Mnemosyne Lay in Dust: A reading of Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Wed 7th January 2015 @7pm

First Fortnight: Ireland’s Mental Health Arts Festival

Mnemosyne Lay in Dust

A reading of Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Wed 7th January 2015 @7pm

First published in 1966, Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust is an intensely personal and haunting narrative poem about memory, detailing the fictional Maurice Devane’s “nervous breakdown” and subsequent recovery. Mnemosyne Lay in Dust is based strongly on Clarke’s own experiences as a patient in St. Patrick’s from March 1919-1920. In reading Clarke’s great poem in St. Patrick’s, the poem is, in a sense, brought back to its roots.

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Gerard Smyth will read Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, in full, in the Lecture Theatre of St. Patrick’s Swift Centre. The reading will be introduced by way of Stephen Bean’s short film Mnemosyne Lay in Dust: Memories of Austin Clarke and concluded with a post-reading discussion facilitated by John Saunders, director of Shine and author of two collections of poems.

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, John Saunders and Gerard Smyth (clockwise from top left)

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, John Saunders and Gerard Smyth (clockwise from top left)

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Lit News: Poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin to host Where One Starts From: An Introduction to Writing Poetry workshop in Dublin during National Heritage Week

Poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin hosts a workshop as part of National Heritage Week in Dublin on 23rd August.

Poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin hosts a workshop as part of National Heritage Week in Dublin on 23rd August.

STUTTGART– based Donegal poet Annemarie Ní Chuirreáin, due to take up an Autumn residency at the Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida, will host a poetry workshop as part of National Heritage Week from 1pm – 3pm on Saturday 23rd August at Dublin’s Inspire Galerie. Currently, Ní Churreáin is Literature Fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgard, Germany.

I interviewed Ní Churreáin prior to her reading as part of the 2013 Poetry Ireland Introductions series; read here.

New Poems in Cyphers 77

Poems ‘Bite’ and ‘Aurora’ appear in Cyphers 77, along with new work by John Kinsella, Michael Farry, Clare McCotter, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Peter Sheehan, Gabriel Rosenstock and many, many more.

Cyphers 77: New poems by yours truly appear in the latest issue of Cyphers

Cyphers 77: New poems by yours truly appear in the latest issue of Cyphers

HAVING spent more than my fair share of time wallpapering my home, twice over, with rejection slips,  I felt relieved when an acceptance email from Cyphers arrived in my email inbox, some weeks ago.

Undoubtedly one of the most prestigious poetry magazines / journals in English language poetry and certainly one which has a colourful history, Cyphers is the magazine that all writers of poems hope to see their work published, its reputation sealed by the reliable judgement of the editors as shown by the consistency of the work that Cyphers publishes from issue to issue.

Founded in 1975 by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Macdara Woods, Leland Bardwell and the late Pearse Hutchinson, the editors founded Cyphers- named so after a black cat owned by Eiléan and Macdara which, in turn, Eiléan and Macdara named after a series of poems by Macdara- during a particularly harsh time in our social history. By all accounts, the seventies in Ireland was a harsh, grim time of economic recession in Ireland, making the funding of Cyphers a daunting challenge. On-line publishing wasn’t an option; print was (and is still) costly; quiet, generous spaces in Dublin city centre where the spoken word could be heard faultlessly were hard to find. 

In an excellent piece written for Poetry Ireland’s newsletter, ahead of the launch of Cyphers 71 at the 2011 Strokestown International Poetry festival, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin reflected on how far Cyphers had travelled since 1975:

In 1975 the four editors, Leland Bardwell, Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Macdara Woods, produced the first number.  When we started up, The Dublin Magazine had closed and The Lace Curtain’s penultimate issue had appeared.  We wanted to be as regular as the first and as open to the wide world as the second.  People assumed we wanted to encourage new writers – nothing was further from our thoughts, though in fact we were to assist with several emergences.  We did want to keep faith with the poets we admired, who might not be, or might not stay, in fashion: we felt strong enough to back our own judgement. Our first Cyphers contained only poetry.  In the second we included fiction (a piece by the late Jimmy Brennan, followed in No. 3 by one from Adrian Kenny who also has a story in No. 70), and for a long time we were the only magazine in Ireland publishing literary fiction.

Our first Cyphers felt like quite an achievement, after struggles to raise funds in a recession, much wondering about the title, and long enjoyable meetings discussing the content.  That was the easy bit – we wrote to our friends, and to the contacts we had made when we had run a series of poetry readings in Sinnott’s pub in South King Street, abetted by the late Justin O’Mahony.  We had admitted defeat there when the price of drink rose, so that the audience came later; also, the noise of a hostile regular inhabitant of the pub and the crash of the cash register combined to make some voices inaudible; also, Pearse left for a stint as Gregory Fellow in the University of Leeds.  His return was the signal for the new project.

I asked the Arts Council for money.  They gave us half of what we wanted for the first two issues.  Some friends, John Buckley, Benedict Ryan and Katherine Kavanagh, helped out, and we decided to go ahead and try our luck.  For years afterwards we depended on the patience and good humour of our printer, Pat Funge of Elo Press, as we struggled to pay off the bills for those first issues. But the Arts Council was impressed with our determination and funded us, so that in the end we got out of debt.  Pat’s old letterpress machines were damaged by vandals, and he used the insurance money to shift to the newer offset litho technology, so we learned about paste-ups and light-boxes; nowadays I make pdfs using Open Office.  After Pat’s death when Elo closed, Christy, Mark and Richard, who had all worked there, started a new firm, and they are our printers today.

More important than the six pounds that Patrick Kavanagh’s widow could afford to donate to the founding, she taught me to keep accounts properly.  It was the beginning of my long career as amateur bookkeeper and administrator.  For fourteen years I took care of the business end of Cyphers, haunted by bundles of invoices, dead chequebooks, and stacks of back numbers and unpublished submissions waiting to be returned.  All four editors would gather for ameitheal of writing rejection letters. I had card-indexes of subscribers and battered concertina files of stamped envelopes.  Then FÁS came to the rescue, with a lovely worker, and we got our first second-hand Amstrad computer (it came with a flowery oilskin dust-cover).  All of the succession of nice clever people who worked for us through FÁS schemes, and the later equally nice and clever ones whom the Arts Council helped us to employ, were frightened by accounts, so I still do that part.  But they were willing to log and list and copy and post the manuscripts and look after subscribers and see that the writers were eventually paid their fees.

In 1975 we swore that we would always pay a fee, however miserable.  Quite often the cheque has arrived so late as to surprise the recipient, but we reckon that, small as it is, a fee is never an unpleasant surprise.  It is also a marker of our opinion of the pieces we publish, that we have considered and weighed them carefully and think them worth money.  (But what of the writers we didn’t publish?  Some of them too have made it, but not all. Our archive is rich with pompous letters of self-introduction from people who wrote a poem about their holiday in Ireland; these contrast with the admirable brevity of the man who began his letter ‘Dear Shits’ …)

The early issues had a masthead with lettering by the late Ruth Brandt.  It was the arrival in early 1975 of her husband, Michael Kane, to get the details for the cover, that pushed us to decide on the title.  We had thought of Landrail, The Blackbird, Waterhouse Clock … Michael liked cats and asked us what our black cat’s name was.  She was called (after a series of poems by Macdara) Cypher, a name derived from, among other things, the Arabic word for zero, but it also means a code.  We thought that would do, though we were annoyed later when some critic thought we were being modest, taking the sense ‘nonentities’ – which it hadn’t occurred to us is one of its meanings too.

When we saw that first issue it was clear we’d got some things wrong.  The card for the cover was a paleish yellow, the format looked like a child’s copybook, and so we realised we must make changes, and a long evolution began.  From the second issue onward we used a stronger, cleaner colour, from the fourth we put the contributors’ names on the cover (all of them – we refused to pick out the bigger names); we moved to glossy card and acquired a spine at issue 5.  The black cat is in her grave in the back garden of Selskar Terrace, but her name lives on.

And live on it does.

Launch of issue 77 at Strokestown International Poetry Festival

Last weekend, at the 2014 Strokestown International Poetry festivalEiléan and Macdara were, again, launching a new issue of Cyphers, featuring a cover designed by Dedalus Press publisher Pat Boran. During the launch, I read the two poems included in the current issue: ‘Bite’ and ‘Aurora’.

Also reading at Strokestown were Doireann Ní Ghríofa, who featured on the Strokestown competition short-list and is due to publish her first collection of poems, in English, with Dedalus Press, next year; Trim based poet and former Boyne Berries editor Michael Farry; Quantum Sofa organiser and QS Press editor Peter Sheehan; Macdara Woods, co- editor and founder of Cyphers.

What became apparent to me at Strokestown is that the DIY ethic and charm of Cyphers is still very much in tact as it is in all small-scale production publications: lugging the boxes into the car; lugging the boxes out of the car; setting up glasses and bottles of prosecco ( juices for designated drivers and teetotallers) ; writing the price of the publication on a folded A4 page next to the stack of freshly pressed copies…

The only comparison that I can make that might make any sense is that the charm of such a publication is on a par with my affection for vinyl records and local record shops over digital downloads and on- line stores such as iTunes and Amazon; there’s a social component to print publications and their accompanying launches that feels as vital as that of vinyl records and local record stores. When you attend a book / magazine launch, as when you attend a Record Store Day event, the audience comprises of people who care as much as you do about the art form and, crucially, its format.  To your surprise, you meet other people out there who feel the same way about it all as you do. You are not alone.

Cyphers is available from the following bookshops:

Dublin

Books Upstairs
Hodges Figgis
The Winding Stair
Ranelagh Arts Centre

Cork

Munster Literature Centre

Galway

Charlie Byrne’s
Kenny’s

For a subscription to Cyphers, contact the editors:

3 Selskar Terrace,
Ranelagh,
Dublin 6

Email: letters@cyphers.ie

News: Carcanet poets Caoilinn Hughes & Tara Bergin to launch début poetry collections at the Irish Writers Centre onThursday 6th February

Caoilinn Hughes will launch Gathering Evidence, her début collections of poems, published by Carcanet Press, on Thursday 6th February.

LAUNCHING their début collections back on home turf, New Zealand- based poet Caoilinn Hughes and North Yorkshire- based poet Tara Bergin will read in the Irish Writers Centre on Thursday 6th February at 6:30pm.

Caoilinn Hughes- who yours truly interviewed as part of last year’s Poetry Ireland Introductions series– will read from Gathering Evidence, which netted her the 2012 Patrick Kavanagh Award. According to her publisher, Gathering Evidence “traces the parallels between scientific exploration and poetic venturing: ‘Gathering the data and deciphering / inference is how I stay alive’.”

Dublin native Tara Bergin will read from This Is Yarrow, which poet and critic John McAuliffe described as “…primarily a book of monologues, establishing voices whose skewed attitudes invite an engaged critical response from the reader. The monologues are sometimes reminiscent of Paul Durcan and at other times Sylvia Plath and they can be very cutting and funny at the expense of their speakers.”

Caoilinn Hughes was born in Galway, Ireland. With BA and MA degrees from the Queen’s University of Belfast, she moved to New Zealand and enrolled in a Ph.D. at Victoria University of Wellington. A selection of poems from her first book, Gathering Evidence (Carcanet) won the 2012 Patrick Kavanagh Award, the 2013 Cúirt New Writing Prize, the 2012 STA Travel Writing Prize and the 2013 Trócaire / Poetry Ireland Competition.

Tara Bergin was born and grew up in Dublin. She moved to England in 2002. In 2012 she completed her PhD research at Newcastle University on Ted Hughes’s translations of János Pilinszky. Her poems have appeared in New Poetries V and her début collection This is Yarrow was published by Carcanet Press.

Books 2014: New poetry titles to look out for in the new year

The new year in poetry promises exciting débuts from fresh talents as well as old hands turning in new directions

Vona Groarke’s X will be published by The Gallery Press in February.

THE GALLERY PRESS will publish a rich varied selection of new collections throughout 2014. Manchester- based Longford native Vona Groarke‘s eagerly awaited sixth collection of poems, entitled X, is already generating considerable excitement, not least among the Poetry Book Society, who have made X their Poetry Book Society recommendation for Spring 2014. X is described as “a book of honesty and poise: its lustrous detail and exacting truths make this a groundbreaking publication from a poet hailed in Poetry Ireland Review as ‘among the best Irish poets writing today’.”

Other titles from the Meath publisher include From Elsewhere (March), a new collection of poems from Ciaran Carson, the ever- prolific Belfast poet who doesn’t seem to sleep; the late Pearse Hutchinson‘s poems will be appear in the spring; Gallery Press founder and publisher Peter Fallon will publish Strong, My Love in April, which will be his first collection since 2007’s The Company of Horses

Also returning with new work is Limerick poet Sean Lysaght, whose sixth collection is tentatively titled Carnival Masks. The inspiration for the working title came from a poem in which Lysaght describes a journey back to his home in Co. Mayo, after several months spent in Italy, and tidying away a pair of masks that the poet and his wife bought at the Carnevale di Viareggio, held every February in the Tuscan city of Viareggio, Italy.

According to Lysaght, the collection has “…a calendar structure: many poems with references to the natural world can be connected to a particular time of year. The first poem is called ‘Skylarks in January’, then there’s a February piece, a March piece, and so on. The calendar pattern is not absolutely strict, and there are other poems in the book as well, but it allowed me a way of organising an array of material, and of connecting poems about Mayo with poems set in Italy, where my wife and I spent a winter about four years ago.”

Doire Press

DOIRE PRESS are likely to be still celebrating, following Adam White’s appearance on the shortlist for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, this year. However, the Connemara- based publisher will publish the début collection of poems from Dimitra Xidousthe Dublin- based Greek- Canadian poet and co- founder / co- editor of The Pickled Body. Entitled Keeping Bees, Xidous’ first collection will no doubt feature poems that have featured in the Bridport and Over the Edge Emerging Writer prizes,  as well as work that is due to appear in The New Planet Cabaret and the Spring 2014 edition of The Stinging Fly, in which she will be a featured poet.

BLOODAXE have two Irish poets on their list for 2014: Harry Clifton‘s The Holding Centre: Selected Poems 1974-2004 will appear in February.

Louis de Paor’s The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale’s Tongue will appear in a bi- lingual edition from Bloodaxe

Interestingly, a bi- lingual selection of Louis de Paor’s poems will feature in The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale’s Tongue, a book which de Paor worked on with a trio translators, consisting of  Kevin Anderson, Biddy Jenkinson and Mary O’Donoghue. According to Bloodaxe, “the translations have eschewed the modern fashion for so-called “versions”, producing English translations which are as close as possible to the original Irish poems without sacrificing their tone, energy, clarity and lightness of touch.”

FABER‘s list of new poetry books for 2014 includes a typical mix of commissioned translations, an opportunity to revise the poetry of authors with considerable work under their belt, as well as new work from emerging talents.

Too often dismissed as too didactic and a political poet in an age of political apathy, Tom Paulin‘s New Selected Poems (May) comes at a time when there is a severe lack of well- written, well- executed political poetry. One only has to read Paulin’s current Selected Poems, 1972 – 1990 to find a poet whose gift for wrapping the demotic tones of his native Ulster around technically skilled, enviably crafted poems. Paulin’s New Selected Poems is a welcome opportunity to revise four decades worth of work, including poems from Walking a Line (1994), The Wind Dog (1999) and last year’s Love’s Bonfire.

American poet August Kleinzahler

Once described by Allen Ginsberg as “A loner, a genius.”, New Jersey- born, San Francisco- based poet August Kleinzahler is undoubtedly one of foremost American poets currently writing. The wider availability of Kleinzahler’s collections on this side of the Atlantic, including 1995’s Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow, 2000’s Green Sees Things in Waves, 2004’s excellent The Strange Hours That Travellers Keep and 2008’s Sleeping it Off in Rapid City: New and Selected Poems, have seen the oft described “pugilist” poet’s stock rise considerably.

Kleinzahler’s latest collection, Hotel Oneira, will no doubt feature the collision course of registers, the unpredictable cadences and the savvy, street poetry that have characterised Kleinzahler’s best work. Writing in the Irish Times, John McAuliffe has described Hotel Oneira as a collection “…with spiky portraits (and self-portraits) alongside the American landscapes that have become his speciality, moving easily and mysteriously between domestic close-ups of the weather and noodling riffs on the state of the modern world.”

At a reading that Kleinzahler was giving and which I attended, a compere- who claimed to be an expert in Kleinzahler’s work and spent more than ten minutes introducing and explaining Kleinzahler’s work to us mere mortals in the audience- made the unfortunate mistake of continually referring to August Kleinzahler as “Awgoooost” Kleinzahler, rather than pronouncing Kleinzahler’s forename as one would pronounce the month of the same name. Perhaps- perhaps- Kleinzahler’s new collection will be appreciated to the point where even experts in his oeuvre can pronounce his name.

While we may have to wait a while for a new collection from Simon Armitage, the Yorkshire poet’s translation of The Last Days of Troy (May), commissioned by the Royal Exchange for performance in April 2014. A retelling of The Iliad, there’s no doubt that Armitage will freshen up the classical text as he has done with his engaging translations of The Odyssey, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight and The Death of King Arthur.

Lavinia Greenlaw’s A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde

On the note of translations, versions, imitations and all that, Lavinia Greenlaw‘s A Double Sorrow (February), which takes its title from the opening line of Chaucher’s Troilus and Criseyde- of which A Double Sorrow is a retelling- and which is neither translation nor version; rather, Greenlaw’s retelling takes the form of seven- line vignettes.

Twelve years on from his Collected PoemsHugo Williams returns in April with I Knew the Bride, his first collection of poems since 2006’s excellent West End Final, which, no doubt, will explore his parents’ theatrical vocations and his portraits of London in the 50’s, all shot through with the ironic bite and sardonic humour that we’ve come to expect from Williams.

Due in February, Tony Martinez de las Rivas‘ début collection, Terror (February), promises poems that are “…political, social, theological, historical and personal, the poems in this debut collection work closely with the reader, asking questions of us and encouraging us never to settle for inadequate answers.” Rivas was previously featured in Faber’s New Poets series.

Dedalus Press’ If You Ever Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song

THE BIG WIN for poetry in 2014, however, is undoubtedly Dedalus Press‘ If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song (February), which has been chosen as the One City: One Book title for 2014. Supported by Dublin City Council and led by Dublin City Public libraries,  the award- winning initiative has been a resounding success.

First published in 1969, James Plunkett’s Strumpet City was given a new lease of life, this year. The very fact that Plunkett’s masterpiece topped the Irish bestsellers list, thereby introducing a whole new generation to Plunkett’s great novel, was testament not only to the power of fresh ideas within Dublin City Council (yes, they do exist), but also the willingness to support Irish books of which we as readers have, perhaps, under- appreciated the significance.

Edited by Dedalus Press publisher Pat Boran and Gerard Smyth, the Irish Times’ Poetry Editor, If Ever You Go takes its title from Patrick Kavanagh’s poem ‘If You Ever Go to Dublin Town’ (If ever you go to Dublin town / In a hundred years or so / Inquire for me in Baggot Street 
/ And what I was like to know).

According to Dublin City Libraries, If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song “…includes writing by both historical and contemporary figures, among them Swift, Synge, Yeats, Joyce, Kavanagh and Ó Direáin as well as Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Dermot Bolger, Paula Meehan, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Derek Mahon. There are songs and ballads from the city’s colonial past, verses by leaders of the 1916 Rising, and portraits of the modern city with its Spire and Luas tram, its Celtic Tiger ‘prosperity’ and its post-Celtic Tiger challenges.”

In a country which looks as if it is about to overdose on a lethal concoction short stories and flash fiction, it is finally good to see Irish poetry featured on the same platform as prose.

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