The Blog that Facebook Banned…Misogyny gone mad.

And just because Facebook banned this post, I’m reblogging it here. Most astute logic and opinion yet:

The Meaty Mammy

So here it is folks. I wrote this article for Facebook and it received a lot of publicity but for reasons only known to the person who reported it, it was banned. I don’t like that thousands of women took the time to share the post and their voices as well as mine were silenced. Misogyny is alive and kicking in 21st century Ireland.

WHY IRISH WOMEN NEED TO BE EXTRA CAREFUL: A BLAZER AND CHINOS DOES NOT A GENTLEMAN MAKE: The Nation Breathe a Sigh of Relief as ‘Top Shaggers’ Walk.

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Social media was buzzing with comments of support for the four men whose privacy and dignity was so callously abused during the Belfast rape trial. The country bowed their heads in sympathy as the boys were found not guilty of the plethora of charges against them. “Could ruin their career”….”Should never have gone to court”…”Let this be a…

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Tipping my hat to female poets

Books

I’m doing an inventory of my poetry books in anticipation of preparing my writing room for a tenant who’ll be moving in while we move to Zimbabwe for a few months. In honour of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d do a roll call of the female poets on my shelves: the 178 full collections and chapbooks together are the works of 148 poets (damn, I bet I have one or two lurking elsewhere in the house…) I picked up most of these books at festivals, as well as a few gems at the Time Travellers’ Bookshop and also the Salmon Poetry Bookshop in Ennistymon, which has a great second-hand section; a number were sent to me for review too. Another favourite bookshop is the Book Stór in Kinsale.

Each of these poets has been an inspiration in one way or another, and I just wanted to say thank you! Here are the names:

Aifric MacAodha
Alice Oswald
Alice Walker
Alyson Hallett
Amy De’Ath
Andrea Mbarushimana
Angela T. Carr
Angela France
Anna Akhmatova
Anna Journey
Anne-Marie Fyfe
Ailbhe Darcy
Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh
Anne Carson
Anne Fitzgerald
Anne Rouse
Anne Sexton
Bethany W. Pope
Breda Wall Ryan
Brenda Shaughnessy
Carol Ann Duffy
Caroline Smith
C.D. Wright
Chrissy Williams
Daphne Gottlieb
Deborah Tyler-Bennett
Deirdre Hines
Denise Blake
Denise Levertov
Djuna Barnes
Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Eileen Casey
Eileen Sheehan
Eleanor Hooker
Elizabeth Bishop
Ellen Kombiyil
Emilia Ivancu
Emily Berry
Emily Dickinson
Eva H.D.
Fiona Moore
Fiona Sampson
Fran Lock
Frances Horovitz
Geraldine Clarkson
Gill Andrews
Gillian Allnut
Gillian Clarke
Grace Wells
Hannah Lowe
Helen Farish
Helen Mort
Ileana Malancioiu
Ingrid de Kok
Isobel Dixon
Jackie Kay
Jane Clarke
Jane Kenyon
Jane Hirshfield
Jane Weir
Jannice Thaddeus
Jean O’Brien
Jessamine O’Connor
Jessie Lendennie
Jessica Traynor
Jenny Lewis
Jodie Matthews
Joan McBreen
Jo Shapcott
Kapka Kassabova
Karen Press
Karen Solie
Kate Noakes
Katherine Kilalea
Kathryn Simmonds
Kathy D’Arcy
Kerrin McCaddon
Kerrie O’Brien
Kerry Hardie
Kit Fryatt
Kimberly Campanello
Kim Moore
Leanne O’Sullivan
Leeanne Quinn
Leontia Flynn
Lianne Strauss
Lo Kwa Mei-en
Maeve O’Sullivan
Maggie Harris
Marcela Sulak
Marie Howe
Martina Evans
Marion McCready
Mary Mullen
Mary Noonan
Mary O’Malley
Maya Catherine Popa
Meg Bateman
Medbh McGuckian
Meredith Andrea
Minal Hajratwala
Michelle O’Sullivan
Molly Minturn
Monica Corish
Moniza Alvi
Moya Cannon
Natasha Trethaway
Nell Regan
Nessa O’Mahony
Nicki Jackowska
Nina Karacosta
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Nuala Ní Dhomnhnaill
Orlaith Foyle
Paisley Rekdal
Pascal Petit
Pat Borthwick
Paula Cunningham
Paula Meehan
Renée Sarjini Saklikar
Rita Ann Higgins
River Wolton
Robyn Rowland
Roisín Kelly
Rosemary Tonks
Ruth Padel
Robin Houghton
Sandra Ann Winters
Sarah Clancy
Sarah Howe
Shirley McClure
Shikiha Malavia
Silvia Secco
Sharon Olds
Sinéad Morrissey
Sophie Hannah
Sujata Bhatt
Susan Millar du Mars
Suji Kwok Kim
Sylvia Plath
Tania Hershman
Theresa Muñoz
Ulrikka S. Gernes
Victoria Kennefick
Virginia Astley
Vona Groarke
Wislawa Szymborska
Zoë Brigley

Why would anyone in their right minds write a memoir?

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So, as you may have gathered, if you read my blog, I’m writing a memoir. Of sorts. Call it a series of remembrances. But in the absence of diaries – all of which were lost in the process of many moves – I have to rely on my very shaky memories of experiences and how they felt. Mostly what I’m interested in is capturing what it felt like to live a peripatetic life as a child. The memoir (because it might become a trilogy!) will cover the years up to when I graduate from Rhodes University.

It’s quite terrifying, I’ve discovered, writing a memoir. With poetry, there’s a screen. With memoir, there’s no place to hide. Already I’m beginning to feel really exposed and vulnerable.

Also, what if friends from Ireland or Zimbabwe or university read my book and throw it down, saying, ‘Ugh, she got it all wrong’? Not to mention extended family members.

Or, which may be worse, what if nobody reads it at all? That is, if I even find a publisher!

And then, if it does come out, I’ll be asked intrusively personal questions. Because much of my story is set in a colonial country and era, and describes a privileged white girl’s experience, it’s certainly not going to receive a sympathetic reception. And so little has been written from this perspective — there isn’t much at all out there, or certainly not from an urban point of view. So research is difficult.

As for the process of writing, I’ve been struggling with form. Do I write, as I originally intended, lyric prose poetry (behind which I can hide) which some readers will find baffling and alienating, or go for straightforward narrative with dialogue (where readers can actually follow a story)?

Most importantly, my major concern is crossing a line in terms of family loyalty. How to protect family members and their right to privacy?

So why am I writing this? Because it seems to be a compulsion. Something I’m trying to work out. Maybe by writing my life, I’ll pull it into some kind of whole.

I’ve decided the best way to go about it is to blend forms – go for both prose poetry and narrative. Write what I want to write, and not worry about outcomes.

I can deal with them later.

What Ngomokurira taught me

Since we arrived in Harare, I’ve been strongly affected by olfactory impressions – eucalyptus trees, yesterday today and tomorrow bushes, jasmine, cut grass, strong whiffs of homemade roll ups, the smell of water from sprinklers onto dry red earth, the sadza sweat of labourers working in the new organic vegetable and herb plot. The changes, particularly the light here, mean that I’m getting up at 6am and diving into the pool, so appreciative that I have this luxury. Going to bed earlier. Getting back into the African rhythm of life.

As well as a trip home to see my family, this is a research visit, courtesy of a literature bursary from the Arts Council. I was hoping to have conversations with my father to stimulate ideas for my project, but his health has deteriorated dramatically since my last trip. He’s very frail, permanently bed-ridden now and too weak to speak. Instead, I’m facing thoughts of his approaching death, at a time when I’m writing about my childhood, and memories of a very different man. How to reconcile my impressions of my father then, with the man I see in front of me now? How is the current situation going to impact on the outcome of my story?

And now that my planned research with my father will not take place, how best to use my time here, from a research point of view?

Michael and I drove out to Ngomokurira one afternoon, somewhere I have never been, as we usually went to Domboshawa, a far smaller, but similar place, half an hour closer to the city.

Ngomokurira is much more dramatic.

Ngomokurira – the word ngomo is Shona for rocky outcrop – is a colossal, sheer rock-face, the curves softened by millennia, so it has an almost feminine look, in spite of its monumental presence. We drove along potholed tar roads, until even the tar ran out, and the bustling traffic, commuter kombis, handcarts, roadside stalls selling electronics, tomatoes, mobile phone cards and car parts gave way to wandering horned cows, children running, propelling a solitary bicycle wheel, women cultivating vegetable plots and beautiful rondavels:

Roof art

And all the time, Ngomokurira towered in front of us, its granite presence accepted as part of the landscape by everyone else, but astonishing for us.

At a dilapidated thatched building, we paid our entrance fee – $5. Just follow the track, we were told, and the white arrows. One path will take you to the rock paintings. The other one will take you to the cave. And off we went.

The crackling heat of the afternoon, the cicadas, occasional birds, trees rustling, were all the sounds we heard. Up and up we climbed, and every now and then – so unfit! – I clutched on to a thorn tree to get my breath. Sometimes, as I scrabbled up the dusty track, I’d skid and gasp, fearful of tumbling onto stones and thorns. Michael was soon far ahead of me. Looking up at the looming rock, I started thinking of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and hurried after him.

At one fairly level point, I looked away down towards a stream, and there was a half-stripped boy, about to take a dip. He looked up sharply – had he sensed me? – and we made eye contact. Embarrassed, I continued on. Michael had by now disappeared. I glanced back, and saw that the boy was still staring at me. Would he alert others to my solitary presence, a white woman? I felt incensed at Michael for leaving me on my own. Where was he?

I came to a beacon: a column of rocks, about chest high. The arrows pointed two ways now, and I didn’t know which way Michael had gone. I opted for the rock paintings. The trees became more lush and around a bend, I came upon the stream again, widening into a pool, surrounded by vegetation. For some reason, the enchanting scene made me think of Keats, or Wordsworth. After the scorching heat, it was an oasis, and I sank to the ground, and wondered whether to ignore the probable presence of bilharzia and dive in. First, I lay back on the warm rock and stared up at the blue blue sky, a passing falcon. I heard a click behind me. Michael, taking a photo of the the sheer rock-face and the trees reflected in the water:

Nogmokurira - photo by Michael Ray

We approached the ngomo together. The colours were amazing: rose-pink, grey, white and black, in waves. The rock paintings, of cattle, horses, various antelope, and humans, were obviously done at different times or by different artists, some more sophisticated than others. We could go right up and touch them. No one around, nothing to protect them from the blazing heat. There was an incredible atmosphere. I had a feeling that it was probably a sacred site, a burial site.

We spent a little while there, but as the afternoon was drawing on, and we knew darkness would be sudden when it came, we carried on to the cave. For the second time, I became aware of the presence of others, away in the distance. A young couple.

Again, Michael took off ahead of me, like a goat. Eventually, he was a silhouette on the horizon, standing at the pinnacle of the rock, looking down at me. I was exhausted, dehydrated, and kept stopping to sit, to take in the atmosphere. No one else around. Well, except for many scurrying lizards, startlingly coloured: iridescent blues and oranges.

I thought about snakes, and made a lot of noise as I moved, to give them advance warning of my approach. Eventually, I caught up to him, as he was on the way back.

–Can’t get to the cave, he said. It’s down a sheer cliff. And we’re running out of time.

I was greatly relieved. We set off at a pace. After a while, I heard footsteps behind us, and looked around. The couple were catching up to us. We paused to let them pass, but they paused too, and exchanged comments about the heat. Then he – Australian by his accent – asked if we could give them a lift back to Harare. They’d come here by commuter bus.
–Sure.

We headed back to the hut together, chatting. He had been to Peru and Bolivia and Mozambique. She was Shona, and had met him a few years ago, through NGO work. At the base of the rock, two young children approached us with yellow enamel dishes filled with mujanges, and sugar fruit. We bought some, and on the way home, ate them.

No falls. No attacks. No snakes. No police roadblocks on the way home. No hitchhiker horrors. They were lovely.

Ngomokurira is magnificent.

Why oh why do I always anticipate the worst?

The trip has reinforced something I had suspected about myself.

That will have to be incorporated into my story.

Meanwhile, there is my father. I head to his room, heart in mouth, and breathe a sigh when I see his chest lifting. The window is open, the white gauze inner curtain drifting slightly in the breeze. Beside his bed, a bowl of scented roses. His eyes are closed, but he opens them slowly, turns to the door and slightly lifts his thin, quavering hand. I’m glad I have an adventure to share with him.

Settling back into the magic and mayhem of Zimbabwe

The rains are here. Wet earth and drenched grasses. Bird notes, and cicadas and frogs, and cars and dogs. The contrasting silence of 4am. Utter. No immersion, no pump, no mosquito.

So much has happened already, but I’ve had no internet access at home, and I’m having to write this quickly at another location, but will try and post properly soon. In the meantime, here are a few photos:

Charity:

Charity smiling

Vimbai, with Hugo:

Vimbai and Hugo

Moses admiring the sculpture of a horse made from spare car parts: Moses and the horse

Taurai:

Taurai

Still craziness and mishaps, but no more road blocks, and there’s definitely a different energy this time. So much to tell you, but later, when internet is restored!

Next up: an African road trip

Zimbabwe strip road

Thrilled and excited to have been awarded an Arts Council bursary, which will enable me to travel to Zimbabwe and South Africa to research and write my next book. I leave next week! I plan to keep a reading record and a weekly journal, describing my two-month trip. I had been feeling some trepidation about returning to a country in a state of economic crisis, but now that there’s an atmosphere of jubilation and hope about future prospects, I can’t wait. As Aristotle said, ‘There is always something new coming out of Africa.’ Let’s see.

Insights from the Don Share masterclass at the Molly Keane Writers’ Retreat

Don Share 2

I was lucky enough to be one of fourteen poets to get a place on the three-day Masterclass with Don Share at the magical Molly Keane Writers’ Retreat in Ardmore. I have dozens of pages of notes, but this is a glimpse into some of the insights he offered. Yes, we know many of these things already, but it’s good to be reminded. And this is Don Share – if we pay attention, we might just get into Poetry Magazine one day.

The first thing Don looks at is the shape of the poem on a page. If it has sections, do the sections help? He likes names rather than pronouns. Names are striking things, he says. They can do a lot in a poem. Look at the etymology of words. What does Inchigeela mean? A place name becomes imbued with the qualities of its history. Be curious. Don’t just say ‘tree’ – what kind of tree? What kind of bog? A name becomes irrefutable.

Workshop at the Molly Keane Writers' Retreat

He advocates paying as much attention to titles as to the poems themselves. We can encode meaning in images, he says, so it’s important to choose images that are genuinely resonant for you. He referenced Wallace Stevens’ Anecdote of the Jar:

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

A good poem has concision, but discursiveness has its place too. He encouraged us to push poems to their logical extreme – they might be really long poems by the end. Although don’t, he said, add to the mystification of the world without purpose.

He says poets should recycle everything. Write the poem on the left side and copious notes on the right – some of these might transfer over into the poem. Some of the poem might be cut. What isn’t used in the poem can be used elsewhere.

A turf fire and a bunch of writers

Eliminate ambiguity, but don’t spell out what the poem is about either. If your tendency is to write long lines, write longer ones. The way CK Williams does:

Butchers

Thank goodness we were able to wipe the Neanderthals out, beastly things,
from our mountains, our tundra—that way we had all the meat we might need.

Thus the butcher can display under our very eyes his hands on the block,
and never refer to the rooms hidden behind where dissections are effected,

where flesh is reduced to its shivering atoms and remade for our delectation
as cubes, cylinders, barely material puddles of admixtured horror and blood.

Rembrandt knew of all this—isn’t his flayed beef carcass really a caveman?
It’s Christ also, of course, but much more a troglodyte such as we no longer are.

Vanished those species—begone!—those tribes, those peoples, those nations—
Myrmidon, Ottoman, Olmec, Huron, and Kush: gone, gone, and goodbye.

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But back to the chamber of torture, to Rembrandt, who was telling us surely
that hoisted with such cables and hung from such hooks we too would reveal

within us intricate layerings of color and pain: alive the brush is with pain,
aglow with the cruelties of crimson, the cooled, oblivious ivory of our innards.

Fling out the hooves of your hands! Open your breast, pluck out like an Aztec
your heart howling its Cro-Magnon cries that compel to battles of riddance!

Our own planet at last, where purged of wilderness, homesickness, prowling,
we’re no longer compelled to devour our enemies’ brains, thanks to our butcher,

who inhabits this palace, this senate, this sentried, barbed-wire enclosure
where dare enter none but subservient breeze; bent, broken blossom; dry rain.

Move stanzas around; the second stanza might end up as the final stanza. Use your intuition.

Let your landscape write you. Yeats becomes self-mythologizing by writing himself into place. He appropriates names, puts them in poems, and creates a resonance across cultures and time periods. ‘What’s Yeats without Fergus and Maud?’

Your aim should be to become un-ignorable. John Ashbery is un-ignorable, even though you might not like his work: here’s a link to his eleven-page poem, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, a poem Don Share says he can’t ‘unsee’: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=32944

Conceive of your work as having a high value, he said. Don’t weaken your poem by apologising for it.

Poetry Magazine publishes three hundred poems a year. Don Share and his fellow reader, Christina Pugh, read 150 000 poems to find those three hundred. He reads every poem. Imagine. What he looks for is a fact he doesn’t know. Some striking detail. An odd, or stubborn poem, something ‘recondite, almost alienating, even, as long as it’s un-ignorable’. He doesn’t always like the poems he publishes, he says, so there’s no point in trying to decipher his taste.

me at the Molly Keane writers' retreat

Resistance to a poem is important, he says. If it still follows you about and settles in, it’s time to pay attention. ‘I don’t know what Wallace Stevens’ poems are saying, and I don’t want to know,’ he says. ‘But he is opposing his imagination against the violence of reality. It’s a work of resistance.’

Look for the things that can power a poem. He doesn’t like false modesty, people saying ‘it’s only a poem.’ This indicates that they’re not willing to be serious. It lets them off the hook.

Also, the poems we see in an anthology are the result of a long journey of failed poems. ‘Yeats wrote some terrible poems!’ he said. But you can’t get to the great poems without the bad poems. You must have confidence that something is worth working on.

When ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (what a name! What a title!) was published, people said, ‘this is not a poem.’ But it is intractable, as are The Four Quartets and The Wasteland.

We heard loads of anecdotes about various poets. While Yeats was ‘a lunatic’, Eliot suffered from perceiving there was something missing in him, including passion. Pound devoted decades to writing his cantos but in the end felt that his life’s work was a failure. He gave up writing, and even stopped speaking.

Don talked about the fact that we don’t write – or read – in a vacuum. Everything is connected. Poems and poets exist alongside each other. This creates a context. Our poems address something found in another writer’s work. Show all your influences in your poems, he said.

Look for the structural principle in your poem – it may be plain-spoken and straightforward, or it could have a clear soundscape. A long poem or series of sequences could be connected, for example, by rivers, as John Ashbery’s Into the Dusk-Charged Air is: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/into-the-dusk-charged-air/

‘When I look at a poem, I try to imagine its opposite,’ said Don. If it’s long, how would it work as a short poem, and vice versa. Richard Ford says write something as though it’s 100% true – and then say the opposite.

He talked about style, how a person’s style is unmistakable: Virginia Woolf’s style was a profusion of words and a disruption of syntax. Auden ‘throws in the kitchen sink; he’s coarse, jokey, a smarty-pants.’ But it’s good to encounter another writer’s style, ‘and let it in – then put yourself in. Say things only you can account for.’ Jorie Graham’s style is to write ‘fast’ and her work is very personal; she writes about her father’s illness / dying/ terrible secrets about her family’s history. Masks are an idea she got from Yeats. What we inherit as poets is something related to the wearing of masks. Truths otherwise obscured can be conveyed in the process. Don reminded us of the power of masks in many cultures.

Jorie Graham has renounced a lot of what she’s written, and says that she doesn’t want to be ‘gratuitously exploitative and condemning.’ But readers always want to see her latest work. Louise Glück has a restless intelligence, feeds on things, and moves on.

If you’re in the habit of doing things one way, switch gears.

Virginia Brownlow, Molly Keane's daughter

We should write about what is specific to us, our place and time. Prose writers take on the big questions. This is something more poets need to do. Not just the immediate things, but the larger perspective. There is a tendency these days to be too narcissistic: ‘This happened to me. That’s all.’ What is the point? And our attention span is too short. He is interested in seeing more long poems – a commitment.

He talked about Ocean Vuong’s début collection. The writing is powerful. At every reading, Don says, people cry.

There has to be an honesty of approach.

Don Share doesn’t go for reticence. Go for more detail, he says. ‘A poem is a room, and it has to be furnished.’

Do the hardest thing it’s in your power to do, he says. Lack of courage and ambition are the greatest let-down. ‘I think people don’t work hard enough,’ he said. Competent poems are the worst thing. ‘I have to wrestle with that,’ he said. Remember, you are stuck with the things that have your name on them. It’s better not to write often.

The most interesting poets are those who do inexplicable things.

He said the most important book to come out of the States in the last thirty years is Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. It addresses the question of race, and how language can wound. She coins the term: ‘micro-aggressions’ and lists innocent black people who have been killed by the police, leaving space for the reader to add more names. Because there will be more names. The cumulative effect on people is ‘to wreck them’, he said.

But everything is up for negotiation, he says. ‘I’m happy to be wrong about everything.’