Sunday, 14 August 2011


I'm off to The Hurst on a play-writing course with the rather lovely Arvon Foundation - well out of my comfort zone. I shall report how I got on...
Equally out of the comfort zone, but something that occasionally works, is poetry. I received my contributor's copy of 'Envoi' last week - among the first tentative steps into print for my poems. What I can't work out is this - why is it harder to share a poem than it is a flash, a story? But it is! So in order to knock the corners off that one - here is one of my Envoi poems, and its genesis.
'Beara litany' was written at Anam Cara writers' and artists' retreat after a visit from Irish poet Paddy Bushe (that link is one of many..), who gave a reading to my short story students one evening. It was an extraordinary experience. Just a handful of us and this real live poet! I asked the students to respond to the reading before they slept - however they wished. And I wouldn't ask another writer to do something I wouldn't do myself, so...sat up in bed at midnight to write something. Nothing came, I was so tired - then a few lines from one of Paddy's pieces did their work.
He'd written a response to the ancient Song of Amergin, which in turn is taken from one of the most ancient Irish texts - and which contains something that sounds like a mantra - the opening four or five lines of his echoed that mantra - quite mesmerising.

This is the song itself.

Am gaeth i m-muir
Am tond trethan
Am fuaim mara
Am dam secht ndirend
Am séig i n-aill
Am dér gréne
Am cain lubai
Am torc ar gail
Am he i l-lind
Am loch i m-maig
Am brí a ndai
Am bri i fodb fras feochtu
Am dé delbas do chind codnu
Coiche nod gleith clochur slébe
Cia on co tagair aesa éscai
Cia du i l-laig fuiniud gréne
Cia beir buar o thig tethrach
Cia buar tethrach tibi
Cia dám, cia dé delbas faebru a ndind ailsiu
Cáinte im gai, cainte gaithe

Then there was Paddy's response, in English, a gorgeous piece to listen to. Then my response to his, below, written by a rather tired writer (often the best time to write - we're too tired to self-censor...). I read these lines back next day, and liked them. They encompass all those things I love about the place I go to write, the countryside, its myths and legends, its hard history, wildlife in abundance. No wonder the early settlers found it impossible to turn round and set sail again.:

Beara litany
After a reading by Paddy Bushe

Am the heron’s hunchbacked flight
Am the song of the tagged sea-eagle
Am the roots of Ogham stones
Am horizon’s blurred conjoining
Am a hundred shades of shadow
Am the sparrowhawk’s cry
Am the cattle on the strand
Am the gannet’s lightning psalm
Am skeins of smoke over Coulagh Bay
Am the language of the turf
Am the grieving man at dawn
Am the rain’s punctuation
Am the stubbornness of the Hag
Am attrition of wave and wind
Am the strength of limpets on the praying rocks
Am Kilcatherine’s slumbers
Am the dance of boulders
Am the fraying noose of history
Am the mourning of the sparrows
Am the ocean’s ceaseless hymning

Published by Envoi, August 2011.