Saturday, May 16, 2015

Introducing Naomi Shihab Nye at Cuirt

As one of her many admirers it was a great honour for me to introduce Naomi Shihab Nye at CĂșirt.  And what a pleasure it was to sit with her and talk, make connections as if we were old friends. ‘We start out as little bits of disconnected dust’, she says  in the introduction to her poems of the Middle East 19 Varieties of Gazelle.  But listening to her poetry and sharing stories with her helps gather those separate pieces of us all closer together and make us deeply aware of our need to cross borders.  

Born  to a Palestinian father and American mother 4 years after her father's family lost their home in Jerusalem she has a very strong sense of exile, describing herself as a wandering poet and has lived in St Louis Missouri, Jerusalem  and now San Antonio, Texas and travels extensively throughout the world to read and teach.  
She became a poet at a very early age because of her hunger for language to take her to meaningful and visionary places. Believing that we all need to be rooted somewhere she holds herself to the earth through poetry and whether lyric, narrative or prose, the work has the power to unharness us from our blinkered views and carry us into a larger human experience. We travel with her through the world of Paul who wishes that somebody would touch him on the shoulder, or the man who gave two skunks to his wife for a valentine. We see the daily rituals of Jews and Palestinians, her patriarchal grandmother, her father who died with two languages tucked inside his head. We see the aubergines and peaches in the garden of Abu Mahmoud across the valley from the gleaming white military settlement.

She shows us the hospitality of The Sweet Arab, the Generous Arab. In language that is never strident, or shrill, her work consistently connects with a vast circle of witnesses in war-torn areas where experience is the real authority.  Drawing on all those years of experience that attest to our shared humanity, she asks the simplest, almost childlike questions that carry the greatest profundity and force us to consider the answers. In ‘Lunch in Nablus City Park’ she poses: Where do the souls of hills hide when there is shooting in the valley?  What makes a man with a gun seem bigger than a man with almonds? 

A bridge builder, she echoes her favourite poet William Stafford where her writing teaches us to listen harder, to listen to one another in ways we might have missed and bring light to the sorrowful things of our lives  that are regularly misrepresented in the media. This is best demonstrated in the poem  where the parents of a murdered Palestinian boy donate his organs to Israelis. Because of the enormity of their life-giving gesture of their son’s kidneys, liver, heart she urges us.’ We must, we simply must be bigger, too.’

In the poem Cross that Line she records how Paul Robeson, the American singer and activist was denied a passport to sing in Vancouver the same year as she was born. Here we are given another powerful image of a man who refuses to be quietened and instead stands on the boundary between US and Canada and sings across the border to over 25,000 people sitting on folding chairs on the other side.  It is what Naomi does time and time again, continues to cross the line as she limns her two cultures with great heart and illumination that brings us to that moment of connection.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Poetry Ireland Day

Photo:Peter Moore

In celebration of Poetry Ireland Day and in anticipation of the much-awaited arrival of our friends, Lisa and Russ Taylor, from Connecticut, here is a poem from the Other Side of Longing that Lisa and I collaborated on and was published by Arlen House in 2011. 

With the Atlantic as its central metaphor, the collaboration sets out to demonstrate how closely we are  connected with all our family and dear friends on the other side of the ocean. Photo is of the stream at the end of our garden.

When the Time Comes

What of the mountain ablaze beyond our window?
Gorse, burning up the dark, so loud
 we fear its crackle, hear its heat.

It spits out seeds that defy flame,
smuts of furze get washed into the stream’s source
that tumbles down, picking up along the way:

whirligigs, caddis fly larvae,  turf scent
the luteus light of  lesser celandine,
foxglove, that does the heart good just to look at.

It foams by the boundary of our land, so small,
yet there is nothing to stop it from thinking big
from becoming ocean when the time comes.

Rushing under the bridge to a neighbour’s field,
down through bog tannin, it carries into the lake
before it takes itself to the river that flows

around the oarsmen, past the teahouse at Menlo
under the Salmon Weir bridge,
by the cathedral that still reels in the faithful.

It catches sight of the sea, boats by the Spanish Arch,
lets go of  its name, heads out into the Atlantic, reaches
your coast with the memory of mountain, gorse, fire.

From the Other Side of Longing by Geraldine Mills and Lisa Taylor, Arlen House (2011)
Distributed internationally by Syracuse University Press. Email:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Individual Artist's Bursary

My gratitude to Galway County Council  for awarding me an Individual Artist's Bursary to work on my next writing project.