Review of Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong on RTÉ’s Arena

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.


Winter Papers Arena Takeover

On Monday night I was part of a special Arena takeover with Kevin Barry, novelist and co-editor of the Winter Papers, Ireland’s arts and literature annual (kind of like the Beano for artsy types). Myself, Sarah Baume, Paul Lynch, Mary Morrissey and Kevin chatted with Sean for the full hour about our contributions to the annual and also got to choose a winter-themed poem or song to play. I chose Winter by Kristen Hersh. Afterwards, we headed into town for the first Christmas party of the season.

Kevin and his partner and co-editor Olivia Smith do an excellent job commissioning and collating poems, short stories and articles and producing a beautiful book – so lovely I didn’t want to take it out of the house on my trip to the studio for fear of it getting rained on.


This year, Olivia and Kevin approached me to write an article on Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, a Sligo-based theatre company who specialise in interpretations of European contemporary classics, and new writing. I focused on their recent play Shackleton, a movement-based reimagining of the story of Ernest Shackleton’s voyage on the Endurance, using puppetry and soundscape, but also took the opportunity to chat to director Niall Henry about what drives the company. I really enjoyed writing the resulting essay on the company’s work – especially because although I’ve worked in theatre for the past ten years I’ve rarely had a chance to reflect on the process of theatre making through my writing.

Novelist Sarah Baume’s contribution is an intriguing and intimate account of her meeting her hero, artist Dorothy Cross, in her home in the West of Ireland. Paul Lynch’s short story is a study in masculine tension, skilfully interrogating a father-son relationship. And Mary Morrissey’s story is fuelled by poignant but clear-eyed reminiscence. The anthology also has short stories by June Caldwell and Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits, and poems by Stephen Sexton and Roisin Kelly.

You can listen back to Arena here and buy a copy of the anthology (before it sells out!) here. 



Reviews of ‘Stranger, Baby’ by Emily Berry and ‘The Unaccompanied’ by Simon Armitage on RTÉ’s Arena

I’ve been lucky enough to review some excellent work this year so far for Arena, and these two starkly different collections stood out for me.

You can have a listen to my thoughts on Emily Berry’s dark and compelling Stranger, Baby here.

And my thoughts on Simon Armitage’s The Unaccompanied here. I’d some (enjoyable) arguments with this one, and it certainly feels like a collection for our times.

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…

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



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.

New poem on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany

I dropped into RTE Radio last week to record a poem for Poetry Day, and while I was there I was asked to contribute another to Sunday Miscellany,  which was a nice surprise.  I chose a short poem from a sequence I’m working on called (working title) Imperfect Love Songs which is all about how our attempts at connection are generally stymied by our inability to really communicate with each other…but maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I’m first up on the programme and you can listen in here:

Liffey Swim Launch and Reading for National Poetry Day

Jessica Traynor, poet

I launched my debut collection Liffey Swim last Thursday evening in the great company of Enda Wyley and Patrick Kehoe. What to say except that it was a fantastic night, and I was really touched to have so many good friends come by to say hello and pick up a copy of the book.

It’s out there in the world now, so I’m excited about the notion of it reaching a wider audience. If you’d like to hear more about the process that went into putting it together, you can have a listen to my interview on Arena from last week:

I’ll also be reading at the Irish Writers Centre for National Poetry Day this Thursday evening 2nd October, along with Deirdre Cartmill, Alan Jude Moore, Maria McManus, Gerard Smyth,  and Michael O’Loughlin. I’ll have a few copies of the book with me if anyone would like to pick one up; otherwise it’s available in bookshops and from Dedalus Press at the below link: 

Here are some nice things that have been said about Liffey Swim:

“Her finely lyrical work is informed by wide travel, a meditative intelligence and an acute sense of history, in which Dublin and its three rivers become a living metaphor for the truths and felicities of one woman’s life.” —Harry Clifton

If anyone would like to review a copy of the book, please drop me a line.

Reading on Arena on New Year’s Eve

Here’s a link to my reading on Arena on New Year’s Eve with Dave Lordan,  Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Dave Rudden, Rob Doyle,  Paul Timoney, Kathy D’Arcy and Temper Mental MissElayneous – most of us reading our writing from the New Planet Cabaret Anthology. There may have been more readers but I was too busy concentrating on not sneezing/ falling over/ accidentally swallowing the microphone to notice (all common first-time-on-radio anxieties apparently). I’m on in the last five minutes but why not listen to the whole thing to hear some exciting new voices from the Irish writing scene.

And afterwards, why not buy the book?  It’s available from New Island Press and all proceeds go to the Writers in Schools scheme. Available here: