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Blog from the Poet in Residence, Catherine Ann Cullen, to keep you up to date on her latest news and activities.

11 January 2021

Coming Around to the Roundel

It’s 2021 and I’m still awaiting the pleasure of a poetry reading in Poetry Ireland. The catch-ups, the queue for signing, being swept into the performance space with a coat draped on one arm, the phone in the hand, the new book(s) clutched under the other oxter, and a glass in the fingers. I can’t wait to hear the murmurs die away, and to let the words take me with them. It will happen, and it will be “sweet like a sweet”, as a French importer once described to me the taste of his favourite olives.

Meantime, I’m researching a conference paper about Joseph Sadler, a Dublin street poet of the 19th Century, for Broadside Day 2021 next month. Tickets are a snip at £10 for the (online) day, details here: https://tinyurl.com/yywqty38

I’m still posting a #PoetryPrompt duo each week on Twitter @tarryathome and Facebook facebook.com/catherineann.cullen, and enjoying the responses. Alphabet Blitz for the City of Dublin is open till 31 January at abcdublin.org for individuals, groups and classes to post rhymes on Dublin for any or all the letters. A new project is brewing!

Finally - one of my lockdown projects is a series of poems about the historic building at 11 Parnell Square East which is home to Poetry Ireland. I call the project 11x11 for Number 11, that’s eleven poems of eleven lines, words or syllables. Among the rare poetry forms of eleven lines is the roundel, a form credited to pre-Raphaelite poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, partly based on the French rondeau. One of Swinburne’s many roundels is dedicated to his friend Christina Rossetti, who wrote some fine roundels herself. Swinburne even has a roundel on the roundel: https://tinyurl.com/y3o6ny29, while my favourite of Rossetti’s swings between ‘Sleeping at Last’ https://tinyurl.com/y29vsu4s and the challenging ‘A Helpmeet for Him’ https://tinyurl.com/y2o2d7aa

The trick with the roundel is that its fourth and eleventh lines are the first half of the first line, so it takes thinking and tinkering to get right. Here are the two from my Number 11 poems, about two people who spent time in the building in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both have a Yeatsian link: the revolutionary, suffragette and actor Maud Gonne, muse to Yeats, and the Fenian John O’Leary, who Yeats referenced when he wrote: "Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave".


Still

Romantic Ireland’s still alive and twitching,

though, fingers crossed, she's made her bloody will.

O’Leary husbands, without self-enriching,

Romantic Ireland’s till.


Joyce’s Last Fenian, who’d have had his will

if not for all the spying and the snitching,

the man of property who paid the bill,


the editor whose pen was always itching

to point out to the poets their lack of skill.

While Yeats (through rosy eyes) finds her bewitching,

Romantic Ireland’s still.

 

Maud Gonne Roundel


I’ll work my magic lantern’s slide projection

And meet the thrust of empire with the tragic –

Scenes of eviction, famine and abjection.

I’ll work my magic.


The flutter of Union Jacks turns me dysphagic.

I’ll hoist my bloomers for the royal inspection:

like flags, their value’s merely camouflagic.


We’ll soar above the Famine Queen’s objection,

And if this time our wings are burned, I’ll cadge

Icarus a chance at rising, resurrection –

I’ll work my magic.
 

Roundels have a circular form, a chorus that comes around again. Have a creative January till next time around!

Catherine Ann Cullen, Poet in Residence