Blog from the Poet in Residence, Catherine Ann Cullen, to keep you up to date on her latest news and activities.
April 2021 Blog
Comings and Goings
Last month I promised you a song video. Here’s a reminder of the background story: on Easter Monday 1916, one of the youngest women active in the Rising was 16-year-old Molly O’Reilly. The messenger belt she used to carry dispatches in and out of the GPO was given to her by James Connolly, and is held in the North Inner City Folklore Project collection curated by Terry Fagan. As part of my residency, I’ve been writing poems on other objects in the collection - dockers’ buttons or badges, irons from the Magdalene Laundry in Seán McDermott Street, a cross made for a dying prostitute in the Monto. At this Facebook link, you can see and hear me singing my song for Molly and her messenger belt, “Who Goes There?”, filmed by my beloved Harry Browne in the appropriate location of my own sixteen-year-old daughter’s bedroom. The banner on her wall is not the ‘uncrowned harp on green’ raised by Molly at Liberty Hall on Palm Sunday 1916, but the rainbow flag. By the magic of social media, my song was shared with Suzanne Corcoran, Molly’s granddaughter, who posted “Aw, what a lovely song!” on Facebook, and sent me a note about it too, with a photo of Molly in her white hat with her son Liam, Suzanne’s Dad. It’s a delight to connect through poetry and song, especially with people who have been an inspiration. And delighted to report that the song video has now had over 1,100 views on Facebook.
Thanks to Suzanne and to Terry for being generous with their histories!
We’re at full throttle at Poetry Ireland getting ready for Poetry Day Ireland on Thursday 29 April. Last year it was a scramble to move everything online at short notice, this year we are old hands in the online world. I’ll be running eight individual mini-workshops of fifteen minutes each on Zoom (or phone if necessary) where people from all over Ireland can workshop a poem on this year’s theme of New Directions: Maps and Journeys. I’m calling the sessions “Short Cuts” to fit in with the theme. Last year, I had participants from Armagh, Kerry, Cork, Wicklow and Galway among others. It was some consolation for not having the workshops as a series of ‘drop-in’ events at Poetry Ireland in Parnell Square, when we would surely have had writers mainly from Dublin and neighbouring counties. If you’d like to workshop a journey poem with me, email the poem to email@example.com by Friday 23 April (Shakespeare’s birthday), and I’ll let you know if it’s “to be or not to be”!
In the Footsteps of Eavan Boland
We’ll be marking the first anniversary of our beloved Eavan Boland with Poetry Ireland hosting a special video event (details to be announced shortly). I’ll be taking part in a tribute to Eavan run by Sandy Yannone’s wonderful Cultivating Voices poetry group, which is based in Olympia, Washington and has a wide transatlantic following. Jessie Lendennie of Salmon Poetry will speak about publishing Eavan's poetry early in their careers. Ray Ball, a poet from Alaska, will talk about how he has been influenced by Eavan’s use of history. I’ll be representing Poetry Ireland, speaking about Eavan's connection with the organisation and reading a favourite poem of hers - it’s very difficult to choose just one! There’ll also be an open mic to let the audience pay their respects, reading a favourite poem of Eavan's or one they wrote inspired by her. The event is on Eavan’s anniversary, Tuesday 27 April, at 8pm Irish time. More details shortly on the Cultivating Voices Facebook page.
Pathways to Peace
Before my next Elevenses blog, the deadline for the Trócaire/Poetry Ireland Poetry Competition will have come and gone. I’m one of the three judges, and I’m looking forward to reading all the entries on this year’s theme of Pathways to Peace. There are categories from third class in primary school up to adult published and unpublished, and entry is free. What are you waiting for? Details here.
Until my next elevenses, wishing you a poetry journey with roads less travelled as well as beautifully worn paths!
March 2021 Blog
Loud and Shrill
“March brings breezes loud and shrill” as we learned at school in the calendar poem by Sara Coleridge. I’ve often thought that ‘shrill’ conjured up not so much a breeze as a howling wind, but it had to rhyme with ‘daffodil’ in Coleridge’s poem. ‘Shrill’ is a word with a long and misogynist history, often used as a putdown for women who speak up for themselves. So call us shrill if you will, but it was a powerful group of women that got together on Zoom for Poetry Ireland’s IWD2021 event, a fundraiser for Women’s Aid Ireland. In the past, we’ve had a larger group of women live at Poetry Ireland on the day, roll on next year when we hope to again! This time, we decided on a ‘less is more’ approach. We had six poets - Aifric MacAodha, Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi, Rachael Hegarty, Rosaleen McDonagh, Siobhan Daffy and myself. Rosaleen is recovering from Covid-19, so her blistering poem was read by her friend Kathleen Lawrence, another strong Minceir/Irish Traveller, who did a beautiful job of the reading. We send our warm wishes to Rosaleen for a speedy recovery. If you missed it, pour yourself a cuppa or a glass, and tune in on YouTube - you’ll find us proud to be loud and shrill!
Poems on Pathways to Peace
I’ve just recorded a promo for the Trócaire Poetry Ireland Poetry Competition which launches on Monday 15 March and closes on Friday 7 May, with a celebration event on Culture Night, Friday 17 September. Look out for the details and make sure to enter! There are categories for all ages, from Junior and Senior Primary through secondary students to adult published and unpublished poets. This year’s theme is Pathways to Peace. I’m on the judging panel with Aidan Clifford, retired former director of the Curriculum Development Unit, and Trócaire's Campaigns Manager, Joanne McGarry. It was lovely to be part of the same team last year, and I can confirm that every poem was read with care and curiosity, and it took hours of deliberation to decide on the winners from a shortlist of exceptional poems. I’m looking forward to reading all your poems this year!
Trying to Play Music?
By the time I write my next ‘elevenses’ blog post, Easter will have come and gone. Before that, I’m planning to record a video of a song I wrote about one of the artefacts in the North Inner City Folklore Project. This collection is a labour of love by Terry Fagan, and is currently looking for a permanent home. My song is inspired by a messenger belt worn by one of the youngest women involved in the 1916 Rising, Molly O’Reilly of Gardiner Street. The song started as one of a series of poems on this fascinating collection. The poem just would not come right, and after a few days of frustration, it dawned on me that inside the poem was a song waiting to get out. It wrote itself after that. I sang the song at the end of our Poetry Ireland IWD 2021 event (see above), and realised that all those warnings about playing music on Zoom without making proper provision for it are justified. I had a hilarious moment (in retrospect) when I launched into the song and a message came up on my screen asking, ‘are you trying to play music?’ It wasn’t a criticism, I’m told, but was pointing me towards various studio tools I could use. Too late for IWD, as I was already playing to a forgiving crew. However, with the help of my inhouse camera operator, I'm going to share a video of the song around Easter with some visuals of Molly and her belt. Hope you enjoy it!
Coming Around Again
The end of this week marks the first anniversary of the first lockdown. The Poetry Ireland team had a hurried meeting on Thursday 12 March 2020, and decided we would close - for a few weeks, as we thought. One year on and, like many other colleagues, we have yet to get together. On that long-ago Thursday, I decided to post a #PoetryPrompt duo, one for adults and one for children, with photographs to match, every day while we were closed. Last autumn, after more than 200 prompts, I decided to change to a weekly #PoetryPrompt duo, along with a new project, the #ABCDublin rhyming alphabet. This week I reached 300 prompts, with over 400 photographs, and counting! It’s been a wonderful journey with thousands of poems shared by a warm and creative circle, mostly on Twitter. Maith sibh go léir - well done everyone! Rest assured I’ve no plans to pull the #PoetryPrompt series. The prompt for adults for the week beginning 15 March is, appropriately, #circle. March has come around again with its daffodils, as in the Coleridge calendar poem, and the circle is complete. Till our next elevenses, stay safe and hope to see you (a)round soon!
February 2021 blog
The phrase ‘going viral’ doesn’t have its old cachet these days, when there’s just one virus on our minds, but this month I’m happy to report my first positive viral experience. The Song of Brigid’s Cloak, which I wrote as part of the Songs for our Children project last year, has had an astonishing 80,000 views (and counting!) on Facebook in a few short weeks.
It was shared in a lovely version by traditional singer Aileen Lambert and her daughter Nellie for 1 February, or Lá Fhéile Bríde, the first day of spring in this part of the world. The video has had a warm reaction from teachers and parents, folklore groups and singing circles. The Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland have even adopted the song as one of their anthems for the younger Brigín guides. The ballad tells the story of how Brigid outwits the mean old King Of Leinster when he refuses to give her land for her church. Have a look and listen to Aileen and Nellie here, and you can hear me singing the song here.
If the thought of spring makes your fancy ‘lightly turn to thoughts of love’, consider yourself invited to a living love letter with poets laureate from across the United States, with special guests from Canada and Ireland (that’s me!). It’s the first ever Laureate LoveFest, a free event on Valentine’s Day, Sunday 14 February, from 8pm to 11pm Irish time.
Join hosts Nathalie Kuriowa-Lewis and Terri Cohlene (Olympia Poetry Network) and Sandy Yannone (Cultivating Voices LIVE Poetry) for a live Zoom webinar with readings, featuring special performances by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser and current US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. I’m smitten by the whole idea! To register for this free event and see the full line-up, visit this link.
Speaking of international poetry, you never know what you will learn when you read writing by children:
‘Did you know Dublin has a Hollywood?
Not the one in America, don’t get misunderstood.’
‘Esker House, former English land,
A time when they had Ireland in the palm of their hand.’
The #ABCDublin #ABCBÁC project was due to finish at the end of January but we left the door open a crack and I’m glad we did, because a whopping 67 entries came in from sixth class in Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack, last week. There are some examples above, and you can see the whole shebang on https://abcdublin.org/all-by-chiselers/ All I can say is, Awesome Ballybrack Creations!
I’m still working on my paper for the Broadside Day conference on Saturday 20 February. Despite the challenges of researching with libraries and archives closed, I have managed to pin down some fascinating facts about an obscure Dublin ballad writer, Joseph Sadler, whose name is spelt in a bewildering variety of ways in the dozen or so ballad sheets that bear it. All will be revealed on the day!
If you’re interested in broadside literature, or as my English Folk Dance and Song Society friends have it, “broadsides, chap books, songsters, woodcuts, engravings, last dying speeches, catchpennies, wonder-tales, almanacs, fortune tellers, and all kinds of cheap printed material sold to ordinary people in the city streets, at country fairs, and from pedlar’s packs up and down the country in past centuries”, for the pauperly sum of 10 pounds, you can enjoy a series of short papers from 10am to 5pm, more information here.
In other news, our illustrated weekly #PoetryPrompt duo on Twitter and Facebook are nearing another milestone - find out next month! My poetry workshops are continuing on Zoom with the Fatima poetry circle and the Writing from Scratch group, both groups are budding like spring flowers, and plans are afoot for International Women’s Day on 8 March, keep an eye on Poetry Ireland’s social media channels for more news.
And finally - did you notice that this blog is updated on the 11th of the month? That’s no coincidence, as the number 11 is the one on Poetry Ireland’s front door at Parnell Square. It’s also the number of poems I undertook to write about the history of the building, using the number 11 in some form in each poem. Last month I gave you the fiendish 11-line roundels. This week I’m letting ye off lightly with two eleven-word poems. Enjoy!
Between 1901 and 1911,
Margaret Pierce, house keeper,
ages six years.
Words break loose
slide up the banisters
graffito the lofty ceiling
January 2021 blog
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".
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