Despite nearly missing the launch altogether when my Aer Lingus flight out of Vienna was cancelled, I did eventually make it to Doolin for the Doolin Writers´ Weekend 8 hours late, only to find the bar still hopping and the clientele singing Disney´s Moana song. I love the west of Ireland. Donal Minihane and the crew put on a great festival every year, and the launch was done upstairs in Hotel Doolin by my longtime partner in rhyme Stephen Murray, battling Aussie Flu, Solpadeine and Guinness. Next up was Levis´ Corner Bar in Ballydehob - a lovely little music venue in West Cork now run by Joe & Caroline. I was joined on the night by Alan Tobin of LOW Mountain who added some sublime tunes. Alan and I used to cut the legs off each other on the GAA pitch so it was a welcome relief for me to see him standing still. Up to Galway after that to hook up with Little John Nee and launch the book at the Black Gate Cultural Centre. I could have chosen a better night with hindsight, but it was still fun and I´m grateful to John for singing some tunes and saying a few charming words. Kevin Higgins gave me a cracking review in the Galway Advertiser too.
Back to mainland Europe and the book was launched in Vienna at the Ruby Marie Hotel, with my brilliant friend Dominik Nostitz adding some words and songs, and Shane O Fearghail joining in with a cameo performance. Vienna really turned up and I´m blown away by the support. It was also great to get up to Prague again, the scene of so many Fringe Festivals down through the years with The Voice & The Verse. On every corner, in every bar, down every cobble stone street I could still see Niall Connolly, Stephen Murray, David Rynhart and Dan Donnelly. Good times. This time, although they were absent, I still spent some quality time with my old friends Ken Nash and Paul Solecki before launching the book at the Alchemy Readings.
Next up was Olomouc - a city I absolutely adore. And for good reason. David Livingstone always looks after me and other traveling artists, as does Zuzana Neubauerova; again, both joining forces to put on a great event in a bar with the cheapest beer this side of any river. Zuzana´s band The Luza were on fire that night!
A short time later and I got to visit Zagreb again for a reading in Booksa - my third time there and always nice to see some familiar faces. I was battling a head cold but earlier in the day Lee Murphy had taken me to a Sri Lankan restaurant where one of the levels of spiciness was "Are you kidding me?". It did the trick.
Marko Lakovič put on a great event in Ljubljana at the Literature House, even talking the supremely talented Noreia into playing a set. The Irish Embassy were again very supportive and Brian Nolan, in particular, was on the ball.
Finally, Budapest! Ahhhh Budapest, stop! What an absolutely delightful way to end a tour! We had a lovely crowd at Massolit Books and again, it was great to catch up with my old friends Treehugger Dan, Mary Murphy, Dora, Danyi... There´s a reason I keep going back to Budapest and I now know it´s the people I´m proud to have in my circles!
Thank you all - and also a big thank you to The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Irish embassies in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Ljubljana and Zagreb.
I first heard of American poet Tara Skurtu while on a reading tour of Romania back in 2014. The Zona Noua poets of Sibiu had nothing but good things to say. Needless to say, I looked her up, read some poems online and a few years later, had the chance to feature her in Vienna as, by a stroke of luck for me and a stroke of well-earned and deserved merit for her, she was back on this side of the Atlantic on a Fulbright. In Vienna, we walked through vineyards, talked poetry, Pinsky, manuscripts, Romania, and I wondered how long it would be before we saw a book from her. Not too long. Not too long at all.
The Amoeba Game feels as if it has been years in the making such is the composure, ease and word-perfect stanzas each page gifts you. In its simplest form, this book is a collection of memories that are struggling to get a foothold in the present day of the narrator - but these memories are far from simple. There is a sense of loss, of naivety, innocence; a question of faith in oneself, the church, or in the correctional facilities in the US. There is the lamentation of what could have been and what still might be. "...didn´t know where / we came from or where we were going." As with any good collection of poetry, there is something for the reader to latch onto and relate to. Straight away I was the child in "Indian River at Dusk" who "...named/ everyone I loved to God before falling/ asleep in my yellow room every night - / God was a word person. After two/ Hail Mary´s and an Our Father I´d be / good again." Whether a personal feeling as in this poem, or an observational understanding as in "Shame", Skurtu brings to the surface all those emotions from childhood that we have not quite been able to figure out. As kids in the eighties, we sniggered during Mass, we lied at Confession; we took the Thanks be to God at the end of the service to mean something else. In Confession, I was hit with a blast of images from my own childhood that annotated every line. "When my sister saved the Body of Christ / for after Mass and fed it to the ducks / to make them holy, I believed it just might."
"Catechism" follows in a similarly innocent yet rebellious manner: "Who wants an eternity of cloud/-to-cloud bouncing, no afternoon/ chocolate chip cookie in sight? / I´m against dying." And this, for me, is where the book starts to grow; where one light-hearted, poignant theme of guilt and admission leads us into adolescence and eventually adulthood; where death is now a reality and not just something to be against. Poems such as "Waking Verne" and "Survivor Vade Mecum" - an almost tragicomedy - with a neighbor´s "constellation of cats" under her backyard, slowly build towards the reveal that the poet might just be getting pulled back into these memories through the eyes of her niece. "For over a year my niece / believed the moon took my airplane / and wouldn´t let me go, but/ Where is my mom? she asks?" (from "Paradox"). Just as we hit the midpoint of the book, we feel we´re in for something a little bit darker.
"Tourniquet" is that poem that bridges the gap and brings us from the past to the present: a series of poems about her current home in Romania. If anything, I wasn´t ready for such a shift. I wanted a little bit more of that past; something to keep stirring memories of my own as the poems so far had done with hammer blows of splendor. If anything, I don´t think Skurtu is finished writing this book, and maybe that´s a good thing. As oftentimes with travel, with moving away from home, we get a much larger perspective of the past and what really happened. It takes time, but I´m sure this will come to light in her writing in the coming years. "I´m beginning to realize my long poem / may be the person I can´t avoid, / a snake in the blade of a lawnmower, / striped segments curling in the air / and slapping onto my thighs / a blood just like mine." (from "Long Poem, Bucharest" ) As a reader, I for one am looking forward to seeing where this particular poetic journey leads us.
This collection is the moments between the band leaving the stage and the encore.
The Amoeba Game is available from the author: www.taraskurtu.com
My debut poetry collection Stopgap Grace is now out from Salmon Poetry.
I´m excited to announce this to the world as it´s the culmination of about 10 years of work, cropped, chopped, scented and seasoned and packaged ever so deftly between a cracking cover by Jennifer Bada. I´ll also be embarking on a few readings and launches, so check out the Tour page and come along and say hi.
The book can be bought by clicking the button below:
Dorianne Laux’s fourth book of poems, Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions, as well as Superman: The Chapbook and Dark Charms, both from Red Dragonfly Press. Recent poems appear in The American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Cerise Press, Margie, The Seattle Review, Tin House and The Valparaiso Review. Her fifth collection of poetry, The Book of Men, will be published by W.W. Norton in 2011. Laux lives with her husband, poet Joseph Millar, and teaches in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University.
Joseph Millar is the author of Fortune, from Eastern Washington University Press. His first collection, Overtime (2001) was finalist for the Oregon Book Award and the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. Millar grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Johns Hopkins University and spent 25 years in the San Francisco Bay area, working at a variety of jobs, from telephone repairman to commercial fisherman. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Southern Review, TriQuarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, DoubleTake, New Letters, Ploughshares, Manoa, and River Styx. His work has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in Poetry, Montalvo Center for the Arts, Oregon Literary Arts and a 2008 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. In 1997 he gave up his job as a telephone installation foreman. He now lives in Raleigh, NC and teaches at Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA Program in Oregon and yearly at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.
Ever since my first tentative steps into poetry, I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by people who consistently raise the bar. The Galway scene of the mid 2000´s which I was 'born into' was both supportive and healthily competitive. There was Kevin Higgins, Mary Madec, Lorna Shaughnessy, Stephen Murray and Dave Lordan to name a few. And I mean a few. And also there from the beginning was Elaine Feeney from just out the road, with a penchant for turning up at the regular readings at BK´s Wine Bar or Over the Edge in the Galway Library and roughing us all up with some carefully delivered wallops. In fact, if there are two words that are missing from the cover of her third Salmon Poetry collection, they are "Continue to".
Not since Brendan Kennelly´s The Man Made of Rain have I read such a vivid and raw tale of recovery. From the very first line of Hindering Hercules, three poems in, ("There´s nothing holy about dying on a hospital ward.") I´m ready to be taken on this trip. That this poem appears at the start of the book was either carefully planned, or a coincidental stroke of brilliance. It blows every brick out of the wall of reservedness that a reader might naturally hold onto until later poems. In the very next poem In the Way we hear a somewhat quieter, accepting voice "relieved that machines/ now speak for me / put me on guard/ in the middle of the / resuscitation bed". The line breaks are short, like measured breaths. A little calm before we are headfirst into Antaeus, who, according to Greek mythology, was invincible as long as he remained in contact with the earth. In her recovery, the poet leaving the bed, leaving the house "like a wheel free dinky / car tumbling" is that very risk when it could all go south. The coffee table becomes a coffin table and in turn it becomes another object to let go of. Line by line, we slide our shoulders under hers, prop her up and walk to the end of this poem with her.
This though is not merely a collection of recovery. Feeney picks up from her previous collection The Radio was Gospel in addressing her family with heartfelt poems such as Jack and Venturia Inaequalis - reminders of how precious time really is; a concept which, perhaps, in this latest book exudes gravity. For me though, The Harvest is the poem with which this book really bares its teeth. And I´d been waiting for it. As mentioned, in her previous collection Feeney demonstrates a remarkable variety and shift in her tone, subject matter and language; the poems coming quickly like jabs to test the distance and defense of the opponent. In this sense, Mass was the uppercut to land us on the canvas. In Rise, we have The Harvest to execute the same action: a brutal and ferocious piece of social commentary reflecting on one of Ireland´s darkest histories. You just have to read it to know.
A brushstroke of lyricism and headbutt of honesty: all in all, brilliant as both an achievement and a collection from Elaine Feeney and one which you should buy here from Salmon Poetry.
Michael McGriff is man who is alive to his senses. When a friend of mine in Vienna gave me Dismantling the Hills, I read it and thought "Okay...let´s see what you got." Home Burial found its way into my satchel next and kicked out all the other books. By the time I had had a sniff at Black Postcards, I couldn´t wait for Early Hour. What I will say off the bat is that I have never been to or know anything about the Pacific Northwest, but McGriff has that envious knack of being able to make the reader feel as if they grew up there. He has an arsenal of similes and metaphors that makes this latest collection easily one of the most descriptively refreshing books I´ve read in a long long time.
This is a book-length sequence inspired by the painting Frühe Stunde by German painter Karl Hofer. It´s the second time the writer has challenged himself in this way (following the joint project Our Secret Life in the Movies with J.M. Tyree) and the result is a book which wouldn´t be out of place in a gallery. In the title poem, McGriff dabs his brush into the night to paint the morning: "In this room lit up / like the throatlatch / of a horse, like sea-foam / under the breeze of a black moon." The poem is a cascade of imagery which deftly sets up what this collection is going to do: address the subject of the painting - (when)... "a bucket of sparks / empties onto the mantle-dark / shoulders of the early hour, / you become the early hour. "
The poems that flow after this brilliantly combine the physical and the romantic. There is repetition without anything becoming repetitive. Such is the vividness of McGriff´s brush strokes, it´s sometimes hard to distinguish whether the romance lies between the narrator and the surrounding landscape or the narrator and the living body for whom this landscape serves as a gorgeous counterpart. "When I say you have the beauty / of a dirt road / I mean you have thin shoulders / that twist in me / like the fault lines / in a minor planet´s moon." (Letter Sewn into the Hem of a Dress made of Smoke) Poems such as this bring us close to Hofer´s painting before the very next page places us outside the window, outside the frame, on the dirt road, in the fields, in the grass by the creek, on the river bank where "The moon is fishing for compliments / along the sandbar" (Sleeping beside White River) . It´s as if the poems wander as often as the thoughts of the narrator watching over his sleeping muse.
I will not suggest that the writer intended to tease the reader, but what I will tell you is that this book is filled with humdingers, punctuated by the Black Postcards that fizzle and pop like sudden moments of early hour genius that we wish we had written down.
I will suggest that this is a book you invest in, and, if you too are a poet, read Overlook, Cape Arago and then the last poem of the collection, I am an Ox in the Year of the Horse, and see if you can resist clapping in a public space at the last two lines of each.
Early Hour is available here.
A brilliant weekend in Doolin is still fresh in the mind. You couldn't ask for a more stunning & isolated backdrop than the west coast of Clare to be stuck with a great bunch of writers and attendees. Huge shout out and thanks to Hotel Doolin and Donal Minihane for putting the weekend together and looking after us, also to Stephen Murray for the tip of the hat and for untouchable MC-ing skills. It was also great to see and hang out with again some of the features (some pics below) - Elaine Feeney (what a reading!), Dave Lordan, Billy Ramsell, Elizabeth Reapy, June Caldwell - and a very entertaining Salmon Anthology reading by Trevor Conway, Paul Casey, Knute Skinner, Sarah Clancy & John Sexton to name a few! And as for the Bogman's Cannon Open Mic... that needs to be filmed next year!
I must say I am really looking forward to getting back to the podium/mic/megaphone - or even a table with a few pints and like-minded individuals with a couple of pints of stout.
I have never been to the Doolin Writers' Weekend but from what I've heard it's a great few days. A stellar lineup - a great location - a host that is pumping new life into the wild west coast.
After a few blistering hot weeks in Vienna, we're on our way to autumn (if the shop window displays are anything to go by!)
So on September 8th, come and join us at The Vienna Globe for some whiskey and poetry. Fingers crossed, it will be whiskey weather by then. but then, when isn;t a good time for a whiskey I ask you?
The first evening, where attendees will share a poem - either their own work or someone else´s - will take place in The Vienna Globe on Zieglergasse 65, Vienna 1070. (details and tickets below). It will be a relaxed, informal, friendly evening of chat and banter with words and of course the grain... For the first evening, I have talked with the Whisky Experts (www.whiskyexperts.net) at Pot Still on Strozzigasse and between us we´ve selected 4 quality Irish whiskeys (with per chance a bonus whiskey if I think that the contribution of the poets merits it!) There will also be food and the chance to shake hands and meet new friends.
Some good thoughts on two chapbooks: ‘Riding off into that Strange Technicolor Sunset’ by Kevin Ridgeway and ‘Dried Up’ by Trista Waxali-Hurley.
At a time when Arts Councils around the world are announcing cuts as cooperatively as butchers’ shop windows, the humble chapbook is thriving. Let me hit you with the opinion from the offset and we’ll see where we go from there: chapbooks are just as important to the writer as any book deal from a national or international publisher. I talked before in a previous post (“To the page we turn”) about beginnings, and this is not only about beginnings, but also sustainability. You can stick all sorts of definitions onto the word ‘chapbook’, (and agree or disagree with Writers Digest’s definition) but essentially, it’s a smaller book of 40 pages or less, produced inexpensively by either the author or a small independent publisher.
So what’s their significance and how on earth can you say they hold their own among the glossier, bar coded, nationally distributed books whose publishers have a pretty logo and a website with a Paypal-entrusted store? In a recent article in Poets & Writers magazine, poet Travis Mossotti takes a look at the life of a touring poet. In it he argues that making things happen, making lasting connections through readings, class visits, book signings, lectures, workshops etc. will be a burden falling squarely on the poet. (“Unless you have Allison Granucci on speed dial; or you have Knopf printed on your spine;...or you’ve changed your name to James Franco” – oh James!). Admittedly, poets like Mossitti and fiction writers with publishers behind them also have to do this. However, the majority of chapbook authors own the stock, not just the rights. And if they do not own the stock, it’s far cheaper and easier to get hold of than a book that is retailing for 15 dollars plus tax. That makes a big difference in terms of getting on the road, networking, getting the work into the public's hands and laying the stepping stones to more fruitful ventures.
That brings us to the two chapbooks.
In ‘Dried Up’, Canadian and LA-based author Trista Hurley-Waxali offers a amiable, sometimes jocular look at Los Angeles through the eyes of an outsider. She has distanced herself enough in her writing to be objective at times, yet offers situations so familiar to our everyday pull-of-hair frustration that we can’t but help place ourselves in her sketches; ‘Self-serve Dialog’, for example, a no-holds-barred rant that we all go through at some point or another. ‘Real Things’ will also elicit a few smiles and nods when read, although, as with other poems in this collection, the subtlety of truth is there on the second read.
“She always shows off her slender legs, disregarding her/ blotchy/ department store self-tanner and the dark purple/ bruises on her knees.” (from ‘Complete’)
“Her V05-sprayed hair would glisten in the sun,/ while rose-scented talcum powder/
started to leave a line of sweat on her chest/ where she always caught me looking.” (from ‘The Worm Basks)
Her observations are always sharp, zooming in on details we might otherwise neglect, egging us on to look again. In a way, the sparseness of the chapbook (10 poems), the moment to moment imagery, could be likened to the irony of isolation you get in a crowded city such as LA where people appear as “leaves, sharp as blades, ... getting ready for battle.” This is a tidy, well-written first chapbook that will have justifiably given the author encouragement to continue.
I couldn’t have picked two more contrasting chapbooks to write about. Kevin Ridgeway’s ‘Riding off into that Strange Technicolor Sunset’ is an altogether different beast. I had originally paired it with a Neil Young LP and a bottle of Alaskan Amber. By the third poem, I had turned off the record player and shoved a few more bottles into the freezer under a bag of peas for quick-cooling access.
Some poems can be read once, digested easily before moving swiftly on to the next poem. Within 15 minutes, you could have 7 or 8 poems happily sitting in the department of checked-off-things in your head. If you try this with Ridgeway's poems, you will explode. It's rare that I've seen so much packed into a page of poetry. Images comes at you like Mayweather jabs. Sentences get you in a headlock and drag you down alleyways. You will be forgiven for reminding yourself to breathe as you sit winded in your chair getting the bejesus beaten out of you. And that can only be good.
The link keeping this collection together is Dallas-Ft. Worth, taking to the page in various forms: :
"the petrified doppelgangers of the long dead/ bearded settlers of this funky western city/
look down upon their bearded hipster/ successors playing hacky sack in skinny jeans." ('Statues of FT. Worth')
'Giraffe Hunting in Downtown Dallas' is probably my favorite poem, purely because it is bizarrely bulletproof when it comes to finding deeper meaning some of us like to look for. As with Eliot's three white leopards, here is another poem that you just have to take for what it is - it's a joyride.
Cameos appear every few pages too, from Townes Van Zandt to Buddy Holly, Hank Williams to Big Mama Thornton. But this is not just about music - it's about movies too; about what ideas we had in our heads growing up: "the old west/ with its paintbrush of Technicolor/ those afternoon movies from/ when we were young." ('Stockyards').
An honest, weird and wonderful collection.
*More from Trista Hurley-Waxali at this blog: https://tristaisshort.wordpress.com/
*Kevin Ridgeway is all over the internet. You could start here:
I could begin by telling you that this album is beautifully tied together by one song - no - one line in a song: "When does money lie awake and worry about you and me?" ('Stolen with permission from Neil McCarthy')
But I would be lying about that.
Like any fan of Niall Connolly - the man and his music - I am just delighted that we now get to listen to this his eighth studio album, currently accompanying him on a tour so long that surely it was fruitless trying to design one poster with all the dates on it. (details of which can be found by clicking here..... or for the hell of it, here)
'all we have become' sees Connolly picking up exactly where he left off with 'Sound '(2013): a man at ease with his craft, his lyrics, his audience, his uncanny knack of turning a group of songs into a 40 minute or so journey through the sublime, the heartfelt, the intimate, the poetic, the dirty and the uplifting. In opening with the gentle and stirring 'Down to the sea', from which the album title is taken, we get a feeling for Connolly's peers and diaspora; perhaps the nostalgia that follows into the second track 'The Four Face Liar' which, in keeping with its subject, has a distinctively 90's pop-rock feel to it which works perfectly. 'The Blue Dollar' put me in a Ford Capri in the 70's riding through the Mojave Desert - again, this is a good thing: I want a song to take me somewhere else, and that is exactly how this album works. From the raucously infectious 'Not my monkey' to the beautifully arranged 'Carry it with you', this is an album that you will want to carry with you, and you will be glad you did, I'm not lying about that. Available now from Niall's guitar case, itunes, and CD Baby.