Sunday, August 24, 2014

Starting Over

How random our lives are. How we can be born on a whim of chance, a loneliness in the heart, a hunger to be somewhere else. I have become very aware of this as I try to attune myself to the cold fact that my husband and I will be long-distance grandparents.  Before the summer is over our first and only grandchild will have moved to the United States with her Irish mother and American father to start her new little life. And so it puts me in mind of my own lineage. How this precious part of us would never have been born if my forebears hadn’t crossed the Atlantic.
At a time when the Erris peninsula was anything but ‘the best place to go wild in’ as it has just been voted, my great-grandparents and six of their children emigrated from the shores of Belmullet in June, 1883 on the SS Waldensian, bound for Boston. This was the third steamer that year to leave Blacksod Bay under the assisted Emigration Arrears Act. 
The project was funded by the Tuke Fund, named after a Yorkshire Quaker, James Hack Tuke who spent most of his life trying to relieve the starvation and poverty in the west of Ireland. His scheme granted passage to large numbers of tenant farmers and their families from the most deprived areas of Ireland willing to seek a new life beyond the pinched existence of post-Famine Mayo. My great-grandparents chose to do this, handing their hungry piece of grass back to the landlord, packing up whatever little possessions they had and set their sights on America. In all, 3,300 people left those shores between 1883−84.
A fine morning by all accounts. Late June, the weather clement as they followed the winding road down to the sea, the S.S. Waldensian waiting for them in the calm waters of Elly Bay.   No need for tears, they were going as a unit and it was still too early for anyone to wave them off.
And maybe they were glad to see the back of it all, the smell of rotting, the wind-crippled trees, the last smoor of a cold fire. For their passage was paid; they had clothes on their backs. The women given a second set of petticoats, dress, a bonnet, a brush and comb; the men an overcoat, two shirts, a muffler, six pounds in their pockets: landing money. The anchor was raised and the SS Waldensian set sail.
According to the passenger list they landed in Boston Harbour on 4th July 1883. What a New World celebration they would have arrived into: flags flying, brass bands, speeches, fanfares, How delighted they would have been to think it was for them alone, a welcome to the land of plenty where the streets were paved with gold, no comparison with the scatter of stones that they had abandoned.
They moved to Rhode Island where my great-grandfather was given work in a manufacturing company. A swanky home by their standards, steady work, a school for the children, another baby born, a child christened.
But after the first flush of excitement, they couldn’t settle. And who is to say what brought them back? Whether it was all those factory chimney stacks blocking out the sky, no burnished sand of Elly Bay, no  sight of geese on Iniskea, no curlew. Either way, against the tide they bought a return passage on a ship still marked with famine and headed back, one of the young girls dying onboard. She was kept hidden in her mother’s shawl until they landed in Cobh where they buried her. Which road they took to find their way back to Belmullet is lost with them but they started over; picked up the pieces. 
            How different this life narrative would have been if they had stayed. Who would have married who? Who would have begotten who? Only that my grandmother would not have met her husband at the August Fair Day in Belmullet, my mother, I, my daughter, and now our granddaughter would not have entered this earth.   
         And so the story repeats itself. Not a boat but a plane, not famine but opportunity, not my ancestors but my own, daughter, her husband, their child, our granddaughter.  Beginning a new life. Starting over.

Published in Ireland's Own, August 29, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

All in the name of research:Balloon Ride

Albuquerque,just before dawn preparations are already under way to see the sun rise from the hot air balloon. There is a balloon ride in a scene of my latest story so I'm all for making my writing authentic.

Propane gas lights up the  sky 

Keith checks it all out  to see that the balloon is filling properly with air

Is my life worth more than three paltry sentences?

 No time to change my mind for we are up,up and away

Sunday, August 3, 2014

By the Time I Make Albuquerque I'll be Reading

Having left North Dakota for New Mexico I have gone from a world of badlands and buffalo, longhorn cattle and flax fields  to the land of  mesas and roadrunners, Georgia O' Keeffe and Route 66. These dramatic landforms (above) are created when the top layer of the plateau resists the natural weathering process. As the softer soil around the harder cap-rock is eroded a  mesa forms.

The Kimo Theatre is on Route 66,and was built in 1927 as a Pueblo Deco picture palace which was a very flamboyant  short-lived architectural style that combined the spirit of the Native American cultures with art moderne that was popular in the 1920s. Its elaborate interior of colourful Indian symbols, air vents designed as Navajo rugs and buffalo skulls with red, glowing eyes it's a  jewel in the Albuquerque cityscape.

Kelly and Pamela with Cinnebar
It's the first time that I've had a horse come to my reading but Cinnabar was most attentive when I read at Jacqueline Loring's home with a number of her friends who came to meet me. We had a wonderful reading in the garden, the sun shining and everything right with the world. Other animals that dropped by were Thumper and Cuddles, the road runner and a two hummingbirds. The bull snake and the raptors stayed at home.

As well as new work, Jacqueline also read from her award-winning collection The History of Bearing Children. The following poem was recently selected to be part of an exhibition at the Museum of the American Military Family which has been curated by Caroline Le Blanc.

A comma can save your life

Let's eat Grandma

Let's eat, Grandma

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Our Shoes Say About Us

Saturday afternoon in Richardson's Pub on Eyre Square and a great launch of Gerry Hanberry's fourth poetry collection What Our Shoes Say About Us with Celeste Augé's second collection, Skip-Diving and Knute Skinner's Concerned Attentions. 
Here is one of my many favourites from Gerry's:

So this is where all the poems come
to eye each other up,
to snigger and bitch
over fancy cocktails,

mocking the jaded clichés
still loud and glitzy at the bar
or the pale metaphors with fraying cuffs
who creep away before closing time

to forage in the skip out back
and the nervy confessionals staring
at their own reflections as they sip
blood-red liquor distilled from worn-out hearts.

Occasionally the place falls silent
when a pale figure in a black cape
and floppy hat loops in distractedly.
Ah, the real thing, they mutter enviously

but all in all, nothing much happens here
and it can get messy as the evening wears on.
The poems grow ever more edgy, you see,
dreading the thought of another lonely night unread.

From Left: Geraldine Mills; James Joyce; Gerry Hanberry and Hugo Kelly

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spolia Magazine 9

Spolia Magazine is a beautiful on-line literary magazine that publishes really good poetry, fiction, non fiction and art. Thanks to Mia Gallagher who suggested my name to the editors I now have a story in this issue.

There is a small charge to download it but if you click on the link above it will give you an idea of its quality. Here are the opening paragraphs of my story:

Where the Dark is
‘It blows no good,’ Carmina says of the wind that comes without warning, battering the chairs against the terrace wall. It whips our whole world, lashing it with heat strong enough to turn sand to glass. It shreds the tines of the palm trees as their trunks strain to hold onto their stricken selves; whips the husks of the sunflowers in the fields, their little, burnt, pilgrim faces yielding before it.
She closes all the shutters against the dust, stuffs the keyholes, but it comes right through, into our eyes, our ears; into the nostrils of the horses so that papa and Esteban have to stay and soothe them. It disturbs Blanca’s kittens in the drawer where she gave birth to them and I have to calm the mewling little bundles whose eyes haven’t even opened yet. Carmina’s mouth turns down and furrows appear in her brow, her olive eyes troubled. ‘Something will have to give soon,’ she says as she takes my hand and brings me up to bed.
For three days and three nights it stops us from sleeping, the sky blocked out. No heaven on Calle Cielo, no moon on Calle Luna, nothing to be heard save the howling of the wind. It blows the dust and the heat right into people’s minds and clogs their thinking. Esteban tells me that when it got into Jose Luis’ head that he took to his boat drinking, and never came back. That’s why Carmina hates it. It builds up inside bodies, inside blood.
It has got into Mama’s.
Then as quickly as it comes, it’s gone. I wake to a sound that I have almost forgotten. No wind.
‘Where is it?’ I ask Carmina.
            ‘Gone back through the mountain gap.’
‘But where then?’
‘Nobody knows.’
‘Why don’t they?’
‘Because the wind tells no one. It doesn’t want anyone to know.’

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Taste of the Sweet Mouth

Here is a short video of some of the readings and wonderful landscape of Belmullet where An Béal Binn, or the Erris Festival of Words  was held  from 6-8 June. I was delighted to be reading in the company of John Banville, Donal Ryan, Martyn Dyar, Mike McCormack, Rosita Boland, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, Platform I, Terry McDonagh, the Galway Poets and many, many more.

Dr Éimear O'Connor gave a riveting presentation on the artist, Seán Keating, and Des Kavanagh's illustrated talk on Séamus Heaney 'The Boy He Was and the Man He Became' was a very generous insight into his personal relationship with our poet.

On  the weekend when Belmullet was voted 'the best place to go wild in Ireland' by the Irish Times,
It was also the best place to be tasting sweet words.