Contemporary Irish Poetry Featured Writer: Jessica Traynor

Three Poems              Contemporary Irish Poetry Index

Jessica Traynor’s debut poetry collection, Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press), was nominated for the 2015 Strong/Shine Award. In 2016, she was commissioned by the Arts Council and the Irish Writers Centre to write a poem for the Easter Rising commemorations. A new commission, a sequence of poems in response to Swift’s A Modest Proposal, is forthcoming from The Salvage Press in 2017. She was recipient of the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary in 2014, was named Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year in 2013 and won the Listowel Poetry Prize in 2011. She reviews regularly on the radio for RTÉ’s flagship arts program Arena.

Jessica Traynor’s website




Jessica Traynor reads her poem “Liffey Swim”, in the UCD Library Special Collections Reading Room

Jessica Traynor: Three Poems

Biographical Note              Contemporary Irish Poetry Index


Matches for Rosa
In Bath Cathedral
The Swarm


Matches for Rosa
‘I want to give it to Rosa Luxemburg, who loved birds and flames.’
………………………………………………………………….– John Berger

These matches are a gift for Rosa –
I’ll send her a text first, so she will expect them
where she lives now, in a room
on the other side of water.

Even the dead can light a fire with the right tinder,
like these matryoshka matchboxes –
each one hiding a smaller lacquered case,
and a painted Russian songbird.

Perhaps each bird with its sloe-deep eyes,
its harlequin flashes of scarlet or gold
will be reborn as a phoenix in that other place;
where the dead live, sparks catch quicker,

and maybe in return for my gift,
this woman so in love with fire and flight
will send her blazing birds to my pyre.

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In Bath Cathedral

O reader stay one moment with the dead –
our bones are mingling beneath your feet
and we are all alone.

Stay with us while our knuckles roll
amongst pence and relics, over curses
scratched on tin or silver to hex a neighbour

for a stolen blanket. All the company
we have now is Minerva’s stone head
that never suffered joy or entropy,

her brow smooth while all around us
hot spring water picks holes in bones.
Stay through days of rotting joists,

through bombs that make the air sing
with flying glass. Stay, though the nave
be scattered with broken saints;

stay and hear and remember –
our echoes chime around the world.
They sound through the breath of others,

in the unimagined deserts of the mind,
in Damascus, in Aleppo, in Palmyra.
Stay and hold vigil. The dead are all the same.

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The Swarm

Search for them in the canopy,
among the meadow grasses,

you won’t spot them;
the thousands of bees

that unzip the air,
follow the day’s weft,

that rip the silence like cloth,
tug the tiny hairs on skin

with their ghost music –
bees long dead, bees soon to die,

as the ladder of evolution
reaches its vanishing point.

They hide here
among birdsfoot trefoil,

purple vetch, self-heal,
among hemlock and nightshade

and they wait,
these phantom bees,

between the pines.
They have nothing to fear

from me or you,
these numberless dead.

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Jessica Traynor was one of a number of Irish poets who were commissioned by The Irish Writer’s Centre to write poems in response to the experiences of the leaders of the 1916 uprising, set at various locations around Dublin. Jessica chose to write about Dr Kathleen Lynn in City Hall.

Visions and Visitations: Melinda Smith launches ‘A Casual Penance’ by John Foulcher

John Foulcher’s latest collection, A Casual Penance, was launched by Melinda Smith at the Civic Digest Cafe, Civic Theatre Newcastle on 8 April as part of the Newcastle Writers Festival

John Foulcher and Melinda Smith at the launch of A Casual Penance . Photograph Pitt Street Poetry

Thank you all for coming. I’m very honoured to have been asked to launch John Foulcher’s A Casual Penance this evening.

This book probably marks the beginning of a new period in John’s creative production, being his first post-retirement release – although many of the poems were written while he was still working as a teacher. At any rate future Foulcher scholars may look back on it as something of a watershed.

The book is divided into three sections:

  • First, an astonishing sequence of poems on Toulouse-Lautrec, ‘Crachis’ (named for the spattering technique used by the painter to create mists of colour on his lithographs).
  • a central section containing a variety of lyrics, meditations, elegies, a love poem and a nightmare.
  • The final section, a sequence of prose poems ‘The Greater Silence’ , which could be characterised as a spiritual autobiography – a re-telling, a re-appraisal of some formative spiritual moments, from 1958 to the present day. Containing one of the most unsettling wardrobe malfunctions I’ve ever read in a poem.

The three sections are book-ended by two rhyming pieces: a sonnet and a quatrain.

I’ll just talk a little about a few of the book’s themes and read you some tasters.

The Crachis section is outwardly a condensed biography of the painter Toulouse-Lautrec combined with an ekphrastic engagement with many of his well-known lithographs and paintings. Every poem in the sequence is beautiful, with a consistent, spare, tender, tone. From their tight focus on the life and work of one man they open out kaleidoscopically to encompass themes of mortality, disability, art, shame, and love. Most of them are apostrophes, addressing the painter directly. To give you just a taste, here is a little of ‘Portrait of Lucy Jourdan, Aging Coquette, 1899’:

‘ …Her eyes are slits

of eyes, trickling with sight, as she watches
your face beyond the frame, as red as her lips,
your body a starved, knuckled thing. She leans

into the light that rears from below,
as if from a row of footlights. She asks no favours,
no accolades. She is like a curtain coming down.’

Moving on to look over the rest of A Casual Penance, we see John returning to some of his favourite themes:

  • the spiritual / the numinous
  • particularly in The Greater Silences, his relationship to organised religion, and eventually to the Anglican church (which at points in the poems becomes entwined with his relationship with his wife Jane, an Anglican priest )
  • mortality / impermanence.

As John himself has said, the poems written at this time of life can often spring from a look back, a desire to re-assess, to understand fully in retrospect. 20 20 hindsight… ‘a reckoning’ if you will.

At this age too, lots of the fixed lights start to wink out, as captured in ‘The Day David Bowie Died’ (I love the images of disintegration in the poem’s final lines)

and shards of his life were scattered across the screen,
as if there’d been an explosion. On our way to the station,
a busker with a guitar plucked away at China Girl,
caressing its lean melody, coaxing the notes
from the prison of strings. A note, then silence,
then another note, blown about in the blustering wind,
falling on the ground around us like flakes of the finest snow.

There is a distinctly elegiac tone to many of the poems and several are actually elegies. The most devastating of these is ‘Two Farewells for Cameron Allan.’ We also have, from ‘Her brother is dead’, set outside a rural church after a funeral: ‘ The cross should be sharpened, I thought, like a stake. It should go deep into the earth. How else, I thought, could it carry a man?’

There are visions and visitations too, as in ‘Before the Storm’ when the poet’s father, fifty years dead, comes to stand on the other side of the flyscreen door and say his name.

There are other delights in the book as well:

  • Wildlife in the landscape – stark, and brutal but beautiful too, as with the dead baby wombat in ‘a walk’:

……………….the dead baby
that crawled out from under its mother’s trunk,
its skin dark, and as hard as bone,
its mouth burred with flies.
We finish the walk, and don’t talk any more.

Also the magpies’ song, in ‘Magpies and Sleep’, how it

‘sway[s] like a rope dangling from a branch,
sweet and low, tangled in the bark and twigs
laid bare in the great burlesque of winter.
Perhaps one has woken and remembered
something that can’t wait until morning.
Perhaps it’s just a lover’s tiff, or the soft,
unguarded talk after sex. Perhaps
they’re summoning the sun, like shamans,
or making promises they can’t keep.’

  • John’s longtime fascination with light gets a look-in, as in ‘Domestic’, a small marvel of a thing.
  • Not surprisingly many of the poems take us to France where John spent time on an Australia Council residency – not just the Toulouse-Lautrec series but several poems in ‘The Greater Silence’ as well. I think my two absolute favourites among these are ‘City of Bone’ and ‘Snow Falling in Paris, 2011’. From the latter, we have this:

….The snow gnaws at your hand. In another world, it would turn you to ash, it
….would burn you to bone..The snow keeps falling and falling..We press our hands
….to the window, we see the world dimly. We have only the things we have done,
….those we have loved. We see the street lamps blooming

  • Several of the poems are set at Reidsdale, the site of a de-consecrated country church he and his wife Jane are restoring. The unforgettable bat guano poem (‘Clearing out the Bats’) is one of these as are ‘Church for Sale, Reidsdale’, ‘Swallow, Reidsdale’ and ‘Night, Reidsdale’. This is the church described as ‘a barn filled with night’.

I can’t finish up without mentioning that one of the many things that has made me an enduring fan of John’s work is his excellent ear for speech. He knows exactly how to deploy a little snatch of dialogue to perfectly focus the poem, or the line, and to delineate character and add drama with supreme economy. Like this little exchange from the prose poem ‘Mark, Pauline and Me, 1970’:

I slit open the great bag of silence, say There are more stars in the universe than the grains of sand. We are lying on the grass, we are a trinity, on the grass. We are lying under a dark, pointillist sky. Bullshit Mark says there’s no God. 

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the list poem ‘the greater silence’, in which John enumerates several of the rarer kinds of silence:

‘silence that tempts you with a handful of the future
silence that is covered with dirt and stone
silence that has been roped that is thrashing about
silence that is a kind of wind
silence that wakes when the streets die when the lights go out in our rooms
silence that sinks and keeps sinking
silence that dancers ignore’

There’s plenty more where that came from. Grab your copy today.
I am very pleased to be able to declare A Casual Penance officially launched.

 – Melinda Smith


Melinda Smith won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for her fourth book of poems, Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call (Pitt St Poetry, 2013). Her fifth, Goodbye, Cruel, is out now. She is based in the ACT and is currently poetry editor of The Canberra Times.

For information on how to purchase A Casual Penance contact Pitt Street Poetry at

If you are interested in reviewing A Casual Penance for Rochford Street Review please contact us at

Contemporary Irish Poetry Featured Writer: Adam White

Adam White Five poems    Contemporary Irish Poetry Index


Adam White is from Youghal in County Cork, where he served his time as a carpenter before travelling to Brittany to work and learn French on the building sites. He later read English and French at NUI Galway and started to write poetry. His first collection, Accurate Measurements, was published in 2013 and shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection. In recent years he returned to live in France and works there at present as a secondary school English teacher. His second collection of poetry, What Else Is There?, has just been published (February 2017) by Doire Press.

Accurate Measurements and What Else Is There? are available from Doire Press

Reviews and Articles

Adam White: Five Poems

Biographical Note            Contemporary Irish Poetry Index


A Load of Firewood
Mare Nostrum
Robial Habtom
Mickey Filth


A Load of Firewood
for John Walsh


Was it me, then, or was it you,
who came backshifting the weighty trailer
through the open gates and tipped it there,

when the scrape and topple
of a few loose blocks quickened
to a thunderclatter over half the yard,

and the all-of-a-sudden presence
of so much timber at the ready
made me feel at home,

like a mite or a burrower in the bole?


Did it open your eyes
as much as it opened mine,
the way a woodpile drying
in the right conditions

has the fat worked off it by the years,
and downsizes
to a tightening of material,
the way less volume means more heat?

Something like birch
to get the whole thing started right;
the slow release of oak and ash
to keep it going through the night.


What is a log cut from a tree
if not a cross-section of living?
— the good years and the bad years
set down in pressed layers of xylem
and phloem, and every now
and then some vexed heart’s eccentricity.

Later, on quiet nights in,
going over all of this with a warm
gun is a thing that some of us will do,
like cutting a tree through and through.

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Mare Nostrum

North-westerly course out of Tripoli.
(Re)Provision of foodstuffs and water
to the offshore rig Zagreb 1,
fifty miles (nautical, mind) off the coast
of Libya. When one of my officers
spyglassed what looked to be an agitation
of gulls over a small craft, I gave orders
to tack and when we closed and saw
it was of course men hailing us with their shirts,
yelling in the unintelligible,
sent my second in command, an Egyptian,
to sound out the crew in Arabic.

……….Well I saw ants once, when I was a child,
eclipse a slice of apple let fall
on the front stoop of our building,
and that’s what it is:
one hundred and fifty souls overcrowding
the deck of a fifty-foot wooden vessel,
and as many again squatting below
between the boards, you learn subsequently.
That they badly lack water and food
is relayed, that they’re about parched for petrol,
or adrift under a big midday sun,
and never a rudiment of navigation
or a lifejacket amongst them.

……….Now, international regulation
on sea rescue prescribes such persons
be repatriated to the nearest port,
which means a U-turn to Tripoli,
but some demand you tow them
to Italy, and the whole boatload boil over
to a frenzy when you have to refuse,
threatening to fling themselves into the sea.
Considering women and small children
are in the hold, the middle ground
is to bid them board, the orchestration
of which veers perilously close to mayhem,
but it’s a mayhem you just get used to.
Water, chocolate bars and first aid
can thus be duly administered.

……….Some of those we treated for pussed-up
bullet wounds and knife cuts just blushed
like men and women showing their private parts;
the more mouthy there raged at paying
thousands of American dollars for passage
to Europe and being abandoned
in the middle of the Med like a pail
of kittens. Evidently there’s money
to be made in promising a man
some crackpot impracticality
he has fantasized,
or that was once engraved somewhere in his head.

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Robial Habtom


Tonight it was on every channel.
A mile-long line of lorries blocked
at the jetty checkpoint, that big sign
flashing Calais 5, Calais 5.

The length of this safeguarded pass,
geared up police inspect the cabs
severely, scrutinize
under chassis, flashlight the dark

places behind engines and wheels
before any gesticulated all clear,
and iron bucks on iron when
a rig’s motor lows up the gangway.


So did you know the hot space
between that one’s back tyres?
Did you bearhug the crud
of its underbelly or cling

to its rattling hindquarters
with all your remaining strength,
get drenched in the scent
of its diesel musk, its oil drool?

And how many times
did you do this to yourself
only to be discovered
and discouraged through punishment?


Seeing each lorry get its all-out
going over, why am I struck
again by those television
images from years ago

of men in white boiler suits
on the Louth-Armagh border,
face-masked, gloved and goggled,
tight-circling every vehicle

on the road from Meigh to Proleek,
who bleached and power hosed
any outbreak of foot and mouth
out of our country?


When I imagined your drowned body
in the harbour, all I could see
was the sea-girt bloat
of your trafficked arms and legs,

your dough-pale, freighted head
missing its eyes, lips and ears.
Before you were dredged you were downdragged
and caught in the undercurrents’

cold for a whole month,
bottom feed in death as in life
and, only for the tattoos,
unidentifiable, dead twice.


The newspapers’ black and white
said there was a watertight
plastic bag tied to your waist,
keeping a family photo safe.

To me, the way you surfaced fast
to that bubble of a past
your own country made unworkable,
was the once-and-for-all unsaying

of all our front-page-story speak
and brass-necked eldorado talk
that must have been raging hurt for you,
insult to your original restlessness.

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Mickey Filth

From the rain and mire months
(those oilskins his only hope of shelter)
to the hardhat’s dust and sweat
summer softening on the sweatband,
he slogs it out in all weathers
to work off a penance.
Straddling steel in house foundations
or down laying shit pipe
in the soup of trenches,
he’s a ground worker with a dirt wish.

All week you may suffer his dirt
and silence, but he has been sentenced
slowly to the rest of his life.
Nights out, he’ll extinguish
the flicker of a conversation
like he grinds out each butt
in the smoking ashtray,
drown the drought of good company
in as many cold pint bottles
as loved ones who left on the Big C.

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Not the ones he left behind;
as they shoulder up underneath
and steady into step, bell-slow
toward the waiting hearse,

I must be reminded of an evening
a month ago at most, drizzle
trickling down the last glints of day
on every single thing, and seeing him

alone at low tide,
struggling in oilskins,
unrooting scrap from the soft Slob Bank,
shouldering it away to a trailer.

Before I can think of the ones he left behind,
I must keep going back
to him going back
for every keel piece and rust-bitten half barrel,

for every pennyworth of copper,
stooped under his own weight in old iron
so that the full load he’d have to tow
might equal the dead weight of his worry.

Contemporary Irish Poetry Featured Writer: Robyn Rowland

Robyn Rowland Seven poems           Contemporary Irish Poetry Index


Robyn Rowland is an Irish-Australian citizen, visiting Ireland for thirty-four years, where she lives in Connemara. She also visits and works in Turkey. She has written twelve books, nine of poetry. Robyn’s poetry appears in national and international journals and in over forty anthologies, including eight editions of The Best Australian Poems. She has read in many countries including, Bosnia, Serbia, Austria, Turkey, India, and Portugal.

Her latest books in 2015 were Line of Drift (Doire Press, Ireland, supported by the Irish Arts Council, and her bi-lingual This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915 (Five Islands Press, Australia and Bilge Kultur Sanat,Turkey) sponsored by the Municipality of Çanakkale. Turkish translations Mehmet Ali Çelikel. Her second book with Doire Press will be out in 2018.

She has been featured on the RTE Poetry Show, Ireland, as well as PoeticA and Earshot in Australia. She was recently filmed reading for the National Irish Poetry Archives, James Joyce Library University College Dublin.

Reviews and Articles

Robyn Rowland discusses her poetry for the Irish Poetry Reading Archive.

Robyn Rowland: Seven Poems

Biographical Note            Contemporary Irish Poetry Index


The long walk
Bread line massacre
Golden flight
Invisible fields: from the sequence ‘Four Poems on Love’
Resistance, always
On the beach
Island harvest


The long walk

March 1849, Connacht, Ireland

Violet: ‘The Famine?’ Malone: (with smoldering passion) ‘No, the Starvation. When a country is full of food and exporting it, there can be no Famine.” G.B. Shaw, Man and Superman

….The oracle could have foretold it, though the wisdom of Delphi
….was always silent in winter and Pythia had long since withheld her voice,
….but with Croagh Patrick to the back shoulder without serpents
….and the Goddess still hot upon its face with the old ways
….you’d wonder all the signs would warn them, walkers grasping for grain, as
………………..into the valley of death
………………..stumbled the 600

….Snow was sheeting across Ben Gorm and the Sheeffry hills,
….Mweelrea mountains shuddering under rain,
….blight was on the land and the white globes of goodness that grew
….in the dark Irish earth had taken in fallen dust from America,
….fungus-ridden with stench of starvation through its flesh, as
………………..into the valley of death
………………..staggered the 600

….Children were barefoot in the iced air, their ragged clothes
….barely a cover for thin arms, rickety legs, their stomachs round
….with hunger, mothers too weary for tears at their cries,
….their own voices lost in despair, mouths long unfamiliar with appetite
….or taste or something solid; lost long before
………………..into the valley of death
………………..struggled the 600

….In the rage of a storm it was hard to see if skeletons they were, or
….walking dead, spirits through which the wind blew as if their bones
….were all that held them up, and try though it may,
….no wind could play a tune on these bones, only the
….clacking beat of a funereal march as
………………..into the valley of death
………………..scraped the 600

….Hunched against the blizzard, Mweelrea indignant watched helpless
….as they clung overnight to sheer rock, rough unflowering furze,
….waiting for the 7 am attendance ordered by the Guardians, and
….let’s name them – Colonel Hosgrove and Captain Primrose – who
….slept under their down and starched Irish linen as
………………..along the valley of death
………………..shivered the 600

….From Limerick, Cork, Galway food kept leaving for commerce’s hungry mouth.
….From Kilrush July 1848, 711 tons of Kerry oats, 128 tons of barley.
….Ship after ship from fine busy ports, laden with bacon, lamb, wheat and eggs,
….while Oscar’s Wilde’s mother hidden in the name ‘Speranza’
….raged in poetry at the theft of Irish food, yet
………………..still in the valley of death
………………..waited the 600

….Delphi Lodge’s table groaned under lunch while the wretched gathered
….in front of long dining room windows; and the Guardians ate and talked –
….maybe about the terrible weather, the growing cost of living, the poor;
….maybe about the comfort or otherwise of their white beds,
….while on lawns between them and Dubh Loch
……………… the valley of death
………………..huddled the 600

….They took but a minute to deem the gathering not poor enough for government grain,
….turning their empty hands away. But here the land is full of pity, and the mountains
….opened, gathering their bones into its soft peat; wind lifted them carefully in its arms
….and blew them easily into Black Lake. Snow cast a blanket over the young,
….sea washed others onto beds of Killary sand, and
………………..100 hundred only
………………..trudged out of the valley of death


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Bread line massacre

..Sarajevo, May 27 1992; 20 dead; 160 wounded
  after Roger Richards Photos, Remember Sarajevo, 1992-1999

Black and white clarity, though white looks grey.
In the cold morgue, Kosevo Hospital, Sarajevo,
his body lies on a flat wardrobe-door shrouded with sheet,
its stark shadow a jigsaw of lines on the tiles beneath.
His left leg protrudes, naked; the right, gone,
crushed somewhere under incinerated loaves;
bones mere shattered fragments in the pocked wall now;
or tossed to powder by the power of shells
lobbed with deliberation into a crowd queuing for bread.
Survivors covered with carnage struggle to throw off a woman’s
torso, head, as random limbs jostle for place in piles of body parts,
or pulped, run down drains in red rivers.
This is a strong leg, like my father’s, like my sons’;
the muscle clumped, calf broad and full –
what you love about a man’s body –
its strength, its assumptions of power.
The knee is smooth, lovely in its meniscus-shaped curve,
thigh pale from lack of sunshine close to the torso,
and the foot, its cardboard tag, five toes pointing towards the sun,
surprised almost, caught off guard.

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Golden flight

to Bob Adamson, from the west of Ireland
……….Still, these days …
……….I hold tight to what keeps me
……….alive – a spur-winged
……….plover in its broken-wing dance,
……….distracting the hawk from her chicks …
………………– Robert Adamson, ‘The Golden Bird’

October in Connemara after Atlantic gales
shred my late petunias, churning sea to growling
as it claws the stones on Ceann Dólainn bay below.
It marks the season’s late change, landscape softening,
roadsides rusting away fuchsia and blackberries.
A flock of goldfinches, their wings flickering yellow,
fall like autumn leaves from my power lines
onto newly mown grass, feeding on seeds with gusto,
and I think of you and the indelible ‘Goldfinches of Baghdad’,
your poem that rode beauty and cruelty into the flames.

Last time we met you took snaps to show Juno the jewels
of a jewfish my father caught and turned into earrings.
We swapped fish photos for months –
Bob and fish, Dad and fish – bigger, bigger.
Since then it’s been birds, birds. I watch them feed, strut,
fly through your photos on Facebook.
They stay airborne – rather than being gutted for eating.
I float the world now
as you grow more alive to your river,
so dissolved into its life it inks your veins.

You called me ‘Colour Girl’ in middle age,
though the girl was long gone.
You had really forgotten me but that didn’t matter.
I remembered you in the old days at Sydney poetry tables
all wild and scary with your word-passion.
I didn’t know you were just uncaged,
feeling your wings, and we both grew up alone,
but you were older, crazier, braver
and my voice still lost, imagining a life
outside my own loneliness in the country of the Dark.

You read too much, you talked too much,
you lived too hard till your feet finally caught again
in the oyster beds, as the river reminded you
there was solidity in a grandfather past.
I live in a watery place too, both solid and fluid,
my body and soul laid into the land so each mound of me
fits a silent bog-dip, each curve cups a rufty hillock.
Burnished wrack rings Seal Bay with amber
opposite salt-white coral strands and stone,
the grey of dolphins, with a hundred times the memory.

Your ‘speaking page’ is the Hawkesbury River
I travelled over as a kid on the Wisemans Ferry punt,
imagining I was travelling with the three wise men
walking across water. Bodies of moving water have had me since.
You make it a place we can all come to anytime,
feel the ‘serpent’s breath’ even if never spotting it,
learn the miracle of oysters, of oyster-catchers – man and fowl –
the rich unfiltered flow of river life. I envy that belonging.
How torn my own sense of it. Yet here I live inside the natural, ‘same as that’.
And birdlife here in the Irish west grows more plentiful each year.

Even the great Golden Eagles of Ireland Yeats never saw –
symbol of wisdom and power for the Druids –
are resurrected, three pair mating in Donegal.
Most birds travel long, long seasonal paths, rejoice in both flight
and landing, then take off again, different in nature and colour
from those wild reds and yellows that blaze my eucalypt alive in Jan Juc.
I can offer you music though – curlews wheeling along ribbons
of song into myth, no more than the creaking wings of
white swans before they glide into my lough
fingering the rushes for danger, their feathers for stray skin.

Skylarks climb vertically, levelling off to barely hover,
singing melodies flute-clear for twenty minutes.
Stonechats call each other in the percussion of two stones struck –
you think you’re kicking rocks walking. Kestrels, wrens, robins,
cobalt blue-tits, pheasant heads red among the reeds, massive seabirds,
magpies evenly marked with white splayed wings black-tipped,
that never repeat in their tunes, all harmony, brains working in halves –
one asleep, the other wakeful, alert. Most amazing are cuckoos –
unwooden – chameleons of the nest, male giving out the call
while he waits on her great deception.

Life is full of confusion, but holding onto beauty
in the natural gives our watery presence a firmer grip.
I think of that old table, typewriters, inked fingers,
and am glad that your keen bird’s eye
is still fishing for poems that grow fat
along the Hawkesbury banks and deeper in.
Golden Bird of poetry. Irreplaceable.
I think of your hair whitening to the chalk of oyster shells
and I like that. Better to age than to go missing.
It would be a terrible loneliness, if you were not in this world.

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Invisible fields
from the sequence ‘Four Poems on Love’

after Iarla Ó Liónard

One small, one larger below the house,
loughs at evening hold a late blue light
while crumpled earth around of stone and tufty bog
gathers dark in. They dare not shiver, these land-laps brim-full,
nor splash their unshed droplets across reeds
still as stick and straight in a breathless dusk.
Slyne Head lighthouse adds the beat from my suspended
heart to its own, its double flash my only compass point
toward the wide coal-black sea between us.

Your voice was so close in my ear I cradled it with the phone
as if you had breathed across my cheek in sleep
as you once did not long since, bodies hot with the sweat of love,
springy fur of your brown skin lit by the silk of me. And yet
you struggle to hold me in memory til I return?
How is love then to know whether to stay or go from the beloved
when life must be more than love alone?

Iarla Ó Liónard sings his mellow sean nós across the dark now
melancholic ache moves through invisible fields of land and wave.
Coming from old voices beyond a remembered past
his Irish more deep and sweet and mellow than mead,
he raises from the dead all old loneliness,
to cut-in bright as sharp-edged moon piercing the body of night,
scarring a pathway into water fresh and salt, sharp as the
sting of missing you, and I too am weary of lying alone, alone,
I am weary of living alone.

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Resistance, always

I call upon all Serbian women to give birth to one more son in order to carry out their national debt. Serbian Politician, 1991

They won’t do it, Mothers for Peace,
standing solid as scarred stone in the city centre
chanting for the war to end, their sons to be returned.
It is 1991, and their soldier boys are still soft with youth.
Compulsory training, a thing you do, then get on with life.

One year into the war, fifteen hundred Serbs demonstrate
in solidarity with those resisting the war elsewhere.,
but you never see these on the our tv screens.
‘Don’t count on us’ the crowd chants.
Half a million anti-war bodies sit in the centre of Belgrade.

They walk together in a March for Peace around parliament
where deaf politicians rewrite the rules of nationalism
planning a path so far from the intent of many
that Bosnian Serb military courts will have to issue
two-and-a-half thousand warrants for army desertion by 1993.

Unions hold strikes against increasing shortages, job loss.
Women in Black stand weekly vigil in the Republic Square,
silent and cauled. Sometimes they lie in a circle, feet to the centre,
spokes of a stilled wheel ringed by white daisies
their hearts the size of black suns.

Colour will die on them as the sons of too many states
are mauled by the creature of religious certainty.
Each year for seven years, they appear
with banners and posters stridently raging
‘Not in our name’ and ‘Pamtimo’ – Remember.

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On the beach

Bozcaada Island, Turkey

There is a bride in glorious white froth, laughing,
her black Turkish hair a net of breeze,
new husband stumbling on the rocks grinning, because
after the photographer leaves, she holds a selfie-stick.

There are two women friends, Meral and İlknur,
ambling, chatting, looking for deep-sea fossils set in stone
to embellish İlknur and Şefik’s home he builds nearby,
its stone and tiled beauty emerging from his hands, his dream.

I trail behind, head down for the small shells,
Trivia Levantina only to be found here on Bozcaada,
exquisite false cowries, tiny ridges ringing them,
their tail canals rose-pink or purple.

There is a giant ship, Egyptian, looming
into a white sun leaving the sky pink with ebru clouds
trawling across the tankers far out and strobing towards us.
Its name is ‘Mercy God’, a kind of hopeful prayer.

Shipwrecked last winter, ferocious wind drove it ashore
sideways onto this beach, then a grimace of cold sand,
its cargo of onions rotting for months,
a stench to banish all but the desperate.

Such strong women, we joke as I film my two slight friends
leaning on the ship like tiny ants pretending to push it out,
its hulk now home to crabs, birds.
Up near its prow you can just make out Arabic for ‘Allah’.

Tiny shoots are rising like small green wings
out of the golden dunes nearby. ‘Watermelon’, you tell me
‘someone’s been having a picnic’ and yes, they will grow
and the fruit will come for summer. ‘You will be here’.

On the way back past the darkening hull there is a faded lifeboat
seal-grey with orange fluoro trim, it is half buried now.
I had almost missed it, so much sand on its torn belly.
‘From the ship I imagine?’

‘No. Syrians’, you instruct me, suddenly grim,
and the way you accent it – Surians – takes me a minute to realise
in horror, sea now swallowing a sun burning orange with its last breath.
‘They tried the sea, they did not make it to Lesvos’.

I am told like a child barely able to grasp meaning.
Beside it sits just one shoe, a man’s strong walking shoe,
faded brown suede, its many laces salt-stiff.
My eyes are pegged to it, cannot leave it. I am glad there is nothing else.

On Lesvos, women are beachcombing too.
They collect children’s clothing washed up.
They itemize, they clean them for those who might still come,
who survive crossing ‘the sea of death’ that gulps them by the boatload.

Included in the debris from almost three thousand dead in the Mediterranean –
a tiny pink long-sleeved shirt with boat neck, for a girl, size 3 months;
small black stretch pants with nylon sequined bows knees, size 2 years;
a pair of sky-blue heavy fleece pants, for a boy, aged five.

*‘Crossing the sea of death’ Carol P. Christ, Lesvos, crossing-the-sea-of-death-by-carol-p-christ/. So far more than 2,600 migrants are known to have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Death at sea, Sep 3rd 2015, The Economist

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Island harvest

for Ruairí & Marie-Thérèse de Blacam, Inis Meáin suites and restaurant, Aran islands, Ireland

Eating periwinkles requires the harvest,
back bent under a slate sky,
seawater, green as jade,
wet sand sloping to the wrack,
Ruairí lifting weed, molasses-dark and heavy
on an island so wild its rock
rises from the ground in jagged slices
striating a sky crazed-blue.

Eating periwinkles requires garlic,
white wine, swift heat,
Ruairí white-aproned,
a toothpick or large safety-pin,
a wrist to slide, twist and connect,
a heart willing to try
winkles, herbivorous, small as a
baby’s thumb, that graze on weed.

Eating periwinkles risks addiction
to the shape of conical shells in the palm,
spirals banded in fine threads of chocolate
and celandine yellow heated to downy-brown;
to a taste on the tongue of ocean secrets, and
the sense of having entered an old world
where edible sea-snails are keys to a labyrinth.

Eating periwinkles on Inis Meáin risks
not wanting to turn for home.

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Paul Casey Biographical Details

Paul Casey 6 Poems     Contemporary Irish Poetry Index

Paul Casey – Photo by John Minihan

Paul Casey was born in Cork in 1968. He grew up between Ireland, Zambia and South Africa and has worked in film, multimedia and teaching. He has published poems in five of his six spoken languages, along with articles, in journals and anthologies in Ireland, the US, China, Australia, South Africa, Romania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. A chapbook of his longer poems, It’s Not all Bad, was published by The Heaventree Press in 2009, and he completed a poetry-film based on Ian Duhig’s iconic poem The Lammas Hireling. His debut collection is home more or less (Salmon Poetry, 2012) and in 2013 he was awarded a Cork City Council Artist’s Bursary to work on his second collection Virtual Tides, which arrived from Salmon in 2016. His poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including by The Irish Examiner, Colony, The Pickled Body, And Agamemnon dead, Crannóg, North West Words, Shamrock Haiku Journal, New Eyes on the Great Book, Southword, the Over the Edge Anthology, The Penny Dreadful, Levure Littéraire, Live Encounters, Fulcrum, Itaca and Brain of Forgetting. Most recently his work has appeared in The Wolf, The Café Review, The Penny Dreadful The Irish Times, Arté Metropolis TV and in the 2016 anthologies, Looking at the Stars, On the Banks, Even the Daybreak, Blackjack and the Cork Literary Review. In 2014 he wrote and performed an original collaborative piece with Afric McGlinchey, for Stephen J. Fowler’s Enemies project. His poetry has been translated into Romanian, French, German and Italian.

Casey performs each year at various festivals and venues in Ireland and around the world, having featured at, among other universities and venues, Poetry Africa in Durban, at the AWP, Beyond Baroque and The World Stage in Los Angeles, Nelson Mandela University, Dominican University San Rafael, The Godiva Festival in Coventry, the Cork Spring Poetry festival, the Cúirt Festival of Literature, the Dromineer Literature Festival and at the Troubadour in London. He has been recorded by RTE Radio 1 for the Poetry Programme and for Arena. He read in the Guild Hall in Coventry for the state visit of president Michael D. Higgins. He is poet in residence each May during the Bealtaine festival, in Carechoice elderly homes around county Cork. He also curates and edits the annual Unfinished Book of Poetry, featuring verse written by transition year students from Cork city schools. He is the founder/director of the weekly Ó Bhéal poetry reading series in Cork city.

Poetry and Articles


Ó Bhéal


Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh & Imeall, TG4 spend an evening at Ó Bhéal on Monday 10th October 2016

Paul Casey 6 Poems

Paul Casey Biographical Details    Contemporary Irish Poetry Index


Stone Circle Circle
Dia an Cheoil (God of Music)
Indoor Forest
Inside the Bonsai
what’s clogging the mindpipes?
on second thoughts


Stone Circle Circle

‘Stone Circle Circle’ first appeared in Colony

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Dia an Cheoil / God of Music

Dia an Cheoil

Trí fheadóg bhí ag m’athair
A mbéalóg glas, gorm is dearg
Gaotha binne a séideadh
Maidin, iarnóin is oíche

Gach feadóg díobh ar nós a gcuid
Slat flaidireachta, ag lascadh an aeir,
Is chuir a gcuid duán faoi bhriocht mé,
Agus ghéill me láithreach gan teip

Sracadh den uisce mé le draíocht
Is mé nach mór ag eitilt
Mar is é an ceol, an Dia is láidre,
Bhuel sea, í ndiaidh an ghrá

Ach go cinnte an Dia is iontaofa.
Slogadh anois me, a Dhia an Cheoil
Le do chuid slata daite draíochta
Múnlaigh mé led fhuaim

A Mhúinteoir uamhnaigh
go dtí go mbeidh na píosaí beaga den eagla
Imithe, is go dtagann ar ais an solas

In ainm na feadóige moire glaise
Is na feadóige moire goirme
Is na feadóige moire deirge


God of Music

My father played three tin whistles
through lips of green, blue and red
sweet winds blew
morning, night and noon

each a flyfishing line
split the air
hooked each pitch deep
into the underbelly of surrender

to be whisked from water
into perfect flight.
So, music is the mightiest god
after love and surely

the most eternal
Swallow me whole god of music
spin-flick those fly-rods, the colours of magic
mould me in tones of unheard notes

again, dear and dreadful teacher
‘till these tiny scales of fear fall
away with the first rays of light

In the name of the green flute
and of the blue
yes, and of the red flute too

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Indoor Forest

If your urban life is leaf-free
one might say
you could bring the forest to you

to a wide south-facing sill
solar steeped and deepened
with a small table, enough

for sixty pint-sized pots
ten say, by six
with seed varieties endless

cheap as compost on e-bay
green up those phalanges
rein in the continents

with maple jacaranda coral
spruce acacia wattle and
after two careful winters

a forest
spread open, bough
to open bough

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Inside the Bonsai
………………………….after Yehuda Amichai

You visit me inside the bonsai
together we can hear the secateurs
clipping around and around us precisely
You whisper to me

I trust your words
because they carry grains of salt
the way real seaweed
carries salt from the sea

I press your fingers to my lips
this too will shape the future
and your fingers are cool
the way a hot day is blue

these things are all true
You visit me inside the bonsai
and you’ll wait with me here
until the secateurs complete their work

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what’s clogging the mindpipes?

A clamper spends all day seeking the key to his question
An artist removes an opinion from her mind’s eye with thinned
ideas made from crayons. An architect’s mind is written out
and emptied and filled with fresh addictive frustrations.

Today is a coffee overflowing with answers to yesterday’s dilemnas
as sugar-free yesterdays are auctioned off in the yellow pages.
These have in recent years faded to white. The blank screen is a pause
button, a quiet picture of night framed dead center in the room.

A grandchild discovers how to clean a marble headstone. The shaker
of good memories will dance around an old thorn to tease it out.
A friend can pluck one’s courage up enough to oust a second thought.
People are pricking themselves on digital cactii, recording their lives

in virtual quipu. A government official spends all day whitewashing
a newspaper headline from the minds of peers. In the city of river-
bellied streets, council workers spend all day unblocking the drains,
dislodging the giant splinters that accumulate in the anonymous night.

A generation of digital miners chip away at their questions all decade.
Do they know (do they dare wonder) just how things might change?
Haven’t they heard? There’s nothing like a long cold draught
of negative equity to regulate the middle classes, oh yeah. That.

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on second thoughts

It’s time for that coffee and packing up of principles
and off to the imagined life, the lock of that stolen key
Could it be this torrent of barbarity we hear and see
keeps us in constant mistrust of our own humanity?
Being spoilt isn’t just an expression, is it now?
We can only do a lot with a little for so long
and traffic is all about flow and avoiding pretzels
Nasturtiums in our mouths are worth gardens
for deserted nets won’t capture lines, lives, nor
will reciting pi to a thousand places while high
as fifth century stylites, our monkey brothers
close at hand, Soon Mo Kong and Hanuman
finding Jupiter in the frosted pavements of the cities
There’s so much more to what we’ve done than luck

Life won’t run away at twenty-four frames per second
in its timeline of deadlines laid pipe-like in the depths
of an age when late winters meant hot summers, kudzu
colonising at a foot per day. So let’s lay a full keel, flee
livid with illusions of progress, the sky split by each in turn
for once shy and forever bitten, we wear all of our layers
we seek the unfound bodies that lie beneath the rain
shallow as a field of g.m. spuds in county Wicklow
and teach our phones to speak Irish so as to consider
the price of being 100% Irish-legal, the full cost analysis.
With the sacred now virtual, we’re walking the world home
as we protest through spending saved and unsaved time
Why count the days in pairs of socks or human chains
and keys of corporate law and vagabondary?

A thousand years ago they’d all be dead men. What fools
take on the traits of film characters, splice fantasy to their
instinct? You, see beauty as a jungle of endless species
a menu unmeant to be written or told. Loss as an artist’s
heart, a black goat, the angel’s share calling the shots
and that’s the kettle calling the hob more efficient for you
Though it may well be a case of mistaken identity crisis
we’ve nothing left to give but the desire to give
Let’s take our souls down to the drycleaners for a spin
we’ve been stuffing the French press with ground-down
words, doomsday scenarios, temporary considerations
If you discriminate among colours you’re a colourist
And those sixty-four twits who make the world go round
indulging in the odd few delusions of grandeur, singing

war as the appropriate response – and then of its nature
while others find teaspoons more lethal than knives
the lives of rolling stones won’t end in their settling
What we imagine in dread can be actualised by all
the wrong people for we’ve imagined it, unrealised
Dark cumulous speeds along the edge of your iris
and in each, a flash – yes you too harbour lightning
We talk of the dreaded ends of those we love, wish
upon them more music, more life while we share
this one, dreaming in one tense, living the other
hoping beyond hope the inevitable turns evitable
Too much too soon too little too late too clichéd,
too unique, there’s no true synonym for synonym
Now we’re specialising in generalising in a time loop

of jumping through hoops, can’t change how we feel
till we feel what we feel and the thing about avocados is
that downloading is our new favourite form of exercise
And how long is a moment? Excuse me a moment. I know
it’s not time yet. Has your imagination too been faithful?
A too cool fool, you say? Perhaps a too cool fool
but a happily too cool fool, in search of that silent L
in words where, the phone won’t play dead for long
where the dead have been calling all day long
where summer thermals make earth-clouds of the trees
or, white-winged raindrops rise in pairs to the sky, only
to fall as caustic grains of sapphire sand, forget the house
in the hills, we should stay right here, clarity being such
a hard-won magnificence, and we so quick to cloud it

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Contemporary Irish Poetry Featured Writer: Afric McGlinchey

Afric McGlinchey – Four Poems…………………..Contemporary Irish Poetry Index

Afric McGlinchey

A ‘blow-back’ after growing up in Zimbabwe, Irish-born Afric McGlinchey’s début collection, The lucky star of hidden things (Salmon Poetry, 2012), was also published in Italian by l’Arcolaio. Her work has been translated into five languages. Winner of the 40th Hennessy poetry award among others, she was selected for the 2014 Italo-Irish Literature Exchange. Her work has been studied in the Irish Leaving Certificate and she has read at the Troubadour (London), Harare International Arts Festival (Zimbabwe), Iowa Book Festival (USA) and Poetry Africa (Durban, South Africa). Selected as one of Ireland’s ‘Rising Poets’ by Poetry Ireland Review, Afric was awarded an Arts bursary to write her Forward-nominated collection, Ghost of the Fisher Cat. She is a freelance editor and lives in West Cork, Ireland.

Afric’s website can be found at

Ghost of the Fisher Cat can be purchased at 

The lucky star of hidden things can be purchased at


Afric McGlinchey reading the poem ‘A River of Familiars’ and discussing her book Ghost of the Fisher Cat