Friday, April 21, 2017

W.S. Merwin @ motionpoems

I've been meaning to post this for a some time now. I'm very interested in the ways that poetry can be interpreted by video (or indeed music) and this piece by former American Poet Laureate W.S Merwin proves how successful a marriage it can when done with sensitivity and subtlety. The people at Motion Poems are doing brilliant work in this regard, bringing together great poetry and great film-making alike. You can find more about this fantastic enterprise at their website Motion Poems

For now, here is the Merwin piece, 'Antique Sound' filmed by Evan Holm. A beautiful poem, beautifully interpreted.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Derek Walcott (1930-2017) - 'Love After Love'

Saddened to hear the news yesterday that Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott passed away after long illness at his home in St Lucien. I have a friend who studied under him at Columbia University (in the year he won the Nobel, 1992) and he seemed to have been an electrifying presence in the classroom.

He will be remembered most (perhaps) for his groundbreaking, epic collection Omeros which appeared in 1990, though the poem most often quoted from him is 'Love after Love'. It is a piece of great insight and tenderness towards oneself, which is a difficult thing to achieve in a poem.

I have been trying to find Walcott himself reading this piece but haven't managed. There was a really wonderful rendition of it by Linton Kweisi Johnson (with those lilting Caribbean cadences so appropriate to the poem) last night on BBC's 'Newsnight', but that isn't available yet, alas. For now, here is a version by the fine British actor Tom Hiddleston.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Certain Slant of Light - Emily Dickinson / music David Sylvian

The English musician and singer David Sylvian has been engaging with the work (or lives) of a number of poets over recent years. On his highly experimental album Manafon (2009) there are some beautifully pared back pieces about R.S. Thomas and Sylvia Plath. He has also produced an album-length interpretation of the late American poet Franz Wright's work (which I may post at a later point).

For now, this is his interpretation of Emily Dickinson's poem 'A Certain Slant of Light', which appears on the album Died in the Wool from 2012.

There's a certain Slant of light

There's a certain Slant of light, 
Winter Afternoons – 
That oppresses, like the Heft 
Of Cathedral Tunes – 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – 
We can find no scar, 
But internal difference – 
Where the Meanings, are – 

None may teach it – Any – 
'Tis the seal Despair – 
An imperial affliction 
Sent us of the Air – 

When it comes, the Landscape listens – 
Shadows – hold their breath – 
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance 
On the look of Death –

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review of 'Summer Rain' - Dublin Review of Books

I will publish posts in the coming weeks about poetry in general (I'm very keen to share a wonderful video interpretation of a W.S Merwin poem) but for now, I thought to focus on my own recent collection and reproduce this very substantial review of Summer Rain by poet Enda Wyley in The Dublin Review of Books. 

Before that though, I will add that the DRB is a wonderful resource regarding Irish literature and culture, in all forms, and you can visit their homepage and read many excellent articles at:

Here's the review.


'The Kingdom of Water' 

Noel Duffy’s third collection, Summer Rain, is structured into three different parts – each exhibiting a poetic range, an experimentation in form and theme which mark a departure from the more lyrical, autobiographical work of his previous volumes, In the Library of Lost Objects (2011) and On Light and Carbon (2013).
These are new sequences from a poet eager to take chances in subject matter and to push forward the boundaries of his craft. At the same time these poems protect what has been a striking feature of Duffy’s work to date – a fascination with the sciences, stemming from his studies in experimental physics at Trinity College, Dublin.
In the light of this interest, it seems entirely fitting that Summer Rain begins with a section “Games of Chance & Reason”. Here, eight poems, dated 1895–1907, follow the final years of the brilliant Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann. This is an unusual choice of subject for poetry – one better suited to a physics lecture or a scientific journal, you might think. And yet it is a measure of Duffy’s development as a poet that he has created a convincing verse drama infused with a dialogue that would work as well on radio as it does on the page.
In a compact preface, he explains the importance of Boltzmann’s theories. “Using a deceptively simple starting point, he posited that atoms existed and if we measure their behavior in vast numbers using statistical methods, all the laws of classical thermodynamics could be fully understood.” Boltzmann also believed that pockets of order existed within disorder. Duffy explains how this “gave a working foundation for how the complexity of life itself (an ordered state) could arise without defying the fundamental law of entropy as he had proposed it”.
These are challenging ideas and ones which today have defined Boltzmann as one of the most gifted physicists of the nineteenth century. But in his own lifetime he encountered much opposition to his ideas, most especially from the positivists – scientists who only believed what evidence could actually prove. Chief amongst these was the forceful proponent of positivist philosophy Ernst Mach.
It is out of the conflict between Boltzmann and Mach that Duffy develops an intriguing poetic argument. Ideas and counter-ideas battle for the truth.
Ludwig stands in the small wood-panelled
lecture room, a dozen or so students facing him
in rows. ‘I ask you to place your faith in me,
for there are those who say I am a charlatan
or a fool. And some who say I am both!
Of course, he was neither a charlatan nor a fool. And ultimately, it is his genius that Duffy celebrates, in poems which expose the thrill of Boltzmann’s discoveries, the excitement of his ideas – as well as the disillusionment and ultimate tragedy of his story.
Now all seems lost; lost to him in dispute
and the over-labour of duties. He knows
this cannot go on, that he falters more
with every step he tries to take, each ending,
it seems, in failure and regret.’
“Into the Recesses”, the second section of Summer Rain, moves us into a new imaginative zone, with an epigraph from Wordsworth as our guide. “A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.”
Sixteen observational nature poems follow, using twenty-first century knowledge as a means to reimagine pantheism. The poems succeed because of their powerful attention to detail and their allegiance to Duffy’s interest in physics.
In “Surface Tension” carefully chosen words like “membrane” and “meniscus” are subtly scientific, helping this small poem to lodge itself memorably in the reader’s imagination.
Water too has a skin,
that membrane that separates
its world from our own, the meniscus
that trembles in the light
late evening breeze, not breaking it
but forming small rivulets
upon its surface, a flickering
of light playing on the eye
separating our world from theirs;
the kingdom of water;
the kingdom of air.
Water flows purposefully throughout the poems in this section. In “Storm over Skiddaw” sheep huddle together while “rain falls down / heavily about them”. A waterfall is wonderfully described as a “cascade of quicksilver/ force”, finally slowing down to a “cantering measure” in the poem “Tyneware Waterfall”, while in “Molecules in Motion”, waters are “flowing downriver towards the lake / and the human scale of the waiting landscape”. These are poems which skilfully celebrate the cycle of water in a diversity of natural settings. They are carefully honed, complement each other and make for an arresting second part of an intriguing collection.
Duffy concludes his third collection with a series of ten intimate monologues, set in contemporary Dublin – although the city is secondary to the voices of each speaker, all specifically named and all very different in their concerns and experiences. Broken marriages, drugs, emotional problems, disappointments are the fabric of these poems as we are introduced to the troubled and disaffected of the poet’s making. And yet there is an overriding humanity flowing like the rain through the days of each speaker, which offers some consolation for the future.
Muriel, though devastated by her loss of faith, tightens her coat about her, walks out onto the streets, hoping the rain will wash away her sin “that I may believe in Him again / Jesus who no longer lives with me / Pray for me …”. Richard’s job is to clean dead bodies and yet he ponders how “there is a tenderness, in the end, in this work I do”. “Caroline”, the final poem of the collection, encapsulates the humane, enquiring voice which flows as consistently as water throughout the three sequences of Summer Rain – a collection, which for all its exactness of structure, should ultimately be enjoyed for its great empathy and craft.
I pick another canvas
from the pile stacked along
the studio wall, blank and waiting
for a truer mood. I will paint
the smell of rain instead and start
with earthen brown and red.
Enda Wyley is a poet and children’s author. She has published five collections of poetry with Dedalus Press – most recently Borrowed Space, New and Selected Poems (2014). She was the recipient of The Vincent Buckley Prize for Poetry and the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship for Poetry (2014). She is a member of Aosdána.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Wild Cherries - poem

I never knew my maternal grandfather. When I try think of him the image that comes to mind is that of his namesake, my Uncle Dinny. I was so delighted my uncle made it to my launch in September but saddened to say now that he died a few weeks ago. So, I'm not sure if this poem is about him (indirectly as a guiding character) or my granddad himself, but either way I thought I might share at this time. I also can see no immediate place for this poem in terms of work I am currently writing but am still proud of it and hope it captures something of both men.

This, then, to Denis and Dinny O'Brien, great traditional musicians and great characters both.


Wild Cherries 
In Memory of Denis O’Brien

i. Prelude

You were a man I never knew
and never will – one whose life
mine depends upon, yet you are ghost
to me, grandfather, dying far away
across the sea before I was born,
fading like all others to an imagined past
that I will never understand or fully grasp.

ii. Kilsallaghan

O’Brien’s Bridge and the stony fields,
the lands your father and his brothers ploughed,
their lasting mark upon the landscape
of their birth to leave their old life behind
with the promise of a better future
in this newly-minted Nation: a good holding
far from the wild Atlantic shore
and the winding roads of County Clare,                   
a farm in north county Dublin, Kilsallaghan,
as much country back then as the lands
your father had come from, its soil
dark and rich and good, but too little of it,
in the end, for all his sons to prosper by.

Young you left and went to the city.

iii. Uniform

My mam said you looked as smart                
as a policeman in your dark navy uniform,
the JJ&S insignia on your cap marking you
employee of John Jameson & Sons,
Whiskey Makers since 1781, a good job
by any measure as you led your dray horses
down along the banks of the Liffey and on
to the docklands where the barges waited
with their cargo of amber, ready to move
this seemingly inexhaustible bounty
to the four corners of town and country.

iv. Music

I will never know your gait or manner
or how you held yourself as you walked
into a room or pub, though I heard once
that you could set the place alight with talk
or your playing on the fiddle, a Woodbine
browning your fingers at the tips as it burnt
down to a butt, a pint of Guinness and a Jemmie
on the table before you as you played reels
and jigs at the barroom or kitchen session,
these places where happiness found you, music
your one true gift to those you tried to love
though sometimes failed, you sliding then into the well
of drink and the sinking regret that fell over you,
stumbling home late below the Harvest Moon
rising above the rooftops of these regimented streets,
no crops to be gathered in this over-filled place,
just to walk and walk and never reach home,
the darkness and the dark thoughts descending again
as if the very stars had died and dimmed to silence.             

v. Wild Cherries

So I give you this memory now as passed to me
by my mother: how on the first Sunday
of summer months you were given the task to take
the dray horses out to Kilsallaghan for pasture,
a place you came now to only half-think your own,
better here though than in the maze of streets of Cabra,
chatting instead to farmers in hedge-lined fields
discussing the high price of barley and wheat
and the burden of Independence on the farming life
–  though at least the British had started to trade
in our beef again, the war forcing them to depend on us;
and all the while the farmers’ wives fussing in kitchens,
giving you punnets of wild cherries and apples
to take home with you as a treat for the children,
so many the family could feast on for a month, 
grandmother making jams, sweet tarts and cakes.
A time when happiness reigned in the house.

vi. Memory

I try to fill the gap with fragments, anecdotes
and clues, though no concluding image comes
to mind to complete my rag-tag picture of you.
How we each pass with our dying breath into
the foreverness of forgetfulness – like the land
you once walked with your brothers so many years before,
the hope you felt out there in the wide open fields
fading now to a monochrome photograph
of another time, a different place; and the stories
that may yet still await to add again your human face
to those gathered around the family fireplace:
this partial and imagined portrait I try make for you
– grandfather I never knew.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

'Summer Rain' - Launch Photos

Well, I had a great launch for my collection Summer Rain at Books Upstairs in Dublin at the end of September. Here is some photographic evidence!

Old friends gather, including Sarah Douglas and Greg O'Brien

Poet and novelist David Butler sets the formal proceedings going by welcoming the audience and introducing the wonderful poet Peter Sirr to say some words about the collection. 

Peter spoke to the gathered audience with his extremely lucid (as ever), close reading of the work. It was a true honour to have him there on the evening.

Peter's summary of the collection as 'a book in three movements, symphonic in its breadth' was extremely humbling to hear... 

Finally, I face my nerves - and the audience - to say some words of thanks to the many who have helped me along the way with this one.

Physics corner: Poets Iggy McGovern, Kate Dempsey and Ross Hattaway read as I read - from my own collection, mind. Otherwise, that would be just rude...

I finish my short(ish) reading from the book with the monologue 'Ailish', one of my favourite pieces from the collection. 

The Host with the most, D Butler, returns to the floor and wraps up the speechifying, inducing folk to have (another) glass of wine and buy the wares on offer!

Old pals, Brian Walsh and Greg O'Brien chatting afterwards...

...while, thankfully, I had some books to sign.

My great friend from New York, Beth Phillips, chats with my mam.

The rest of the family had come in numbers also. My uncle Dinser and aunt Margaret, with my brother Paddy and his partner Valerie.

Still signing books, thankfully, when ambushed with a man-hug by my old pal and neighbour, Mick Cregan. 

My uncle Frank, original toubadour of the family, talking to my brother Aidan.

To finish, a shot of me - book in hands - ruminating afterwards... Naturally, we all then headed to the nearest tavern...

My profound thanks to all who came along to make the launch such a special occasion. Massive thanks also to Books Upstairs for hosting the event and their long and enduring support of contemporary Irish writing and my publisher Ward Wood for their continued support in publishing my work. And finally, special mention for my good friend Steve Wilson who took the wonderfully atmospheric photographs on the night.

Till the next one!

Friday, September 9, 2016

'Summer Rain' - Launch Details

I'm delighted to report that my new collection Summer Rain will be launched in Books Upstairs, Dublin, on Tuesday 27th September at 6.30pm. I'm truly honoured that the wonderful poet Peter Sirr has agreed to introduce the work on the night. I'm very much looking forward to it. Hope I may seem some of you there -  if, naturally, you happen to be in the Dublin area.

For those who may be busy (or live far beyond the fine climes of Ireland) and might be interested, the collection is now available from The Books Depository. They provide free worldwide delivery which is a great saving.

You can find it at: