As the hand I could have written with flew away from the wrist…

Sky Burial
by Ron Koertge

Q. You’re Such a Disciplined Writer. Were You Always That way?

A. When I was in graduate school, I worked part-time at a local library. I ran the used bookstore in the basement. The money came in handy. There was plenty of time to study.

I learned to know the regulars who talked about living with pain and waiting for bland meals to be delivered.

One sweltering afternoon I read about Tibetan body breakers who dismember corpses with their hatchets and flaying knives so the vultures will have an easier time.

I imagined my own body and the monks asking, “What did this one do?” And the answer would be, “Not much.” As the hand I could have written with flew away from the wrist.

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Rag Tag & Sundry

A periodic news and reading roundup

(or: the most interesting, weird and worthwhile ways I procrastinated of late).

I am procrastinating writing about my trip to Seattle for this year’s AWP conference. There’s a lot to process, a lot to think about. I learned a lot.

And in the spirit of ever and always learning…

Quel wonderful!

The Writing University is offering free, online courses in creative writing and literary analysis. Associated with and supported by the University of Iowa, classes are a combination of readings and audio/visual recordings.

I just signed up for their first course, a close reading of the wonderful poem, Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman. The course officially started in February but, as there are no assignments or other requirements, I believe it’s not too late for you to sign up too!

Walt Whitman

Another exciting discovery (and by discovery I mean that I just found out about something everyone else already knows) is the Writing Lessons feature on The American Scholar website.

Each Monday a poet, novelist, essayist, journalist, or a scholar recalls a piece of advice or an experience that was most helpful to their writing career. I like this tiny essay On Weirdness by Nathaniel Rich.

“Life is extraordinarily weird. Art must be weirder.”

And on a completely unrelated note (or maybe not), this GoPro video of a pelican learning to fly is the best. The best!

Bye!

For now, Portland Oregon

A short essay I wrote is up on Orion Magazine’s website.

“My husband wants land. He digs through websites, hoping to uncover a patch we could afford. I want it too but it hurts to see him look at places someone else will live on, or subdivide. It’s not our time, yet. We plant pennies in our bank account and watch them grow too slowly. In the meantime, we live in a condo in the city….”     [continue reading at Orion]

The Big Pink in a Portland Mist.

I love The Place Where You Live feature; I’m glad they brought it back.

And I do love Portland, Oregon—even on days like this one.

Ragtag & Sundry

A periodic news and reading roundup

(or: the most interesting, weird and worthwhile ways I procrastinated of late).

Mary Beard’s essay The Public Voice of Women in the London Review of Books. Read it. Read it now. Read it often. Read it until the day we can relegate its terrible truths to the finished and never-to-be-returned-to past.

I have been under the spell of William Dalrymple since I first read his work while traveling in India a few years ago. Under The Spell of Yoga charts the evolution of the practice over thousands of years. Everything he writes about, he makes fascinating to me.

Still not sure what to make of this “Did the CIA fund creative writing in America?” piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education. There may be some truth in How Iowa Flattened Literature but it’s difficult to trust it coming from such an embittered, disgruntled researcher. I read it and, for some strange reason, couldn’t get that Moloko song out of my head: If you have a cross to bear, it’s only fair that you use it as a crutch… 

So, technically, I am philosophically opposed to the title and implicit assumptions in the Art of Manliness blog. However. I will not allow my politics to prevent me from learning How to Survive Falling Through Ice, so I did take a quick peak at this quaint illustrated guide just in case I find myself in Minnesota in December.

That is all.

The Right Word & the Almost-Right Word: on Etymology.

Mark Twain said:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” 

A friend of mine was presenting to a bunch of corporate types this week. An English-major turned lawyer, he was excited to impress upon them the etymological definitions of the words ‘Client’ and ‘Customer’—words that are often used interchangeably but have distinct, if subtle, differences that would provide, he hoped, an interesting framework with which to view their business relationships.

“Ooooh,” I said as he told me about it later.

“Yeah,” he said. “Unfortunately, you expressed about a million times more interest in your one oooh than a whole room of these people could muster between them.”

It’s true. Us origins-of-words-lovers are a rare, quare breed.

And, to be just a little bit haughty of a Sunday, I think the best readers and writers are as in love with words in and of themselves as they are with sentences of them strung together. I didn’t pay too much attention to etymology until a few years ago and think it’s no coincidence that my reading and writing have evolved and deepened during that time.

There is a lot about the writing process that fills me with anxiety and uncertainty. When Im feeling overwhelmed by the big picture, I tend to hone in and absorb myself in the small particulars, taking out my thesaurus and etymological dictionary, deliberating between this word and another, almost but not-quite the same in meaning.

You could call it a form of procrastination, yes. It’s certainly not a process that results in reams of paper at the end of the hours. Sometimes I laugh and wonder if anyone reading would even notice the difference.

I think, though, that’s partly the anxiety that I’m trying to alleviate. When I wonder if anyone reading would notice, my next thought turns to whether anyone will ever read what I write at all…and…well…. Well, I cannot say for certain that they will: that they will read, or that they will notice, let alone that they will care. So I have to turn away from that, from all the future possibles and what-ifs, and do only what brings me pleasure in the moment to moment. I notice the difference. I care.

I get a little giddy about it sometimes.

I send my yoga-friends essays about yoga, like this one by William Dalrymple in the New York Review of Books. They get all excited about the actual practice-of-yoga parts, and I get all excited about the part that traces the linguistic history of the word:

The Sanskrit word yoga means “union” and is etymologically linked to the English word “yoke.” Its earliest occurrence in the Rig Veda, which dates from the second millennium BCE when both the Pyramids and Stonehenge were still in use, links the word to the rig with which war chariots were yoked to horses; by the early centuries AD the same word is being used to convey the idea of the body and the senses being yoked and reined in so as to move toward the Absolute.

See, to me, the word Yoga still means something oppressive and burdensome—a yoke—and I will use this ancient definition to justify not getting into it again this year.

And, today, I noticed an article in The Harvard Crimson: Panelists Discuss The Role Of Prayer As A Placebo.

“Placebo is a terrible word,” said one of the panelists, Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University Professor of Anthropology, and author of a book I read (and liked a lot) last year: When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God. Her work explores the cultivated practice and phenomenological experience of prayer.

Placebo is a terrible word because it implies something false, she says.

Luhrmann’s work does not attempt to verify the existence of God, only that the effects and experience of talking to and with God are very strong—and very real—for those who do believe and practice prayer habits. I can understand how she would be reluctant to use a word that signifies something fabricated and unreal.

But something struck me as I read the sentence, Placebo Is A Terrible Word.

There was something unnecessarily definitive about the assertion, though I’m sure she didn’t intend it that way. Still, on behalf of the word Placebo, a little part of me stood up and said, “Hey! Terrible? Really? That’s not nice.”

And I got a little bit giddy, and curious, and decided to check out what was so terrible about this placebo word.

Placebo: early 13c., name given to the rite of Vespers of the Office of the Dead, so called from the opening of the first antiphon, “I will please the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm cxiv:9), from Latin placebo “I shall please,” future indicative of placere “to please”. Medical sense is first recorded 1785, “a medicine given more to please than to benefit the patient.”

Seems like Placebo might not be as terrible a word as she thought. Even the later medical sense lends weight to the idea of prayer as having positive if not scientifically quantifiable benefits. Seems like it’s almost the perfect word in respect to her work and the topic under discussion, don’t ya think?!

Like I said, I can get a little haughty about etymology.

It just strikes me as a perfect example of how it can really enhance and open up an understanding of something. Yes, the contemporary meaning of placebo has certain connotations that she would wish to avoid. Yet, rather than belittle or dismiss her understanding of prayer, this deeper definition of the word placebo, in fact, adds depth, complexity, and historical continuity to the association of both words with one another.

Anyway. I dug it.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter or make a difference. Maybe the way looking-up words makes me feel is some kind of placebo effect: something done more to please than to benefit me, or anybody else. But I think it does. And I ask earnestly, and beg, that you might think so too. That is to say: I pray.

The Reality of Life on the Lake Isle of Inisfree

Speaking of bees…

I was reminded of an artist & illustrator whose work I loved when I visited home in August: her name is Annie West and I adore her Yeats in Love series, and all of her work really.

I especially love this one titled ‘The Reality of Life on the Lake Isle of Inisfree’. I could only afford a small print but it makes me laugh every time I see it. If you’re familiar with Yeats’ poem about finding peace and tranquility in the bee-loud glade then you’ll see why.

Annie West

 

The Lake Isle of Inisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

by WB Yeats

Ragtag & Sundry

A periodic news and reading roundup

(or: the most interesting, weird and worthwhile ways I procrastinated of late).

I haven’t done too badly on the procrastination front lately. My catastrophe of a kitchen is testament to the fact that I have actually been writing as opposed to defrosting the freezer and cleaning the oven while telling myself that thinking about my story is the same as writing my story.

I was interested/excited/curious/ when I scanned the headlines declaring 2014 to be the Year of Reading Women. I haven’t had a chance to delve into any of the debates this may have engendered but I welcome the discussion. Will have more to say on this sometime soon no doubt.

I also found myself in the fascinating – if unlikely – world of picture framing while researching some finer points for my story. The Frame Blog is so good. Who knew?!

rossetti-frame-top-left

Lastly but not leastly and most lovely. My friend Emily has four poems in issue 11 of The Economy magazine. Do read them.

THE ECONOMY  ISSUE 11

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Happy Lunar New Year everybody!

Do you celebrate or observe this time of year?

I love fresh starts and seasonal rites. I think of Harvest rather than Halloween, Solstice rather than Christmas presents. I light small candles on Diwali. Today is the first day of Spring in the Gaelic (Irish) calendar, and next month I will welcome it again here in Oregon. I haven’t always seen the world this way but now I’m seeing so many ways to celebrate or quietly observe the days.

Yesterday, I spent a little while in the Lan Su Chinese Gardens. I’m lucky to live just a couple of blocks away and, as we don’t have a garden or even a balcony in our apartment, I buy a yearly membership so that I have a leafy place to go. One day I will have a garden and a wishing tree.

The Wishing Tree

January was  stellar. Busy, intense, frustrating, thrilling. Effing exhausting. Full of doubts and questions and insecurities. All that and my third headcold of the winter. It was great!

Because I made like Woody Guthrie and stuck to my resolutions: worked more and harder, while somehow managing to keep the hopin’ machine running.

I finished writing a story that I started…good lord…six or seven years ago, then returned to in the middle of last year when I brought it to my writing-group saying I think there’s something here. I want to write this story, really write it. 

I pushed myself a lot these past few weeks especially. I have written a story that feels good and truthful to me. It feels complete and not just in the sense that it has a recognizable beginning, middle, and end. It’s out in the submissions ether now. There’s a particular place that I have sent it and I am aiming high. Who knows what will come, but I think it’s okay to take a punt on yourself, dream big etcetera.

I saw this month what happens when you really sit down and commit and work. I have finally ‘got’ it.

I have spent so much time reading author interviews and books on process. So and so wrote standing up, this guy writes in the bathtub. This author has children and this one doesn’t. This guy works in the evening and this gal gets up at 4am to write before her day job. These people don’t have day jobs! I was looking for quick tricks, resisting so much the knowledge that above and before anything else, you need to write. Whether your ass is in an actual chair or not is irrelevant. But you have to write. You have to spend time writing.

Why I never truly got this before is beyond me. I don’t think that either laziness or procrastination or fear is the entire answer. All I know is that something has clicked into place and I just know it for myself.

I have seen my work get better and that has made me more than willing to spend more time with it and forgo the other things that always seemed more important and immediate. It’s hard to spend time with something really crappy. But if you don’t, it stays that way. You have to work.

Again, this is common knowledge, I’m not saying anything new, and I have known this for years but could never quite push through. How things finally connect with me is a mystery. I wish I got things sooner but I am slow to learn my lessons. Though, once I do, I really do, and it is for keeps. I can say that about myself, at least.

This one small story is finished but I am riding on the momentum that I’ve created and am galvanized and ready for the next thing, whatever it may be. I want to try harder at working by a schedule, maybe save myself some last-minute intensity and exhaustion. I also need to make time to be outside more. In the gardens yesterday, I realized just how cooped up in my room and brain I’ve been. Working harder is good but not if we can’t remember what the sky looks like! Things are still a work in process but I’m ready and excited for it. I know what I need to do.

I hope that you (whoever you are) are just where you’re supposed to and ready to be in whatever your particular experience is. And for those who maybe know that they’re ready or want to be ready but don’t feel like they’re able, I encourage you to feel that – but do what you know you need to do anyway. I don’t only mean with writing. I mean whatever your thing is that’s your thing. It’s so hard. But it can be so worth it.

Happy New Year! Happy Spring! Here’s to infinite opportunities to look at things afresh.

Berries in the Garden

Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulins

I like these rulins, share some of them. I hope I do good this year.
New Years Rulins

1. Work more and better 
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

“The fire was nice and bright and on one of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to be handed round at tea…”

“….Lizzie Fleming said Maria was sure to get the ring and, though Fleming had said that for so many Hallow Eves, Maria had to laugh and say she didn’t want any ring or man either; and when she laughed her grey-green eyes sparkled with disappointed shyness and the tip of her nose nearly met the tip of her chin.”

                                                           —from the short story Clayby James Joyce.

I’ve had a hunger on me for a slice of barmbrack, a yeast bread made with dried fruit plumped up overnight in hot tea, traditionally eaten around Halloween at home in Ireland. I made it this fine October Sunday with the help of my mother-in-law who is a far better baker than I.

Typically, a ring is hidden in the dough and whoever finds it in their slice is said to be wed within the year. Other fortunes you might find in a traditional brack are:

Fortunes

  • The Thimble: for which you will stay a spinster.
  • A Button: meaning you’ll always be a bachelor.
  • A bean or a piece of rag: Penury and misfortune for you.
  • The coin: Riches coming to you.
  • The stick: an unhappy, quarrelsome marriage (the stick symbolizes what the husband would beat the wife with but we can assume the fortune has evolved along gender parity lines to keep up with the times, not that I’m advocating wives beating their husbands either mind).

 

Sliced thick and slathered in salted butter, beside the fire with a cup of tea on a bright, if chilly, day—there’s nothing like it . I didn’t get the coin but I’m content. And I didn’t dress up this year for Halloween either. Sure amn’t I grand as I am?

The Coin

The Ring and the ButtonThe Thimble

To the Theatre, and Beyond.

I somehow find myself on the guild of Profile Theatre.

This surprises me.

I have had little previous exposure to theatre and have typically failed to connect with the live performances that I have seen. I preferred the slickness and distance of cinema, needing, oddly, an element of detachment in order to immerse myself fully. The intimacy of theatre was distracting to me. I pictured the actors applying their make-up, waiting in the wings, and was unable–I thought–to take the imaginative leap required.

I felt that I lacked a certain kind of intelligence or discernment. I didn’t feel badly about this. I figured it just wasn’t my medium.

I rarely dismiss a thing entirely. When my friend Stephanie asked me to see a play with her about two women in 1970s South Africa, I was interested. She and I did the same Gender and Women’s Studies Masters program in Ireland (though we were only introduced and met once I moved to Portland) and it’s been nice to have someone to share and foster my feminist leanings with here.

So I gladly accepted her invitation to see Athol Fulgard’s The Road to Mecca but my hopes were hardly high. I expected to be intellectually interested in the play’s subject matter and its themes. I thought I might learn something new about race and ethnicity and gender relations. What I did not expect was to openly weep. I did not expect to see myself so painfully in an elderly Afrikaner widow. I did not expect that I would be touched on an emotional level that night and haunted for days to come.

In short, it was one of the most transformative and affecting ‘artistic’ experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if it can be replicated but I’m going to go and find out.

The Road to Mecca

I was planning to keep an eye on upcoming plays at Profile but it is just happenstance that I heard about the Guild at a fundraising event last month. I still feel like as though I’m yet to really find a place for myself in Portland. I’m sort of stretching my arms out in all directions, figuring out who I am here, where I will belong and develop and thrive. I’m excited about this new thing in my world. I think it will help my writing, particularly the revelation of character through dialogue. And it feels good to participate in Portland life and hopefully help some.

The aim of the guild is to promote the theatre and greater community participation. I am a quiet person and not one to proselytize, but I hope that I can convey to folks how thankful I am for the experience I had through Profile, and how glad I am that I didn’t dismiss the theatre entirely. I just needed that one breakthrough moment, and I encourage anyone who has felt a similar disconnect to remain open. Accept all invitations.

Here’s a couple to start with:

On November 13th, Portland’s Hollywood Theater is showing a special screening of Fool For Love, written by and starring Sam Shepard and directed by Robert Altman. Profile Theatre will host a beer and popcorn reception in the upstairs lobby from 6-7pm and  Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, will talk briefly before the film about Profile’s upcoming season of Sam Shepard.

As always, Profile’s season of plays is devoted to a single playwright and 2014 will be the year of the often strange but compelling Shepard.

Sam Shepard

The season will showcase three large-scale but rarely-performed productions, as well as a festival of one-act plays, and a series of lectures, dialogues and further explorations of the playwright’s work.

Consider checking out one or all of what’s to come. You’ll be hearing me talk about it a lot; I’m curious and excited and still have no idea what theatre is really all about but, like everything in life, I guess we learn by going.

Profile Theatre

Some woman’s hair…

I’m thinking today about gender and hair. A slight leap from my last post about a poem but, in fact, it segues nicely.

In the final verse of September 1913, Yeats offers an insight into the “delirium of the brave” – those exiled hero rebel men, Emmet and Wolfe Tone, Fitzgerald and O’Leary.  Bravery and heroism, he suggests, are titles we confer retroactively. The actions of the true-hearted hero are never apprehended in their own time but, rather, they are thought to be reckless and crazed by those who do not understand.

Notice the catalyst of their insanity:

…Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’…

Proximity to the dangerously alluring female and her intoxicating hair can cause a man to go crazy, do things he ought not to do. His actions are her beautiful fault. How many times a day do we see such line of reasoning offered as justification or defense for some crime or disgrace?

The body is a battleground and hair is a captivating, complex prop in the theater of that war.

***

All this month in Her Kind (a literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts), writers, artists and poets are “exploring the link between identity and hair, as well as its histories, realities and fantasies.”

Thus far: In To Hair or Not to Hair?, Millicent Accardi discusses women’s body hair and shaving, wondering why even the most ardent feminists still succumb to the deeply embedded notion of the hairless female. And in Hair as Storyteller and Reimaginator, Imani Tolliver and Beth Gilstrap converse about why we care so much about our hair and I can definitely relate to this insight by Gilstrap:

“Perhaps hair is the definition of vulnerability, our attempt to control some aspect of our own physicality and external lives when all else is so difficult? Our shapes. Our minds. Our bones. Our diseases. Our losses. All so elusive, but baby, we can hack away at my hair.”

When I was a child, I inexplicably began to pull out my hair. It was many years later before I would know that this compulsion had a name – trichotillomania – and that I wasn’t alone in my often heartbreaking behaviour. It would be many more years still before I would be able to acknowledge or even dream about writing this sentence, here, for anyone to read.

But somehow I find myself in a place where I’m okay with all my quirks and ‘insanities’ and this weird thing doesn’t define me, though it has certainly been defining and determining in the past: I have been shaped by it but now I am trying to shape it in turn, turn it into something else and new.

My short essay – Pull – is now up on the Her Kind website. And I feel like I’m in good company there.

Romantic Ireland’s Dead and Gone.

September 1913

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone?
For men were born to pray and save:
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’:
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.

WB Yeats

Yeats’ poem was published on this day a century ago in The Irish Times newspaper and its power and meaning have not diminished with the years.

The scorn he spits upon the country’s ugly materialism – and cultural-spiritual poverty – resonates today. Its elegiac refrain is well known by most Irish people and, in the recent recession, has been cited in the most bitter and sorry of tones.

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone.

I’ve whispered it myself. When words have failed me, and I have failed them.

(I don’t know what to say of empty shop-fronts and ghost neighbourhoods, so many suicides and fields of abandoned horses. I don’t know what to say. As much as I loved my time at home this summer, I was saddened and troubled by the weariness and hardness I saw on so many people’s faces.)

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone.

Poetry is proof. These lines act as a witness to reality; when you cannot believe your own eyes, they corroborate the story, say what you know and can’t say any better.

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone. It’s with O’Leary in the grave. But who the fuck’s O’Leary?

I tell you now I didn’t know. Or, if I ever did at some point, had casually forgotten. I wonder if half the people who’ve invoked his name through the lines of the poem could tell you who the man was or what he stood – or fell – for. It’s a sad state of affairs when, with no heroes of your own to mourn, an ancient stranger’s name will do. As well him as another. (There are no others). Tragically, the best known O’Leary in today’s Ireland is the one fumbling in his greasy, no-frills airline, till. But nobody’s going to Paris or Faro, no. It’s back to the building-sites, down the down under mines. Brothers, sisters, friends: going about the world like wind.

Was it for this the wild geese spread the grey wing upon every tide?

Poetry is pretty, deceptive. The wild geese, the grey wing. Alliteration lures me to an enchanted place, wild, idyllic, free: romantic.

But sound and meaning are not the same thing. Beautiful words can be used to describe terrible things. The wild geese were those Irish men who went away to serve as soldiers in wars that weren’t their own. Blood was shed. What kind of romance is this? What kind of Ireland is being mourned here?

Yeats’ poem is compelling and I find myself nodding in agreement of feeling. And yet, ultimately, I don’t know what exactly he is saying is dead and gone or if I quite understand his vision of the romantic. I know that something has been lost, that something is broken in the country. One hundred long years later, much remains the same and the Ireland in this old poem seems familiar to me. But, while poetry can comfort and console, I want words that move towards a solution, rather than wallowing in lamentation for a world that never existed.

I can’t imagine what Ireland will look like in another hundred years. I can only hope that we find new words and better heroes and – as lovely as it is – that this poem will lose its truth in time and we can lay ourselves to rest.

A Literary Jaunt around Ireland…

I didn’t set out to take a literary tour of Ireland but, being the country that it is, words and writers will cross your path no matter the purpose or direction of your travel. I took a wee roadtrip with friends last week, and it was a feast of a literary journey.

****

In county Donegal, we passed through the seaside town of Bundoran.

I recently re-read The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe, a darkly funny and haunting novel. In it, the tragic protagonist, Francie Brady, travels to Bundoran, to a guesthouse where his younger mother and father took a holiday and where he naively imagines they were once happy.

It’s a devastating but tremendous read – I highly recommend it. These guesthouses along the seafront were exactly as I imagined them in the story.

Bundoran, Co. Donegal

Travelling south to Galway, we drove through Drumcliffe in Co. Sligo and stopped by the church-grounds and graveyard where WB Yeats is buried. We stood by the grave and I did my best deep, trembling recitation of The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Yeats' Grave, Co. Sligo.

Later that day, we reached Galway which is the gateway to the Aran Islands. There’s an ATM on Inis Mór these days but, to a passing traveller, it seems little has changed since JM Synge wrote an account of his life on the The Aran Islands – with its “low stone walls and small, flat fields of naked rock.”
Thatched Cottage, Aran Islands

Onwards to my hometown of Dublin, it was great to reconnect with the old familiar places like the Saturday book market in Temple Bar Square and enjoy a beautiful brunch at the bookshop & restaurant ‘The Winding Stair’.

Saturday Book Market on Temple Bar Square

The Winding Stair Bookshop & Restaurant

We then took a literary pub crawl, following the old haunts of Joyce and Beckett, Wilde and Behan, and too many more to mention here. There was a time when I purposely avoided reading Irish the great Irish writers, favouring fresh and foreign voices and – god forbid – a woman writer or two. But in recent years my interests have returned to that rich and impressive heritage and I was invigorated to wander in the city and its history.

I was happy, too, to be back on the city campus of Trinity College where I did my Masters. I always appreciated its beauty and am proud to have studied there but I’m embarrassed to say that, in all my time there, I never made time to visit the Book of Kells or the Long Room in the Old Library. It was always something I kept meaning to get around to… and it was certainly worth the wait and the long line.

One of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I hope to return some day and stay a little longer – both to the library and another journey home.

The Long Room, the Old Library, Trinity College.

The Long Room.

Stream And Sun At Glendalough

I’m at home in Ireland for the month of August.

Early this week, I walked part of The Wicklow Way with Ian and my brother and sister. We wound our way from Dublin to Glendalough – a 6th century monastic settlement in a glacial valley – and lingered a day longer. It was so lovely.

Stream and Sun at Glendalough

This is a poem by William Butler Yeats, written there.

Stream and Sun at Glendalough

Through intricate motions ran
Stream and gliding sun
And all my heart seemed gay:
Some stupid thing that I had done
Made my attention stray.

Repentance keeps my heart impure;
But what am I that dare
Fancy that I can
Better conduct myself or have more
Sense than a common man?

What motion of the sun or stream
Or eyelid shot the gleam
That pierced my body through?
What made me live like these that seem
Self-born, born anew?

Monastic City, Glendalough