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.
‘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.
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
My next Introduction to Poetry six week course begins on the 8th June. I’m really looking forward to meeting a new group of aspiring poets – the creativity and positive nature of group work always energises me as a writer.
More info on the course content here:
Starts: Thur 8 June 2017
Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Duration: 6 weeks
Cost: €165/€150 Members
This six-week course is ideal for beginner writers, or those who are new to poetry. We will explore different approaches to writing poetry, with the aim of building up a body of work. Participants will discuss image, metaphor, rhythm, sound, the shape of the poem on the page, and then be challenged to respond to a series of fun and inspiring exercises. Favourite poems will be shared as forms of inspiration. There will also be workshop elements for those who would like to share their work with the group.
Jessica Traynor is a poet and creative writing teacher from Dublin. She is the Museum Curator at Epic, the Irish Emigration Museum. Her first collection, Liffey Swim, was published by Dedalus Press and shortlisted for the 2015 Shine/Strong First Collection Award.
Interested? You can sign up here.
Earlier this month, I had the lovely surprise of being nominated for Best Reviewer at this year’s Saboteur Awards. I was really touched by this; I work away on the reviews and they get put up there and I’m proud of them, but generally I don’t have a lot of time to publicise them. So it’s really gratifying to see they’ve been noticed.
There are a number of reasons why I started to review for Sabotage Reviews. As a poet flogging a debut collection, I came up against the usual challenges of getting my own work reviewed; a number of reviewers are friends/ colleagues, so you can’t ask them, many mainstream outlets have little or no funding for poetry reviews, the general lack of a massive poetry reading audience. I did of course also have plenty of successes and good reviews, for which I am forever grateful!
But the experience got me thinking about poetry reviewing and how necessary it is to have people out there reviewing work – for the health of poetry in general. I was intrigued by Sabotage Reviews, a collection of brilliant selfless people who review work just for the joy of reading new poetry, and so I got in touch to see if they would have me. Being Irish and based in Ireland, I was also eager to review work that came from another country. That meant less risk of conflict of interest, and also the golden opportunity to read new work from a very different milieu. Since I’ve started reviewing for Sabotage Reviews, I’ve read new work from all across the UK and the USA. It’s been a pleasure.
There’s a spotlight on the nominated best reviewers here. I’m shamelessly pulling some lovely quotes people left about my work when they voted:
Why voters think she should win:
- Committed, passionate and fair-minded – a force for good in poetry on the page and off.
- A bright and forensic voice
- Jess gets what reviewing is meant to be about: discussing works on their own terms, with a sensitive, empathetic and nuanced critical faculty.
- She is balanced and remarkably frank
As I said above, I really admire the Sabotage Reviews Project. Everyone involved is donating their time for free, for the good of the written and spoken word. I’d love you to vote for me of course, but do have a look at the other nominees and categories too. There’s lots of great work in there that deserves to be recognised.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Helen Dunmore’s elegiac but uplifting ‘Inside the Wave’ from Bloodaxe Books for RTÉ’s Arena last week. This is a book that deals with mortality, but also surprises with its insights and imaginative drive. You can have a listen here.
I had a great time reading some extracts from Pablo Neruda’s work and talking about his life on RTÉ’s Arena last Friday. The poems are such a joy to read, it’s difficult not to get carried away by their passion and music. You can listen back here.
I’m also looking forward to seeing the new Pablo Larraín biopic (image above), but see it’s just been panned in the Guardian…great reviews elsewhere so I might take a chance. I like the magic realist stylistic approach and I think I’ll be happy to forgive any artistic licence taken in pursuit of a good yarn.
Over the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of having work included in two new anthologies of Irish Poetry.
The Deep Heart’s Core from Dedalus Press takes an intriguing approach to the anthology form by asking poets to choose ‘touchstone poems’ that mean a lot to them, and explain the process behind them. The result is a very varied and thought-provoking selection of contemporary Irish poetry. It’s especially interesting to see which poems each poet selected. You can buy a copy here.
Washing Windows? Irish Women Write Poetry is an excellent anthology of contemporary Irish women poets, published by Arlen House. It’s great to see such an extensive anthology recognising the excellent women poets working in Ireland today. Arlen have long been a champion of women’s writing in Ireland (when it was neither profitable nor popular) and long may their good work last. The book is available to buy from Books Upstairs and online here.