Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Anne Casey

Author of two collections published by Salmon Poetry - out of emptied cups (2019) and where the lost things go (2017), Anne Casey is a Sydney-based Irish poet/writer. A journalist, magazine editor, legal author and media communications director for 30 years, her work is widely published internationally and has won/shortlisted for prizes in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. Twitter: @1annecasey

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I usually have a novel and one or two (or more) poetry books on the go at any one time. I recently finished Dervla McTiernan's acclaimed The Ruin – a gripping detective novel set in the west of Ireland where I'm from. It was a real page-turner, so I've just started the sequel 'The Scholar'. In our current circumstances, it is somehow comforting to be amongst Irish names and places on the pages – it takes me home when I can't be there physically.

I'm also reading Paul Munden's brilliant poetry collection Analogue/Digital – "the four corners of the earth/ cradled in your palm/ like an all-purpose gadget" (from the poem 'A New and Correct Map of the World') is quite an apt description of the book itself. It is a series of startling revelations enveloped in inspired eloquence. If you want to fall in love with language all over again, read this.

I am simultaneously slowly savouring Felicity Plunkett's divine new poetry collection, A Kinder Sea, which resonate deeply, for its exploration of loss, its liminal beauty and its love affair with the ocean. "Separated, alone at sea/ for the ten lunar months/ it takes to make a child,/ you discover grief/ like someone diving into a dark/ envelope of undersea rock/ to find a dream's bones."

Meanwhile I am also currently thoroughly enjoying Melinda Smith's ingeniously innovative, highly entertaining, vitally important and deliciously, outrageously feminist poetry collection, Listen, Bitch, which features design translation by Caren Florance. Here is one of it's quieter moments: "and who's to say she did not/ take up, with relish, a pair of Tim's scissors/ and stab and stab, rending the membranes/ (those pale lady-veils), releasing the stinging/ pungence of witch-rage".

A book you loved reading at a child

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass – a combined edition gifted to me by my beloved Aunt Minnie prompted an imaginative epiphany for me as a child. I will admit that I had always been a dreamer, only partly present to the real world (and I still have one foot in the world inside my head most days), but this book set me off on many wild goose chases through the rabbit-hole-ridden local sandhills, so desperately wanting to find that Alice's magical Wonderland. There was always that delicious conundrum of whether you would choose the 'DRINK ME' potion to shrink or 'EAT ME' cake to grow bigger – not to mention all sorts of sage advice, like the Duchess's: "Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend

I have gifted Eleanor Hooker's glorious poetry collection A Tug of Blue on more than one occasion. It is mesmerisingly, hauntingly beautiful and lusciously inventive. When I want to point someone to one of the many exciting things that are happening in Irish poetry right now, I send them here: "On my father’s side/ I am part fish./ When I am dead,/ return me to water./.../That part of me/ which is raven, on/ my mother’s side,/ will submit." (from the poem 'Ablution').

A book you have read more than once

Anthony Doerr's first novel, About Grace, is a book I will return to over and over – not only for its extraordinary story, but for the poetic beauty of its language and its innate wisdom: "All month the ice muttered and howled and whistled. The trees echoed back and forth among themselves. Taken collectively, the sound was of deep wounding, of winter inexorably taking the life out of things."

The impossibility of the central character's protective love for his daughter is heartbreakingly magnetising – a driving force through this captivating journey through nature and its formidable elements, loss, exile, longing and the saving grace of human kindness. Here is one of my favourite passages:

"Our entire bodies, flooded with water, are governed by electricity. Bring any two molecules close enough together and they will repel each other. We cannot ever touch each other, not really. We repel at a distance. Actual touch—real contact—is not possible. A fistfight, one person lifting another, even sexual intercourse—what you feel is only electrical repulsion, maybe a few thousand molecules sloughing off skin. Even our own bodies are not cohesive. Photons pass through our eyeballs, through the webbing of our fingers."

A book with personal resonance

Peter Boyle's exquisite book-length poem, Enfolded in the wings of a great darkness, which recently won the Kenneth Slessor Award for Poetry in the 2020 NSW Premier's Literary Awards, holds me utterly captivated every time I open it. Whenever I hear Peter read from it, I am moved to tears, brimming with the absolute joy of hearing language that transcends the page and transports us to the glimmering edge of everything we know to be real and beyond. 

It is a breathtaking exploration of love, terminal illness, loss and reaching beyond the void: "a moment stretched to the size of the universe", "that we are guests here, that we are summoned — so little of what we are stays in the light", "What does it mean that I am able to offer you parts of myself that even I am unable to name", “Is it the light that emanates from the dead, all this we have no name for?” and "far from the steady light/ she cast, I am again/ descending/ the spiral staircase of the self/.../ stripped/ of all armature/ surrounded/ only by ancient/ bone-words   how old/ this scent of aloneness."


Monday, 27 July 2020

Linda McKenna

Linda McKenna is from Kinsealy in North County Dublin, but has lived in County Down since 1995. Her debut collection of poems, In the Museum of Misremembered Things, was published by Doire Press in March 2020.  She has had poems published in a number of publications including:  Crannog, The Honest Ulsterman, The North, Poetry Ireland Review. She won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing and the Red Line Festival Poetry Award in 2018.

A book you loved reading at a child.

I was brought up on a mixture of "girls’ books" from earlier times (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, etc.) and Enid Blyton and Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School books. I desperately wanted to go to boarding school in Austria or Switzerland! I’m probably among the last generation of women brought up on the same books their mothers read. There were no young adult books when I was growing up, you went from Malory Towers to Pemberley. One of my favourite books though was Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes. I think it’s probably fairly unique among those kind of books in actually talking about money, (money as opposed to poverty or riches, actual pounds, shillings and pence) and how the girls’ earnings contribute to the household. I loved all the stage school bits and the descriptions of clothes. I can still vividly remember the acquiring and making of Pauline’s black velvet audition dress.

A book you have read more than once.

I am a big Dickens fan and Bleak House is probably my joint favourite novel ever (joint top with Kate O’Brien’s The Land of Spices). I reread it and bits of it regularly. I very often read in my favourites as opposed to rereading them in totality. I know people have problems with Esther and she can be irritating but every time I read the novel I find something new in it. At the moment, I am (thanks to my vague ideas about a second collection of poetry), obsessed with keys, locks and their symbols and I love the way Dickens uses Esther and her basket of keys to symbolise so much. I also cry every time over poor Charley going out to wash ‘because of the sixpences and shillings’.

A book that you started but never finished.

I decided this summer that lockdown might be a good time to attempt the Lord of the Rings books. I ploughed through the first one but gave up a few pages into the second. I don’t mind fantasy worlds and characters but it was just too confusing and why did people keep changing their names?! I liked the films except they should have kept Sean Bean alive for longer but the books left me cold. 

Your favourite anthology.

One of my favourite poetry anthologies is a book I picked up in the Chester Beatty Library shop. It’s Haphazard by Starlight: a poem a day from Advent to Epiphany, edited by Janet Morley. It’s a great collection of poems by a very diverse range of poets (from Shelley, Yeats, Tennyson, Hopkins, Eliot, Dickinson, DH Lawrence, Sylvia Plath to Edwin Muir, Elizabeth Jennings, Gillian Clarke). There’s a commentary on each poem linking it to the season and it includes two of my favourite poems ever, Kathleen Raine’s ‘Northumbrian Sequence, 4’ and UA Fanthorpe’s ‘BC:AD’. 

A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading.

I have ordered Sasha Dugdale’s new collection, Deformations, (Carcanet Press). I love her Red House collection, especially the Red House sequence of poems with its breathtaking use of language and imagery. Deformations contains two linked sequences of poems, one of which is based around characters from the Odyssey. I’m also looking forward to reading Gaynor Kane’s debut collection of poems with Hedgehog Press and Geraldine O’Kane’s new collection with Salmon Poetry. Lockdown has delayed their launch too so hope to get them soon.


Friday, 17 July 2020

Billy Mills

Billy Mills was born Dublin in 1954. After some years in Spain and the UK, he lives in Limerick. He is co-editor (with Catherine Walsh) of hardpressed Poetry. His Lares/Manes: Collected Poems was published by Shearsman in 2009, and Imaginary Gardens and Loop Walks by hardPressed poetry in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The City Itself was published by Hesterglock Press in 2017. He blogs at https://ellipticalmovements.wordpress.com/ and tweets at @BmillsBilly

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I always have a lot of books on the go because I review on my blog, plus one (or more) I’m reading apart from the reviewing. Currently that is Bob Dylan’s not-a-novel Tarantula, which is actually a re-read after a long gap. I started into it as a result of listening to his magnificent new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways. There’s a great deal of continuity across his life’s work, and themes and ideas that were there in the 60s are still echoing around the new songs. It’s not the best book ever written, but it’s interesting. I’m also dipping into Helen Waddell’s Medieval Latin Lyrics, which I picked up second hand just before lockdown. It’s a fine work of scholarship the casts light on a neglected period in European poetry.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

I will recommend any book by Lorine Niedecker to anyone who’ll listen. If you haven’t read her, you should. If you have, you’ll know why. writing from the margins, she condenses an entire world into a handful of words, carefully chosen and placed. The Collected Works (edited by Jenny Penberthy) is a must-have book for anyone who wants to know poetry.

A book you have read more than once.

I reread a lot, poetry needs to be returned to regularly and with the best of it you find something new every time. I recently reread Marianne Moore’s Collected Poems and was really struck by how much in control of her technique she was, the stitching of observation, quotation and wry humour into carefully elaborate syllabic patterns is just stunning. However, the book I’ve reread most often is Ulysses, which is, I think, the best novel in English. All human life is there, and technically it’s incredible. I mean the writing is unsurpassable. I know a lot of people find it off-putting, but I honestly don’t understand why.

Your favourite anthology.

I have a fondness for anthologies that makes it almost impossible to pick just one. Robin Skelton’s Penguin Poetry of the Thirties/Poetry of the Forties, which I discovered in my late teens allows you to read a different history of 20th century British poetry, one in which the pre-war period is not totally dominated by the MacSpaunday poets, where there’s more continuity with the Modernism of the 1910s and 20s, and in which the Movement is more an aberration than anything else. The lack of women poets is shocking, but the books are a window into a number of very fine poets who have more recently begun to find new readers again: Terence Tiller, Kathleen Raine, David Gascoyne and more.  A more recent anthology I like is Black Nature, edited by Camille Dungy. It’s a book that the much over-used term ‘ground-breaking’ can actually be applied to. It’s full of very fine poetry, but also questions the whole post-Romantic notion of what nature poetry is for, what it should look like.

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

I’ve written about Desmond O’Grady before. He was a very fine poet whose work is quite unlike any of his Irish contemporaries. He published The Dying Gaul in his early 30s and it’s outstanding. As far as I know, it’s never been reprinted, but it really should be.


Thursday, 16 July 2020

Mel Bradley

Mel Bradley is a spoken word artist, writer, theatre-maker, multimedia artist, actor. An ACNI and DCSDC supported outspoken queer feminist performer with an unhealthy obsession with the Virgin Mary. Has performed at various festivals and venues from the Royal Albert Hall to Body & Soul, Open House and Edinburgh Fringe.   insta: @the_houseofmel   twitter: @meljbradley   facebook

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende. We listened to a podcast that Sam was featured on, ‘What Am Pirates', on our way to a gig, very pre-lockdown days, and I was really intrigued by the concept of the book and that pirates were forerunners in a social democratic ideology. It’s an interesting book. My partner bought it to me for Christmas.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

First book - Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis by Robert Graves & Raphael Patai. Last book – The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

A book you have read more than once.

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier – I love her storytelling and I love the characters in this. It’s definitely one I go back to when I need to disappear.

A book that you started but never finished.

Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet; also And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs. Both books are really raw and gritty and create images that I find hard to linger in for any length of time, but have superb writing. The Hippos Were Boiled, I struggle with because I have never taken drugs to that excess.

A book with personal resonance.

The Egyptian Years by Elizabeth Harris. I read this book when I was in my teens and I keep a copy of it on my shelf to remind me that there are always ways around difficulty. I struggled with reading, I have dyslexia and my mum introduced me to the large print section of the library where I found this book. I read it and found joy in reading for the first time. So this stays with me.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Rishi Dastidar

A poem from Rishi Dastidar’s Ticker-tape was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018. His second collection, Saffron Jack, is published by Nine Arches Press. He is also editor of The Craft: A Guide to Making Poetry Happen in the 21st Century (Nine Arches Press).

What book(s) are you reading right now?

One of my biggest sins is having…. a gajillion titles on the go. Right now, the one that is most determinedly hovering in my eyeline is Friday Night Lights by HG Bissinger, for a sports book club I’m a member of. It’s what the TV show was based on, and I’m a sucker for reading most things about American football, as it is for my sins probably the sport I care most about.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, his verse novel inspired by Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. It’s a tale of yuppies in 1980s Silicon Valley, before it became the cradle of the modern world, for good or ill; it is charming, witty, bright and yet at the same time has a deep undertow of melancholy too. I am incapable of leaving one on the shelf if I ever see it in a charity shop. Most of these inevitably get passed on, though I think I have three copies at the moment, so if anyone wants one, let me know…

A book you have read more than once.

Apart from the aforementioned Golden Gate, I do end up re-reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets once a year. If I could do something like that, I would put my pen down, as that would be me done. It’s a thrilling reminder of what can happen when you’re bold enough to discard form, and follow your nerve.

A book that you started but never finished.

Oh so many… let’s say the one I feel guiltiest about is Moby Dick. Maybe this year…

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

The Fatal Englishman by Sebastian Faulks; it’s a really intriguing biography of three Englishmen who died young, but were exemplars of both how society and an idea of Englishness was changing in the 20th century. I think it’s so overlooked I persuaded John and Andy at the Backlisted podcast to do an episode about it.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Chris Murray

Chris Murray lives in Dublin. She founded and curates Poethead, a website dedicated to platforming work by women poets, their translators, and editors. She is an active member of Fired! Irish Women Poets and the Canon which seeks to celebrate and draw awareness to the rich cultural heritage of Irish women poets through readings. Her forthcoming book ‘Gold Friend’ is due in Autumn 2020 (Turas Press, Dublin).

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Breasts And Eggs by Mieko Kawakami which I spotted via Tammy Lai-Ming Ho’s Twitter and I pre-ordered it. So glad! A beautiful book with gorgeously drawn characters. I am very taken with Kawakami’s drawing of Midoriko’s character. I have not finished the book yet, so I will say no more. I have been re-reading Object Lessons by Eavan Boland (RIP) and some essays by Simone Weil. I don’t tend to read large quantities of fiction, as it doesn’t appear to be my metier. I am drawn to essays, non-fiction, history and biography. I still haven’t got my hands on ‘Making Integral’ Essays on Richard Murphy (CUP), having not been into town for a while now.

A book you loved reading as a child.

I read and re-read a biography of Dame Alicia Markova when I was a child. I don’t know who wrote it or where it came from. I suspect that my mum had bought it at the old music library or at a library sale. I knew every detail of her dances and costumes because I read that book to pieces. I was obsessed with Markova’s world which was a hugely fascinating place to be in.  I love detail. I would go back to books on Markova, or on Mary Queen of Scots because of the exhaustive costume and historical detail, which I needed. The books were worn out when I eventually put them down, or moved into my first place. I have not seen either of the books since. 

A book you have read more than once.

This is a draw! I have read The Secret History by Donna Tartt a few times, same with A.S Byatt’s Possession, and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, A Biography, by Margaret Forster. I think that Dora Van Gelder’s The Real World Of Fairies is a book that would devastate me if it were lost. Not least because it was a final gift from a very good friend, who, before his passing, always knew what book to recommend to me when I visited and who had kept copies of Edith Sitwell’s and Doris Lessing’s books for me in a special shelf in his library. The copies of the Sitwells and Lessings were likely first print-runs, and it was nice to be thought of and considered in terms of the reading that I would enjoy, and not alone as a house-guest and extended family member.

A book that you started but never finished.

I have not been able to bring myself to finish The Letters Of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. I read a lot about the volume in the media, and as I proceed through the book the tortuous inevitability of the ruination of the Plath/Hughes marriage becomes more stark. It is a claustrophobic book. I often find myself headache-y or gasping for breath in VAW scenarios both implicit and explicit. Part of me prefers to read the poems (which I can do again and again) because they are transformative. Separating the art from the life in Plath’s case is almost a necessity, we can watch her create from the raw material of her life, but I find the bruised body, the miscarriage, and the descent of her psyche into her final days unbearably sad. I am not sure if I have the bravery to finish it, maybe it is a way of honouring her - I am not sure.

A book with personal resonance.

I thought about this and there are a few. The Dora Van Gelder resonates, but I am going to say Eavan Boland: Inside History which I contributed to. I wrote the chapter  “A Modern Encounter With Foebus Abierat” - based on Eavan Boland’s translation of “Phoebus was gone, all gone, his journey over” which I felt encapsulated Eavan Boland’s ideas as a woman and a poet. The kernel of the translation is of female transgression against the established order. Eavan asked to meet me and was delighted with the essay. I think meeting her meant so much to me as a poet and we remained in touch over the last four years of her life, through committee work, or meetings, or emails. She picked me up after a bad burn-out and I am very grateful to have known her. We need to talk about her interventions in the areas of equality and diversity. I am linking the poem here.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Colin Hassard

Colin Hassard is a poet from Banbridge. He was Runner Up in the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2018 and short-listed for the Aurivo North West Words Poetry Competition 2019. As well as winning many poetry slam awards, Colin is a regular poetry contributor to BBC Radio Ulster and has performed his work on Sky One. His debut poetry collection will be released in 2021 with Doire Press.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’ve just started reading Sinead Morrissey’s On Balance. I’m a little behind the times as the collection was released in 2017 – it actually won the Forward Prize for Best Collection that year – but, as they say, better late than never. I’ve also just finished reading Eric Idle’s autobiography Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Even if you’re not a fan of Monty Python, it is a fascinating read, and Idle writes quite candidly about his life from troubled and tragic childhood right through to superstardom and beyond. 

A book you loved reading as a child.

Liked most children I loved Roald Dahl’s books, not just for the wonderfully imaginative stories, but also the illustrations by Quentin Blake. However, if I had to pick a non-Dahl book, I’d go for Dangleboots by Dennis Hamley. It’s about a young boy who isn’t very good at football until he buys a new pair of boots from a mysterious market-stall, which turn out to be magic boots that make him into an amazing footballer. But then, of course, things start to go wrong. It connected with me as I was a boy who wasn’t very good at football and who dreamed of finding some magic boots which, sadly, never happened. These days I’m on the lookout for a magic pen! 

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

Just to give you a little insight into my mild OCD, my bookcases are divided into genres, and each genre is an alphabetical order! So, my solitary shelf of novels starts with Colin Bateman and ends with Oscar Wilde. And my poetry shelves start with Maya Angelou and end with Benjamin Zephaniah. Some of the smaller genres, like sport and history are thrown in together but my reading room is basically a smaller version of Waterstones! 

A book you have read more than once.

As you may have gathered from my previous answer, my main genre of interest is poetry. However, there is a collection of short-stories by Irvine Welsh called The Acid House that I read at least once a year. I’ve struggled with Welsh’s novels – although I do love is work on the big screen – but the short stories are brilliant. However, if anyone decides to check them out based on my recommendation, I should warn them that some of the stories are not for the faint-hearted. They may also put you off ever visiting Scotland.

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

I only noticed John Fante’s Ask the Dust in a bookstore because, and I realise this is breaking one of life’s primary maxims to not judge a book by its cover, but cover and title had similar art-work and font to some of the Charles Bukowski books I have. I’m a fan of Bukowski and, as it turns out, Bukowski was a huge fan of Fante – even going so far as to call him “my god”. Ask the Dust was published in 1939 and is the semi-autobiographical story of a struggling Los Angeles based writer during the Great Depression. In an interesting bit of trivia, the book wasn’t properly distributed at first because the publisher was embroiled in a legal battle over an unauthorised publishing of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and couldn’t afford the Ask the Dust distribution! So, it wasn’t until Bukowski championed Fante’s work in the 1970’s that eventually lead to the novel being reissued in 1980. Yet even then, Fante’s work is somewhat overlooked as his themes, and arguably style, were used to much greater affect a little later by the Beat generation, and even by Bukowski himself. It’s well worth exploring though.