tyler (‘A Spool of Blue Thread’), which is another of her intricate Baltimore family observations, with some clever writing (of course) and a good story line. Very enjoyable. And so much more fun than floor cleaning.


Collaborative Scribbles (and Poetry Day Ireland)

collaborative scribbleHere’s a great creative writing prompt which we did in our writers’ group last week; it was great fun and we discovered the unexpected (and quite spooky) power of creative consciousness…

There were six of us, and each person took a sheet of A4 paper and was asked to draw on it – any form of scribble would do, just marks on the paper. The point was to unleash creativity, not expose artistic ability. Pastels, wax crayons, coloured pencils and chalks were provided for us to choose from (I picked Wimbledon coloured pencils, purple and green, my go-to favourites).  After a few minutes we had to pass the paper to the person on our left, who then had to give it a title before handing it back.

My green and purple swirls prompted ‘On Summer Wings’, and that title was the writing prompt. All good so far.

The second phase was more drawing/colouring/scribbling on a new piece of paper.  But for a short time only, then the paper was passed to the person on the left and we continued making marks, then passed it on again to the left, until we each ended up with the picture we started with. A composite piece of artwork  (pictured here) which was then the prompt for the next writing session.

We shared our writing, as usual a wonderful mix of poetry, prose, memoir and fiction, all raw and newly minted.

Then the fun really started. The facilitator asked us each to highlight a few words or a phrase from our first pieces of writing and she then assembled them into a six-line poem. Same again for the second pieces of writing and voila, another collaborative poem.

I think we were all blown away by the cohesion that was evident at this point. We were all writing separately and in our own individual styles, yet on some unconscious level we were part of a creative communion which produced two rather neat little poems.

We were so pleased with the result that we’ve submitted the two poems for an event at our local library (Ballaghaderreen) on Poetry Day Ireland (on Thursday, April 28th 2016). They’ll go public alongside offerings from other poets (including me).  There’s lots going on that day – check out events here. The theme is ‘Revolution’.

I will be leading a poetry workshop (alongside my friends Jessamine O’Connor and Catherine Ryan) that day in Roscommon Library, starting at 10.30am. All welcome (it’s free!).  See you there?

Dear Diary…



I recommend keeping a journal – the process can be cathartic and rewarding.  It’s a form of creative writing that doesn’t use imagination to produce a story, novel, a poem or play.  Instead, this is all about keeping track of people, emotions, events and circumstances and recording them for the future – either for your eyes only, or for sharing with a wider audience as memoir.

There’s something very comforting in knowing what I had for dinner exactly three years ago, or what the weather was doing four years before that, or what day I broke not one but two fingernails (oh, the trauma!).

Actually, I write all kinds of rubbish in my journals – and I’ve kept them for years, so that’s a lot of trivia recorded for posterity, although I usually refrain from documenting  nail breakages, even when they come in pairs.

I keep different journals, notebooks and diaries, every now and then venturing into a food diary, or a holiday scrapbook, or an annotated recipe book. But my favourite is my bog standard Confiteor, the journal I write in to record the day/week/month’s highlights.  I mostly write daily, but I don’t get too hung up about missing a few days.

Last week I was laid up with a nasty dose (Irish for a head cold, not a random STD), so all I had to write about was how wretched I felt and how many bins I’d filled with damp tissues.  So instead of writing, I took to reading some old journals.

I found one from 2002 which I’d begun with a nod to the styles of Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) and Carol Drinkwater (The Olive Tree) about my family’s plans to uproot from rural Worcestershire. I wrote about the des res heavily disguised as a cowshed which we bought in rural Ireland and our plans to import a herd of alpacas and grow organic cabbages.  Not quite as glamorous as the Mediterranean, although we’ve had our moments.

In my journal, I’d made all sorts of observations about the Irish way of doing things, and about our feeble attempts to fit in. Irish dogs and their inclination to snap at passing cars had me passing comment:

‘Mud splattered Rex and Rover, out in all weathers, race to snap and growl at passing car tyres. The first time we ever encountered an Irish car-chasing dog nearly a decade ago, we slowed almost to a standstill fearful the animal would get tangled in the machinery and our small children in the back seat would never recover from a bloody dog squashing trauma.

‘The dog was clearly confused, since it’s usual to speed up, not slow down, so it turned tail to slink back to the bushes. But then an old lady emerged from the hedge and began shaking her fists in our general direction. Not sure of the Irish etiquette in such circumstances we revved up and roared  away, just in case the fists were intended for us.

‘But ever since I’ve wondered if the poor dog got its ears boxed for not performing its proper canine duty?  Because we later discovered that every self respecting Irish hound is expected to outrun a modest family saloon with the back seat occupants shrieking: “He’s gaining on us Daddy, go faster!”

‘You won’t catch a cat chasing cars…’

Still true after all these years!