End of a residency

and we wonder cover image revisedIt’s been such an honour to be part of the experience that is the Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre. And that’s what it is. An experience. Every time you walk in the door, you enter a mesmerising world of the imagination, with new residencies, exhibitions and installations occurring all the time.

My residency wrapped up with an exhibition of poems, some of which I wrote in response to the work of the other artists in residence: Toma McCullim, whose current work engages with people coping with dementia, the magnificent dancer, Tara Brandel, and Emma Jervis, the photographer.

With so many events taking place during the Skibbereen Arts Festival, there wasn’t time or space for a reading, but Justine Foster suggested (over lunch) that putting together a booklet of the poems would complement the exhibition. I did read some of the poems at the Poetry Marathon which took place at Paul and Marie O’Colmain’s Working Artists Studios (and also interviewed Liz Nugent, author of the psychological thriller, Unravelling Oliver at Holger and Nichola Smyth’s Time Travellers’ Gallery.) The booklet is available for purchase at the Centre. Here’s one of the poems, which I wrote in response to Toma’s exhibition, These Tangled Threads:

tangled threads

Keep net

after Toma McCullim

losing the word for ‘glass’,                                                             you say carrier of wine,                                                                                                         find new vessels

too close, not close enough:                                                                                        sweet, useless balls                                                                                                              of sugar icing,

amuse-bouches that turn                                                                                                    to tears                                                                                                                                    at a crossing

junk, cat-cradled                                                                                                                  by wool                                                                                                                              cross-stitching over

a cracked egg                                                                                                                      still holding                                                                                                                            yolk
more raw,                                                                                                                            less – or more – elaborately                                                                                            attached

to the green-grape                                                                                                                 of rust                                                                                                                             spilling

its metallic waves,                                                                                                           collapsing,                                                                                                                           one riff at a time

My connection with Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre isn’t over though. In the autumn, I’ll be offering further poetry courses, so that’s another legacy. My heartfelt thanks to all the staff and other artists at Uillinn. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m glad to have found new friends.

(PS Love how the WordPress formatting has disjointed the poem across the page! It wasn’t written like that, but as it’s evocative of the gaps in synapses that can occur with dementia, I’ll leave it like this…)

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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)

‘Tings are quite’ – Scribblers and Slow Art

Afric young poems_17

Sad red cats and weird bed-cars, cloud-soups and monster mice, butterfly-lions, aliens raining beans and timely planets – these are some of the bizarre, delightful apparitions that turned up this week in Scribblers, my Young Writers’ Taster workshops. As one child put it, ‘a magic puffed.’ Really looking forward to the rest of the Programme, which will take place on Fridays from 3.30 – 5.00pm. All children from 8-12 years of age are welcome. The poems created during these workshops will be compiled into a pamphlet, in time for President Michael D. Higgins’s visit in June.

I joined Alison Cronin’s Slow Art Afternoon on World Slow Art Day, where she made us look at individual exhibits for ten whole minutes, without speaking. The effect was amazing. I saw so much more, as time passed, and began to connect with each piece in a profound way. Later we had afternoon tea and exchanged our ideas about the artworks.

Inspired by the experience, for today’s Poem to Go workshop, I took my students to this painting by John Doherty, wonderfully titled ‘Tings are quite’ and got them to study it for a while, before writing an ekphrastic poem in response to it:

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The Tuesday Poem to Go sessions have moved from the art space (which has been taken over for Life Drawing classes) to my studio, a more intimate experience.

This week, I’ve also written a poem in response to Emma Jervis’s beautiful photograph of the moon:

Thank you for 1500 likes

(Thanks also to Emma for the other photos above. Her website is here: http://www.emmajervis.com/) My poem will be showcased at the end of my residency, along with other completed collaborations.

The one-to-one editing surgeries are growing into two hours instead of the promised one hour and 20 minutes! I’m hoping those availing of this service find it good value, at €35 per surgery. For today’s session, we managed to get through nine short poems. Anyone interested in making an appointment can ring me on 086 3633567.

Slow dancing in a flaming building

image

Photograph taken by Emma Jervis. http://www.emmajervis.com/#!/index The ‘beasties’ on the wall are part of an exhibition called ‘Flying Colours’. Pupils from twenty primary schools contributed their work.

I’ve been invited to be Poet in Residence at the exciting new Uillinn Arts Centre in Skibbereen, West Cork, from the 24th March to the 18th May.

Part of the remit is to write a blog, and as I already have this one, I thought I’d hijack it for the eight weeks, to write about my discoveries and writing process during the residency, which will be my first. This is also the centre’s first time having a poet in residence, so we’ll all be learning from the experience. Justine Foster, one of the organisers at the centre, is fantastically open to any ideas I may have, so I’m exploring ways my poetry might respond to the opening season’s exhibition, called Fourth Space. This comprises sculptures and installations by a range of artists: David Beattie, Karl Burke, Rhona Byrne, Maud Cotter, Angela Fulcher, Mark Garry, Caoimhe Kilfeather, Dennis McNulty, and Liam O’Callaghan. As I’ll also be interacting with the wider community, out of my familiar territory  and in a wonderful space, who knows what will happen!

photograph-01-West-Cork-Arts-Centre-at-dusk

The new Uillinn Arts Centre in Skibbereen. Photograph by Celia Bartlett.http://ailecphotography.blogspot.ie/

During the residency, I’ll be offering Poem-to-Go lunchtime workshops on Tuesdays, and one-to to-one editing sessions, as well as collaborating with other artists in residence, such as the fantastic photographer Emma Jervis. I’m also looking forward to   observing aerial dancer and teacher Tara Brandel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpyplVqURqM.

Of course I’ll be reading as well as writing, and will continue to post any wonderful poems I come across.

Anyone interested in doing the workshops or having one-to-one editing sessions should contact the Uillinn Arts Centre: 028 22090 or 0863633567.

Meditation at Lagunitas by Robert Hass

images

All the new thinking is about loss.

In this it resembles all the old thinking.

The idea, for example, that each particular erases

the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-

faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk

of that black birch is, by his presence,

some tragic falling off from a first world

of undivided light. Or the other notion that,

because there is in this world no one thing

to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,

a word is elegy to what it signifies.

We talked about it late last night and in the voice

of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone

almost querulous. After a while I understood that,

talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,

pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman

I made love to and I remembered how, holding

her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,

I felt a violent wonder at her presence

like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river

with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,

muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish

called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.

Longing, we say, because desire is full

of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.

But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,

the thing her father said that hurt her, what

she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous

as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.

Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,

saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

Black Ice and Rain by Michael Donaghy

Michael-Donaghy-005

Can I come in? I saw you slip away.
Hors d’oeuvres depress you, don’t they? They do me.
And cocktails, jokes … such dutiful abandon.
Where the faithful observe immovable feasts
– boat races, birthdays, marriages, martyrdoms –
we’re summoned to our lonely ceremonies any time:
B minor, the mouldiness of an old encyclopedia,
the tinny sun snapping off the playground swings,
these are, though we can’t know this, scheduled
to arrive that minute of the hour, hour of the day,
day of every year. Again, regular as brickwork
comes the time the nurse jots on your chart
before she pulls the sheet across your face. Just so
the past falls open anywhere – even sitting here with you.

Sorry. You remind me of a girl I knew.
I met her at a party much like this, but younger, louder,
the bass so fat, the night so sticky you could drown.
We shouted at each other over soul
and cold beer in the crowded kitchen and l, at least,
was halfway to a kiss when she slipped
her arm around her friend.
I worked at liking him and it took work,
and it never got any easier being harmless,
but we danced that night like a three-way game of chess
and sang to Curtis Mayfield pumped so loud
that when I drove them home they could hardly
whisper to invite me up.

Their black walls smirked with Jesus on black velvet
– Jesus, Elvis, Mexican skeletons, big-eyed Virgins,
Rodin’s hands clasped in chocolate prayer –
an attitude of décor, not like this room of yours.
A bottle opened – tequila with a cringe of worm –
and she watched me.
Lighting a meltdown of Paschal candles
she watched me. He poured the drinks rasping
We’re seriously into cultural detritus. At which, at last,
she smiled. Ice cubes cracked. The worm sank in my glass.
And all that long year we were joined at the hip.

I never heard them laugh. They had,
instead, this tic of scratching quotes in the air –
like frightened mimes inside their box of style,
that first class carriage from whose bright window
I watched the suburbs of my life recede.
Exactly one year on she let me kiss her – once –
her mouth wine-chilled, my tongue a clumsy guest,
and after that the invitations dwindled.
By Christmas we were strangers. It was chance
I heard about the crash. He died at once.
Black ice and rain they said. No news of her.

I can’t remember why I didn’t write.
Perhaps I thought she’d sold the flat and left.

Some nights midway to sleep I’m six years old.
Downstairs it’s New Year’s Eve. Drink and shrieks.
But my mother’s lit the luminous plastic Jesus
to watch me through the night, which is why
I’ve got my pillow wrapped around my head.
I never hear the door. And when she speaks,
her thick-tongued anger rearing like a beast
I feel my hot piss spreading through the sheets.
But when I wake, grown up, it’s only sweat.
But if I dream I bleed. A briar crown,
a fist prised open wide, a steadied nail,
a hammer swinging down – the past falls open
anywhere…
Ash Wednesday evening.
Driving by, I saw her lights were on.
I noticed both their names still on the buzzer
and when I rang I heard her voice. Come in –
her nose was broken, her front teeth gone,
a rosary was twisted round her fists –
– Come in. I’ve been saying a novena.
Inside, each crucifix and candle shone,
transfigured in her chrysalis of grief.
She spoke about the crash, how she’d been driving,
how they had to cut her from the wreck…
and then she slipped and called me by his name.

Of those next hours I remember most
the silences between her sobs, the rain
against the skylight slowly weakening
to silence, silence brimming into sleep and dawn.
Then, having lain at last all night beside her,
having searched at last that black-walled room,
the last unopened chamber of my heart,
and found there neither pity nor desire
but an assortment of religious kitsch,
I inched my arm from under her and left.

Since then, the calmest voice contains her cry
just within the range of human hearing
and where I’ve hoped to hear my name gasped out
from cradle, love bed, death bed, there instead
I catch her voice, her broken lisp, his name.
Since then, each night contains all others,
nested mirror-within-mirror, stretching back from then
to here and now, this party, this room, this bed,
where, in another life, we might have kissed.
Thank you, my friend, for showing me your things –
you have exquisite taste – but let’s rejoin your guests
who must by now be wondering where you’ve gone.

LOVE BY EAVAN BOLAND

Image

Dark falls on this mid-western town
where we once lived when myths collided.
Dusk has hidden the bridge in the river
which slides and deepens
to become the water
the hero crossed on his way to hell.Not far from here is our old apartment.
We had a kitchen and an Amish table.
We had a view. And we discovered there
love had the feather and muscle of wings
and had come to live with us,
a brother of fire and air.
We had two infant children one of whom
was touched by death in this town
and spared: and when the hero
was hailed by his comrades in hell
their mouths opened and their voices failed and
there is no knowing what they would have asked
about a life they had shared and lost.

I am your wife.
It was years ago.
Our child was healed. We love each other still.
Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances
we speak plainly. We hear each other clearly.

And yet I want to return to you
on the bridge of the Iowa river as you were,
with snow on the shoulders of your coat
and a car passing with its headlights on:

I see you as a hero in a text —
the image blazing and the edges gilded —
and I long to cry out the epic question
my dear companion:
Will we ever live so intensely again?
Will love come to us again and be
so formidable at rest it offered us ascension
even to look at him?

But the words are shadows and you cannot hear me.
You walk away and I cannot follow