Monday, September 23, 2019

BONE ROAD


After three years of work I am delighted to finally let Bone Road (Arlen House) into the light of day.

My great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Heveron and their six children, one of them my grandmother, left Elly Bay in North Mayo in 1883 as part of an assisted emigration scheme to give them a better life in Rhode Island, USA. My great-grandfather was given work at one of the cotton mills. But for some reason, they couldn’t settle and returned less than two years later.


Photo courtesy of Peter Moore

 Through documented fact and imagined memory, Bone Road charts the course of their lives during those years in order to record it for future generations.


Here is a sample poem from the book:

Hunger for Somewhere Else

They’re glad to see the back of
all the wind-crippled whins,
turn their heads from
the rain over Achill head,
smoor the final fire.

They’ve had their bellyful
of stinking haulms,
grateful now to hand back
their hungry piece of grass to the landlord

and watch the dog on a scatter of stone,
a fetch in the tumbled-down scailp,
a fling of dunlins on sand
waiting for the boat to sail.


My deepest gratitude to Alan Hayes of Arlen House for another beautiful publication and to Charlotte Kelly for the perfect cover image.

I also wish to acknowledge the assistance of Galway County Council who awarded me an Individual Artist Award in 2019 to work on the first draft.

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Travel Grant from Culture Ireland

                 Image result for Culture Ireland logo

I wish to express my gratitude to Culture Ireland who has awarded me a grant to travel to the US to  accept a number of  reading invitations. First stop will be the University of Connecticut, where I will read with my good friend and award-winning poet, Lisa C. Taylor. Arlen House published our poetry collaboration, The Other Side of Longing (2011) and that year we were invited by Dr Mary Burke from the English Department to present the prestigious  Elizabeth Shanley Gerson Reading. It will be a real treat to return and read again with Lisa as part of Dr Burke's Contemporary Irish Literature programme.

Lisa and I will also read together at Camber Arts, Mansfield Center.

I will then travel to St. Louis Missouri, where at the invitation of  Smurfit-Stone Corporation Professor in Irish Studies, Eamonn Wall, I will give a presentation of my forthcoming poetry collection as part of the ‘Irish Lectures, Reading and Concert Series’ that he curates. I will speak to an audience of students, faculty and community about the importance of the United States as a destination for those who availed of the Tuke-assisted emigration scheme from Ireland after the famine as experienced by my great-grandparents.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Tuke Fund


Growing up, I always knew that my great-grandparents emigrated to America with their six children, one of them my grandmother, after the famine and came back to Belmullet, Co. Mayo a short time later. We had no other information about them until a chance meeting of my sister, Bernadette, with Mary Kyne of Oughterard Heritage, Co Galway, informed us about the Assisted Emigration Scheme spearheaded by James 'Hack' Tuke in the 1880s. This scheme saw ship after ship leave the western seaboard with families searching out a kinder existence. We discovered that our ancestors were on one of those ships, the S.S. Waldensian that left from Black Sod in 1883. Miraculously, Mary Kyne was able to give us a copy of the ship's manifest that showed the names of everyone who travelled. An emotional moment to see our family's names, the Heverons, there.

                                   

Then in the serendipitous way of life, a Facebook request came, wondering if  we knew anything of the Heverons and suddenly we had a second cousin-once removed, Diane Heveran Rotharr, living in America who was doing in-depth research on our families. The information she had gathered is hugely important in piecing together their history for the generations to come for which I am immensely grateful.  

In order to verify some details for my forthcoming poetry collection. I recently contacted Ionad Deirbhile, the Heritage Centre in Eachléim, Co Mayo, to organise a suitable time to visit them. Tina very kindly arranged for us to meet their researcher, Rosemarie Geraghty. Rosemarie is passionate about her subject and  through the website Blacksod Bay Emigration has spent years trying to connect with over three thousand people who emigrated from Elly Bay in that time as part of the Tuke Fund. She was even able to show me a copy of the original handwritten manifest which confirmed that our family went to Rhode Island. 

Rosemarie showing me information on Mr Tuke

Rosemarie also brought us to see the memorial garden dedicated to all those who emigrated. The centre piece is a granite boat sculpture divided into fifteen sections, each a reminder of all the sailings that left Elly Bay. The manifest of each sailing has been carefully inscribed on the appropriate plaque and scrolling down I found my family there, five rows from the bottom.

As 2019 is the bicentenary of Tuke's birth, his philanthropy will be remembered with conferences and exhibitions on the western seaboard of Ireland and in the United States where so many descendants of these ancestors have made their home.  

All photos courtesy of Peter Moore


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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.