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.




Sunday, April 8, 2018

Reading the Future New Writing from Ireland


Edited by Alan Hayes and published by Arlen House and Hodges Figgis, 'Reading the Future: New Writing from Ireland' celebrates 250 Years of Hodges Figgis. It will be launched by Josepha Madigan, TD Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht at Hodges Figgis Bookshop,56–58 Dawson Street, Dublin, Thursday 26 April at 6:00pm.

I am thrilled to be included in this beautifully produced anthology with so many of our great writers. Congratulations to Alan for the months of work he put into it. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Irish Times Moon Struck

Poem of the Week: Moon Struck

 
The moment wolf-moon grips the burnished throat of sun,
the cats cower, the birds frenzy their call.
They sense its lunar teeth
before its light in the kitchen
begins to silver breakfast cups and plates,
before its ice-cold enters our house.
We move in whispers through the rooms, afraid
to look up, even through the pinhole of colander,
for fear wolf-moon will take the eye out of us.
We pull courage to our shaking hands,
stand in the night-lit field, hammer the saucepan lids
as the beast moves in for the kill.
The din fills every inch around us, as does the dark,
but we keep on beating and beating
until wolf-moon is on the run.
Then one more strike, one final clang and we watch him
drop the sun from its jaws, slink away,
our world turned, back to day again.
Geraldine Mills’s publications include An Urgency of Stars (Arlen House), which was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship, and The Other Side of Longing, a poetry collaboration with the American poet Lisa C Taylor (Arlen House, 2011). Her children’s novel, Gold, was published by Little Island in 2016

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What the Snow Brought


What the Snow Brought

Icicles on the eaves of our house,
chevrons of birds' feet up the drive,
a redwing, a brace of pheasants.

A herd of deer
moving around our field in the dark,
staring back at our sleeping selves,

then, away through the gap in the dry-stone wall.
Only for prints in the snow,
we wouldn't have known they had been.



Photo:Courtesy of Peter Moore

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Songline

The term, ekphrasis, is a Greek word that means 'description', and refers to describing an object in vivid detail. Today it has come to be defined as poems that are inspired by works of art or vice-versa. Imagery is very important in my writing and I am often drawn to the story behind a piece of art or sculpture. I was delighted that artist and potter, Ness Porter Kelly, decided for a recent exhibition to work on one of my poems for her inspiration. She chose my poem 'Songline'   which is from my first poetry collection, Unearthing your Own, published by Bradshaw Books in 2001.  What I really like about the painting is the way she incorporated the indigenous iconography into the Irish landscape.




Songline

Is what the aborigines called it
singing up rocks, trees
their very selves into creation.
Following leylines from yesterday to now
till they came to their end, dreaming.

Song-women had their own lines
separate from men,
singing from yesterday to now;
from mother to daughter
their soul-links.

So if I show you like this:
pinnate shape of leaf,
veins that parallel the length of blade,
life-spring in the plant
when it is chewed to poultice,
it is the way it was shown to me
as to my mother and to her mother before that.