Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Our Shoes Say About Us

Saturday afternoon in Richardson's Pub on Eyre Square and a great launch of Gerry Hanberry's fourth poetry collection What Our Shoes Say About Us with Celeste Augé's second collection, Skip-Diving and Knute Skinner's Concerned Attentions. 
Here is one of my many favourites from Gerry's:

So this is where all the poems come
to eye each other up,
to snigger and bitch
over fancy cocktails,

mocking the jaded clichés
still loud and glitzy at the bar
or the pale metaphors with fraying cuffs
who creep away before closing time

to forage in the skip out back
and the nervy confessionals staring
at their own reflections as they sip
blood-red liquor distilled from worn-out hearts.

Occasionally the place falls silent
when a pale figure in a black cape
and floppy hat loops in distractedly.
Ah, the real thing, they mutter enviously

but all in all, nothing much happens here
and it can get messy as the evening wears on.
The poems grow ever more edgy, you see,
dreading the thought of another lonely night unread.

From Left: Geraldine Mills; James Joyce; Gerry Hanberry and Hugo Kelly

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spolia Magazine 9

Spolia Magazine is a beautiful on-line literary magazine that publishes really good poetry, fiction, non fiction and art. Thanks to Mia Gallagher who suggested my name to the editors I now have a story in this issue.

There is a small charge to download it but if you click on the link above it will give you an idea of its quality. Here are the opening paragraphs of my story:

Where the Dark is
‘It blows no good,’ Carmina says of the wind that comes without warning, battering the chairs against the terrace wall. It whips our whole world, lashing it with heat strong enough to turn sand to glass. It shreds the tines of the palm trees as their trunks strain to hold onto their stricken selves; whips the husks of the sunflowers in the fields, their little, burnt, pilgrim faces yielding before it.
She closes all the shutters against the dust, stuffs the keyholes, but it comes right through, into our eyes, our ears; into the nostrils of the horses so that papa and Esteban have to stay and soothe them. It disturbs Blanca’s kittens in the drawer where she gave birth to them and I have to calm the mewling little bundles whose eyes haven’t even opened yet. Carmina’s mouth turns down and furrows appear in her brow, her olive eyes troubled. ‘Something will have to give soon,’ she says as she takes my hand and brings me up to bed.
For three days and three nights it stops us from sleeping, the sky blocked out. No heaven on Calle Cielo, no moon on Calle Luna, nothing to be heard save the howling of the wind. It blows the dust and the heat right into people’s minds and clogs their thinking. Esteban tells me that when it got into Jose Luis’ head that he took to his boat drinking, and never came back. That’s why Carmina hates it. It builds up inside bodies, inside blood.
It has got into Mama’s.
Then as quickly as it comes, it’s gone. I wake to a sound that I have almost forgotten. No wind.
‘Where is it?’ I ask Carmina.
            ‘Gone back through the mountain gap.’
‘But where then?’
‘Nobody knows.’
‘Why don’t they?’
‘Because the wind tells no one. It doesn’t want anyone to know.’

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Taste of the Sweet Mouth

Here is a short video of some of the readings and wonderful landscape of Belmullet where An Béal Binn, or the Erris Festival of Words  was held  from 6-8 June. I was delighted to be reading in the company of John Banville, Donal Ryan, Martyn Dyar, Mike McCormack, Rosita Boland, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, Platform I, Terry McDonagh, the Galway Poets and many, many more.

Dr Éimear O'Connor gave a riveting presentation on the artist, Seán Keating, and Des Kavanagh's illustrated talk on Séamus Heaney 'The Boy He Was and the Man He Became' was a very generous insight into his personal relationship with our poet.

On  the weekend when Belmullet was voted 'the best place to go wild in Ireland' by the Irish Times,
It was also the best place to be tasting sweet words. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

What Mary-Turley McGrath says about Hellkite

Congratulations to Mary Turley-McGrath for winning the Trócaire/Poetry Ireland Award for her poem  'Valley of the Birches'. No doubt she will produce some more great work at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre which was the coveted prize. Mary took some time to give me her thoughts on Hellkite.
 Many thanks Mary for that. I really appreciate such a personal response.

I really enjoyed these stories though few of them made me smile. They are deeply reflective pieces on human behaviour and relationships moving from the interpersonal to the intrapersonal. The characters and situations are true to the world we live in with all its ambiguities and contradictions.

The writing is convincing, persuasive and direct so that I feel I am being taken into the deeper regions of the human psyche where extraordinary things happen to men, women and children. Circumstances, random events, and past histories influence the characters in the actions and choices and in each story a major shift takes place between the start and finish; perhaps this is why there is at the end of many of the stories the possibility of redemption, or even some happiness for the tortured soul of the protagonist.

Short stories do not have the luxury of back story…they are more like a cross sections of lives. I find these cross sections reveal isolation, anger, despair, rejection and loneliness bordering in some places on alienation. Yet these stories are not devoid of love and affection. The characters in ‘The Street with Looking-Glass Eyes’ are bound together by tragedy but also by a deep affection; they live in an imaginary fairy tale world which seems about to end.

The man in ‘Once Bitten’ is mysterious and secretive and his behaviour is extraordinary; he is at odds with himself in many ways, seems to have studied history and works in accountancy; quite intriguing, living in a surreal world through the letters he writes and receives from an ‘old flame’. Perhaps he needs to come to terms with his past and accept his imperfections. Quite an enigma! This story has a filmic quality, very vivid and is perhaps my favourite.

In ‘Apidea’, Hilary and Ambrose are dealing with mutual loneliness; both have been abandoned by their children and have developed an interdependence which sustains them both through and interest and fascination for bees. (This reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s, ‘The Bee Box’ and and Carol Ann Duffy’s recent collection The Bees.) The need for human contact and understanding is at the heart of ‘The Call’. The swans become Kieran’s family after his sister destroys his chances of finding a wife and subjects him to a life together with her without a word spoken. Perhaps here, the issue is one of self protection for the sister and not as deliberately vengeful as Cora’s premeditated attack on Doyle’s prospects for happiness in the future, in ‘Hellkite’. Her treatment of her ex-husband is inexplicably cruel, just as the change in the character in ‘Foraging’ takes on an extraordinary turn.

The gradual transformation in his person is very well handled and rather Kafkaesque to say the least. Yet I found a layer of humour in this story which I did not find elsewhere; I think it came with the tone adopted by the narrator…four stories I think are first person…this one does very well in first person. I feel there is a tongue in cheek element to it!

There were two stories that I did not quite get, ‘Drinking his Strength Back’ and ‘Feeding the Wolf of Lies’
On the other hand ‘The Devil’s Dye’ is short, descriptive, emotional, poetic and powerful as if the girl is on the point of desperation.

I expected this book of stories to be one thing but found a multitude of facets and situations and characters. It gave me a lot of things to think about. Wonderful piece of work   Congratulations again.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Galway's Answer to David Lynch

The Pauline Bewick painting used on the cover of Hellkite.

SINCE 2001, Geraldine Mills has published six books - each its own particular kind of gem - and yet she is much less famous than she should be.
If Mills spent less time fine tuning her writing, and more networking,  then I have no doubt she would have at least been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize by now.
Literary networking is like prostitution, only with lower ethical standards and far inferior levels of customer satisfaction. Geraldine Mills happily leaves this darkest of arts to the professionals. Instead, she works away at stories and poems, which are honest about the awful, and blackly hilarious, stuff of life in a way that is often scary.
Hellkite, published by Arlen House, is her third collection of short-stories. Her prose is up there with that of George Orwell and Jonathan Swift, in that it is always clear as a window that has just been washed, with not a word added for merely decorative purposes.
The first sentence of the collection’s opener, Centre Of A Small Hell, is a perfect illustration of this quality: “The morning after his wife’s ashes were brought home, Bernard Curran took a sledgehammer to the hunting table out there in the yard where the air was still enough for snow.”
These are sad, laughable, stories of lives gone so ragged things are liable, at any moment, to get a little sinister. In The Best Man For The Job, the henpecked Jimmy thinks he hears “bouncing out in the garden”; hardly ever a good thing, in my limited experience. His wife, Dolores, tells him “It’s just your tinnitus acting up again”. Jimmy goes outside to find a man older than himself jumping up and down on his granddaughter’s trampoline:
“‘Good evening, sir’, he said, in such a polite voice you could tell he wasn’t from around these parts. ‘If I may be so bold to say, this is a high-quality trampoline. It has put some much needed Je ne sais quoi back into me’.”
This is a scene worthy of David Lynch. A man is in bed, minding his own business, when his peace is disturbed by a probable Fine Gael voter jumping up and down on his grand-daughter’s trampoline in the middle of the night.
This has never happened to me. But I somehow know how Jimmy feels. It is a great metaphor for the way we are, as we go on, constantly assaulted by strangeness just at that point when life looked as if it might be about to calm down for a bit.
Another fantastic story is, Foraging, in which yet another of Mills’ beleaguered males of a certain age is given a gift voucher by his wife for a night class titled: Beginners Guide to Avoiding Adultery. In this book, Geraldine Mills takes us roughly by the hand, as she forensically examines the strange and terrible places which most of us have at least visited, and where some of us live all the time.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hybrid Writing as Mirror, Canvas, Liberator

Getting from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary: Experimenting with Hybrid Forms in Your Writing.
Writing Workshop with U.S. writer Lisa Taylor
An Gairdín
Portumna, Co Galway
Sunday May 18th
3− 5pm
Numbers limited so BOOK NOW!
Booking with  0863195603
Workshop will be followed by readings from three Arlen House writers: Geraldine Mills, Lisa Taylor and Alan McMonagle  at 5.30pm in An Gairdín.
Cost : €10 for the afternoon

Breaking Structure: Hybrid Writing as Mirror, Canvas, Liberator 
Lisa C. Taylor
 Borders are becoming blurred all over the world.  Web videos invade our search for the local weather with their pop-up persistence.  Movies experiment with stories that tell the ending first or offer an omniscient narrator in a voiceover.  Hybrid cars transition smoothly between gas and battery power sources.  Likewise, hybrid narratives contain within either a style or a topic that counters the narrative or the style.  Hybrid writers can blend fact and fiction, poetry and prose, memoir and history, or even art, media, dance, or music.  They can choose to write in a nonlinear fashion as Lidia Yuknavich did in her memoir, The Chronology of Water or they can mix subjects as Annie Dillard did in For the Time Being, a mosaic of topics that included travels in China and Mongolia, the teachings of an 18th Century Jewish Mystic, and the drama of rocks, rivers, lichen, and clouds as witnessed by scientists, poets, and painters.  Hybrid writers can break up lines, create a collage-like random association of ideas, morph a character into different incarnations as was done with Bob Dylan in the movie, I’m Not ThereThese artistic and commercial creations blend and fragment content as an expressive model and reflection of today’s evolving culture.  In this workshop, you will play with form and content, inventing a new way to represent your own emotional truth.

Lisa C. Taylor's poems show the importance of slowing down and paying attention, of listening to others, of asking what the deepest self feels. Taylor knows that the imagination is the most powerful tool we have for transformation. -Ted Deppe

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Noir by Noir West

Noir By Noir West - disquieting Galway stories

Noir By Noir West - disquieting Galway stories
How about this for revenge? A man dumps his wife for a younger model. Wife appears quite civilised about it. But just as ex is about to go off on a classy holiday with new model she asks him to check out an old property she is thinking of buying. It’s in an awful state, but she needs him to trip a switch on the meter box in the tiny space under the stairs so she could check the lights on each floor. It will only take him a minute. Its a small space, and she is wearing a tight skirt and hates spiders.
It is the least he could do. He leaves the new model waiting at the airport. He’ll only be a few minutes. But once inside the ‘tiny space’ she slams the door closed, reinforcing it shut. He is trapped ‘ hunkered there, on his knees like a penitent, shouting...’ Hours later he feels water coming in slowly. His clothes are soaked. And then he remembers what she had said: “ Flood plain. The blocked drain outside the door, swollen river, and rain promised for days to come...”
Or the man who loves pike, those fierce looking fish ‘who devours 200 times its size in a lifetime.’ He hates the tourists who come to kill them.‘ I live on the boat Easter to October. Moonlight is the best time on the Corrib. I like to glide in the shadows, pike nuzzling up to the boat. They know me. Beautiful creatures. But tourists come and kill them.
‘There was a fella last year, big German with a belly. Fell off the jetty. I could see the cut above his eye. Kept shouting and clawing at the side of my boat, gasping, trying to say something. Couldn’t make out what. Don’t speak German...’
Or the terrible confrontation between a father and son in Crowes pub on Sea Road. The Kray twins aren’t in it for viciousness! The father, who was sitting at a table with an ice bucket in front of him. He was called Baby Face by Galway girls when he was a teenager. Galway boys knew not to say it. They were the savage Kings of Galway who dealt in all kinds of ‘merchandise’.
Except for the father, the pub was deserted. ‘The Galway Novena was on in the Abbey church.’ The son enters. His three minders follow, and stand to one side. A fierce argument erupts between the father and son. It is evident that the son, at some stage, is going to wipe out the father, but in a dramatic movement the father beats him to it. He suddenly produces a gun from under the table, aims it at the three bodyguards, warning them to freeze. At the same moment he brings a blade down on his son’s left hand and cuts it off. ‘The son screams. He tries to struggle. Blood spurts onto the table. The father grabs the other arm, and cuts off the right hand....He drops both hands into the ice bucket. And arranges them so they point upwards as if in prayer.’
After all, the Novena is on at the Abbey...
Widespread popularity
These stories, written by Geraldine Mills, Gerry Galvin and Séamus Scanlan respectively, are just three of 31 collected by James M Joyce, and gleefully published in a macabre and very entertaining collection Noir By Noir West - Dark Fiction from the West of Ireland, which was launched at the recent Cúirt festival.*
I am not quite sure why many of us enjoy noir or dark fiction/movies or those Scandinavian detective series. There is a difference between ‘horror, and ‘noir’. Monsters and other elements of horror have appeared in storytelling since prehistory, such as Beowulf and The Odyssey. In the 19th century Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Henry James incorporated monsters, vampires and ghosts into their stories, which enjoyed widespread popularity. But noir, or dark fiction, is more subtle, I think, exploring the darker side of human nature without the recourse to total fantasy, such as monsters. The Grimm brothers have been disturbing our children since they first published their German folk tales in 1812. And generations of children love them.
A disturbing story
One of the objectives of this collection is to encourage new talent. Kernan Andrews, in his Im Niemandsland, presents an original twist on World War I. A Jewish soldier, Hans Rubenstein, is fighting in France for Germany. He receives a letter from his brother Emil who is serving the Kaiser in western Russia. Emil is amazed to discover ‘the numerous villages , and even some towns, where the inhabitants are almost entirely Jewish. I hear snatches of Hebrew amidst the Russian and Yiddish.’
He writes that he is ‘ immensely proud to be both Jewish and a German soldier, playing a role, however small, in alleviating the suffering of Russian Jews, one Ashkenazic aiding another.’
The irony is of course that barely 24 years later the Germans came back to round up all those Jews. Millions were murdered. At Babi Yar, a ravine in Kiev, Ukraine, on September 29/30 1941, at least 35,000 men, women, and children were shot in one action.
An equally disturbing story, by Cristina Galvin, is set in a world without beauty; only ‘ boarded up pubs, the once-upon-a-time grocery store with produce still moulding on rusting shelves - hairy orange, wizened turnip, tomatoes gone a-mush with maggots.’ In the streets ‘the smell of fetid matter assaults you and you clasp your belly and heave...’
But into this decaying world, a mysterious blue flamingo comes and nests in a young women’s garden. The woman watches the bird ‘all tension dissolving’ her eyes lit up lantern -like...her heart opens.’
The woman is inspired to act. Putting on her warm clothes she takes to the streets, and the reader follows her, camera-like, as she passes through the rotting city until she comes to a queue of women with small children and babies. They are waiting outside a concrete barracks.
Apparently there is a surfeit of children in the country. The mothers are handing in their babies. We do not know what happens to them, but the women leave ‘buggy-less and weary-looking, and make their way back towards the estate’.
The woman the reader is following manages to enter the barracks, and emerges with a baby hidden under her coat. But she is disturbed by a man running up the street. Frightened she runs down an alley and hides the baby in a wheeliebin.... In a beautiful piece of writing Cristina cleverly allows the reader to enter the story and to take the baby into its care, while ‘with feathers shimmering against the sky’s indomitable grey, the blue flamingo sits.’
NOTES: * Noir by Noir West (has a suitable Alfred Hitchcockian ring about its title), is published by Arlen House, and is on sale in all local bookshops at €17. Dagmar Drabent’s cover design is perfect.
It is dedicated to the late Gerry Galvin, and follows two previous collections: Galway Stories, edited by Lisa Frank( €13), and What’s Not Said, edited by James M Joyce (€13).