Sunday 28 April 2013

Highly Recommended 28th April, 2013.


Harper Lee Makes a Surprise Appearance at an Alabama Literary Luncheon

The publicity-shy author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ made a surprise appearance last week at the South Alabama Writers’ Symposium, which was honoring Fannie Flagg with the Harper Lee Award. 

Oh, and Harper Lee got one too!


Some magazines which you should know about here:
“Literary” Literary Magazines

Tin House

Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror Literary Magazines

Flash Fiction Magazines*

Compiled by Joe Bunting - Joe's book on getting your short story published is available here:


Brand New Retro is a site  full of magazine images from Ireland from the 1960's to the 1990s.   Thanks to Mick Timony for passing it on.

Suggs from Madness, outside Madigan's Pub Dublin in 1985,  Phil Lynott on a trip home and …
oh dear, Jimmy Saville in Dublin in the 1960's.


Top: Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Lavin,
Bottom: Elizabeth Bowen, Liam O'Flaherty.

Previously unreleased recordings of 

W B Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, 

James Joyce, Mary Lavin,  Patrick Kavanagh,

Frank O'Connor, Elizabeth Bowen, 

and other Irish poets and writers 

are featured on a  new three-CD set 

released by the British Library and called

The Spoken Word: 

Irish Poets and Writers – I Will Arise.  

The three-disc set is £20. and the full playlist is as follows: 
1. Frank O’Connor,
 reads his translations of The Hermitage and Aengus the Spouse of God: The Downfall of Heathendom
2. W B Yeats, Yeats talks about poetry and reads two of his own poems (The Lake Isle of Innisfree and The Fiddler of Dooney)
3. W B Yeats,  reads The Song of the Old Mother and introduces A Faery Song
4. W B Yeats, National Lectures, No.18
Yeats reads and discusses Paul Fort: The Pretty Maid [translated from the French], T S Eliot: Preludes [extract], Cecil Day Lewis: Two Songs, No.1
5. W B Yeats and V C Clinton-Baddeley, In the Poet’s Pub
Yeats sets the scene and actor Clinton-Baddeley reads a selection of poems chosen by Yeats
6. W B Yeats, discusses the political background to two poems.
7. W B Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree along with an extract of Coole and Ballylee, 1931
8. Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain, W B Yeats: A Dublin Portrait
9. Patrick Kavanagh, is interviewed about his work
11. Eavan Boland, reads a selection of her work, The War Horse, Nocturne, The Black Lace Fan, Night Feed

1. Bernard Shaw, his talk on the English language
2. Bernard Shaw, Address at British Drama League Conference, Edinburgh
3. Frank O’Connor,  reminisces about his only meeting with James Joyce
4. Sylvia Beach, describes how James Joyce came to make his two surviving recordings
5. James Joyce, read an extract from Ulysses pp136–137 and an extract from 'Anna Livia Plurabell' from Finnegans Wake
7. Sean O’Casey, - extract from a previously unheard interview.
8. Frank O’Connor, reads extracts from his book Guests of the Nation
9. Brendan Behan, sings the song The Auld Triangle from his play The Quare Fellow

1. Elizabeth Bowen  Frankly Speaking   Date of broadcast: 16.03.1960
2. Mary Lavin    The Long Holidays    Date of broadcast: 03.11.1967
3. Liam O’Flaherty   The Mermaid   Date of recording: 12.02.1980
4. Edna O’Brien   Christmas Roses   Date of broadcast: 17.08.1978
5. Seán Ó’Faoláin   The Human Thing   Date of broadcast: 06.07.1967


The Ink Slingers Creative Writing Hour takes place every Saturday at the Irish Writers’ Centre. It is a free creative writing session that is organised and led by the Centre’s voluntary arts administrators.

The hour includes writing exercises and prompts to get ideas flowing. It is open to everyone and is suitable for all levels of experience. The workshop will be given by Máire T. Robinson.

This event is listed on a repeat basis, please contact the Irish Writers Centre to check that the event is running when you want to go – 01 8721302
Membership of the Irish Writer's Centre costs €50 (€25 for students), and as well as helping to keep the doors open, has a wide range of benefits.
Benefits of Membership
  • Discounts on workshop fees and publishing days
  • Access to writing spaces to work during the day
  • Four PCs in the building are allocated for members use
  • Free WiFi throughout the building
  • Discount on entry to the Novel Fair and other competitions
  • Free admission to some readings that have a cover charge
  • Advance notice of events where the audience might be limited
  • A dedicated members' evening
  • Access to their collection of books and other archives


Hearty congratulations to : 

John Banville - for his award by the Austrian Government for his contribution to European Literature.


Katia Kapovich for winning the 2013 Russian Literature Award for Short Fiction.
Here's an interview with Katia on the overlapping which occurs between poetry and prose. 


Barry Tebb reads 

'The Playhouse' 


'The Philosophers'

from his collection 

The Nostalgia Bus

Sunday 21 April 2013

Philip Nikolayev - Letters from Aldenderry

Letters from Aldenderry


Philip Nikolayev

Philip Nikolayev shows himself to be at once a master of the ‘natural’ conversation poem as well as of the most witty and ingenious ghazals, sonnets, quatrain poems, and other fixed forms… This is a truly exciting collection of lyrics, as surprising and varied as it is original.’
– Marjorie Perloff.

Review: Ann Fallon.

Letters from Aldenderry is Philip Nikolayev's fourth book of poetry and is, as you would expect from a poet with his publishing history, technically brilliant and confident. It is also   emotionally complex and personal while exhibiting his engagement with a vast cultural background in references to people and places of the US, Russia, Europe, and India.  Containing ninty-nine poems it takes us from the flight of two 'eagles' down immediately into the world of the poet, opens us up to poems which flow easily like the best  conversations, and engages us in questions of being, of art and of human frailty, until we finally exit the book from a vantage point above the seated poet, watching as he  'types a word or two and falls asleep'.   

The book opens with the poem Eagles, a curtailed sonnet which offers a glimpse of something which appears at first to be a 'rare sight, lovely against the chalkboard sky' but which in line nine, becomes a disappointment and a distraction from an essay which he was reading.


Two eagles circled over Cambridge today,
a rare sight, lovely
against the chalkboard sky.
Drawn to stare, I soon noticed
that they went around in near perfect circles
at even speed.
In fact they looked exactly identical.
Their widespread wings didn’t so much as flutter.
I heard a thin electrical whiz
and wondered if they carried
tiny surveillance cameras on board
that could scan
“Shakespeare and the Pathos of Rambling” that I was reading.

The final line is the longest and could very easily have been divided to complete the Petrarchan form which is indicated. That particular form, however, was significant for expressions of idealised or perfect love, and there is no room for perfection in Nikolayev's down to earth take on the world. The ideal of the two eagles is associated with a childhood promise, and appears in a 'chalkboard sky'. His growing awareness then recognises that they are not quite perfect and the trope comes when he hears the 'thin electrical whiz'. The disappointment of this changes to humour when he wonders if their 'cameras' might be capable of scanning the essay, and there is the suggestion that they, and their owners might benefit more from such surveillance. Given that the essay in question is from James Wood's The Irresponsible Self  and that the philosophy of that book is dealt with later by Nikolayev in the poem Revolution, it is difficult not to concur with his laconic assessment here.  

The conversational tone of Eagles is typical of the poems in the collection drawing us in and yet presenting in a very understated way the philosophical issues which life seems to offer. In The Art of Forgetting, the same easy confidential tone is used and draws attention to his own forgetfulness before examining the question of where attention should be paid. The poem therefore exemplifies his intimate awareness of the limitations of the human condition and he explores this theme by particularising it, by drawing us into the conversation and by allowing the universal predicament to be discovered in our own time.

The Art of Forgetting

Last night I cooked my socks in the microwave 
by mistake. What to do when you’re so absent
minded? As well, I have frequently
refrigerated my poems in the freezer
to the point of having to thaw them later,
and poetry’s what’s emerges in defrosting.
I have also lost to nature generations
of galoshes, coats, scarves, umbrellas,
even once an Egyptian skullcap,
whose individual names I forget.
The name of the czar escapes my mind
on whom was meant to be my dissertation,
or was it thesis. Water,
all kinds of water under the all-purpose bridge.
If I’ve forgotten so much via absentmindedness mostly,
then how much have we forgotten as a species?
One day we learn, another forget
everything, including this fact.
It’s possible given enough time and effort
to forget anything,
which’s why we like to reminisce sometimes
on those even who’ve decided they don’t like us.
We’ll fight for our memories, the truth as it appeared once.
But to remember something we need to forget
something, a different truth. My grandmother
believed that if you dab any convenient spot on your body
with iodine daily
it will help you keep your memory in old age.
Head of the Marxism-Leninism chair
at the Ivanovo Energy Institute,
where she taught philosophy and scientific atheism,
she was the kindest soul, loved and spoiled me to distraction,
and her blueberry cakes were of course the best
in this world. Baptized as a child,
on her retirement to a small apartment in the Crimea
she read the Bible, perestroika raging all around.
Everyone wrote, thought and talked of
Stalin, Stalin, Stalin, Beria, Stalin.
She read the Bible, both the Testaments.
Thus dialectical materialism was forgotten
and an ancient faith recovered.
I too would like to forget a few things,
keep trying, but tend to forget instead
all the wrong ones, like submitting payments
by the due date, the need to tie my shoestrings.
Mnemosyne, and her daughters the Muses,
and her grandsons the museums …
Literature too is a museum,
as well as Lenin’s mausoleum,
which is essentially a tomb.
As you must of course know I’ve forgotten
the remote control on the bathroom sink
where my reflection in the crooked mirror
distracted me with its scowl.
This is earth life, but like hailing from outer space.
When my daughter was born,
I spent the night with her and my wife at the hospital
and went home the next day to clean the apartment.
I vacuumed the floor very thoroughly,
my thoughts soaring far and wide. Little did I notice
that the vacuum was running in blow out mode
so the condition of the floor changed
hardly at all. This still makes my wife laugh
and may indeed be worth remembering
against all death. While stress, duress and strain,
the painful neck crane
and other stuff rotten
are best forgotten.

Reading through these poems it becomes obvious that Nikolayev is  a poet's poet, taking delight in manipulating and changing established forms and even adding new ones. Letters from Aldenderry continues his subversion of form and language by showing his craftsmanship and then resolutely breaking the rules in the service of the particular poem under construction.  In Ideas, for example, he runs the words together in a scriptaura continua, forcing the reader to work to recognise the English words and their development from the Latin mother tongue, just as the idea 'ofaprivatelanguage' is questioned along with 'whoputithere' and 'howdiditemerge'.

This idea of a private language is further confronted in his 'immured sonnets' where he uses the form to address our ability to read another person or to translate thoughts  and languages. It also questions such unconscious ideologies as whether we privilege reading from left to right, or from right to left. Hymn, a beautiful love poem to his wife, the poet Katia Kapovich, is a good example of the form. As in most of the immured sonnets in the collection the personal thoughts occur in bold type and are surrounded by the plain type of the more impersonal thoughts.

Coming across the form for the first time it is not immediately clear how to read it. During the course of the book the rules change, so that the reader is constantly being brought into challenging word plays and through these into more personal discoveries. John Kinsella describes his poetics as being 'in "cahoots" with a self-created idiomatic Russian-American English that, like Nabokov's adds to the possibilities of the word, of the line, of the overall form of expression in the text.'

His attitude towards innovation and subversion emerge from an examination of how he displays the rules of his craft before confidently breaking them in the service of the piece he is constructing. He opens the book with a curtailed sonnet, itself once a subversion of the sonnet and now accepted on its own terms. This links his innovation to past innovators, and just as Joyce referenced  the past while 'making it new' for his generation, Nikolayev continues to reference the past while creating something new.  In Revolution, he hints at the   tightrope which must be walked between the populist call for

     poetry that goes de   
     de de de de de duh

and the literary critics who demand

     dramatiqually Duhfamilriazung  
     Ourself zo 
     that oui oui oui oui oui 
     oui can no longer recognise Ourself 
     cuz oui wanna escape from Ourself

Having established his poetic credentials he subverts the rules and breaks the forms. Peppered as his poems are with mention of philosophies and philosophers from Plato to his grandmother's knowledge of dialectical materialism, Nikolayev's 'broken forms' adds to the suggestion that he is rejecting Plato's 'ideal forms', and reflecting a more accurate portrait of the relentlessly fallible and broken human condition. His innovations and 'broken forms' become a philosophical reaction against the idea of perfection and are used in the service of art and ideas, rather than a reaction to established literary manifestos.

The central poem in the collection is instantly recognisable as a ghazal but the rules are broken in line with the ideas expressed. Normally a ghazal is a poem of rhyming couplets dealing with unattained love, melancholy or metaphysical questions and containing a reference to the poet in the final couplet.  Here the reference to the poet/narrator occurs in the first couplet, so the poem is turned on its head. The strict rhyming scheme is broken in the fifth couplet just as the voice proclaims that it will not follow the rules. Looking in this kind of detail at how Nikolayev is breaking the poetic rules helps to provide an entry point for his personal aesthetic, which seems to tell us that the thoughts behind the poetic form will always take precedence. 

My name is Wormswurst, I give back to men their Zen.
I switch their here now with my there then.

Their stories of the past forgotten
Lay many generations protein,

But when our new spores come to life,
We sing them from within a hive.

We show a multitude of claws
And form a multitude of laws.

We see a world in groping mittens.
Will not obey! This music leads me,

This music leads me, leads me where?
Oh how it leads me! I don’t care!

The opening acknowledgement of his body as 'Wormswurst' or wormmeat gives the narrator an atemporal, aspatial point of view and alludes to Hamlet. This Shakespearean allusion continues in the final poem Earth, with its seven rhyming couplets. But the portrait drawn there of the 'diminished lot' could also be staged as a Beckettian drama.  Earth is however a unique expression, sui temporis, from an important modern poet at ease with his own predicament and aware of his own craft and vocation and of the insignificance of life for all that. Like Beckett he decries our efforts to express something significant, and like Beckett does so in a way which elevates human expression to a beautiful art form. 


But what to make of the diminished lot,
of what man could have got and yet has not?
But let him simply while away the day,
and soon this will not matter anyway.
Walking in vain across a cloudy sky,
he scans the grasslands with an acid eye,
like a slightly more modern Robert Frost.
But what of what man had yet somehow lost?
Staring at nature helps him to forget,
to come to terms, to cancel out the debt.
All night he whistled with a mockingbird
and now on his old keyboard types a word
or two into the world and falls asleep.
The land has willows, something needs to weep.

Nikolayev has translated Beckett's French poems into English and has run the SAMUEL BECKETT facebook page since 2009, gathering a unique collection of photographs, artistic portraits of Beckett and resources and bringing together almost twenty thousand Beckett fans worldwide. It is typical of his interest in art, culture and ideas and the high standards that he insists upon, that the page has become such an important resource for Beckett fans and scholars. 

We are told consistently that to become better writers we must read more and there is no other book of poetry which could be better recommended for this purpose than Letters from Aldenderry. On top of this the personal engagement and intelligent companionship which it offers will make you feel that you are in Paris, or Moscow or Boston conversing with one of the most exciting writers of the century.  

Philip Nikolayev. Photograph: Katia Kapovich
Having relocated from Russia to the US in 1990 Nikolayev has first hand experience of the promise of new worlds and of that which is never entirely left behind. In a century of  mass population movements, he becomes an important voice within this movement, transferring cultural insights both enriching and gaining from his new culture.  Since his move to the US he has has written primarily in English and his poetry bears the hallmark of his hybrid identity.  This is his fourth collection and it is one which both poets and the reading public will love. 

It can be purchased from Amazon and directly from the Salt Publishing at:

He also runs the Russian Poetry in Translation fb page, providing access to the poetry of Russia to the English speaking world, ( 

and the SAMUEL BECKETT fb page:

Larissa Schmailo has also published a review of Letters from Aldenderry for Jacket Magazine, focussing on Nikolayev's playfulness with the English language:

Sunday 14 April 2013

Highly Recommended 14th April.

Building New Audiences:

'How can poetry - a low-tech, slow-burn art form - survive in an increasingly high-speed digital age?' The question, and part of the answer comes from a recent publication from Dedalus Press. Together with  Roger Gregg from the Crazy Dog Audio Theatre, they are attempting to bring poetry into the future by reclaiming some of its pre-literate origins, and by offering poetry performances and poetry cabaret.

The Bee-Loud Glade: A living anthology of Irish poetry, Edited and Introduced by Pat Boran includes a book of twenty-nine poems, nine of which are performed on an included cd.  It opens the world of poetry up to new audiences, including younger audiences whose interest in the music and performance may be their first point of contact with the work of the modern poets included here.
the musical styles are challenging becoming a vital element in the performance and ranging from easy-going jazz, to jazz improv., to cabaret. The strong Cork accent employed while reading Gerry Murphy's 'And she was beautiful and she was ferociously intelligent' was inspired and brought out the humour and desperate predicament of the poem.

Dedalus Press poets included are (work from those underlined features on the CD):
Leland Bardwell, Pat Boran, Paddy Bushe, Enda Coyle-Greene, Patrick Deeley, 
Theo Dorgan, Katherine Duffy, Gerard Fanning, Francis Harvey, 
Ann Joyce, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Tom Mathews, James J. McAuley, 
Iggy McGovern, Mary Montague, Gerry Murphy, John O'Donnell, 
Mary O'Donoghue, Paul Perry, Leeanne Quinn, Billy Ramsell, 
Gabriel Rosenstock, Gerard Smyth, Dolores Stewart, Grace Wells, 
Joseph Woods, Macdara Woods, Enda Wyley.

Irish Pen have also identified the area of Performance Poetry as one to be explored, and passed on a link which will allow poets to begin recording their work, or work of favourite poets. Listen to the recording here of 'Telephone' by Wole Soyinka.

If you would like to try recording the Poetry Foundation provide access here:

I would recommend listening to performances before beginning your own, and bear in mind that a performance lends itself  to one interpretation, rather than the multiple interpretations which a text allows. However, the possibilities of reaching new audiences are there and Crazy Dog Audio Theatre are excellent performers, as is Eabha Rose, whose reading of Sharon Frye's poem we featured recently (okay, the link is here: )

Roger Gregg is also teaching at the Gaiety School of Acting, and has a great website with clips from his work and insights into making your own audio theatre. We will be taking a more in-depth look into his CD's and courses, next week.(


Next week in Washington there is a poetry reading from three leading poets:

Poetry reading featuring Yusef Komunyakaa, Paul Muldoon and John Koethe and organised by David C. Ward at
The Smithsonian Institute, 8th and F Streets, NW, Washington.
Sunday, 21st April at 14:00 

Yusef Komunyakaa

"He takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our 
American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man,
a soldier in Vietnam, or a child in Bogalusa, Louisiana, is universal. It shows us in
 ever deeper ways what it is to be human."
- Toi Dericotte, for the Kenyon Review. 

Born in Louisiana in 1947, Komunyakaa was raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. He received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic, a collection of poems built from colloquial speech which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences. He has published widely and received both the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989. Other awards include: the 2011Wallace Stevens Award; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize; the William Faulkner Prize from the Université de Rennes; the Thomas Forcade Award; the Hanes Poetry Prize, fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown; the Louisiana Arts Council; and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He lives in New York City where he is currently Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University's graduate creative writing program.

Paul Muldoon

"the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War." 
- The Times Literary Supplement 

Born in 1951 in Northern Ireland, since 1987 he has lived in the United States, where he is now Howard G. B. Clark '21 Professor at Princeton University. In 2007 he was appointed Poetry Editor of The New Yorker. Between 1999 and 2004 he was Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, where he is an honorary Fellow of Hertford College.

Paul Muldoon's main collections of poetry are New Weather (1973), Mules (1977), Why Brownlee Left (1980), Quoof (1983), Meeting The British (1987), Madoc: A Mystery (1990), The Annals of Chile (1994), Hay (1998), Poems 1968-1998 (2001), Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), Horse Latitudes (2006), and Maggot (2010).

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Paul Muldoon was given an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature for 1996. Other recent awards are the 1994 T. S. Eliot Prize, the 1997 Irish Times Poetry Prize, the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, the 2003 Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry, the 2004 American Ireland Fund Literary Award, the 2004 Shakespeare Prize, the 2005 Aspen Prize for Poetry, and the 2006 European Prize for Poetry.


“one of our foremost Romantic poets, an inheritor of the tradition of Stevens and Ashbery.” 
– Critic Andrew Yaphe 

Koethe’s longer poems, occasionally formal or metered, show the influence of Elizabeth Bishop, William Wordsworth, Marcel Proust, Mark Strand, and Kenneth Koch. He regards his poetry “as music and I think of it in terms of movements and sounds and the way it flows rather than content.” As critic Robert Hahn notes, “Koethe’s poetry is ultimately lyrical, and its claim on us comes not from philosophy’s dream of precision but from the common human dream that our lives make some kind of sense. What Koethe offers is not ideas but a weave of reflection, emotion, and music; what he creates is art—a bleak, harrowing art in all it chooses to confront, but one whose rituals and repetitions contain the hope of renewal.” 

The author of several collections of poetry, including North Point North: New and Selected (2002), Ninety-fifth Street (2009), and ROTC Kills (2012), John Koethe also publishes and teaches philosophy, focusing on the philosophy of language. Koethe began writing poetry as an undergraduate at Princeton University and received his PhD from Harvard. 


Carve Magazine - poefictiontry
What is poefictiontry? To put it simply, it’s poetry that tells a story. Or maybe it’s flash fiction that sounds lyrical.

Fugue Annual writing contest (Poetry and Fiction). Deadline May 1st, 2013.  

Since 1990, Fugue has been promoting diverse literary voices of new and established writers. Past contributors have included: Steve Almond, Charles Baxter, Stephen Dobyns, Denise Duhamel, Stephen Dunn, Michael Martone, Campbell McGrath, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Jim Shepard,  RT Smith, Virgil Suarez, Melanie Rae Thon, Natasha Trethewey, Anthony Varallo, Robert Wrigley, Dean Young, and B.H. Fairchild.
Fugue is made possible by funding from the University of Idaho's English Department and Creative Writing Program and is published semiannually winter/spring and summer/fall. 

Montucky Review will look at Poetry and Prose. Submission guidelines here:

Sunday 7 April 2013

Medbh McGuckian The High Caul Cap

The High Caul Cap

Medbh McGuckian

Published by

The Gallery Press

Praising McGuckian’s Selected Poems (1997), 
Seamus Heaney said that

Her language is like the inner lining of consciousness, the inner lining of English itself, and it moves amphibiously between the dreamlife and her actual domestic and historical experience as a woman in late-20th-century Ireland.”

Reviewed by: Ann Fallon.

This latest collection from Medbh McGuckian contains fifty-four poems, the central one giving its title to the book. The High Caul Cap is both the name of a traditional Irish air and a symbol for the birth connection between mother and child. Here McGuckian invokes both meanings, offering the book as both a lament for the death of her mother and an acknowledgement of the connections which continue between the living and the dead, and between the living and the children just about to be born. The idea of continuity permeates each poem, from the very first title 'These Latinized Snows', with its modern Americanised reference to a dead European mother tongue, to the last lines of the final poem which tells us that 'across my face stripes the forever / tangible gaze of my late mother'.

The imagery of the  first poem immediately reminds one of Joyce's famous short story and of the snow which falls on the living and the dead.  Here too the snow blankets the world of the living and the dead, and by 'slipping in the word 'eva', the word meaning life and associated with the first mother, McGuckian ignites the juxtaposition between the past life of her mother, and their continued bonds. . McGuckian's snow,  her period of mourning, then plays host to 'two savage arcs … flaming like weeds' and reaching out towards one another as the daughter reaches out for her dead mother and senses a reciprocal movement from beyond the grave. The two arcs of the daughter and deceased mother are mirrored then, and also connected, in the 'off-hour rainbowing' of the children who are just beginning on their life experience, and taking their first breaths. The liminal space between life and death is evoked in a slanted, 'Latinized' manner, non-linear and coded, but one which is better able to invoke the disappearance of times and spaces required for such a subject. This first poem is difficult but yields with re-reading and provides a key to the collection which follows. Words are transposed and switched, challenging our 'pre-set view[s]'.

These Latinized Snows

This room should be read as a preface
to an experience which occurred
many miles before: light-of-day
simplicity in the administered space,
accepting the pre-set view,
though belts of country miles in width
have been swept away.
The electric fluid has taken to carrying
the mail, like a blood-opening heart buried under
a sundial, or the undiluted Nile.

By quietly slipping in the word ‘eva’ (‘only’),
those who delicately thread the needles
lay a motionless finger on a forearm
to show through this so-called non-blue
otherwise sheltering the dance the woman
is about to break into, wearing her belatedness
like a far grander blanket.

Long after other fireplaces have subsided
two savage arcs are flaming like weeds
in snow from end to end of your lovely,
symbolic city where one day
marketgoers would again arrive by train …

As when a younger-sister-haunted older
daughter finds in the messy street debris
stretch marks on the trunk of an aspen,
etchings of beetles on the tree bark:
or when I photographed the births of my three
children, each in their turn, I saw
that with their first intake of breath
their whole bodies were suffused
with off-hour rainbowing, from head to toe.

The dense, non-linear imagery continues and in the central poem evokes a longing and a melancholy but ends with a recognition of the hidden and continued presence of the sun as 'an immense red blossom'. Red and white are traditionally the colours of flowers used at a funerals, but here the red is transmuted and although unnamed, its presence is significant. The consciousness of the speaker here is infused with 'a vague / melancholy' and her movement is slow  'like a broken / cricket' but she none-the-less moves along, displaying life and agency against a background of 'lifeless houses'.

The High Caul Cap

The October rains set an all-time record:
all arrivals and departures were in doubt;
the airlines were on strike, it seems, in honour
of the water; in raining mountains, bad, sweet smells.

Calm spiders in the morning rivers,
gusts of birds, melody of bells.
When the heavens duly open
dead leaves explode underfoot.

This cold rain, from a cloud that had
unaccountably overslept, overtakes us
every afternoon like a vague
melancholy from some other autumn.

An immense red blossom, whose name
stops just in time, is the last candidate
for light; she pulls herself along like a broken
cricket, past the lifeless houses.

Directly following the intimation of hope here, comes the poem 'Sunburst in E Major' and its placement signifies a change from the clouded sun of the previous poem. The traditional music of The High Caul Cap is written for the flute, the instrument of Apollo, and 'Sunburst' seems to invoke and continue this aspect when it refers to 'The gods at this time of year [who]/ are partly about praying.' The spirit or presence of her mother in this poem seems to call her daughter's attention back to the living world because it is 'in a walkable attire, / like an angel wearing lipstick, / heart not so heavy as mine' and so the sunburst and the return to living by the grieving daughter is tentatively begun.

The musical references of these central poems and pre-christian allusions throughout the book uncover the primal instincts which the death of a blood relative evokes. The cycles of birth and death are everywhere in this collection. There is the recognition of loss, but also a continued presence of the dead, of memories, of bonds which are not broken.

Language itself performs this juxtaposition of continuity and discontinuity, giving or withholding  its meaning as life itself seems to be given and withdrawn.  The possibility or otherwise of communication through language continues therefore in this collection as it does throughout McGuckians work.  It's inability to capture 'this so-called non-blue' world around where her memories, and the spirits of her dead, dance and leave their rainbow hues, is balanced with the occasional flashes of insight which we gain, and which grow through close attention to the structure of the collection underlying the free forms of different individual pieces.

The opening reference to the snow therefore evokes a winter in which the earth is covered and sealed, but is not dead, is resting, or in recovery. The poems here are similarly covered, hard to read, but with patience the imagery and language will work their way to the surface of consciousness and will yield anew.

Medbh McGuckian was born in 1950 to Catholic parents in Belfast, Ireland. She studied with Seamus Heaney at Queen’s University, earning a BA and MA, and later returned as the university’s first female writer-in-residence.

She has earned significant critical acclaim over the course of her career. Her poem “The Flitting,” published under a male pseudonym, won the 1979 National Poetry Competition. In 1980 McGuckian published two chapbooks of poetry and also won the prestigious Eric Gregory Award. Her first collection, The Flower Master(1982), won the Poetry Society’s Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and an award from the Ireland Arts Council. On Ballycastle Beach (1988) won the Cheltenham Award, and The Currach Requires No Harbours (2007) was short-listed for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award.

Her honors also include the Bass Ireland Award for Literature, the Denis Devlin Award, and the American Ireland Fund’s Literary Award. She won the Forward Prize for Best Poem for “She Is in the Past, She Has This Grace.”

She edited The Big Striped Golfing Umbrella: Poems by Young People from Northern Ireland (1985) and co-translated, with Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, the Irish poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill’s collection The Water Horse (1999). She is the author ofHorsepower Pass By! A Study of the Car in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney (1999), and the poetry collection My Love Has Fared Inland (2010).

The High Caul Cap can be purchased in many bookshops, from Amazon, and also from Gallery Press.