Poem on Pantisocracy

I’ve been slow about updating the blog recently, really busy with work, up to my ears in proofs of my next book, and helping a ten month old wobble around the house.

Other great stuff has been happening too, though, including an appearance on Panti’s amazing podcast ‘Pantisocracy’ on the 10th July. The theme was ‘Elephants in the Room’ and myself, Amy Conroy, Ruth McGill, Ronan Brady, Michael Harding and Panti discussed some of the issues we Irish have a tendency to sweep under the carpet…

Here’s a link to me reading my poem The Artane Band, featured in the Irish Times last year, as part of the show.

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Review of Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong on RTÉ’s Arena

I had the pleasure of reviewing Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds for Arena last week. I’d originally read the book on my Kindle last year, so it was nice to pick up a hard copy and revisit it.

I dislike having to read poetry on my Kindle, as it just doesn’t seem to make the same impression on me without my being able to see the shape of it across a number of pages. However, it is a great way of getting books that haven’t yet been picked up by UK or Irish publishers, especially if you’re in a hurry – and there was such a buzz about this debut last year that I didn’t want to wait. It’s certainly a collection that benefits from a few readings. Have a listen to my longer-form thoughts here.

 

The Right to have Rights – Reading at the Field Day lecture series

Tomorrow evening I’ll be reading some poems at this Field Day lecture in University Church on Stephen’s Green. The theme of the evening is ‘The Right to have Rights’ and Seamus Deane will be delivering the keynote lecture, reflecting on Hannah Arendt’s work. There will also be music, and poetry from poets who have experienced direct provision. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Winter Papers Arena Takeover

On Monday night I was part of a special Arena takeover with Kevin Barry, novelist and co-editor of the Winter Papers, Ireland’s arts and literature annual (kind of like the Beano for artsy types). Myself, Sarah Baume, Paul Lynch, Mary Morrissey and Kevin chatted with Sean for the full hour about our contributions to the annual and also got to choose a winter-themed poem or song to play. I chose Winter by Kristen Hersh. Afterwards, we headed into town for the first Christmas party of the season.

Kevin and his partner and co-editor Olivia Smith do an excellent job commissioning and collating poems, short stories and articles and producing a beautiful book – so lovely I didn’t want to take it out of the house on my trip to the studio for fear of it getting rained on.

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This year, Olivia and Kevin approached me to write an article on Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, a Sligo-based theatre company who specialise in interpretations of European contemporary classics, and new writing. I focused on their recent play Shackleton, a movement-based reimagining of the story of Ernest Shackleton’s voyage on the Endurance, using puppetry and soundscape, but also took the opportunity to chat to director Niall Henry about what drives the company. I really enjoyed writing the resulting essay on the company’s work – especially because although I’ve worked in theatre for the past ten years I’ve rarely had a chance to reflect on the process of theatre making through my writing.

Novelist Sarah Baume’s contribution is an intriguing and intimate account of her meeting her hero, artist Dorothy Cross, in her home in the West of Ireland. Paul Lynch’s short story is a study in masculine tension, skilfully interrogating a father-son relationship. And Mary Morrissey’s story is fuelled by poignant but clear-eyed reminiscence. The anthology also has short stories by June Caldwell and Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits, and poems by Stephen Sexton and Roisin Kelly.

You can listen back to Arena here and buy a copy of the anthology (before it sells out!) here. 

 

 

Making a Modest Proposal

One of the most exciting projects I’ve been working on for the past year has been a series of poems in response to Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’, which was published by typographer and designer Jamie Murphy’s The Salvage Press alongside the original text and a series of illustrations by artist David O’Kane. The resulting art book is a thing of beauty and I’m lucky enough to have one of them to look at whenever I please – only 35 were printed.

In the run up to the launch I had the pleasure of writing an article on the process of bringing the project together, which includes some amazing insights from Jamie and David. It was featured in the Irish Times, along with Rory Conaty’s gorgeous publicity video, and you can read the article and watch the video here.

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Essay on RTÉ’s Poetry Programme

I also had the opportunity to contribute an essay on the writing of the poems to RTÉ’s Poetry Programme, now presented by Olivia O’Leary. Producer Claire Cunningham was really supportive of the idea and I’d also like to mention Julien Clancy’s fantastic sound work on the piece. I’m really delighted with the resulting piece, and it was broadcast on the 7th October. You can listen back here.

The Artane Band – New Poem in the Irish Times

‘So what did people know about what went on in Artane? What did people talk about?’

My dad tents his fingers at the kitchen table. It’s a Sunday morning and we’ve been talking about the recent discoveries at the site of the former Mother and Baby home at Tuam – 796 children buried in a cistern. For him, having grown up in Finglas in the 1950s and 60s, Artane was closer to home. I wanted to discover what was known – how people lived alongside places like these and normalised it.

‘Oh it was used as a threat,’ he said: “Behave yourself or I’ll send you to Artane.” If you mitched from school, or if you were bold, or anything like that.’

‘And did you know anyone there? Anyone who was sent there?’

‘You didn’t see them really. I think we may have played them at football at few times. But what I really remember of them was seeing the band play at Croke Park. When I was young enough, Noel used to swing me over the turnstile. And they’d play, and you know, they were brilliant. Really good. And there was something glamorous about them to me. Because we were told they were savages, criminals. And there they were making this beautiful music.’

So the normalisation was the usual kind – an othering, the casting of a glamour, the way we look at the high walls of direct provision centres and idly imagine what might go on behind them.

The poem I wrote in response to this conversation is published in today’s Irish Times. I’d like to dedicate it to my dad Anthony, and his dad Noel.

The Saturday poem: The Artane Band

A new work by Jessica Traynor

The Artane Boy’s Band  in action at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Artane Boy’s Band in action at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Da used to swing me over the turnstile,
to see the Dublin matches. I remember
the sight of my own legs, dangling.

I’d never see much of the game;
what’s left is the smell of men,
their coats steaming rain and beer,

being hoisted by my ribs above
the crowd, the pitch spread out
green and vast, the distance of it.

And every half-time the band
playing on the field, their music rising
and falling with the seaweed stink

that rushed in from the bay.
There’s the boys, Da would say
and he’d wag his finger in a warning

that told me these matchstick boys
made music because they were outlaws,
each cymbal clash a cry of mea culpa,

and I imagined myself out there with them
in this rainy coliseum with my Da as emperor
giving the thumbs down,

shaking his head for the loss of his son
to that criminal gang:
The bold boys of the Artane Band.

Jessica Traynor’s debut collection, The Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press) was published in 2014. A verse response to Swift’s A Modest Proposal has just been published by Salvage Press

Summer Happenings

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, mostly because I’ve been busy in work and had a few readings and other writing engagements lined up.

At the end of June, I was in Derry for a reading at CAIS (The Canadian Association for Irish Studies) Conference. The reading was organised by the wonderful Dr. Willa Murphy of the University of Ulster, and I read alongside Grace Wilentz, Kathleen McCracken and John T. Davis. It was a lovely mix of voices and styles, with great music from John, and a very nice flying visit to Derry.

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Reading at CAIS in Derry

At the end of June, myself and Billy Ramsell had the pleasure of judging the iYeats International Poetry Competition. The competition has two categories; one for Emerging Poets under the age of 25, and another General Category. It was especially heartening to read the quality of the work in the under 25 category and see so many ambitious and promising voices, many of whom seemed to be relatively unfettered by notions of what poetry should be. The standard in the General Category was also really high, and we had a great time choosing two winners and ten highly commended poems. Here’s our joint statement on the winning poems:

“It’s a pleasure to declare ‘The Varying Hare’ by Tammy Armstrong the winner of this year’s iYeats competition. This is a special poem, one that manages to combine depth of ambition with deftness in execution, rendering, with enviable clarity, a crepuscular, fog-tinted milieu. Its uncanny, depopulated landscape is one readers are unlikely to forget as it leaves us ‘wrong edged’ and ‘thicket-blind’, lingering, despite ourselves, in the ‘animal time’ it so vividly conjures.

In the Emerging Category, ‘The Last Hour on the Flight Deck’ by Cynthia Miller stood out for us as an ambitious poem full of surprising and well-rendered details. From the air stewardesses who ‘arch their feet inside boxy heels’ to the dusk which ‘siphons lavender shadows across the room’, this is a poem which explores distance and dislocation through vivid, intimate imagery.”

Videos of the winning poets performing their poems can be found here.

In July, I visited Jamie Murphy of The Salvage Press to sign the freshly printed pages of ‘A Modest Proposal’, a project I’ve contributed nine new poems to. For the 350th anniversary of Swift’s birth, Jamie has reprinted the original text of Swift’s satire, along with my poems and some striking new lithographs from artist David O’Kane. The resulting book will launch in August, and myself, Jamie, David and Swift expert Andrew Carpenter will be taking part in a panel discussion on the process of bringing the book together in November at the Swift Festival . Tickets are free, but limited. I also recorded one of my poems with videographer Ruairí Conaty as part of a longer video promo for the book in the atmospheric surroundings of Marsh’s Library – I’ll share this as soon as I have it.

During my visit to Jamie’s base in NCAD, I signed copies of each of the books and got a few nice shots of the poems. This is a project I’ve found really stimulating and inspiring and I think the gothic flavour of some of the work has permeated a lot of the work I’m currently doing for my second collection.

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I also received my contributor’s copy of ‘A Bittern Cry’, a new anthology of essays and poetry to commemorate Francis Ledwidge’s centenary, edited by Tom French. This is a really beautiful book and I’ve enjoyed dipping in and out of it over the past while. Other contributors include Katharine Tynan, John McAuliffe, David Wheatley, Eavan Boland and Gerry Smyth. It isn’t on general sale just yet, but here’s a sneak preview of the cover and one of my poems.

 

Finally, July also gave me the opportunity for a flying visit to the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh, where I read with Dedalus Press poets Pat Boran and Enda Coyle Greene. We each read our poems from the Dedalus Anthology The Deep Heart’s Core, but also had a chance to read a few more pieces to a really attentive and appreciative audience. I stuck around for an excellent masterclass with Mark Doty afterwards, and had the opportunity for great catch up chats with Anne-Marie Fyfe, Iggy McGovern and Paul Maddern. A fantastically run summer school and one that I’m keen to get back to in future!

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And last but not least, today my poem ‘Calais’ from the May edition of Acumen has been featured on the Acumen website as one of their Guest Poems. If you’re not suffering poetry fatigue by this point, you can have a look here.