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

New Year New Writing

I’m finishing up full time work at the Abbey Theatre at the end of this year to return to freelance work. After two exciting but hectic years as Literary Manager, I’m looking forward to dedicating more time to writing and teaching.

I’ve a few courses lined up for Spring 2017, covering playwriting, poetry, and spoken word at Big Smoke Writing Factory and the Irish Writers Centre. Take a look – maybe one of these might be a nice Christmas present idea for a friend who needs a creative boost?

Write the Play – Fundamentals at Big Smoke Writing Factory

Start Date Duration Time Slot Fee
Thursday January 26th 8 weeks 6.30pm-8.30pm € 200
Ever wanted to write a play, but didn’t know where to begin?
This course is suitable for those looking for an all round introduction to the craft of playwriting, or those with a play-in-progress looking for a creative boost. We’ll cover the basics of playwriting under the headings of plot, characterisation, structure, dialogue, theatricality and style and redrafting. Each participant will also be encouraged to write and workshop a number of scenes.
Jessica Traynor is a dramaturg and poet who has worked as Literary Manager with the Abbey Theatre, reading and responding to hundreds of plays and developing new work for the Abbey and Peacock stages with some of Ireland’s top playwrights.

Starts: Mon 6 Feb 2017
Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm 
Duration: 6 Weeks
Cost: €165/€150 Members

Award-winning poets Adam Wyeth and Jessica Traynor are offering a space for your poems to be workshopped and critiqued in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere. Each participant will have the opportunity to read their own pieces to the group. They will then have a chance to listen to feedback from their audience, with Adam and Jessica giving a final summary of detailed analysis, constructive feedback and suggestions for further improvement.

Jessica Traynor’s debut poetry collection, Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press, 2014), was nominated for the 2015 Strong/Shine Award. Adam Wyeth is a published poet and playwright and works as editor for Fish Publishing.


The Art of the Spoken Word with Emmet Kirwan and Jessica Traynor

Starts: Wed 8 March 2017
Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Duration: 6 Weeks
Cost: €165/€150 Members

As an art form and mode of communication, spoken word is enjoying tremendous popularity and is a powerful and playful way to communicate on themes of social importance. Spoken word embraces word-play, intonation and voice inflection with strong links to rap, hip-hop, theatre, jazz and blues. While the words are important, how they are delivered is equally so. This new course takes a two-pronged approach, as actor, writer and star of RIOT, Emmet Kirwan focuses on the art of performance, the truth, delivery and connection to the audience, while award-winning poet Jessica Traynor will guide participants through the technicalities of the form.

Jessica Traynor is a poet and creative writing teacher from Dublin. She is Literary Manager of the Abbey Theatre. Her first collection, Liffey Swim, was published by Dedalus Press and  shortlisted for the Shine/Strong First Collection Award.

Emmet Kirwan is an award winning actor, playwright, poet and voiceover artist from Tallaght in Dublin. He has worked extensively on Irish television and Film appearing in many films as well as leading roles in home grown Irish series from the Big Bow Wow and Legend for RTE and Jack Taylor for TV3.

Sunday Miscellany at Culture Night

Image result for culture night 2016

A belated link to the episode of Sunday Miscellany that was recorded live as part of Culture Night. I’m delighted to have had two poems featured. You can have a listen back here.

We recorded the episode in Dublin Castle in the midst of the RTE Festivities. There was a great buzz around the place and I stuck around for the Poetry Programme too to hear Elaine Feeney, Doireann Ni Ghriofa and Dave Lordan read.

It’s good to see Culture Night going from strength to strength, but I do sometimes worry that it creates the impression of an Irish arts scene that’s more healthy and secure than it actually is. A serious lack of funding for the arts in Ireland is continuing to take its toll on artists across the board. I would hope that events like Culture Night will remind us all of the value of arts investment, and the great tradition of free access to culture in Irish society, rather than implying that art happens for free…

New Poem on Arena

I was half asleep one night some time ago with the radio on in the room. There was a documentary playing about the forthcoming WWI commemorations in the UK. They had an archival recording of an elderly man from Wexford, who was talking about his experiences in the war. He must have been long gone by the time the documentary aired. He was talking about being asked to go back to the Somme, to see the graves, and he began to get a little upset and confused, and to say he wouldn’t know what to say to the lads who were buried there. Then – and this could have been my dream or his bewilderment – he said that he hoped that after dark, when all the visitors went home, that the lads would at least keep each other company in the ground, and talk to each other so they wouldn’t feel lonely.

The poem was broadcast on last Wednesday’s Arena, and you can listen back here

The Café Review

Really happy to have some poems in the special Irish edition of The Café Review. Here’s a lovely review of the issue:

OFF RADAR: Cafe Review

A gathering of Irish voices

The Cafe Review Vol. 27 Spring 2016: A Gathering of Irish Voices

Steve Luttrell, editor

XPress, Portland, 2016

76 pages, perfect bound, $10

Everywhere you go, it seems, there are people with a soft spot in their hearts for Irish literature. It’s a special-interest group, in a way, with a sort of heightened intensity of feeling about family or historical ties to the Old Country, or for the curiosities of the Irish Gaelic language, or sometimes just an affinity for W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney.

Here in Maine, I knew a press technician who was teaching himself Gaelic. Hugh Curran, in Surry, a poet of first-generation Irish ancestry, sends frequent email alerts about Irish poetry and culture. And Steve Luttrell, of Portland, also has these roots, and he traveled to Ireland last month to kick off the spring issue of his long-running Cafe Review magazine because it contains a healthy slam of poetry straight from contemporary Ireland.

The selections are diverse in subject matter, and relatively uniform in tone and tenor. From the 34 contributing poets, there are many angles on the Irish landscape (including several images from the cliffs of Moher) and on the relationship of language to both personal and sometimes political (a perennial Irish preoccupation) realities. And there are color reproductions of woodcuts by Nonie O’Neill and, in an inevitable nod to history, of oil paintings of Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan by Liam O’Neill.

The tone of the poetry is largely pensive and wistful, with exceptions of course, and many of the selections are focused on hyper-personal sensibilities, sometimes with highly didactic ramifications. Paula Meehan’s short poem “The Melter,” from a series titled “Geomantic,” begins: “I remember you well in Grogan’s. / You called it the Poet’s Horror Hole.” From John Liddy’s “Enigma”:

Motionless beneath die canopy,

birds hopped around the floor,

indifferent to human presence,

imparting lessons in humility.

Janice Fitzpatrick-Simmons’ “Easter Rising” opens pensively: “I lived inside a Shakespearean winter; malcontent, / agreeing to a poverty of the soul. And thus agreed / what followed was anger and regret.” And Jessica Traynor’s “Lost Things,” wistfully: “We are living now / in the era of lost things.”

Eileen Sheehan’s unusually terse “and he kisses you” offers a sort of hyper-personal melancholia:

he kisses you

tastes your loneliness

sings you a song

both beautiful and sad

he kisses you

tastes salt on your tongue

thinks he has healed you

when all he has done

is to agitate

the black ice in your heart

and he kisses you

Among the departures from the tone of high introspection are a couple of boisterously expressed poems by Ciaran O’Driscoll, a widely published poet from Limerick (Ireland) — “All right, this is what’s happening. / Andrew Motion will recite a poem, / then I’ll recite one. And then you can go home.” Another poem, “Close Call,” recounts in headlong detail a near-miss car crash from swerve of road to bend of back door, a moment of stunned shock in which the protagonist (“you”) momentarily believes herself dead, then discovers she’s living again and, making her way “back to the world of the living,” recirculates into her environs by seeking comfort from three commodious onlookers.

Luttrell launched the magazine last month in Galway where it was enthusiastically received, he said in an email. He gave readings there with poets Kevin Higgins, John Walsh and Susan DuMars, then went on to Limerick where he read with O’Driscoll and others. In Dublin he was received by Meehan, one of Ireland’s most prominent poets, and Theo Dorgan who named him an “ambassador of poetry,” and he took part in Toners Pub’s longstanding Staccato Reading Series. His visit wound up in County Cork.

“Ireland truly is the land of the poets!” Luttrell said from the Old Country.

If you’re one of those many aficionados of Irish poetry, you might want to pick up a copy of this well-edited selection of writings by poets presently practicing their craft in Ireland.

More information is available on the Cafe Review website

Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections every other week. Contact Dana Wilde at

A Demonstration

‘A Demonstration’, my poem for Dr Kathleen Lynn, is featured in today’s Irish Times, along with the video beautifully shot by Padraig Burke and co at the Irish Writer’s Centre. Really excited that this piece will reach a wide audience. You can watch the video and read the poem here.

The whole documentary on a Poet’s Rising, including poems by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Eilean Ni Chilleanain, Paul Muldoon, Theo Dorgan and Thomas McCarthy and with music by the gifted Colm Mac An Iomaire can be watched on the RTE Player here.


A Poet’s Rising

I was really delighted to be commissioned as part of ‘A Poet’s Rising’, one of the Ireland 2016 projects. The Irish Writer’s Centre commissioned myself, Theo Dorgan, Thomas McCarthy, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Paul Muldoon to write poems in response to the experiences of the leaders of 1916, set at various locations around the city. I write mine about Dr Kathleen Lynn in City Hall. We launched our poems on the 31st March at the Irish Writer’s Centre, and the accompanying documentary (featuring all the poems with beautiful accompaniment from Colm Mac Con Iomaire) will be broadcast on RTE on the 19th April.

Here’s a picture of me reading on the night:

And here’s a great blog post from Catherine Dunne about the event itself:

A Poet’s Rising live event April 05 2016

at the Irish Writers Centre, 31 March 2016 

Catherine Dunne 


A Poet's Rising

‘When I think of all the false beginnings…

The man was a pair of hands,

the woman another pair, to be had more cheaply,

the wind blew, the children were thirsty – ’

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘For James Connolly’ was the first to be recited to a spellbound audience at the Irish Writers Centre in Parnell Square, Dublin, last Thursday night.

I found these opening lines deeply moving – they brought me right back to when I was ten or eleven and read my first adult biography. It was a portrait of James Connolly, one that concentrated on the family man, the deeply compassionate human being whose sense of fairness and decency was outraged by the appalling poverty in which the ‘common man’ – and woman and child – were living.

I thought that Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s lines captured that sense perfectly – the sense of a man tired of waiting for ‘the voices to shout Enough’.

‘For James Connolly’ is one of six poems commissioned by the Irish Writers Centre and supported by the Arts Council as part of the national commemoration of 1916.

The six poets concerned are Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Muldoon, Jessica Traynor, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Theo Dorgan and Thomas McCarthy.

Each poet focused on a key historical figure and a particular location associated with the Easter Rising. Paul Muldoon ‘ventriloquised’ Patrick Pearse. Jessica Traynor chose Dr Kathleen Lynn, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill the O Rathaille, and Theo Dorgan paid tribute to Elizabeth O’Farrell.

Thomas McCarthy inhabited the Garden of Remembrance, where he reflected upon ‘the two states we’re in/A state of mystical borders and broken spears/Left by a silent procession of things left unsaid.’

All of the poets were then filmed in their chosen locations and the film will soon be an app, freely available for download at the end of April.

Conor Kostick has written the historical links between each of the poems on the app, and the glimpses that the audience got of the final version were enticing.

As the poets are filmed reading their work, they are accompanied by the fiddle playing of the incomparable Colm Mac Con Iomaire. Colm composed a haunting score in response to the poets’ commissioned work. We, the audience on Thursday night, were privileged to be in attendance as he played ‘Solasta’ for us.

It was illuminating to focus on the humanitarian motivations shared by so many of those involved in Easter 1916.

In Jessica Traynor’s ‘A Demonstration’, she explores the work of Dr Kathleen Lynn:

‘Haunted by skulls

that boast through the thin skin of children

who ghost the alleyways, dying

young in silent demonstration,


I raise my own demonstration

against my limits as woman and doctor.’

And finally, among all the many riches of the evening, I took away with me the closing words of Thomas McCarthy from his beautiful ‘Garden of Remembrance’. Words of reconciliation, of understanding, of all the things we share in our common humanity:

‘we have a duty to make a firm nest –

Not an ill-advised pageant or a national barricade.

When the midday sun breaks through, my eyes rest

On harp and acorn, on trumpet and bronze hands,

On things a family without our history understands.’

This was a memorable evening on so many levels.

Congratulations to the Arts Council, to the Irish Writers Centre – particularly to Pádraig Burke, the Development Officer there – to Colm Mac Con Iomaire, to Conor Kostick and, of course, to all the poets involved.

I made my way home through the Dublin evening afterwards feeling uplifted, grateful, almost optimistic.

Thank you.

Catherine Dunne



My Review of Night Letter by Fiona Moore over at Sabotage Reviews

Fiona Moore’s Night Letter is a short pamphlet of eleven poems, in which dreams wind their tendrils through our waking hours. This is an impressive collection, with a playful approach to the conceptual. Dense with memorable imagery, yet pleasingly relaxed in its rhythm, the pamphlet’s first poem ‘Numberless’ sets the tone for what’s to come:

It’s as if
the dream were acknowledging
numberless permutations
of daily life, so our waking selves
don’t need to, otherwise long ago
I’d have walked through the upstairs
bedroom window which leads
by now, to many places.

The unusual enjambment aids the rhythm, allowing the reader to participate directly in the poet’s discoveries.

‘Dimensional’ cleverly subverts that most quotidian of activities, the untangling of a wet duvet. In Moore’s hands, the duvet becomes a ravenous deep-sea creature, a giant squid or pale octopus that has crept from some dark subconscious space into our world. This surreal take demonstrates the poet’s imaginative touch, while also making a wry comment on the primitive hunger of desire:

the duvet starts eating itself, eats its own slack
pouch of inside-outness so it has to be held
over the steps by the back door, shaken
until its bamboo pattern turns to storm…

The liminal space between memory and imagination, dream and waking is confronted with rare skill in the pamphlet’s title poem, with its poignant but clear-eyed address to a lost friend who didn’t believe in an afterlife: “…if you’re out there, please / forgive me for imagining / you, out there.” (‘Night Letter’)

This is an elegiac pamphlet that contrasts minutely detailed intimacies with panoramic vistas, in poems such as ‘The Embrace’ and ‘City From
A Hill, Through Open Windows’, the latter widening perspective to encompass the dreams of “…eight million sleeping – curled, sprawled, / together or alone – / a counterpane of bodies…”

We then zoom back into the fragmented intimacies of the first-person experience of sleep, with the delicate ‘Sleep Sonnet’, its lace-like collage of stations, upholstery, and a women painting her nails – all glimpsed in the blinking half-sleep of a train journey – and ‘Poem in Which I Think Myself Out’, which steps out of the open window referred to in the pamphlet’s first poem, into a vivid stream of consciousness:

Do I
exist when I’m not in the mirror;
and what if
the large rusty manhole
on the swimming-pool floor
were to open? Our bodies
jammed in the sewer like pale fish.

As with ‘Dimensional’, the imagery here is stark and, like all dream imagery, has the potential to tug the edges of our anxiety. But the effect created is lasting – testament to a deeply meditative and questioning consciousness, capable of creating unique and memorable poems.

New Poem on Sunday Miscellany



Belatedly, here’s a link to a poem I recorded for RTE’s Sunday Miscellany, for a film-themed programme they ran on the 21st February. They gave me a call the week beforehand and asked if I had anything film-related going begging. I said ‘Of course!’, then frantically ransacked my notebooks. There had been an idea for a poem I’d wanted to write floating around my brain and my notebooks for a while, and the tight deadline gave me the focus I needed to give it shape.

You can have a listen to the poem, Silent Movie, here. It’s first up and followed by a lovely piece of piano music from The Artist.