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

Introduction to Poetry at Irish Writers Centre June 2017

Irish Writers Centre - Dublin, Ireland

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.

Canvassing for Votes at Saboteur Awards 2017

Sbotage

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.

Vote here 

Feature on Pablo Neruda on RTÉ’s Arena

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.

Neruda

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.

Book Launches

Over the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of having work included in two new anthologies of Irish Poetry.

download

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

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.

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.

January

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

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

poets-rising-pic

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!

agenda-cover

June

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

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:

 

yosemite

#Sorrynotsorry

October

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!

November

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.

ww-fest

Rapt in the front row

December

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,
root,
river
pan-deity

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