Friday 28 August 2020

Trish Bennett

Trish Bennett writes about and the shenanigans of her family, and other creatures.  She’s performed at events in Ireland and the UK including Cúirt, North West Words, RTÉ, and BBC Radio Ulster.  In 2019, Bennett’s micro-pamphlet, Borderlines, was published by Hedgehog Poetry Press, and she received a SIAP Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’ll be killed when my to-be-read pile falls on me. So be it. As far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many books. You need a book for every mood, and these days, there are many  moods. There's a stack in progress at any one time and a whack borrowed from the library on Libby. The daughter has got me into Kurt Vonnegut.  She knew I’d love his quirky satirical style. I’ve just finished Slaughterhouse Five and am now tackling Breakfast of Champions. So it goes.


Among my current stack is Selected Stories by Brian Friel. I love the way he said a thing, without saying anything. I find it fascinating to read the short stories that were the precursors to some of his most famous plays e.g. Dancing at Lughnasa.


Another one of my favourites in the stack is Imaginary Bonnets with Real Bees in Them, Paula Meehan’s stunning book of lectures from when she was Ireland Chair of Poetry.  Maureen Boyle knew I was a Paula fan, and told me about this book. She said I’d love it, not just for the poetry, but also because I’m a beekeeper.  She was right.


A book you loved reading as a child.


When I was under ten, the only tablets we had were forced into us under the threat of the wooden spoon.  Books were our escape from boredom on a wet day. I never had a favourite because I read so many, each one became the new favourite, until the next page-turner came along. We got our books from the local library. It was up the street in a portacabin on the grounds of the Primary School and open two days a week. The Children’s section was on the two bottom shelves. It was mostly Enid Blyton. I loved The Magic Faraway Tree Stories. I wanted to live in that tree.  As I pushed towards the teens, I was big into Malory Towers, and The Nancy Drew Mysteries.  I loved solving mysteries.  Dad hid stuff in our yard and gave me notes with clues to solve the puzzle or find the treasure.


My favourite of all the detective stories was The Three Investigators mystery series by Robert Arthur.  I don’t even remember the stories now but I still want that cool secret headquarters, a huge trailer filled with gadgets.  There was even a telephone.  When I grew up (in the dark ages), having a telephone in your secret hideout was a big deal. The Investigators den was hidden under piles of scrap in Uncle Titus’s scrapyard with a secret entrance and exit.  It was all so exotic.  I wasn’t even cool enough to have an Uncle Titus.

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


That They May Face the Rising Sun, by John McGahern. It’s a while since I’ve read this masterpiece of a novel, yet it’s never left me. On a personal level I can identify with the rural area described by McGahern as I grew up in the country lanes of North Leitrim. 


It’s a book that takes a slow ramble, the prose is beautiful, poetic… "Happiness can not be sought or worried into being, or even fully grasped; it should be allowed its own slow pace so that it passes unnoticed, if it ever comes at all."


A book you have read more than once.


I’m currently sitting up in the small hours laughing to myself as I read The Best of John B. Keane, Collected Humorous Writings, a book that I’d bought for Dad years ago.  In my teens, I’d read Dad’s collection of John B Keane books, and saw his plays, The Field, and Sive, at our local Drama Festival. Keane was such a sharp observer of the human condition.  No more my own Father, he could turn anything into a witty story. 


Your favourite anthology.


I’ve been a huge fan of Nora Ephron ever since my mother-in-law, Moira, insisted I read I Feel Bad About My Neck.  I can identify with a lot of what Nora said now I’m at that age where ‘I remember nothing’:


"I have been forgetting things for years—at least since I was in my thirties. I know this because I wrote something about it at the time. I have proof. Of course, I can't remember exactly where I wrote about it, or when, but I could probably hunt it up if I had to."


My favourite anthology of hers is The Most of Nora Ephron, a collection of snippets from her screenplays e.g. When Harry Met Sally, and her most famous essays.  Nora had a fierce unapologetic wit and left us far too soon. 


Thursday 27 August 2020

Ruairí de Barra

Ruairí de Barra
is from Co. Mayo and now resides in Co. Cork. He is a sailor, an award-winning military journalist, and a poet. His creative work has featured with Tinteán, A New Ulster, Live Encounters, Bangor Literary Journal, The Ranthology Anthology, Black Bough Poetry, The Boston Globe, Boston Accent, and all his work can be read on Follow on: Twitter: @r_debarra @never_ink and Facebook.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

The books that I am reading right now are Shadow Warriors: The Irish Army Ranger Wing by Paul O’Brien and Wayne Fitzgerald, and While Nobody is Watching by Michelle Dunne. Shadow Warriors is great book, telling the history of the Irish Defence Forces special forces, and is packed with history & detail which bring just a little of Irelands elite soldiers into the light. As I personally know and have worked closely with many sailors who have gone on to become Rangers throughout my career, its great to see them being recognised in a book like this. I am also very proud to know and work with both authors. This is one more title in Paul’s ever-growing bibliography, and it also very special in that it is Wayne’s first book.

While Nobody is Watching is the first in a series of thrillers by Dunne, and it introduces a character called Lindsey Ryan and her adventures. Lindsey is a troubled woman, dealing PTSD and trying to rebuild her life. This book is one of those reads which makes you want to race to the end, and then race to the bookshop to get the next one! I was privileged to be a beta reader for Michelle, and it was a real thrill be able to walk into a local store and pick up a copy. A creative wonder woman, who is living and working amongst us ordinary folk on Cobh, our Great Island in Cork harbour. I always have one or two books on the go, and I have just received Origins: 21 Poems by Matthew M C Smith in the post yesterday, so I really am looking forward to reading that. Matthew is the Editor of Black Bough Poetry in Wales, another publication which is worth checking out whenever one gets a chance.


A book you loved reading at a child.


My favourite childhood book was The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I was a total book worm as a child, and I worked my way through my older siblings collections as soon as I had finished my own. I read The Hobbit for the first time, about the age of 10 or 11, and I was hooked completely. I have always loved Tolkien since, I think I have read almost everything he created from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil to Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth which was compiled by his son Christopher. The Hobbit created my love for everything sword & sorcery and high fantasy. I even have several thousands of words of a draft of my own high fantasy novel, which has grown from a series of short stories I wrote, and which I go back to from time to time.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

I don’t have a bookcase at the moment! But the first and last titles in my various stacks and boxes are A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, and the simply beautiful The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson. Bryson’s work is truly special and I find that that I enjoy it more which each re-reading. Henderson’s book is incredible, that’s putting it mildly. Just absorbing and astonishing read, worth every seconds spent in its company! I think it is these both ‘must reads’ for everyone!


A book you have read more than once.

A book I return to again and again is The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell. Robert Tressell was the nom de plume of Irishman Robert Noonan, a house painter, born in 1870 in Dublin, who worked most of his life in England and who sadly succumbed to tuberculosis before it was published. His daughter Kathleen managed to have an abridged version publish in 1914, and a original version was published in 1955. It is an incredibly simple and hard-hitting book, it captures a working man life and view of the world as the century turned. I am always amazed that I came to this book much later in life than many others whom I now know to be huge fans of it, but the impact that it has had on me was still powerful. Here, captured in the words of a working man, in a time I had only read about, was a story of unfairness and anger, and yet also compassion and sympathy; there is also humour and history. This book is unforgettable, and it is one of those life changing works.

Your favourite anthology (interpreted here to mean a poetry collection).

My favourite anthology is Peacekeeper by Micheal J Whelan. Micheal is truly an inspiration, a polymath of the first rate. He is a historian, author, soldier, father, a good friend, and a very fine poet. I was first introduced to Michael's work through his book The Battle of Jadotville: Irish Soldiers in Combat in the Congo, 1961, which provided my real grounding in Irish military history of this historic battle and wider conflict, long before later books and films, Michael told the story of these forgotten heroes and his writing helped to bring their experiences and their service to life for me. It was a good bit later, when I read Peacekeeper, his first collection of poetry and it was in all honestly a revelation to read such strong poetry from a serving soldier of the Irish Air Corps.

There is an honesty, rawness and beauty in his work. There is so many points of truth within its pages, and it shines a light into the dark corners, where horrendous things have occurred and been inflicted on many innocent people. Micheal served overseas on United Nations Mandated missions, where in countries torn apart by war, he bore witness to the extremes of humanity; from the innocence and joy of children playing in the hills & paths of South Lebanon, to the appalling aftermath of civil war and genocide in hills of Kosovo. This anthology is powerful and moving, it speaks to the unspeakable and yet shows the hope and the goodness of simple, ordinary people, who can do extraordinary things. In keeping with Michaels character, the profits of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the veterans groups – Organisation of National Ex Service Personnel and the Irish United Nations Veterans Association.

Peacekeeper is another book which for me placed a bookmark in my life, its one of the ones I will remember and treasure for ever.

Tuesday 11 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."