Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Celebrating 'Live Encounters' Children's Poetry Issue



 Up to the day she died, at the age of 93, my mother could recall many of the poems she had learned at school as a little girl. She recited them to us when we were of that age and then in turn to many of her grandchildren when they grew to appreciate the music of sound.
We knew them all, the one about a girl called Betty who fell off a chair at a party, or little Willie who was regularly quoted to us because when he woke up … ‘no grumbling was heard for he jumped out of bed as bright as a bird.’
The one I loved most of all was the one about the raindrop. As it dripped down the window pane it turned into a little man who proceeded to chase the other drops before him until they gathered in one large pool on the window sill. As she rhymed out the words, my mind’s eye could only see the tiny sparkling liquid man alive and talking to me, telling me I should be doing something with my day instead of staring at him. I always argued back that if he hadn’t made the day so dark, I would be out running through the fields.
Before she died, I asked her to write them out for me and I still have the blue-lined pages with her achingly familiar handwriting: that perfect cursive of her time. I have since passed them onto the next generation so they too can teach their own children when the time comes. She was my first teacher of the colour of words.
Albert Einstein once said that: Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world… Children never have to learn this. They are the consummate holders of the ability to form images. They come into the world with a blank page and write upon it whatever they wish. They play with language in the same way they play with rattles or balls: throwing words around, shaking them to see what noise they might produce. They become sound even before their tongues find a way around their first syllable.
They find poems everywhere. In the discovery of how their hands move, in the way the sunlight falls on a table, the chase of their own shadow. Later they love more than anything else the inherent poetry in nursery rhymes; I spy games, Imagination games.
Give them a word and they’ll take them on an adventure. They will take a ladder to the sky to bring down the wind. They will sail upon the sea of the kitchen tiles. A spoon, a pair of gloves, are all props for knights and scuba divers, astronauts. It is where poetry comes from.
One of the most satisfying jobs for me is tapping into that imagination. As part of Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools’ Scheme I get the opportunity to go around the country encouraging children from four years of age to eighteen, to expand whatever vast world of imagination they have within them.
I bring my bag of tricks and they cannot wait each week to see what I will pull from it. It is usually an object that they cannot easily recognise and upon which they will build a story. Once they understand that there is no right or wrong way to respond, that their answer is as unique as their fingerprints, then it opens up a treasure trunk of all those undiscovered worlds and they are off. One tells me it’s a giant pear, for another it becomes a witch’s cottage; someone else will can see the old skin of a rattle snake, a leather belt, an overripe banana.
Children are people who live in a land where the seen and unseen happily live together. They understand the mysterious nature of writing. Take away the confines of a ruled copy and an eraser and they can take the story anywhere. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to see a child who has not shone academically to suddenly surprise themselves and their teachers (even more) with the stories they can conjure up. They grow in confidence and I have heard teachers tell me that it is the first time they realised that there was a well of untapped creativity within the child.
A teacher who continues to nurture that discovery releases the child into a magical world that helps them grow in esteem and armed with so many stories they can become anything they want.
Many countries have recognised the importance of fostering this part of the brain and from Australia to the USA there has been investment in having a Children’s Laureate. Ireland is no exception and our Laureate (Laureate na nÓg) has been in existence since 2010. According to its website, ‘it was established to engage young people with high quality literature and to underline the importance of children’s literature in our cultural and imaginative life.’ This year’s holder of the title, Sarah Crossan, is a very strong advocate for children’s poetry. It is her aim to encourage all children to write; to become the best poets they can be. She believes that by doing this it will sustain us, nurture us and help us survive.
She has seen for herself that young readers will embrace poetry if they’re given the chance. She is brimming with new ideas of how to encourage teachers and students to have a positive response to it. She is working with Irish poets and performance poets across the world, getting them into communities where children are more vulnerable. She aims to create a social media campaign where she gets well-known people in Irish culture to recite their favourite poems and talk about poetry.
One of her initiatives already has been the #WeAreThePoets project. This was a partnership between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the hope of encouraging children of all ages to use poetry as a way of expression.
            And all across the world there are people diligently encouraging children to be creative. I know of one young teacher in Colorado who is passionate about doing this, in a school where children struggle with day-to-day living. She is the bread to their souls in the way school dinners nourish their little bodies. She is not alone in her commitment.
There are magazines, and blogs and websites all encouraging children and young people’s creativity. Under the superb aegis of Mark Ulyseas, Live Encounters is a perfect example of this commitment. To dedicate, not one, but two issues to the imagination of those special creators is inspired. With its beautifully produced photography it gives an outlet to so many children who would not normally receive such a platform. It brings home to me the belief that that there is still light in this, sometimes, dark world where words are a devalued currency.
There is no more fitting way of celebrating its ninth birthday than with the songs of children. May it continue to grow and thrive.



© Geraldine Mills 2019


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Live Encounters celebrates nine years.




Congratulations to Mark Ulyseas publisher/editor on celebrating the ninth birthday of Live Encounters. Guest editorial is by poet, Thomas McCarthy, who writes on why men should study women's poetry. From the intriguing cover by Emma Barone to the rich, textured selection of poems throughout, it is a true endorsement of the WORD.

I am delighted, as always, to be included in this issue with a sequence of poems titled 'Widows Together'.

Homecoming
Our father is dying. He tells our mother so
when he steps off the train at Galway Station.

With specks of London concrete still in his hair,
he carries his cardboard suitcase home

with his bible, his dictionary, his references
that say he excelled in excavation work, dynamite.

He walks along the platform in his donkey jacket,
his broad shoulders mere shadow beneath the fabric
and all dreams of what might be, become undone.

 That Summer

Galway still in high spirits from the visit of John F. Kennedy.
Stars and Stripes continue to flutter from windows.

Still the whirr of helicopter blades landing in the Sports Ground.
Still the memory of music and dancing in Eyre Square,

the open-topped Cadillac moving down Shop Street,
Mainguard Street, Dominic Street,
and the whole of the town out to wave and cheer.

   
The Biggest News

We visit our father in his starched hospital bed,
twenty-third of November, my ninth birthday.

He stares at the blocks that make up the cold aseptic room,
knows their heft, for he helped put each one in place.

We stand to the left and right of him,
tell him the biggest news in the whole world:

that JFK had been shot in Dallas the day before.
‘Sing me a song,’ he says, and we sing him ‘Charming Salthill.’

  
Widows Together

Only three years between them,
each man with hair dark as midnight, a bad back.

Our mother tries to lift our father up in the bed
when he cries out that he is slipping.

Jackie Kennedy holds her husband’s head
while blood spills from him.
Stars and Stripes draped over the coffin,
the white horses carried his body to Arlington.

My father’s funeral so small, I count
on the fingers of one hand the cars behind his hearse.

Two simple black dresses, mantillas.
The First Lady and our mam widows together.






Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Naming of It from The Broken Spiral

Picture of The Broken Spiral
I am delighted that this review from the Irish Times mentioned my story  'The Naming of It'.
Here is the opening section:
FLAME. SOOT. ASHES. BONES. Blocking my breath, suffocating me. To try to stop them, I walk up and down the port, searching for the moon in the slow hollow of the night, pacing back and forth, too much erupting inside me to know any stillness. Cars drive up the ramp into the maw of the ferry, voices shout directions across at one another; there is the sickening smell of diesel. Then the staff start to let the foot passengers on. I wait my turn, wait for the people to move in front of me.
All chrome and steel, modern, mythical, this ferry sells the passengers an ‘experience’, with its themed restaurants, its cosy bucket seats, golden lighting. Fancy handbags hurry ahead of me, not wanting to catch my eye for fear they might see something of themselves in me. I had a classy bag like that once, any amount of them, in fact, on the top shelf of the wardrobe, matching the outfit, the shoes.
The waiters in the café nod their heads in recognition as I order a tea, a sandwich. They have accepted me by now, no longer ask why I take this trip back and over, back and over. ‘Enjoy that,’ they say, as I take the steps up into the open, making sure there is nothing but black firmament above my head, still the smell of burning, still a smoke ball catching at the back of my throat.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hazelnut time



                                     
I cannot read the ocean. I am a lands-woman, and all my life have been drawn to the sanctuary of trees. The house of my childhood was called Hazel Grove, the grove being a small wildness of hazel bushes beyond our back garden. It was there that my siblings and I spent our days, for that small coppice reared us. We were not feral, no not feral, more like hunter-gathers that scavenged briars and branches throughout the growing season. We threaded wild strawberries onto long filaments of grass; purple stained our mouths with blackberries that we had cooked over our daily campfires. We gnawed the flesh off ripe haws as if they were miniature apples, only ever returning to the edge of our boundary wall when a growing spurt made us extra hungry and we shouted into our overworked mother that we wanted ‘a piece’. She understood that single word and did our bidding, hurried out to hand us a piece of bread and jam that we demolished before we hightailed it back to the under-wing of branch, of leaf.
            But it was when it came to the hazel tree that we were true foragers. We knew nothing of its reverence in Celtic lore or Greek mythology, its connection to divination and dowsing. We did not know that the messenger of the Gods, Hermes, carried its stick or that poor demented Aengus went off wandering in its wood with a fire raging in his head. But we knew its power all right.          When we had done something particularly punishable, our mother lined us up on the cold kitchen floor, cut and peeled a hazel wand and threatened us by putting it under each of our noses. “Smell that, smell that!” she commanded. It was all it took, its potency so great that just to sniff its mystical scent had us quivering in our standing and forced confessions from us as effective as any interrogator. 
Nor did we know that its fruit was equated with wisdom and poetic inspiration: That it was the hazelnut falling into the mouth of the salmon of knowledge that in turn made Fionn Mac Cumhaill the clever clogs that he was. All we knew was that when autumn came we were connoisseurs in the art of gathering. We tracked the timing of its development from the white embryo of early summer to a blush of pink that appeared on its August shell. We studied the branches, debated the way the cobs hid themselves under leaves, and rated their grouping from the paucity of a single one to the magic of a five- star cluster. Like the best hunters, we learned by experience that unripe nuts were not for consumption. They gave us black mouths and angry rashes that had us scratching all night and our mother worn out going from bed to bed to soothe arms and legs with calamine lotion. So we practised denial, not touching such temptation until days began to lose light and shells bronzed, hardened, turned nut-brown. We had the knack when it came to checking them for ripeness. One push from the thumb and they had to surrender from their sheath, gracefully. It was then time to grab our paper bags, head off into the day, climb stone walls; cover tracts of mossy terrain to search out the bread of angels.
 We found them, gloried in their silent letting go as they yielded to our waiting hands. Those that were stubborn within their bracts we didn’t push. As with our mother, we knew when there was no shifting them. Our bags now full we squirreled our bounty back home. We sat, a study of deep meditation, at the gable end of the house. Nothing distracted us from the labour, each with our own chosen stone snug in our palms as we clacked away. The sound of granite on shell echoed throughout the village and one by one we split the brown casing to reveal its sweetmeats.
And then came the best bit. We filled bowls with the brown kernels, topped them with sugar and milk and feasted on our largesse. We never knew until we were much older and the word became part of breakfast vocabulary that we had created our own Muesli, Galway Muesli.

First broadcast on Sunday Miscellany as part of Clifden Arts Festival.  





Monday, August 13, 2018

Lea-Green Down



I am so delighted to have a poem in Lea-Green Down, an anthology of poems by established and emerging poets who have been inspired by the poetry of one of our greats: Patrick Kavanagh 1904-1967. From the striking cover image of ‘Man and Poet’ by Irish artist, Paul McCloskey, to the fine opening essay by Gerard Smith, to the thought-provoking call and response of each poem, it is exquisitely published and edited by Eileen Casey at her own Fiery Arrow Press.

Launched by Kavanagh Scholar, Dr Una Agnew, on 18 July in the Irish Writers’ Centre she summed it up perfectly in her speech when she said that: 
The army of contemporary poets that grace these pages, some neophytes, some seasoned bards, winners already of prestigious literary awards: all have a voice in Eileen Casey’s unique collection. These also, testify to Kavanagh’s enduring mentoring influence. Each poet here, turns the lea green down and opens a new furrow that responds to or reflects in a new way on a chosen Kavanagh poem.
It is a work of the miraculous to see how each writer transforms an image from the established poem to something that indeed opens a furrow into a new and different world. This is a book to be cherished, to be taken down and read over and over again.
I have always loved his poem, ‘Memory of my Father’ and once I started working on my response it took me in a surprising and contemporary direction for: 'I Keep Looking'.

Memory of My Father  

Every old man I see
Reminds me of my father
When he had fallen in love with death
One time when sheaves were gathered.

That man I saw in Gardiner Street
Stumble on the kerb was one,
He stared at me half-eyed,
I might have been his son.

And I remember the musician
Faltering over his fiddle
In Bayswater, London,
He too set me the riddle.

Every old man I see
In October-coloured weather
Seems to say to me:
‘I was once your father.’

Patrick Kavanagh



I Keep Looking

Every young girl I see
reminds me of my daughter,
when she was unloosing the old coat of herself
to step into this world she would master.

The slip of a thing on the Ha'penny Bridge 
who smiled at me was one,
(when all others rushed by, heads bent, no apology)
her nose-stud – a newfound sun,

and the little one only last week,
who waved from the top of the bus
as if to remind me I do exist,
within my house of dust.

Or a day when the stropped blade
of wind sliced up along the Quays,
a butterfly tattoo between forefinger and thumb
dropped a coin in my shivering cup.

Every young girl I see
in school uniform or knee-torn jeggings,
might one day say to me:
‘I am still your daughter.’

Geraldine Mills

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

For Poetry Day Ireland

Changing Ground

I have spoken to no one for days
but the small bird with the black band
of neck as it bobs its way in front of me,
feigns nesting in the torc of wrack in the sand

and a man in a scrapie wool jumper
picks broken teeth from the strand;
if he opens the black cavern of his mouth
and utters three, two, even one word
I’ll be gone with him.

The day comes when you can no longer
squeeze into the old coat of yourself.

Slievemore stays where it is,
has never moved its whole old life
but waits for the farmers to shift
their animals up and down with the seasons.

My bones know change the way birds know sky,
the way they let go of the light over the deserted village
the way the grass knows it, bitten down to the quick.



From Urgency of Stars ( Arlen House, 2010)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

'Is that a Galway accent?' by Anne Marie Kennedy

Reciting the Writing by Anne Marie Kennedy

Award winning Galway writer Anne Marie Kennedy will launch her debut CD, ‘Is that a Galway accent?’ in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop, on Friday April 20th at 6.30 pm.
 I am honoured to be her special guest at this unique event. Not to be missed.

 ‘Is that a Galway accent?’ is a collection of previously awarded, published or broadcast work, reaching across topics of an infidelity hedged, mothers’ secrets, a trapped rat, the perils of decorating a Christmas tree, how to assist a calving cow and the wisdom of tinker women.  
Anne Marie is the winner of the Molly Keane Creative writing award 2014. Her play, A Matter of Modesty, was runner up in P.J. O’Connor Radio Drama 2016 and subsequently won two golds at the New York International Festival for Radio, in Best Scheduled drama category for RTE and Best actor for Eamonn Morrissey. 
She is an editor, shadow writer, freelance journalist, creative writing tutor and performance poet. Her work has been widely published in literary anthologies in Ireland, the U.K. and in North America where her non-fiction was chosen by Jonathan Franzen for Best American Essays 2015. She is shortlisted for the Percy French Comic Verse Award 2018 at the upcoming Strokestown International Poetry Festival.
Also reading will be readers from River Art Creative Writing Workshops: Candy Carrick, Sarah Fahy, Brenda McGregor, Louise O’Neill Vance and Carole Staunton.