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

Advertisements

Why would anyone in their right minds write a memoir?

IMG_20170926_182336 (3)

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.

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.

Forthcoming readings (so far)

Image

The craic is always good at Irish festivals and events…I’ve been invited to be a guest reader at these:

12801107_963589183709887_8838549528468539010_n

(Photo taken by Linda Ibbotson)

30th June       – Spotlight Poetry reading, Alchemy Café, Barrack St. Cork 7pm.  

Delighted to be appearing as guest reader  at Cork’s own Alchemy Café as part of the Spotlight Poetry Reading series.  Also featuring is Mags Creedon with her instruments and beautiful voice.  Plus there’s an open mic! It all kicks of at 7.30.pm.

Alchemy Café is a special word-friendly venue, so if you’re Cork-based it’s definitely the place to hang out.

-4

 16th July         – Itaca magazine launch, 16th July 2016 at 6pm, Cassidy’s                                            Hotel, Cavendish Suite, Dublin

 

-2

17th July         – Stanzas Festival, Limerick city,  2.00pm at the Bubble Tea Paradise                           café, reading with Michael Ray and Emma Langford

 

 

18th July       – Hosting a poetry event with Jo Shapcott, Sarah Howe and Theo Dorgan at the Maritime Hotel, 6.30pm.

19th July         – Reading at West Cork Literary Festival, arguably one of Ireland’s best literary festivals, in beautiful Bantry, with Cónal Creedon and  William Wall, Maritime Hotel, 2.30pm.

 

-5

30th July         – in conversation with Liz Nugent at the Ludgate Hub, Ireland’s first digital café, at 2pm, during the colourful Skibbereen Arts Festival



-1

30th July         –   WAS poetry marathon at Working Artists Studios, Skibbereen

 

-6

 19 – 22nd Aug    – Five Glens Festival, ManorHamilton, Leitrim, reading and workshop

 

-1

 28th Sept         –Toner’s famous traditional Pub, Baggot St.,  Dublin

 

-1

17th October       – Taking part in a showcase reading at the Troubadour, London

 

-7

 4 Nov                 –Allingham Festival, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, for a reading and workshop

And I thought it would get quiet once my kids had left home…!

 

Next up, Teen Camp!

11411968_773340789430407_546298897565009303_o

So, we’ve had the president’s visit, (here’s one of my young writers reading to President Michael D. Higgins from the magazine of poems we produced) and the Uillinn Arts’ Centre is now officially up and running. Very exciting to see the regular transformations, as things change all around me. The fabulous organza gown, the hundreds of names embroidered in squares on a pair of tapestries, have been and gone, along with Tess Leak’s magical ‘I shall build for myself a castle’ series of giant drawings and artifacts.

DSC_0897

Lucija and I are sitting in front of the fantastic permanent sculpture by Michael Ray who is one of Ireland’s most rated glass artists. My new neighbour and fellow artist in residence is Toma McCullim, from Scotland, who is replacing American artist Al Zaraba, who SHOULD have been here, but unfortunately was taken ill on arrival in Ireland and is currently recuperating in Galway hospital. But he’ll be with us shortly. Meanwhile, we have the glorious Toma, who invited me to visit an archaeological dig going on at the site near where the old workhouse used to be. We met the professor from Maryland University with his students (coincidentally, Al Zaraba is also from Maryland). We also came across a memorial plaque to 22 year old Patrick McCarthy at the site where he was shot by guards in 1922 for being a dissident. That’s bound to work its way into a poem!

As well as a staircase poem, Toma’s own project also includes artifacts that have naturally rusted – and what do you know? On our wanderings, we came upon a whole collection – like a found exhibit – nestled in a field! Toma had her conceptual way with these objects and they are now on display in a stairwell. Also poem material for me!

The wonderful thing about being ‘in residence’ is the serendipity of what occurs. Socialising with Toma and Justine Foster, who makes things happen here, and also Rita and Jackie. As I’m in Skibbereen at the moment, a friend from UCC gave me a ticket to see the Galway Druid Theatre Company’s magnificent production of FOUR Shakespeare plays, back-to-back. Six hours of Shakespeare – and it flew. (We did have breaks for drinks and even dinner, provided by Riverside Café). Their next performance is in New York. Also, thanks to meeting Toma, I ended up in Levis’s pub in Ballydehob to hear the haunting Aboriginal music of Frank Yamma, with David Bridie, from Australia. Fantastic.

The opening of the Members’ Exhibition was a massive affair – as well as sculptures, there were over 300 paintings wonderfully hung  – and it was followed by a spell-binding poetry performance by Canadian/ Indian poet – Renée Sarojini Saklikar, whose ongoing project involves the Air India crash in West Cork in 1985. The audience participation was very moving.

Throughout my stay here, I’ve been so impressed by Emma Jervis’s extraordinary photographs of events, candid moments, beautifully captured. Wow. The Centre is so lucky to have her. She’s archiving an impressive visual diary of Uillin’s events and exhibitions.

As for me? Well, it’s been a frenzy of editing and writing – and next up is Teen Camp! I’ll be offering an intensive three-day workshop from the 8th to the 10th July. As I’ve discovered that teenagers are writing novels these days (why not?) the focus will mainly be on structuring, pacing, adding layers to character and using metaphor to bring language to life. The short story and poetry won’t be neglected either. The best novelists, in my view, are natural poets.

And that, sadly, will bring to a end my residency here. But I will be doing a reading of poems created during my time as Poet in Residence at the end of the month. And there will be Autumn courses on offer

Leaning into your world

Blog dancers better

The Dancer in Residence, Tara Brandel, and a visiting dancer from San Francisco, Kathleen Hermesdorf, performed in Gallery One, incorporating into their movements connections with the exhibited delicate unfired ceramics, and in particular, the upper torsos and heads of two young boys. A random box provided another prop.

Aside from a couple of synchronized phrases, they danced separately or in response to each other. In particular, their breathing, and level of energy seemed particularly symbiotic, synergistic. Sometimes dynamic, spaciously taking up the whole room with frenzied gestures, sometimes foetal, supine, still, they were a mesmerizing act.

They invited me to read a couple of poems for them to respond to. I read ‘Leaning into your world’ and ‘No need’, with long pauses between lines, so they could pick up on the mood of the poem, and respond kinetically to the images. (The poems can be read at the end of this blog.)

Emma Jervis came down and took some photographs. Tara’s agreed to doing a collaboration for my showcase at the end of my residency, so I’m excited about that. Tomorrow, I’m going to their studio to write a poem in response to their movements.

Blog skirt

My Tuesday lunchtime Poem to Go group responded to work by Bernadette Cotter, which features 600 names embroidered into organza squares, sewn together and hung as two enormous wall hangings. In front of the two wall hangings is a tumble of red organza strips which suggest the skirt of a ball-gown. Some fantastic poems emerged – in just one hour!

I popped in to meet Alison Glennie’s drama students. She’s brainstorming words with them, in anticipation of next week’s workshop, when I’ll join them for a word-fest.

Blurred background blog EmmaBlog Hugh and Flo

My Scribblers are getting into the swing of things now. We have a core group of four boys and four girls. This week they wrote a story. We had Chinese horses, magic masks and jars of pickles.

I’m hoping Emma’s video will be available soon. meanwhile, here are the poems Tara and Kathleen responded to:

Leaning into your world

Yours was an impenetrable loneliness;
a skeletal tree leaning away
from nomadic winds.

I passed
and found arms braced,
like rocks for waves.

Your mouth, skin, hands –
these are my borders now,
my land.

With a knife,
you measure rock pools,
clouds, my hips.

We bump against each other
while walking, laugh at rain,
slide to grass.

Our bodies trapeze
like laundry
cavorting on lines.

A hand held brings tears.
Such a winding memory,
delicate thread.

We read poems
lifted to light,
sleep when birds sing.

I divert misgivings;
a crack in the sky
is just a small thing.

No need

No need to tell me
that endings are a moment
of transcendence, and all that is solid
melts into air;
no need to remind me of the eyeblink
tales of life:
like furniture, stacked on the lawn,
that vanishes in a lizard-flick.
No need to challenge me to walk
the high wire, or drag me to a party
with all the wrong people,
where short men take up space
with knuckles on hips,
and there’s barely elbow room.
No need to show me I’m in safe hands –
I’ve seen your scar
and know what you’re made of.
No need for you to hold up
a cardboard cut-out sun:
I remember how it looks, how it feels.
Or to suggest that I’m more stone
than heart:
what do you expect?
I’m still half a couple from ark days
pickling memories in a jar.
No need to say that love will return
some day,
like ‘speech after long silence’;
that’s dirty talk.

The poems were first published in my début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, published by Salmon: http://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=260&a=221                                                             

Meanwhile, I’m writing away, and editing poems for my forthcoming collection. What will next week bring?! (Thanks to Emma Jervis for use of the photographs. http://www.emmajervis.com)