Category Archives: poetry

How Did That Happen?

I had to go see for myself that this was real!

In a bizarre but vivid dream, I’m sitting in front of a blank notebook thinking of writing a poem about how my elderly mother never listens to me, how one of us is above our station (all fur coat and no knickers), and how sad I am that she doesn’t really act like my mother any more.

The poem materialises like magic in the way some poems do, and after several drafts (not my usual zillion, billion, lots), gets a public airing. Several readings in front of appreciative audiences later, I change the ending, moving the punchline to where it really belongs.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the poem helps to win me a literary award and  €1,500 – and for 48 hours, a pub in Dublin is renamed in my honour. The story is all over social media ( just as everyone is talking about leaving Facebook, I embrace it), and people I haven’t heard from for years are making contact again.

And then I wake up.

Or not. This has actually been happening to me!

Someone remarked on how  I’m not being very cool about my Hennessy Literary Award. Cool? Of course I’m not – I’m f*****g blown away by it! And I’m gushing because although I wanted to win, I didn’t expect to win, so my delight is genuine.

As someone who has rather more candles than I’d like on my birthday cake, I really thought I’d left it too late to  expect much in the way of success in creative writing. I’ve been a commercial wordsmith (whatever that is) for a long time (hell, I even  used to edit a 166,000 circulation weekly newspaper, which is a lot of readers),  but I never expected to get so much new enjoyment out of writing, and so much pleasure from connecting with the readers of my poems and fiction.

And I had a pub named after me. Watch the video here.

I. Had. A. Pub. Named. After. Me.

Thank you Hennessy Awards!

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OMG, OMG, OMG!

What can I say? Thrilled doesn’t even come close! I have an ear-to-ear grin and I haven’t stopped shaking with excitement yet.

I don’t quite know how I managed to drive all the way home from Dublin last night and arrive in one piece. Or how I manage to be at my desk, business as usual, this morning (and my lovely colleagues were leaning out of the upstairs office window giving me a round of applause as I arrived for work).

In case you don’t know what I’m on about, let me explain:

I WON A HENNESSY LITERARY AWARD FOR MY POETRY LAST NIGHT!

Definitely something to shout about…

Congratulations to short story writers Aaron Finnegan who won the First Fiction award and Manus Boyle Tobin who won the Emerging Fiction prize and  was crowned overall Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year. And it was lovely to meet author Bernard MacLaverty who was inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame. What a memorable evening!

Read all about (my bit) of it here, along with the winning poems!

Twenty Years and Counting

Strokestown Park House

Here’s news of something close to my heart (right now, serving as a distraction for me, #HennessyLitAwards): Strokestown International Poetry Festival, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The programme has been announced and tickets are on sale (hurry, they’re going fast!), with an eclectic mix of all things poetry-related taking place over the May Bank Holiday weekend, May 3rd– 7th.

As a member of the organising committee, I have a vested interest in spreading the word about the festival, so here goes: Strokestown is one of only a handful of POETRY festivals in the country, and well worth a visit for both writers and readers, trust me!

There’s a must-see line up of international and Irish poets, with around 70 readings over the weekend, from newbies to old-hands. There’ll be the results of six competitions, readings, exhibitions, film screenings, book launches*, workshops, plus street entertainment and music – you won’t want to miss any of it!

If you don’t know, Strokestown is a quiet little Georgian town in rural County Roscommon, on the N5 Dublin to Westport road. Its main tourist attraction is the lovely Strokestown Park House (home of the harrowing but important National Famine Museum). The house is the venue for many of the Poetry Festival’s events.

Poets Moya Cannon and Harry Clifton have sifted through more than 1,200 entries to Strokestown’s International Poetry Competition, and the shortlisted poets have been invited to read their work at the festival, and their poems will be included in this year’s anthology**.

Jane Clarke

It’s unlikely you’ll get many opportunities to see poets Jane Clarke and Lemn Sissay on the same stage, but that’s what’s planned for Saturday evening, May 5th, in the Percy French Hotel, Strokestown. Jane Clarke’s award-winning first collection, ‘The River’, is full of bucolic images of rural Roscommon where she grew up; Lemn Sissay is known

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Lemn Sissay

for writing about his life as a black teenager growing up in a white foster home in northern England. Irish fiddle player Danny Diamond will be on hand to provide the evening’s music.

Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh, best known as a community activist and slam poet from Manchester, will be performing to local schools in Strokestown on Friday, May 4th. His poem, ‘This Is the Place’, captured

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Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh

the response of Mancunians after the terror attack last year in which 22 people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert. He will read at the official opening of the Festival at the Percy French Hotel on May 4th.

There’s lots more going on, most of it free of charge; doubtless I’ll mention the festival again before the day! Meanwhile, check out the website here.

*I’m launching my first poetry collection, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’, during the festival – on Saturday, May 5th, 4.30pm, in Strokestown House.

**Yay! I also have work included in this year’s anthology…

The Numbers Game

Bit of a tenuous link, but this kitty’s name was Seven…

I’ve been crunching numbers over the past few days, trying to figure (excuse the pun) if I should take up a new pastime. This writing lark has cost me a lot of money one way or another (residential poetry masterclasses don’t come cheap), and I’ve managed to crawl to my 100th submission this year.

That averages out at less than nine submissions a month, which doesn’t sound too excessive. And included in ‘submissions’ are applications for grants, pitches for freelance articles, and several other writing activities.

I enter a lot of free writing competitions (there are a lot about), and  journals and magazines are free to send to. But there are a good few competitions with a hefty entry fee which I’ve succumbed to. Like the Moth Poetry Prize – I wasn’t going to bother because it is €12 a pop, but the prize is a cool €10,000 (for ONE poem, yes you read right!). So I view it rather like buying a lottery ticket, you’ve got to be in it to win it, although the odds on me winning are slim – not because my poem is rubbish (well, I don’t think so), but because there’s so much (ahem) competition.

The kudos of winning, or being placed in competitions, is what drives most writers to enter – but the cash prizes can be significant, too. I’m writing this on a laptop I bought with the winnings from a short story competition 18 months ago.

I was helping to number the entries in the Strokestown International Poetry Competition at the beginning of December.  Poacher turned gamekeeper, I found the behind-the-scenes activities a real eye-opener. Until then, I’d never really thought much about what happens after I hit the ‘send’ button.

In the case of Strokestown, the original poems are kept on file and two copies of each are printed to be sent to the judges. Before the poems leave the office, they are made anonymous, save for a reference number. It makes for a level playing field, so it doesn’t matter who you are or who you know, it’s the poem that counts.

The sheer volume of poems –  sadly, I didn’t have time to read any of them – was mind-blowing. The competition attracts entries from all over the world, including India, Japan, Canada, USA, the UK, and of course, Ireland.

And get this, there were 1,261 poems vying for the top prize of €2,000, a writer’s retreat at Anam Cara, and publication in the Strokestown Poetry Anthology. That’s five reams of paper…

If you missed the annual Strokestown competitions (there was the Percy French competition for comic verse and an Irish language poetry competition, too), there’s another just opened to mark the Festival’s 20th anniversary. That’s in addition to the Roscommon Poet’s Prize and the School Poetry Prizes. Phew, that’s a lot of poems!

Count the petals? Or be inspired to write a poem – this is one of the prompts.

This new on-line only competition offers 20 picture prompts, and suitably inspired writers are invited to create up to 20 lines of poetry. There will be 20 prizes – a first of €100 and 19 of €20. And all 20 poems will be displayed alongside the images during Strokestown Poetry Festival, May 3rd – 7th 2018.

The judge is poet Noelle Lynskey, and details are on the website here.

Now, what’s there not to like about those numbers?

Oh, and for the day that’s in it (as they say around here): “Happy Christmas!”

Purple Poetry? Pretentious? Moi?

Do you think I’m finally getting the hang of selfies?

I’m here at Tŷ Newydd, at the Welsh Literature Centre, enjoying an excellent Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley, but trying hard to ignore some of the literary pretentions of some of my fellow participants, aka the Dead Read Poets’ Society.

In the company of such well-versed writers, I could be intimidated. But I’m wearing my bullet-proof knickers and choosing not to give-a-damn about what anyone else here is doing/has done/will do any minute now. Anyway, I’m writing poems in purple ink – isn’t that pretentious enough? Perhaps not.

No, I haven’t read Homer and can’t quote from Joyce, Beckett or *Yeats. I’ve never heard of Bolshie Wiseman McEverybody whose spoken word performances are to die for. I haven’t just spent three years mastering the nuances of Heaney/McNeice/Whitman. I’m just a fairly ordinary wordsmith (albeit with third level education from too many decades ago), who finally realises she has something to say, and poetry is the way she wants to say it.

And now I’m talking about myself in the third person.

Gillian Clarke (left) and Maura Dooley

Meanwhile, Gillian Clarke is encouraging us to hear the music of words, but to attend to the shape of the poem on the page. Maura Dooley is helping us look through windows to find the right words, but to remember why we write, suggesting a poem is a temporal art making an incision in time. I like that analogy, since I do a lot of cutting and (imaginary) knife-wielding as I’m writing.

This is the second residential writing course I have ever done, the first being the Spring Poetry Masterclass earlier this year with Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy (I waxed lyrical about that experience on this blog in three parts: here 1, here 2 and here 3).

More gushing is unnecessary; the place is lovely, the tutors are experienced, generous and patient, the food is delicious, the sun has shone (for some of the time, anyway), and Magi the cat is as friendly as ever. And my fellow participants are an interesting, eclectic bunch, and while some of them seem to be trying too hard, there is some serious talent here, and I am in awe.

Criccieth

We have plenty of writing/thinking time between workshops, so I’ve managed to walk into nearby Criccieth, a lovely little seaside town with a castle.  But of course, I don’t go anywhere without my (purple) pen and a notebook to capture sudden flashes of inspiration. There seems to be a lot of them about just now.

*OK, so I can quote Yeats, really. I mean, I live in Ireland, it would be a scandal if I couldn’t, wouldn’t it? Heaney, too.  But I draw the line at Joyce.

Travelling Light

Let’s cut to the chase: I don’t. Travel light, that is. Ever. Not even for a week in Wales (Hello Tŷ Newydd!).

On the other hand, I am ace at packing (think Russian dolls), so space is rarely an issue.

It’s the weightlifting that’s a problem when I travel. Which is probably why I don’t do much of it. I’m a rubbish sailor, and not much better in aeroplanes, but I’ll do my best if I can take EVERYTHING I need. But then there’s the full-body workout required to cart stuff around.

Like my suitcase, rucksack and handbag, stuffed to overflowing with essentials. I mean, who doesn’t go on a Poetry Masterclass without four different notebooks (A4, A5, mini and micro), two blue biros, a black one and a pencil? And purple, red and green biros and a highlighter pen, just in case. Scissors, Sellotape and a glue stick, again just in case. Paperclips (because I forgot the mini-stapler – what was I thinking?). A sewing kit (because you never know), snacks in case they forget to feed me (as if – the food here is legendary), and enough shampoo and conditioner for three weeks (I might get stranded here and will need to wash my hair).

Then there’s the footwear situation. I packed my walking boots this time because Tŷ Newydd is in set in beautiful (but muddy) walking country, but there are other shoes and boots required, too.

I always wonder at stories of people who go back-packing across God-knows-where with little more than a toothbrush and a microfibre flannel. How do they do it? Don’t they need at least two changes of clothes per day, plus some spares? And what about technology? Phone and lap top are essential, although I had to concede that bringing the tablet as well was overkill, and I had to leave behind my ‘proper’ camera (my trusty Canon DSLR) because I’m here to write, not take photos (ahem, the phone did it).  Then there’s the hairdryer, hot brush, ten types of hair clips, two types of hand cream, bottled water, and a partridge in a pear tree.

But I did ditch the coat, on promise of good weather, settling instead for layers under a mac-in-a-bag cagoule (and then the clouds rolled in).

I also ceded the dictionary (they’re available on-line when the internet works), but suggesting I leave behind my 40-year-old Thesaurus was a step to far.

I’ve heard some folk say that using a Thesaurus is akin to cheating. NO! It’s just a tool, that’s all. A book of words that won’t write for you your poem/story/novel/begging letter/blog post (delete as appropriate).  But when you get to a certain age (so I’m told), all the words in your head swim around out of reach, and the thesaurus can just prompt the right ones to surface.

Now, I need to find a competition that gets you to use weightlifting, Roget and poetry all in the same sentence. Any ideas? (Answers in poetic parentheses, please!)

 

Shameless Self Publicity!

I’ve been waiting for this **day since my birthday in July! Why? Because two of my poems are in the Irish Times today (October 28th 2017). Whoop, whoop!

Actually, the birthday connection is just a coincidence. I’d been bombarding the editor of the Hennessy New Irish Writing Ciaran Carty with poems for a while, ever hopeful he’d like one or more enough to publish. Back when I started getting serious about this creative writing lark, he published my first piece of fiction in the Irish Independent, and I was subsequently nominated for a Hennessy Award in February 2015.

Its the kind of third party validation that is important to the likes of me.

Fast forward to July 2017,  amid birthday celebrations, I got an email confirming that some of my poetry had been chosen for future publication. So, two of my poems  are in print today, on Page 29 of the new-look Irish Times ‘Ticket’ section. I’m vaguely disappointed not to have a **picture included, but thrilled none-the-less to get into the prestigious Hennessy New Irish Writing  pages with poetry.  Any minute now a publisher is going snap up my collection (ha!).

It’s an exciting weekend – this, and then on Bank Holiday Monday I’m off to Wales to start my Arts Council of Ireland-funded  (yay!) Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley…

I feel a celebratory poem coming on 🙂

Update:  **There’s a pic of me and three poems online at the Irish Times website: click here to view!