Category Archives: poetry

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!”

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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!

 

Titanic News (in a literal sense)

Here I am in Belfast (trying out my new Ab-Fab Patsy hair-do) on the Titanic tender, SS Nomadic, with the iceberg-shaped Titanic Experience in the background. And look, I’m smiling, even before my good news.

I was in Belfast when the post arrived last Friday. My daughter sent a WhatsApp message telling me there was an envelope from the Arts Council, asking should she open it on my behalf?

But just then, Belfast Titanic was taking most of my attention. We’d been meaning to visit the museum for ages, having something of a family fascination for RMS Titanic stories. Family legend even has one of my distant relatives as a survivor (though as a lowly servant working in the kitchens, that story is a bit far-fetched, and I’ve never investigated). We’ve been to Cobh and Southampton museums, this was Belfast.

Any road up (as they say where I come from), I was admiring the extraordinary feat of engineering that Harland and Wolff undertook in building the three sister ships, Olympia, Titanic and Britannic, not paying much heed to random telephone messages from home. The sheer size and opulence of the ships, the number of people who worked on the site, the whole remarkable world of early Twentieth Century luxury cruise liners, was mind-boggling. Building the Titanic, a Belfast workman could expect at least a 50-hour week with only Sundays off, one week’s holiday in the summer, and two days each at Easter and Christmas.

I was contemplating the extraordinary gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and how 1,490 people lost their lives on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912, when another text message arrived, revealing news that the letter awaiting my attention was rather fat and A5 sized – not your usual thin rejection letter.

I had applied to the Arts Council for a Travel and Training Award to help with the cost of attending another Poetry Masterclass in Tŷ Newydd in Wales at the end of October (next week – yay!) and an email said I should have a decision within four weeks.

Of course, that didn’t happen. So, into the sixth week, getting very close to the time I needed to book my travel, I stuck my neck out and sent an enquiring email, which received a ‘you should hear soon’ type of reply.

I’m generally of the glass half-full persuasion (assuming I’ve got a glass, that is). But my experience of grants and such like has left me quite crushed, so I figured this was another put-down.

But if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably guessed the punch line –  yes, I have been awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Travel and Training Award! And while the cash is obviously of vital importance – the validation is almost as thrilling, as my proposal was based on my creative and professional development as a poet.

My debut poetry collection ‘On the Green Bridge’ is out there trying to find a publisher, after some seriously impressive advice from my Mentor, poet Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons. Janice has been assigned to me through the mentoring scheme of the Creative Frame Professional Development Network, based in Leitrim.

So – titanic news indeed, in the sense of why the ill-fated White Star luxury liner was so-called.  Titanic’s original meaning was ‘of exceptional strength, size, or power’. (There’s a heap of interesting facts about the ship here –  prepare to waste an hour or two!)

Just don’t mention sinking ships to me just now, please. Especially since I will be on a ferry to Wales very soon…

The Luck of the Draw

Ashley Cole

Touch wood, I don’t have to worry about being superstitious.

I mean, most of that stuff is just common sense isn’t it? You wouldn’t walk under a ladder if there’s someone up it with a bucket of something sloshable, would you? And why would you need an umbrella open in the house unless you had a very leaky roof? As for putting shoes – new or otherwise – on the table, who would do that?

We have a black cat in our house; I’m not sure if she is lucky or not. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you live, you might have different ideas about omens attached to black cats in your path. When ours get under my feet (she has a thing about cheese and can stir from a sound slumber three rooms away at the sound of the grater), I’m not sure which one of us is the luckiest. Me for not quite breaking my neck as I trip over her, or her for not quite getting trampled underfoot?

Incidentally, I have long been a cat ‘owner’ and thereby have got through many cat names, although I have a file on my laptop with more than 50 kitty names for future use. This black cat is called Ashley because, back when she was a kitten 12 years ago, she liked to chase balls. Football, black, Cole, Ashley – get it? Cheryl’s ex, back in the day.

Anyway, as I’ve already said, I’m not superstitious. Except that perhaps I’d like to be this week.

Some people think things come in threes and I’ve had two strokes of good luck in the past couple of days, so I’d quite like to believe there might be another, just around the corner. My good news is that I’ve (finally!) had a poem accepted for publication in the next Skylight 47 magazine – and I’ve been selected for a place on the Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley in the Welsh Writers’ Centre at Tŷ Newydd. I had such a good time there in the Spring that I gushed all over this blog with the news. I may yet get to go the same way.

Meanwhile, I’m out looking for magpies. Two for joy, of course. The rest can keep away, thank you.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

Shhh…I think I can hear someone coming

You’ve heard of brothel creepers? Silent shoes, so no-one can hear you coming (or going)? Great idea, but why has no-one invented silent waterproof jackets? Perhaps if there was a catchier name…

Walking the dog requires me to wear a waterproof jacket (come on, it is August and I am in Ireland), but the amount of noise it makes is doing my head in. Rustle, crinkle, snap. Like popped rice cereal, but without the milk or flavour.

I walk along trying to keep up with my girl Tully, making sure to swing my arms (so my wristband records maximum steps – don’t ask), but the noise is deafening. No doubt the wildlife hears me from 500 metres away and hides. No wonder I rarely see any of the hares, badgers and foxes that live close to the lane where we walk.

And it isn’t just one coat or jacket that is noisy – I’ve a whole wardrobe of them.

It puts me in mind of an evening I spent last year at the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, County Mayo. I was there to hear what turned out to be a very entertaining double act of novelist and short story writer Donal Ryan, and poet Martin Dyar, reading their own and each other’s work.

I’m normally a bit of a fidget and have trouble sitting still. But on this occasion, I was forced into stillness and wrote the following little ditty after:

At the Reading
My new green coat rustles, look-at-me loud
inappropriately waterproof and warming
in the pin-drop quiet of an auditorium
draped in many yards of funereal black.
Microphone snaking ear to cheek, eyes
raised in solemn deference to the gods,
shirt sleeves rolled neatly to the elbow,
the prize-winning poet means business.
In staccato Mayo he enunciates carefully
his lauded verse, pleased at its new status
on the national English curriculum.
I manage not to crinkle, marvelling instead
that from now on, thousands of Leaving Cert
teenagers will wring unexpected meaning
from ‘Death and the Post Office’.

So, silent waterproofs, where are you? I want to listen to poems and watch wildlife, unheard.

Although the reason the animals aren’t around when I’m out walking could be just because they are crepuscular and I’m not. Honest. (Three cheers for punctuation!)

PS I love Martin Dyar’s book of poetry, ‘Maiden Names’, and Donal Ryan is one of my favourites, too, even though I blush at all the sweary words he uses.