Belfast Book Festival 2016

We had a nice city break in the compact and cool city of Belfast. Mum came with us and the M-boy and Simon was doing his poetry thing. He was reading with the Doire Poets showcase in the Crescent Arts Centre. Mum stayed with M-boy very kindly as he really does not quite dig poetry just yet!


We arrived in and the lovely and very poetic Stephen Connolly welcomed us to the lovely Green Room. It was a super Green Room full of nice beverages, treats, dips and sweet things to munch on and drink while we waited.

Stephanie Conn and Michael J. Whelan were also reading with Simon and we had a lovely chat with them and their families who were up to support them.

Simon’s Uncle and Aunty were in the audience to listen to Simon, which he was delighted with as they live in Canada but were in Belfast that week.

Stephanie read from her debut collection, the woman on the other side and Michael’s collection is called Peacekeeper. Stephanie reads very well, I discovered she is a teacher so that explains her excellent reading voice though Michael read his poetry about his experiences of war with emotions well too.

Simon read 6 of his poems and it feels like Ground hog day as over the last five years of him writing these poems, I have heard them again and again. He was still great and sounded very fresh!

Afterwards, we had a drink with Stephen Connolly and we talked about all of the inside gossip of the fiction and poetry world. He walked us to a Japanese restaurant called Sakura in the University District that he recommended and it was really good.

It was a shame I didn’t get to the Short story talk but it was on at the same time as the Doire Press folk and I had to make a choice. Jan Carsen and other new Irish short story writers were speaking but I am sure I will catch them again.


The Belfast Book Festival is one I would love to see more of but we took time to explore the Black Cab tours of political Belfast and Long’s Fish and Chips restaurant too. A girl cannot spend her time obsessing over books, you know but No Alibis Bookshop was sussed out in the end as was a really nice coffee shop that did refined sugar free goodies in it called Kaffe-O. A Hotel Chocolate shop may have been visited too.

Long trips to home in Mayo and the New Yorker podcast

I am originally from a small village in the West of Ireland. It takes us about 5-6 hours to get from my home in Carlow to my Mum’s house! so, Simon and I listen to New Yorker Fiction and Poetry Podcasts as there are hundreds of them available for free.


A well-known author reads a short story from another well-known author previously published in the New Yorker Magazine. For book lovers, each podcast is an hour of bliss. The New Yorker Fiction editor, Deborah Treisman is the Editor of the New Yorker Fiction magazine and is a brilliant interviewer. She always comes across as really serious and sometimes as if she doesn’t understand the short stories that are being read out! Obviously, being who she is, this is her way of getting to the nub of the story and pulling some good stuff out of the writer she is interviewing.

On the way down, we listened to David Means’ short story, the Spot being read by Jonathan Franzen. It is a most excellent story and we enjoyed the poetic rhythm and messed up characters and general naughtiness. On the way back, we listened to short story-hero of mine, Kevin Barry read Brian Friel’s, Saucer of Larks. Kevin is always very entertaining and his readings of stories are the best. He had Deborah giggling and laughing away.

You can hear Kevin read here at

and Jonathan read David Mean at

I use a free app called Podcast addict which downloads all the NY Fiction and poetry podcasts for me and has them ready for long, long, long roadtrips. Enjoy.

The Multimedia Revolution in Poetry, new online essay by Dave Lordan in The Stinging Fly

The Multimedia Revolution in Poetry, new online essay by Dave Lordan in The Stinging Fly

The good folks at The Stinging Fly have put the full text of my essay The Multimedia Revolution in Poetry online. The essay argues that, led by young and often politicised practitioners, poetry is going through a major transformation and has changed over from primarily a text only art form, to primarily a multimedia (inc performance) art form – will be of interest to all curious about the changing landscape of contemporary poetry – extract below – read the rest at link – comments welcome etc. Shares and forwards appreciated as usual.


” That state-entwined networks overseeing and regulating poetry have, aside from occasional tokenistic or face-saving gestures, set about ignoring the digital and performance revolution is perhaps the best piece of circumstantial evidence for it. For it is in the nature of revolutions that they take place outside of and in contradiction to the institutions and networks with a vested interest in the continuation of the old ways of doing things. Thus, with few exceptions, the revolution of poetry has also been a revolution of autonomy, of proving that twenty-first century poets require neither the support nor the regulation of the state, nor the patronage of vested interests within the literary world to make original and impactful work that reaches a wide audience. Digital and performance mediums have therefore offered a much needed path of independence from the neo-liberal state and state-regulated arts bureacracy to many poets.”

Poetry Workshop with Philip Terry

There will be a poetry workshop with Phillip Terry in the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies, Mater Dei Institute (DCU)  at 6 p.m on Tuesday 1st March  2016.

Philip Terry was born in Belfast, and is currently Director of Creative Writing at the University of Essex.  He is the author of the lipogrammatic novel The Book of Bachelors, and the poetry collections Oulipoems, Oulipoems 2, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  His translations include a version of Dante’s Inferno relocated to present-day Essex, and Raymond Queneau’s last published book of poetry, Elementary Morality.

Philip Terry’s tapestry was shortlisted in 2013 for the Goldsmiths Prize. 

It is a free workshop so if you are about the area, contact Michael Hinds at
Oh, to live nearer the capital!


Cork Spring Poetry Festival 2016

The three of us headed off to the annual Spring Poetry Festival in Cork last week. Simon is the biggest attendee of poetry events but I usually go along to soak up the atmosphere and browse in a few select bookshops in the capital!


Simon was reading at the Gregory O’ Donoghue readings this year along with Rosamund Taylor, a poet I had met in Bantry a few years ago. I obviously had to bring the BOY in with me to hear his father read but the BOY decided to sing Twinkle, Twinkle  while the poets read. This was not cool despite everyone being very nice about it. We abandoned the readings and adventured the city.


The next time we go, Emrys might be less singy but more walky so who knows if we will ever get to sit in a poetry reading with him. One day. But, it is all good.


Poem for Ireland-Guest Post-Dr. Derek Coyle

From ‘Making Love Outside Aras an Uachtarain’ to ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’: Ireland’s Poem of the Century.


First we must congratulate RTE on this great idea: to select a poem that stands out as Ireland’s poem of the century. You might say the idea is corny, you might say it is impossible to choose, but you cannot deny that the contest has seen some great poems dusted down and read on radio, discussed on television, and in living rooms, streets, and bars across the country. Poetry is the ancient art of elevated speech, of raising language to a pitch such that it captures an important thought or emotion in a way that no other form can. It was practiced in ancient Greece, Sumeria, China; and, indeed, in ancient Ireland. More importantly, great poems are still being read and written today. It is a worthy enterprise to be reminded of the value of this art in an age where we are bombarded from all sides by visual and aural snippets of trivia and advertising, here one moment and gone the next; from television, internet, and radio. It is refreshing to just hear a voice speaking well-chosen words in an artful and thoughtful way.

What to make of the shortlist? So many great poems: from the historically resonant W.B. Yeats’ ‘Easter 1916’; to the panoramic scope of Derek Mahon’s poem which starts from ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’ and concludes with the lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii; to the heartfelt simplicity of Paula Meehan’s ‘The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks’. The big names are there: Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney, Louis MacNeice, Patrick Kavanagh – it is impossible to imagine a list of great Irish poems without these poets being on it. We also have the popular work of Paul Durcan. The Irish language is well represented, the modern classic and the contemporary, Sean O’Riordain and Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh. Of course, so many great poems are not there too: ‘Stony Grey Soil’ by Kavanagh, ‘The War Horse’ by Boland, ‘Amongst School Children’ by Yeats, ‘The Harvest Bow’ by Heaney, could all stand shoulder to shoulder with the poems chosen. However, it is a shortlist, much has to be left out by necessity.

Who do I place in my top three, and why? In third place I go for Yeats great pronouncement on the figures who offered their lives for the noble cause of Irish freedom, ‘Easter 1916’. I admire this poem, as so often in Yeats, for his mastery of poetic form. Look at the very basic pattern of the poem, inspired by the date of the Rising, two stanzas of 16 and 24 lines respectively, and where you never feel that a single line has been put in just to keep the numbers balanced. You also have to admire Yeats’ mastery of memorable phrasing; who in Ireland could not finish these lines once you start them: ‘all changed, changed utterly:/A terrible beauty is born’?

For second place, I opt for Kavanagh’s magical evocation of a child’s perception of a rural Irish Christmas, a poem that could have ended up sounding sentimental but never once hits a cloying note, and a poem and a poet who occupies a unique place in the imagination of Irish people. At his best Patrick Kavanagh captured in resonant word and phrase what seemed to be the experience of so many of the country’s people; life in small country farms, villages, and towns. His ‘A Christmas Childhood’ has its fair share of memorable lines: ‘The light between the ricks of hay and straw/Was a hole in heaven’s gable’, to ‘In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,/The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.’ After reading the poem we can almost hear the melodeon music his father played that morning, the music to which the stars of the east got up and danced; a very visual and striking image.

However, for my number one, I opt for Derek Mahon’s ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford.’ Not only one of the best poems written in Ireland in the last fifty years, but quite possibly one of the greatest poems written in the English language in that period. The poem is immense in its scope, starting from a small, forgotten shed in Co. Wexford, Mahon builds his poem into an extended metaphor, with the mushrooms finally coming to stand by the poem’s conclusion, for all lost, forgotten, struggling people. The poem concludes, calling on the reader to listen and intervene, having suggested many of the great tragedies of twentieth century history; from the local catastrophe of the Irish civil war to the global catastrophe of the death camps of Treblinka. The poem has many eloquent and memorable lines, typical of the phrasing of the Mahon voice; the mushrooms left for so long waiting in the dark, ‘have been so long/Expectant that there is left only the posture’; ‘they lift frail heads in gravity and good faith’; ‘let not our naïve labours have been in vain!’ Of course, such wonderful phrasing, and the magnificent poetic conceit that lies behind the poem, the mushrooms as a metaphor for all patiently suffering and waiting people, allows us to overlook one significant weakness at the heart of the poem, mushrooms are a fungi that do not need light to grow: ‘A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.’ Regardless of this oversight, the poem is utterly memorable, expressive of so much that needs to be said, and thereby very moving; what we want from the greatest of our poems.

Dr. Derek Coyle lectures in English Literature and Irish Studies at Carlow College. He has published poems and reviews in The SHOp, Ceide, The Texas Literary Review, Revival, Wordlegs, and the Irish Literary Supplement. Recently, he has had poems published in Mexico, in Cuadrivio, in their Irish issue. He was commended for the Patrick Kavanagh Award(2014), shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Award (2010), and the Bradshaw Prize (2011).

A poem for Evelyn O’ Connor

A poem for Evelyn?

There is, perhaps, an inevitability about defaulting to the familiar. I look at the list of 10 and instantly, certain poems leap out off the page like fish desperate for some flip tail glory. I see Mahon first, and my gut wrenches as his plea echoes in the deepest chambers of my soul “Save us, save us” they seem to say, “let the God not abandon us who have come so far in darkness and in pain”. Here is a poem that entirely reworked my sense of past and present; that reaffirmed my passion for history, that reawakened my sixteen year old self, who believed that identifying the roots of Hitler’s anti-antisemitism was a worthy course of study, for after all, as the clichés tell us, we must understand the past or we are destined to repeat its mistakes and how sad that the past has now become the province of a “light meter and relaxed itinerary” instead of a frightening vista screaming at us ‘never again’. Yet, “even now there are places where a thought might grow”. The time to despair is not yet nigh.


My eye line shifts and Yeats swims into my consciousness. How many times did he save me the agony of trying to explain the essence of paradox with his “terrible beauty is born”? I think of his poem and am immediately greeted by the haunting stone in the midst of all that cannot simply proceed while the present is so imperfect, so flawed. And yet life goes on, in “the rider, the birds that range, from cloud to tumbling cloud”. And suddenly the spectre of pointless sacrifice rears its head, for “England may keep faith for all that is said and done” and my heart aches for their sacrifice, for “what if excess of love bewildered them till they died?”.

It seems I am rooted in the past, rooted in what might have been, and yet, my emotional connection to “A Christmas Childhood” is less intense. I connect to “the winking glitter of a frosty dawn” having witnessed it first hand this Christmas in my Mayo county home, but give me any day the epic tragedy of The Great Hunger, of “the man who made a field his bride” left with “three legs hanging between wide-apart legs”. A more difficult poem, for sure, but a more worthy one, without question. My reaction, similarly, to the Heaney offering on the list, is one of dismissal. Yes, When All the Others were Away at Mass, he was never closer his whole life to the woman who gave him life, but there is no wisdom in this poem that I could not have reached myself, alone in my thoughts. Any number of Heaney masterpieces are more worthy, not least The Republic of Conscience. Now there is a poem that calls upon us to be greater than that which we already are. Give me a call to action over nostalgia any day.

So is there some light of imagination in these wet clods, or why do we stand here shivering? I find myself reaching for the less familiar. I love Boland. The Famine Road speaks to me in the aching pain of infertility I have endured, so I reach for her now to see if she can speak of similar pain in other circumstance, and yes, I see an epic simplicity in her evocation of “what there is between a man and woman, and in which darkness it can best be proved”. But, like Heaney above, while the echo of the familiar gives rise to a certain connection, I am not challenged enough. This, to my mind, is what poetry is for. Else, give me song lyrics and I will be sated.

And so perhaps Louis MacNeice gets my third vote, after Mahon and Yeats, as he holds my mind with Dublin’s seedy elegance as the “sun comes up in the morning like barley sugar on the water”? Or Seán O’Ríordáin as he seduces me with his entreaty to “cleanse your mind and cleanse your tongue which got tied up in a syntax at odds with your intellect”. The plot thickens, the choice becomes an impossible one as I am caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, drowning in the beauty of poetry I wish I could have composed myself.

No, it would seem a woman has won my heart. Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh’s “neon lights light up the foreign corners of my heart” and I am hers, even in translation.

Durcan, Meehan, I apologise.

This then is my list.

A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford by Derek Mahon

Easter 1916 by WB Yeats and

Filleadh ar an gCathair by Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh

Evelyn O’ Connor is a post-primary English teacher who is also passionate about technology in education. She runs her own, highly popular and successful blog called which is a resource for all Leaving Certificate English students.

She is currently working for the JCT (Junior Cycle for Teachers) as an English advisor. 







My Poem for Ireland is…

First up, we have the very religious and very Christmassy poem from Patrick Kavanagh, A Christmas Childhood. This poem is told from an adult’s viewpoint to begin with then switches to that of a child. It tells us that really only the young can fully enjoy the wonder of Christmas and its magic. However, as an adult, it may come back in snippets. Kavanagh evokes crystal clear images of Christmas and what it was to him and many of the people who read this, I would assume. I love Christmas and can relate to the innocence and awe that is lost by the child once they become an adult. That does make me sad. However, I get the impression Kavanagh was a holy man and this comes across strongly in the poem. There is an old-world feel to this, typical of feel that we get from reading Peig Sayers. A time and place that is gone but yet, important but perhaps not that important enough to be my Poem for Ireland.


A Disused shed in Wexford by Derek Mahon. I’m didn’t connect with it but I can see it is a powerful poem about history and the pain of the people in it.

Dublin by Louis MacNeice-I really liked it. Brilliant imagery. I am there with him.

Easter 1916 by W.B. Yeats is a strongly evocative and emotional response. I have always really liked this poem. A terrible beauty is born..and so many other great quotables from this poem.

Fill Arís by Séan Ó Ríordáin-I can’t get on with the theme or the idea behind this poem. It is old-world. There is so much more to life that the life that Sean tells us to return to. I’m not sure if this Ireland exists anymore apart from when the tourists come out. It’s a no from me.

Filleadh ar an gCathair by Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh. This poem is the opposite of the poem Fill Aris and its thoughts. The city rocks and pulses in this poem. I loved it. The short, snappiness of the language and the words. The images it brings up. This poem loves the city. It’s a modern classic. This is my third favourite for A Poem for Ireland.

Making love outside Aras An Uachtarain-I am not overly keen on Paul Durcan’s poetry. He is what some people describe as “gas”. His poems always try to make the reader laugh with their apparent cuteness. The title here might win it the Poem for Ireland alone but that’s not enough, in my opinion. People will need to read this poem and the other 9 poems and make up their mind without simply reading the title and thinking it’s “hilarious”. Once you get over the title, there is not much left there.

Quarantine by Eavan Boland is a simple narrative of a love story based in the Famine. I really liked it until I got to the end whereupon it became all preachy-like.

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks by Paula Meehan is my second favourite. I love the way Paula Meehan uses her voice and accent as a rhythm. This poem tells the story of a young girl who gave birth to a baby at the statue of Mary in Granard years back. It is told in the voice of the Virgin Mary and ends on the depressing point that Virgin Mary did nothing to help this girl and her baby. A statement on religion perhaps and humanity.

When All The Others Were Away At Mass by Seamas Heaney, the late master and hero of Irish poetry had to be featured in any Top Ten list of Irish poetry. This poem is simply beautiful and evokes a moment that everyone who loved their parent can relate to and be touched by. There are no tricks here. No showing off. It is a poem for everyone and that is why I make this my Poem for Ireland. This is my  favourite of the Poem for Ireland shortlist but I am unsure to whether this poem could be called my favourite Seamas Heaney poem or even my favourite Irish poem. I’ve got to pick from the ten here and that is the one I pick.

I predict Heaney will win as we love, love, love him. Or it may go the gas-sounding title. Choose wisely, guys! If you get the chance, you can read the poems here and listen to audio and watch archived footage from the poets themselves.







Poem for Ireland:My Top Three:Guest Post by Simon Lewis

Poem for Ireland – my top 3 – Simon Lewis


Of the ten poems in the shortlist, I’m not sure if I’m heading into Rick O’Shea territory by admitting I had only read 6 out of the 10 of them before. I think I get away with this as most of these 6 were not on the Leaving Cert syllabus. Also, I can’t think of any reason why I would have chosen to read the two poems in the Irish language so I’m giving myself a pat on the back before I even get down to business. (As an aside, I have to begrudgingly admit, I liked Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuaigh’s poem.)
It was quite difficult to choose my top 3 poems from the list as some of them are so good in different ways. I loved the clever rhyming in Louis MacNeice’s Dublin, and I found myself a bit emotional reading Séamus Heaney’s When all the others were away at Mass. To make my task easier, I don’t like Paul Durcan’s poem at all. Eavan Boland’s poem isn’t my scene either. The other Irish poem, well, it was a bit too Irish.
This wouldn’t be a blog post without giving out that my favourite poem wasn’t in it. In fact, every Facebook status about this list seems to question the exclusion of certain poets or poems. Patrick’s Kavanagh’s A Christmas Childhood is in the shortlist. I was surprised it wasn’tStony Grey Soil, Inniskeen Road: July Evening or In Memory of my Mother. My favourite one of his is Epic. In any case, the chosen poem on the shortlist fell outside my top 3 so I’m sure Patrick Kavanagh is very disappointed and rolling in said grey soil.
From the shortlist, it was hard not to choose Disused Shed in Co. Wexford. There’s very few poems that are able to capture everything and Derek Mahon does it so well. The first line:
Even now there are places where a thought might grow —
sets us up from tiny insignificance to the seemingly equally insignificant shed in Wexford and then it just goes nuts and takes off! Somehow, Mahon manages to take in everything in the poem and, I guess, it was always going to be number one.
My second favourite poem from the list was Heaney’s. I have no idea why I didn’t want to like this poem so much – maybe I was subconsciously trying not to pick him – but, as I said above, it made me quite emotional. Very little makes me like this, especially poetry, but I found myself in his world and connecting my own experience of losing my mother. Heaney and I couldn’t come from two more different Irish cultures but for this poem, we shared a feeling.
The third poem in my top three was Easter 1916 by Yeats. I don’t know why but I just like it a lot. I’m currently editing an online magazine called Sixteen, which explores themes from the 1916 Rising and this poem was the stimulus for its second issue so maybe that’s one of the reasons why. I’m not at all nationalist in my own outlook in life and there’s little of the poem that I relate to on a personal level. I do however love the clever rhyming scheme throughout. I like the form and the repetition of A terrible beauty is born. It’s a great poem and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it competing with Mahon’s poem in the national vote.
I was thinking that if the poets remained the same but a different poem was chosen for each of them, what would my top three have been? I think Paula’s Meehan’s Death of a Field would have easily made it. As I said Kavanagh’s Epic would have got the top spot. I’d probably still have Derek Mahon in there and it probably would be the same poem or maybe Antarctica.
It’s great to see that poetry is getting an airing on the national airwaves and hopefully it will continue and give some of our newer poets the space to showcase a more modern Ireland.
Simon Lewis is a primary school principal in Carlow Educate Together. He is has been listed for the Hennessey Prize for Emerging Poetry 2014 and is awaiting the results at the end of February. He has also been listed for the Listowel Poetry Prize, Dromineer Literary Prize and a special commendation in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Awards 2014. He has also been published in many literary journals and magazines to name a few- Boyne Berries, the Blue Max Review, Irish Literary Review Silver Apples, Black Water and RTE’s Arena New Planet Cabaret book.