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.

Derry reading

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.

20170710_13593920170710_144948

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!

JHSS pic

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.

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.

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.

Playwriting Course at Big Smoke Writing Factory

It’s been a few years since I’ve run a playwriting course, since I’ve been so busy with my work at the Abbey and my own writing.

I’m delighted to be teaching one again for the lovely folks at Big Smoke Writing Factory, beginning on the 9th February. It’s an eight week course that covers the basics of good writing: characterisation, plot, structure, language, style and genre and redrafting. We’ll also be looking at some classics and trying to work up new scenes and play ideas.

There are one or two places left still, and you can book here

RTE Poem of the Week

I got a lovely surprise this evening to discover that my poem ‘Hamelin’ from my collection Liffey Swim is this week’s poem of the week 0n RTE.com, nominated by the Poetry Programme. In fact, I was so excited when I found out that I treated myself by turning on the heating a full ten minutes early.

hamelin-oorlandoo

You can hear me reading the poem here, along with a review of Liffey Swim by Philip Coleman of TDC.

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