Hibernian Writers: Brian Kirk

Dublin poet Brian KirkWhat is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

At school, I enjoyed Kavanagh and Yeats, but I also found myself drawn to George Herbert, John Donne and Hopkins. My parents would have known Kavanagh in passing as my father was station master in Inniskeen in the late fifties, but my mother did not approve of him as a person, although she found it difficult to reconcile him as he was with the beauty of some of his verse.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock ‘n’ roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?

It’s hard to remember if it was John Cooper Clarke’s Chicken Town or Ginsberg’s Howl. I think I preferred the “other poems” more than Howl itself, poems like America and A Supermarket in California. When you’re young you’re attracted by the big statement and the swear words, and I suppose that’s only normal.

What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?

It has to be when Dermot Bolger published my first poem in an anthology in 2008. A lot of new writers owe a debt of gratitude to Dermot.

What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?

Very hard to say, but the reading at Over The Edge in Galway earlier this summer was pretty awesome: Anne Tannam, Alan McMonagle, Eamonn Wall, Carlos Reyes and Louis de Paor.

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

It’s hard to limit it to three, but I’d have to say there has to be a Yeats, maybe The Tower. This collection has grown on me over the years where once I preferred the more direct poetry of Responsibilities.  And probably one of the Don Paterson collections, Rain I think. And then maybe some Blake, or Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters, or Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems or Robert Lowell or… the list could be endless really.

Hibernian Writers: Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy

KEVIN CONROY was born in Dublin and is currently living in Kildare, has worked in U.K., Germany, Swaziland, South Africa, U.S. and Ireland as a teacher, professional engineer, manager in multinationals, executive coach and organisational psychologist.  His work has been published in The Moth, Southword, Burning Bush II, Writing4All – the best of 2010, Boyne Berries, The Blue Max Review and erbacce. Selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2014, he was a prize-winner in Trocaire & Poetry Ireland Competition 2012, published  in  their  pamphlet ‘Imagining a Just and Free World’.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My family motto is Maireann a scríobhtar  and my early published writing was adventure stories in Our Boys. Poetry didn’t fit with being an action man in Arbour Hill boxing club. It was for exams, except for one embarrassing performance on the school stage of Pearse’s “The Fool “. Years later I fell in love and poured derivative love poems into my journal. One escaped and was sent to the girl who is now my wife.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock ‘n’ roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?

It was more “uncovering” than “discovering”. Slowly from Yeats, Kavanagh, Heaney to Robert Frost. Ger Quinn was a great teacher in U.C.D.’s part-time evening courses. I read Frost’s Collected Poems, Prose, Plays cover to cover. I discovered that a poem is not only putting technically excellent marks on a page or sounds in the air, but expressing the poet’s identity. It is an invitation to a person’s unique world. Concordance and authenticity is revealed (or not) by reading more of his/her work. Ever since, I read a poem first in order to see if I’ll reread it. The realisation that a poet is revealing his/her identity in every poem is one of the challenges for poet and reader. Currently, I come back to poems where something mysterious is emerging out of the author’s worldview that I recognise as having a truth that “resists the intelligence almost successfully.”  Kimberly Campanello’s “Orange on the Horizon” is an example.

What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?

I considered writing poetry a solitary thing, a secret thing. Not consistent with the persona of a business man and engineer. Then Maggie Hurt Smith persuaded me to perform in public in the Twisted Pepper, Abbey St., Dublin. They clapped!  the Moth published my first poem and I discovered that an editor (Rebecca O’Connor) can be kind and helpful! And I chanced my arm elsewhere with success. But it was being selected as an emerging poet in Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2014 that gave me permission to say I write poetry.

What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?

It’s between Dennis O’Driscoll’s hilariously witty performance in Dún Laoghaire’s Poetry Now Festival (2003?) and Kimberly Campanello with composer Ben Dwyer on classical guitar in the Joyce Centre, 2014.

Kimberly voiced strange eerie sounds from her sheela-na-gig work, the room’s reverbational acoustics intensifying the effect. It was like the poet was communicating without words across time into an Irish past of the lost and disallowed, bypassing controlling powers with poetry that bridges to music. It was when I realised the source of great poetry is not necessarily words but vocal sound and visible marks.

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

First – Dennis O’Driscoll’s “Dear Life” is a must – the title typically having double/triple meanings. I was M.D. of Oral B Labs living in Naas where Dennis lived. His work drew me in, at first, because he wrote about life at work – giving me ‘permission’ to do so too. When I came to know his utter conviction of the importance of poetry and what it can do in a technological world, I read everything he published and found an extraordinary person not only intelligent, witty, playful but deeply knowledgeable and widely recognised in the literary world. He would stop and chat about art (he was a Hon. Fellow of the RHA)and poetry on the street and, even though I didn’t know him well, he sent me books to read with a gracious note when I was recovering from an operation. His poetry has too often been bracketed as Larkinesque and language that is “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor”. Well, “Dear Life” poems such as  “Fabrications”, “Spare Us”, and “Our Father” are a testament to his lyrical quality. How beautiful is his praise for a God whose “special is//a sun-melt served on/a fragrant bed of/moist cut-grass; yesterday, a misty-eyed moon…drafting a summer dawn…/ profligate horizons,/ lofty skies, beyond which/other universes stack up..” and the wonder of the Big Bang – “the attention-grabbing/voicemail he recorded/ on day one: an opening/gambit that came out/of nowhere…bang /in the middle of nothing/…..the illuminated manuscripts/of galaxies, over which lovers/pore in the dark nights/of their infatuated souls.” This is lyric. There is his humour  in “Spare Us” and the bright intelligence of a poet holding contradictions in a single thought to disturb the meanings while keeping the poetry. Both the cold eye of domestic realism and the wonder of beautiful lyricism are there in his poems.

His poetry has metaphors and concerns deep into our current living working world, with humour and an edge that goes (cuts?) deep. This is a lifeline for me who teaches Technology Management knowing that both the physical and so-called social technology fused by business is taking over what philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls the life-world. He reaches that simplicity on the far side of complexity and includes the redress that calls for wonder and lyric.

Secondly, I would keep my Frost collection because his work lets me in as a writer of poems in a way that the unique perfection of poets such as Seamus Heaney don’t.  (However, his essays in The Redress of Poetry and collaboration with Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones are lasting influences).  Frost’s delight in ambiguity and his wisdom keep drawing me back to his work. He said poetry gives us “a clarification of life”, “a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget”. It is a universal art form across all cultures and the “sound of sense” has a vocal music uniquely human.  His “For Once then Something” has that imaginative mystery that fascinates me.

I have built my own anthology of top favourite poems. It has forty-eight poems including C.K. Williams, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, Muriel Rukeyser, Enda Wyley, Rhoetke, Elisabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Peter Sirr, Charles Bukowski, Donald Hall, Maggie Hurt Smith, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot. It is difficult to choose the third collection, but since I find that my current influences are mainly contemporary women poets, I choose Kimberly Campanello. Not her poetry collection, but her PhD thesis  “Writing the Sheela-na-gig: Semiotic Complexity, Ekphrasis, and Poetic Persona in the Poetry Collection Strange Country” .  Strange Country will be published by The Dreadful Press in October.

Kimberly’s work has drawn me into a world where the permissions of poetry fed by the apophatic free the imagination. Poetry that points to the inexpressible by referring to what it is not, honouring it with wonder and never-ending questions, aware that ultimate realities cannot be apprehended directly. But they may be pointed towards – “that great absence /In our lives, the empty silence /Within, the place where we go /Seeking, not in hope to/Arrive or find.” (R.S. Thomas)

This includes witness and redress for what is lost, disallowed, excluded.  Her work also interweaves art into ekphrastic poetry that involves a personal encounter with the piece of art that triggers vulnerability to uncertainties and possibly the unconscious. Iconographer Helen McIldowie-Jenkins has published my ekphrastic poem, “The Gilded Arch”, on her website. My interest in painting and icons leads me down this path, even though the change of direction may mean ‘emerging’ becomes ‘groping’ poet.

Kevin Conroy reads as part the Hibernian Writers group at the launch of The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work: An Anthology of poetry by Hibernian Writers on Tuesday 20th October at The Teacher’s Club.

Interview: Micheal O’Siadhail, poet

Originally published in Rí- Rá by The Irish Post, Saturday December 7th, 2013

Best Known for poems that evoke a certain despondency, Micheal O’Siadhail has been celebrated this year by the publication of his Collected Poems

Dublin poet Micheal O’Siadhail

STRIDING across the lobby of the Dublin 4 hotel in which we meet, 66 year- old poet Micheal O’Siadhail doesn’t look like a man with a large amount of weight on his shoulders. Standing at over six feet tall, boasting an athletic frame, a youthful, bouffant hairstyle and an impressive visage, the Clongowes educated “Jesuit boy” is a striking figure, which might explain the appearance of painter Mick O’Dea’s portrait of the poet, featured on the front cover of Ó’Siadhail’s Collected Poems, recently published by Bloodaxe Books.

As we exchange pleasantries, O’Siadhail is notably downcast and ashen- faced. I ask him how is feeling, today. “As good as can be expected”, he replies.

The poet has every reason to struggle with the business of publicising his latest publication. In June of this year, Bríd O’Siadhail (née Ní Chearbhaill), wife and muse of the poet for over 43 years, died of a heart attack while in care. A former teacher and suffer since 1997 of Parkinson’s disease, the poet is noticeably shaken and upset at the very mention of her passing.

“It was the most extraordinary moment in my life when I was writing the dedication of the book to my late wife, Bríd. My intention was always to write “To Bríd, with love” and I found myself writing “In Memoriam: Bríd”. I see the publication of the Collected Poems, though, as a huge privilege. I’m proud of the work between the covers, Mick O’Dea’s portrait and the cd provided by Bloodaxe, which is wonderful. Though she saw the proofs, I wish Bríd could have seen the finished book. We had a wonderful rhythm in our life, together. My overall feeling, though, is that I feel incredibly privileged to have been with her for 44 years, because not everyone can say that, unfortunately, and I fell deeper and deeper in love with her, over time. The support that I have received over the months at the recent readings and speeches have been heartening and supporting. “

Micheal O'Siadhail's Collected Poems comprises of more than 40 years of poems.

Micheal O’Siadhail’s Collected Poems comprises of more than 40 years of poems.

At over 800 pages, O’Siadhail’s Collected Poems comprises of a life’s work- 40 years, in fact- of poetry. What impresses O’Siadhail most about the publication by Bloodaxe, however, is the audio c.d. “There’s an accompanying c.d. with the book, which I’m delighted about. I often ask myself how poems by my favorite poets would sound and feel if I have audio tracks of them reading: imagine hearing Shakespeare reading his Sonnets?! Claddagh Records have, over the years, done a great job of recording poets such as Patrick Kavanagh, Michael Hartnett, Derek Mahon and, many, many others, reading their own work. I think that it is important to have a record of how the poet sounded when he / she read their poems. That said, a composer isn’t always the best conductor of his / her own music: inevitably, readers will put their own spin on these poems when they read them out loud and they will stress and inflect where their voice leads them.”

It was the most extraordinary moment in my life when I was writing the dedication of the book to my late wife, Bríd. My intention was always to write “To Bríd, with love” and I found myself writing “In Memoriam: Bríd”

Culturally, what was energising those first poems in 1978’s The Leap Year? “Well, when I was writing in the 70’s it was quite a time to be writing. We had already been through the highs and the elation of the 60’s and those who came to adulthood in the 60’s had to face up to a different set of circumstances in the 70’s: it wasn’t the party that the 60’s was. So I was trying to make sense of my at that time, I think, which is what I’ve done with my poems: trying to find rich and deep meaning in life and question what that is: in friendships, in love. I have, however, also written about the Holocaust, which I think encapsulates the evil aspects of life, which I have also written about.”

“I don’t think that those early books are full of despair, but I think they reflect, certainly, a lot despair that was in the air. At the that time, Beckett was still one of the most major writers in the world and his plays full of despair, as is Pinter’s work and that of the theatre of the absurd. My work, I think, says that despite all that, I have seen ordinary people live lives of normality, of joy, of richness.”

In an early poem, ‘Line’, there seems to come a point of self- realisation, much like Seamus Heaney’s ‘Digging’; that the poet has chosen the vocation, or the vocation has chosen the poet. “You’re absolutely right. There came, with that poem, a sense of confidence. ‘Line’ was the moment when I realised that I was on this path of poetry and- I think I write in the preface in the Collected Poems– a way of reassuring both myself and my reader that this was all worthwhile; that for better of for worse, this is the commitment; this is where I stand. Up until ‘Line’, those early poems from the first two books were probing towards the vocation until there comes a certain point that you realise this what you are; this is what you do.”

As with O’Siadhail’s thematically- focused poems since the 1980’s, there is an index to the poems. “I think the index is another great addition to the book. It’s a surprise to me, to be honest; when I now read from the book I am able to see how many poems that I wrote about jazz, which occurs so often across the book, to my surprise. Even for me it’s fascinating. I wasn’t surprised by some of the themes that I have written about, but I have been surprised by how pervasive they seem to be in my work. Seasons crop up a lot and primal imagery is recurring, which is also interesting.”

I come from a completely different background to Patrick Kavanagh, but his sincerity and his vulnerability are things that I recognise

It was move to Oslo as a student that had a profound effect on the poet. “Oslo changed my poetry significantly, there’s no question about that. I was interested in Icelandic poetry, Swedish poetry, Nordic poetry and there is a quality in those works that appealed tremendously to my temperament: it’s the clarity and the primal imagery, which I would think is a result of the extreme climates in which they live. I’m sure it had an effect of me. I don’t think I was imitating anyone; I think all of those things were already inside me and my experiences opened up a lot of those things.”

In the late 1980’s, O’Siadhail left his Professorship in Trinity College Dublin to write full- time, going against the late Dennis O’Driscoll’s dictum that “All play and no work makes jack a dull poet”.

“I never regretted going full- time: it suited my temperament, it suited the way that I worked. I knew Dennis well and that was his choice, as it was T.S. Eliot’s who was a banker, Wallace Stevens who was an insurance man. There are lots of examples. For me, personally, it just suited my temperament. It also gave me the opportunity to explore themes and since I went full- time in the 80’s, my books took on a thematic structure. I knew John McGahern well and John- who also wrote full- time- would say that “it’s not only the hours that you’re working that count; it’s your mind when you’re not working that count as well.” You never clock- off. Perhaps if you are doing something that is automatic or routine- such as research- it takes up a lot of energy, which saps the creative energy. I loved writing poetry over academia and I’ve never regretted going full- time. My poems got deeper and richer.”

The influence that does come through, again and again in O’Siadhail’s  poems is that of Patrick Kavanagh. “An extraordinary poet. On his day, he was as good as anyone. It seems to me extraordinary that he came from a pre- industrial society in Ireland and he reflected that society. He had a medieval humour that underpins his work and he also has a vulnerability, which I think readers like to see in their poets. I come from a completely different background to Kavanagh, but his sincerity and his vulnerability and things that I recognise.”

So with the publication of Collected Poems, 800 pages comprising of over 40 years of poetry, is this the end of the line for the prolific poet? “I hope there’s more to come, but as of now I’m deeply, deeply proud of the Collected Poems.”

Micheal O’Siadhail’s Collected Poems is available, now, from Bloodaxe

Poetry Review: The Mining Road by Leanne O’Sullivan

The Mining Road: Cork poet Leanne O’Sullivan’s latest collection is available now from Bloodaxe.

Originally featured in the print edition and online editions of The Irish Post on Saturday June 8th, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

Bloodaxe, 64 pp, £8.95. ISBN: 978-1852249687

CORK poet Leanne O’Sullivan’s fourth collection aligns her as closely to the Irish lyric poetry tradition as is possible.

The work of Seamus Heaney, particularly the Heaney of Seeing Things (Faber, 1991), appears again and again in poems that, quite literally, dig deep into memory, into the past, into the earth; taking what it is they need to fulfill a poetic vision. As Heaney writes in ‘Lightenings viii’, ‘…and the man climbed back / Out of the marvelous as he had known it’.

Indeed, O’Sullivan wastes no time in plunging us into the underworld of The Mining Road and opening poem, Townland, is a brilliantly subtle poem, which, like the best poems, works its magic on the reader over repeated readings.

The poem’s sound pattern creates a tension between consonants and vowels; between cutting, guttural sounds (‘A hankering in the skull, uttered and worked’) and the long, assonant ‘O’ sounds (‘Old stone walls’, ‘Old homes’), which embeds in the reader the tension between overground and underground; between past and present.

Soon, however, we are also brought into the world of the domestic: You Were Born at Mealtime, again, strengthens the idea of one’s mind constantly being in transition between two different places, finishing with the telling couplet ‘a silence quickens me, / throws open the door again’; the door, perhaps, being Seamus Heaney’s Door into the Dark.

The theme of discovery threads through O’Sullivan’s collection quite consistently. The Boundary Journey, a two part poem- the first mentioning the Atlantic ocean, the second alluding to the Irish Sea- again, finds O’Sullivan wedged between two different places, two different zones (‘Not to the boundary waters / that part our two counties’).

Perhaps the most successful poem in the collection is A Parcel, a brilliant mediation on emigration, which, like The Boundary Journey, is split into parts, again emphasizing the difference between one thing and another. True, the third and final part of the poem could easily have been cut, the poem standing strong enough on its first two parts, which describe domesticity with great vividness. It’s the feel of the parcel which is best achieved, ‘It smelled of heat and a stretch- marked pull / where the brown paper had word out / against the cardboard, its sides broadening’, writes O’Sullivan.

Subtle, slow- burning and sensuous poems that reward with successive readings, The Mining Road is a step in the right direction for O’Sullivan and, indeed, for Irish poetry.

Poetry Ireland Introductions 2013 Series Three: Featured Writer: Caoimhin Eoin Mac Unfraidh

Dublin poet Caoimhin Eoin Mac Unfraidh

Dublin poet Caoimhin Eoin Mac Unfraidh

The final in my series of interviews with those poets reading as part of Poetry Ireland Introductions series 2013.

One of this week’s featured poets is Caoimhin Eoin Mac Unfraidh, who reads on Tuesday 11th June at 6:30pm at the Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Sq., D1.

Philip Cummins: What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

Caoimhin Eoin Mac Unfraidh: I rang a haon, Scoil Lorcáin, bhuaigh mé an triú áit i feis na scoile nuair a d’aithris mé an dán ‘Buail ar an Doras’ ós ard. Bhronn Bean Uí Conchúir mo dhuais orm. Dhá Toffos.

PC: Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock n’roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?

CEMU: Robert Graves. There was always a poetic influence in our house and I enjoyed poetry from my schoolwork but it wasn’t until -seeing me reading Graves’ ‘I, Claudius’ as a teenager -my mother mentioned that he was a favourite poet of hers, that I actively sought out non-curricular poetry. She had mentioned his poem ‘The Naked and the Nude’ as a good example and I went to some trouble to find it (pre-Google). I was delighted by the cleverness of it.

PC: Which poets do you think best characterize the qualities that are found in your own poetry?

CEMU: It is surely for others to say. I have not deliberately copied a particular style and I doubt an impartial observer would detect one.

PC: What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?

CEMU: Bhuaigh mé roinnt comortaisí i mBÁC agus mé ar scoil i gColáiste Eoin. Bhí formhór m’iarrachtaí cumtha i nGaeilge agus bunaithe ar ábhair a bhí bainteach le stadéir Laidne agus le stair na Róimhe. Fuaras tacaíocht ag pointí tábhachtacha ó mo mháthair agus ó mo mhúinteoir Laidne, a spreag mé leanacht orm ag scríobh. Spreagann said beirt fós mé.

PC: Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

CEMU: Robert Graves, Complete Poems, Volumes 1-3,

Nuala Ni Dhomnaill’s  An Dealg Droighin

Peter Denman’s Epigrammata.

These three volumes would ensure that all poetic needs are nourished. I would slip Gabriel Rosenstock’s haikus in as well to make a sneaky fourth volume.

Caoimhin Eoin Mac Unfraidh reads as part of the third in a series of three readings as part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions readings series on Tuesday 11th June at 6.30pm at the Irish Writers’ Centre, 19 Parnell Square, D1.

Also reading with Caoimhin are:

Liam Duffy

Kerrie O’Brien

Katie Sheehan

Venue: The Irish Writers’ Centre, 19 Parnell Square, D1
Time: Tuesday 11th June @ 6.30pm
Admission: Free
T: (01) 8721302
E: info@poetryireland.ie