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

The Uncategorisable 2016

To say 2016 was an eventful year would be an understatement. Personally, I’ve faced a lot of upheaval and faced a number of challenges of the ‘I’m not dead so must be stronger’ variety. However, the exercise of looking back at the year has made it abundantly clear that I’ve been incredibly lucky and have a huge amount to be thankful for.

Work at the Abbey Theatre

The past two years  as Literary Manager of the Abbey Theatre have been exciting and rewarding, but daunting at times. 2016 saw the premieres of six new plays and four short plays across the Abbey and Peacock stages and the publication of seven playscripts. I was immensely proud to be involved in a year which showcased so much new writing across both stages of the national theatre, with sell out runs of Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland (co-produced with the Royal Court and nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best New Play), Tina’s Idea of Fun by Sean P. Summers, Town Is Dead by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell and The Remains of Maisie Duggan by Carmel Winters. We also workshopped at least fifteen shows in development, spent a week doing intensive research into the women’s canon in the company of theatre practitioners, read and discussed 12 Shakespeare plays in the company of fantastic actors, ran a Scratch Night and the Future Tense short play readings to showcase work of the playwrights of the future, and I travelled to London, Belfast, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinbugh and New York. I estimate that I saw 120 new writing shows.

My final show as Literary Manager was Anna Karenina, in an adaptation by the amazing Marina Carr. Working with Marina and Wayne Jordan, a director who I loved working with on on his choral/poetic adaptation of Oedipus in 2015, was one of the highlights of my time as Literary Manager. The adaptation of a novel of Anna Karenina’s scope is a tremendous undertaking for any playwright, and the pleasure of working with Marina’s witty, dark, irreverent and ambitious interpretation of the text would be difficult to overstate. It’s a script full of deeply moving quotes which catch your breath and bring you up short. Stiva’s line to Levin about his tendency to view the world in black and white has a special resonance for me this year:

‘…there’s very few of us trying to get it wrong.’

Working on Anna Karenina was a brilliant way to finish up in the role of Literary Manager, and I’m looking forward to working with both Marina and Wayne on new projects in the future.


Poetry Business

I can hardly believe I’ve had time for anything other than the Abbey this year, and yet, poetic opportunities have presented themselves like seedlings pushing up through frozen ground (the snow in the above image could be influencing my simile choice here). Here’s a quick round up of what I got up to in 2016.


I kicked off the year with a reading at the brilliant Troubadour in London.

Troubadour 1

I had a fantastic time reading with Kate Bingham, Tamar Yoseloff, Carole Bromley, Lesley Saunders, Owen Lewis, Greg Freeman and Maura Dooley with Henry Fajemirokun. Huge thanks as always to the dynamic Anne-Marie Fyfe!


March was a busy month, with readings at Tanya Farrelly and David Butler’s Staccato, which I’d highly recommend you look up. They get really excellent readers on board.

I also had a new poem featured on Sunday Miscellany – I was asked at the last minute to contribute something film-themed, which proved really serendipitous as it helped me focus on a poem I’d been trying to whip into shape for years. You can hear the poem, ‘Silent Movie’, here.



April was something of a personal highlight, as I got to take part in A Poet’s Rising, a wonderful initiative by the Irish Writer’s Centre and the Arts Council. Myself, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Thomas McCarthy, Theo Dorgan and Paul Muldoon were commissioned to write poems in response to figures who fought in the Easter Rising. I had the pleasure of writing about the inimitable Dr. Kathleen Lynn. The poems featured in the Irish Times, in a documentary on RTE One, and are even available on an app walking tour of Dublin. Big thanks to all at the Irish Writer’s Centre for the opportunity! Here’s the video of my sestina for Kathleen Lynn.

I was also really happy to be featured in Poetry Ireland Review’s The Rising Generation, an issue which showed a selection of work from poets who have published first collections in the past five years. Vona Groarke challenged us all to answer an intriguing series of questions to accompany the poems. It was a really interesting approach that really served to illuminate the poets’ personal approaches.


I was also delighted to have poems featured in Agenda’s New Generation Poets issue in April. It might sound like a funny thing to say, but the poems chosen were ones I was quite happy with, which isn’t always the case!



June brought with it a nice U.S. publication in the form of The Café Review, and a great launch reading in Books Upstairs with editor Steve Luttrell, a man clearly passionate about new work.


July found me thinking about WWI (probably something to do with our Abbey/Headlong tour of Frank McGuinness’s wonderful Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme) and I was delighted to have a poem on the subject broadcast on Arena. You can listen back here

I also taught a very enjoyable one-day poetry course for the Irish Writers Centre

What Happened To August and September?

Other than From the Isle, a great reading at Kildare Village sponsored by Poetry Ireland in the company of excellent poet Victoria Kennefick, not that much. Here’s why:

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival happened.

The Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival happened.

The Dublin Theatre Festival happened.

And in the middle of it all, I escaped to California for two weeks:





In October I got another lovely invite from Sunday Miscellany, this time to contribute to their Culture Night live recording, alongside Conor Mulvagh, Deirdre Mulrooney and Paul Howard.

I also kicked off a six week Poetry Course at the Irish Writers Centre, with a really insightful, funny and talented group of emerging poets. I didn’t want it to end!


I think one of my favourite poetry events of this year was Ó Bhéal’s Winter Warmer Festival. What a friendly and well-run festival. Hugh thanks to Paul Casey and co. I had such a fantastic time and I’m so glad to have had the chance to catch up with Anne-Marie Ni Chuirrean, Elaine Feeney, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Emily Cullen, Paula Cunningham, Kerrie O’Brien, Afric McGlinchey, Leanne O’Sullivan and many more. This couple of days really recharged my batteries.


Rapt in the front row


December brought with it two great publications, one from U.S. Magazine Prelude and another in the form of inclusion in the excellent Arlen House’s 40th Anniversary publication in honour of Eavan Boland, Washing Windows?: Irish Women Write Poetry.

One More Very Important Thing

One of the reasons I’ve managed to keep writing in spite of the onslaught of a busy life is my monthly poetry group, composed of very close friends who have done more for me than I can say. This September, we lost Shirley McClure, a warm, generous, insightful, and honest friend. I’m still in shock, I think. Here is one of the last poems that Shirley brought to us, just weeks before she passed away. I’d like to give her the final word.


May God

I am searching
for a kind of god:
like ours
but feminine,

a rock,

a hey girl! Pachamama

who’d be as easy
standing guard for me
within a vessel

on the dresser of our kitchen,
as in a field of sunflowers
cradling like a hammock
wrought of moss & silken twine
my battered body –

she is on her way to me, I trust
she’s on her way.

(c) 2016 Shirley McClure

Poem in One

Here’s my poem The Writer’s House, which was recently featured in issue seven of One  from Jacar Press. This is an excellent, eclectic online journal which features great poetry from all over the world. I’d recommend reading and submitting.

The Writer’s House

I’m there again, the basement room,
this catacomb disturbed
by passing ghosts, by the turn

of pages on an unseen breeze.
His family peer from photos –
faces like ossuary skulls.

I hear him and his woman above me,
and though the stairs have vanished,
know they might at any minute

come tumbling through a cupboard door,
or appear crouched in the cold hearth.
I hear their noises in the air. I trespass.

Outside, if I were to look, I would see him,
hands black from the earth of a grave,
holding, root-side-up, a stripling tree.

You can read the whole issue here

Beginning to Write Poetry

Writing is by its very nature a solitary pursuit. It’s one of the things that I love about it; it gives me licence to spend what might otherwise be seen as an unhealthy amount of time inside my own head. However, community is important. While writing can be solitary, creativity is communal. You create work for other people to enjoy and so you have to make other people a part of your process (within reason and in a manner that works for you). When I was beginning to write seriously, I had the good fortune to be accepted onto the Creative Writing MA in UCD (this was also in the days when we were fortunate enough to have grants to cover college fees.) The Creative Writing MA didn’t magically turn me into a fully fledged writer, but it gave me the luxury of spending a year sharing my work and ideas with some extremely talented and supportive students and lecturers.

After the MA, I felt the lack of community and so I did a number of creative writing courses with different organisations. The quality varied, but I always found myself refreshed by taking part in these courses, and I found myself producing more and better work. After a few courses, I was lucky enough to be invited to become part of a small writing group with four other poets. We meet once monthly and share work – we’re tough but fair and we’re focused. It’s not a social outing, but a serious part of our  work practice. I had a similar group during my time in Edinburgh, and I wouldn’t be without it now.

Now I’ve got to the point where I’m teaching my own poetry course for beginners, through Big Smoke Writing Factory. I’m  really excited about experiencing the atmosphere of  possibility that seems to be magically invoked by getting a group of people who want to share their creative ideas in a room together. I’m also intrigued by the challenge of having to scrutinise my own approaches to poetry; to define and discuss the sources of my own inspiration. I’m hoping to be surprised by the subject matter and range of the poetry I read, and hoping to offer people some challenges and inspiration in return.

Now, at the end of the blog noodling, the plug: My six week Beginning to Write Poetry course starts on 3rd February at Big Smoke Writing Factory’s brilliant new premises in Temple Bar. Anyone who’s interested is more than welcome and can sign up at the link below, as I believe we have a few places left.

Keeping Busy

It’s been quiet around here the last while as I’ve been busy with a couple of projects. Firstly, I changed roles within the Abbey at the beginning of June and am now the Literary Reader. I’m really enjoying my new work; it’s much more closely focused on reading and assessing plays, which is what I like to do. There are also some other exciting developments in the works, but more on those later.

I’ve just finished up a Wednesday evening workshop course with Big Smoke Writing Factory, which I’m already missing. This was a course for slightly more advanced playwrights who have a draft of a play that they want to knock into shape. I had a lovely group with interesting voices and incredibly varied interests and preoccupations. It’s wonderful being in the middle of that creative dynamic. The structure of the course was as follows: each week I’d circulate an extract from some successful contemporary plays from Ireland, the UK or the USA and we’d begin the session by discussing them. In this way I hoped to give mini-masterclasses on current trends in theatre while also demonstrating certain playwrights’ skills for characterisation, dialogue, structure etc. After this, we would workshop an individual scene from two or three of the participants’ plays. None of us purported to be brilliant actors or readers, but hearing the scene read aloud and receiving the group’s critique is an invaluable part of the process which can be difficult to simulate at your writing desk on your own. A combination of complementary reading and workshopping seems to be a winning formula when it comes to developing work and the group all left very happy, some of them with plays that will be produced in the near future. I do miss them, though – it was a lovely way to spend my Wednesday evenings. I’m hoping to run a similar course at the beginning of 2014.

Dublin’s independent writing school

Over the past months I’ve also been working as dramaturg with Chalk Talk Theatre Company, helping the wonderful Máirín O’Grady and Louise Melinn develop their play for the Fringe Festival. Working with director Aoife Spillane-Hinks has also been fantastic and after a couple of months of hard graft, the script is ready to be subjected to the rigours of the rehearsal process. Both playwrights were always open and receptive to feedback and demonstrated a real passion and dedication to their work. Even over the past few weeks, when both knew they were on the home stretch (and were exhausted) they kept plugging away at the script, smoothing out any final inconsistencies or hang-overs from previous drafts. It’s so refreshing to see that winning mixture of energy and discipline in young playwrights. It was a real pleasure to work with them and I’m looking forward to seeing the play, which is a smart and funny – a surreally allegorical take on the Irish emigrant experience. Oh, and Aoife, Louise, Máirín and producer Aisling O’Brien have assembled a brilliant cast and creative team as well. Watch this space for more updates on the show and put it at the top of your Fringe must-see list.

From left to right: Margaret McAuliffe, Barry John O’Connor, Jill Harding, Charlie Bonner, Rebecca Grimes


I’ve finally got around to playing with Word Clouds. I’m brushing up a poetry MS to send to a few different first collection competitions and messing with t’internet is proving a nice distraction. Here’s what you get when you enter a Jessica Traynor poetry collection into a Word Cloud programme (and then mess with the colour scheme for a while. And make it bird-shaped, because, well…birds.)


I’m intrigued by some of the words that have popped out. Have I really used ‘flatness’ in a poem?? I’m not sure if these Word Clouds really point out anything you don’t already know about your work (I was hoping a prospective title would present itself), but it certainly does allow you to spot the odd absolute clunker.

42nd Hennessy XO Literary Awards 2013

So, on Tuesday night I won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award.


Myself, Ruth Quinlan and John O’Donnell with our prizes

It’s very difficult to write about these (rare) instances of success without sounding smug – but I think it’s also important to mark the occasion, so please excuse any gloating and here goes:

I really didn’t expect to win anything this year. I had attended the awards in 2011 when the lovely Afric McGlinchy won and on that particular evening I was in knots, terrified and excited and hoping against tiny hope that I might win something. I was a little disappointed when I didn’t, but not surprised and absolutely delighted for Afric, whose poetry is musical, intelligent and rich with memorable imagery. This year, I approached the event feeling a little older and wiser, simply ready to enjoy the fact that I was invited to a cocktail party in the French Ambassador’s residence (on a Tuesday, no less!)

The other nominated poets were all extremely talented – Helena Nolan, Jane Clarke, Michael Ray, Jessamine O’Connor and Patrick Toland and I had absolutely no inkling that I might be in with a chance to win something. Hearing my name read out for the Emerging Poet category almost knocked me over and when I was called up to accept the overall prize I thought they’d have to take me out of the building on a stretcher. I managed to hold it together for my (completely unprepared) speech, but I’m pretty sure the Perspex lectern betrayed how badly my legs were shaking. This makes it sound like an ordeal – it wasn’t – it was fantastic (which, co-incidentally, was the only superlative I could come up with in the interviews afterwards. It was fantastic fantastic fantastic. Poetry howareya.)

Me and Declan working the red carpet.

I’d like to mention at this point that the work of the other category winners was really excellent. John O’Donnell’s story
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The Domino Effect

WARNING! This blog contains laboured analogies and may even be harbouring a conceit.

Aptly enough, this is what came up when I entered 'laboured conceit' into Google Images. Along with a lot of images of Hollywood actors.

Aptly enough, this is what came up when I entered ‘laboured conceit’ into Google Images. Along with a lot of images of Hollywood actors.


Around this time last year I finished what I had decided to be the definitive draft of my first novel. It has been through six extensive rewrites and polishes and it was functioning as I wanted it to: telling the story I wanted to tell, best words in the best order, laying the groundwork for its sequel (which I had already started to develop).

Or so I thought.

The world of the novel is a fascinating one and writing one is a journey of self-discovery. It’s like becoming embroiled in a new relationship: you meet someone new and they are very attractive. You’re intrigued. But instead of sitting them down and doing extensive research into your levels of compatibility, you get drunk and jump into bed with them straight away. No need to worry – the minor details will reveal themselves over the course of your long and fulfilling relationship. Writing a first draft is much like this – you’re in love with the big picture, with all of the possibilities inherent in your fascinating story and you can’t wait to uncover them. Of course it’s all a skewed reflection of your own narcissism projected onto someone else, but hey, isn’t love lovely?

Then the honeymoon period comes to an abrupt end.

You realise you don’t know important aspects of your story. This story could be an axe murderer for all you know – and the aspects that at first seemed so charming could quickly become dull or banal. You have to make the crucial decision – is there anything to salvage here? Should I stick with it? If you do, it’s a process of getting to really know your story, to try and smooth out its rough edges (this part of the analogy doesn’t apply to relationships – you can change books but not people). The drafting process is about trying to uncover the deeper kernel of truth at the heart of your work – the emergent story that needs to be liberated from the hysterically besotted mass of waffle that is your first draft.

I managed to do this, or so I thought, and sent the book to some agents. Then I began the second novel.

I quickly realised that I’d learned a huge amount about my story over the six drafts or so I’d written of my first novel. The lessons I’d learned were impacting on my second novel in an intriguing way, keeping the plot moving swiftly along, allowing me to draw my characters with conviction and ease. But it also dawned on me that very little of this knowledge had been reflected in the draft of the prior book I’d sent out to agents. I foostered about for a while, thinking about starting the rewriting process all over again until a few weeks ago, when an agent came back and listed the same reservations I had about the first book. She said a lot of positive things as well and has asked to read a re-write, and offered to read the second book as well. But I have a lot of work to do.

Strangely, I’m quite excited about this work. I think if I can manage it, I will feel a finally have a handle on my story. I’ll have a coherent and interesting vision for the world of the novel which people should hopefully respond to. And I’ll have a first novel that matches its sequel in terms of overall vision, thematic concerns and plot consistency (smooth rather than lumpy). I spent the weekend identifying the aspects of the plot which weren’t working, or had become irrelevant in the wake of plot developments in the second book. Now I have to resign myself to the Domino Effect; each aspect of the book that I fix will lead to a series of other minor issues which will in turn need attention. It’s like Chaos Theory. Or pulling a thread on a sweater. (I’ll leave these as nice simple similes rather than going the analogy route, because we all have something better to be doing).

But the good news is that in draft seven, I’ve realised I still have feelings for my book, even after all we’ve been through.

An Education in Silence

Heard Julie McClure speak on the radio last week about the experiences of the women in the Stanhope Street Laundry and wrote this poem in response to her story. She and her parents had been told that there were opportunities for young school leavers to gain an education by going to the Stanhope Street ‘training centre’. When she got there, at the age of 13, she was made to work in the laundry for the following three years.

The poem has been published today on Poetry 24. Please do leave a comment as while I’m completely unequal to the task of summing up her experience, I do think it’s an important national issue.

Who Likes Short Shorts?

Last night I was at the launch of a new collection of Irish short plays at the Peacock bar. We managed to catch Mark O’Rowe on his way to the gala opening of his new film Broken and he gave an insightful, encouraging and funny speech about the plays. It was lovely to see the plays published, as I’d worked on most of them when they were presented as public readings on the Peacock stage over the past few years. Each year the Abbey Theatre commissions a group of emerging playwrights to write twenty minute two-handers for us and we present them on the Peacock stage. It’s always a good night; you can’t beat the sense of excitement that accompanies the presentation of new work by new voices. The selection of plays published in Irish Shorts is taken from the 20 Love series of short play readings from 2008 and the Fairer Sex series in 2009. We’re hoping that if there’s a positive enough response to the book, Nick Hern Books will publish a follow up including plays from Something Borrowed in 2010 and Into the Woods in 2011.

Buy this book and make a young writer happy!