The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon.

In October 1969 Angela Carter discarded her wedding ring in an ashtray at Tokyo airport before boarding her flight home. She had spent a fortnight with Sozo Araki, an aspiring writer and pinball addict, in the “palpably illicit” bedrooms of Tokyo’s love hotels. She relished the mirrored ceilings and the unabashed laughter of the maid who delivered them towels. In later life she’d recall how Sozo’s face had been lurking inside her consciousness, “as an idea that now found a perfect visual expression.

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The New Irish Poets

The New Irish Poets is a landmark anthology of the newest generation of Irish writers now making their mark in poetry at the start of the 21st century.

Selina Guinness’s lively selection covers over 30 poets of all ages from all parts of Ireland who’ve produced first collections over the past ten years, offering rare insights into how the freshest writing talents have responded to a period of profound social, cultural and political change in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

Dynamic and confident in their diverse voices – whether conversational, caustic or solemn in tone – these poets open up the world to unexpected horizons, unsuspected pleasures and surprising conclusions. The book supplies a new measure for Ireland in the coming times.

The New Irish Poets features all of the prominent new poets who’ve received major awards and international critical recognition as well as giving a platform to less well-known new writers published by small presses. Illustrated with photographs and helpful editorial commentaries, the book includes a parallel-text selection of poems by three new Irish-language poets.

Nearly half the writers are women, and there’s a broad mix of young and old, ranging from Fergus Allen, now in his 80s – but who made his début ten years ago – to the youngest, Leanne O’Sullivan, who was only 21 when this anthology appeared: her first collection Waiting for Her Clothes was published by Bloodaxe at the same time.

With its wide-ranging, up-to-the-minute selections, The New Irish Poets bears witness to the amazing growth and flowering of contemporary Irish poetry over the past decade. The poets featured are: Fergus Allen, Jean Bleakney, Colette Bryce, Anthony Caleshu, Yvonne Cullen, Paula Cunningham, Celia de Fréine (Irish poems with English translations), Katie Donovan, Leontia Flynn, Tom French, Sam Gardiner, Paul Grattan, Vona Groarke, Kerry Hardie, Nick Laird, John McAuliffe, Cathal McCabe, Gearóid Mac Lochlainn (Irish poems with English translations), Dorothy Molloy, Martin Mooney, Sinéad Morrissey, Michael Murphy, Colette Ni Ghallchóir (Irish poems with English translations), Conor O’Callaghan, Mary O’Donoghue, Caitríona O’Reilly, Leanne O’Sullivan, Justin Quinn, John Redmond, Maurice Riordan, Aidan Rooney-Céspedes, David Wheatley and Vincent Woods.

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These Derelict Fields

“The first night, it was raining so hard that I had to pull in on the Featherbed and wait for it to ease off, even though I was already late and not at all sure how I would find Glenasmole Community Centre in the warren of roads that lay below me in the dark. Yet as I crawled down the flooded boreen, grateful for the burnt-out cars that marked out verge from bog, I felt full of the joyful conviction that I would succeed in my mission: to pass the REPS course that would make me a farmer, if only on paper. The most important thing I had found out since becoming caretaker of my late uncle’s flock of 57 ewes and herd of 14 cattle was that the state agricultural agency Teagasc, for a modest annual fee, would suffer to answer the enquiries of a Big House ingénue. It was Teagasc who advised me that twenty hours’ instruction on the maintenance of hedgerows, farm safety, fertilizer usage and drainage schemes was all that stood between me, my certificate, and the monthly paycheque, issued in Brussels, for entering the Rural Environment Protection Scheme. But while I was confident that I could pass the course, I had to acknowledge that much of a sheep was still a mystery to me, and quite what suckler cows were for, or, more to the point, how they generated any income in their steady mooch from mart to abattoir with only the occasional calf squeezed out every other year, remained an unsolvable riddle.”

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The Universal Soldier

“Herodotus was…a Greek Carian, an ethnic half-breed. Such people who grow up amid different cultures, as a blend of different bloodlines, have their worldview determined by such concepts as border, distance, difference, diversity. We encounter the widest array of human types among them, from fanatical, fierce sectarians, to passive, apathetic provincials, to open, receptive wanderers – citizens of the world. It depends on how their blood got mixed, what spirits settled in it.”

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Travels with Herodotus

The Universal Soldier – Essay

Development at Tibradden

Development on Tibradden Road. DLR Co Co. Application D16A/0955.

I’ve often been asked: ‘what happened to those fields you wrote about in Crocodile? The short answer is that in the past few months, a lot has happened in the fields bought by Bernard MacNamara, and sold on by NAMA in late 2015. Over Christmas, the new owner busily pursued unauthorized development, building a road across the field, through the wood along the River Glin, and widening access onto Tibradden Road. The enforcement section of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown have asked him to ‘regularise’ these developments, but meanwhile work continues to change this nineteenth century landscape.

In the fields immediately adjacent, Stillorgan RFC have lodged a planning application with DLR Co Council for the construction of a new club facility in the fields on the hill side of Tibradden Road. The development will consist of: a 2 storey clubhouse including changing rooms, meetings room, storage and ancillary facilities (463 sq m), an outdoor viewing terrace, 3 no. playing pitches, floodlights for pitches 1 +2; associated car park with 60 spaces and coach parking, on site water treatment system, all associated site and development works.

These fields are currently zoned B ‘for the protection of agriculture and the promotion of rural amenity.’ This development will threaten the viability of our farm adjacent to the site. Tibradden’s fields are immediately adjacent to the site to the south and west. Over the past twelve years, we’ve pursued an environmentally friendly farm policy, and have erected new bat and bird boxes, planted native species of trees, protected wildlife corridors and field margins, protected species-rich pasture.  The result is that hares, sparrowhawks, several different bat species, pine marten, hedgehogs and red squirrels have returned to our farm.  The extensive excavation works destroying the existing capillary drainage,  the removal of hedgerows required by this development, the provision of floodlights, the application of chemical insecticides and fertilisers to maintain the 3 pitches, the influx of cars, players, spectators, dogs and noise, never mind the threat to livestock with every kick over the posts: all will adversely affect our ability to farm this land, as outlined in Crocodile.    

If you have visited Tibradden and have concerns about the impact of these developments on ‘the last unspoilt valley landscape in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown’, please consider making a submission to the planners in DLR Co Co. The deadline is tight – Wednesday 1st February. Online objections can be submitted here: DLR County Council – making an objection

Pic 1 – Tibradden Road – junction of bus and car at proposed entrance to site.

Pic 2 – Tibradden House, arrow indicates location of pitches.

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Know Your Place: InContext4, Words for SDCC

In Context 4: In Our Time.                                             

InContext4 website

The curators of the South Dublin County Council’s new programme for public art, Aoife Tunney and Claire Power, kindly invited me to speak at the launch of InContext4 on Thursday 15th September 2016. Their commissioning brief invites artists to propose work that acts as “a gathering point and catalyst for social change, focused on the sense of place, belonging and civic awareness in South Dublin County.”  Havoc Dance Company embodied this exciting approach in their beautiful site-specific performance in the civic space around Tallaght Library on the night.  Here’s my text. 

I’ll begin with a paradox. If someone says ‘Know Your Place!’, aren’t you really being told to get lost, disappear? It’s a contradiction explored by Rebecca Solnit in her collection of essays, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Solnit points out that “Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing.”[1] ‘Losing things’ may embody carelessness, absent-mindedness, a sense of dispossession that may be hard to master, but which probably won’t undo the owner’s very sense of existence. ‘Getting lost’ advances further down the scale of loss towards self-annihilation. Disorientation, involving the evaporation of all known compass points brings a forensic urgency to the task of observation. Once you have stumbled off the path, without a map in a place you barely know, don’t you look around for landmarks and take the position of the sun? All those reprimands: ‘Know Your Place’, ‘Don’t Get Above Yourself’, and best of all, ‘It’s Far From X You were Reared’ – all imply that adaptation to new conditions requires small acts of subversion to your identity. Individuality is discovered in the process of slipping that old, familiar leash.

It seems to me that Solnit’s title – A Field Guide to Getting Lost – provides a manifesto of sorts for In Context 4, this exciting new vision for the South Dublin County Council programme of public art.

When I was a kid, my dad decided to take a shortcut through Tallaght on the way to Newcastle one Sunday morning where we were due to go beagling across the fields. Lamp posts, and the skeletal frames of half-built houses, soon replaced the hedges, before the road flowed into a delta of new suburban tributaries around what is now Fettercairn. The Ordnance Survey could not keep pace with Tallaght’s development in the late 1970s. Without a map, but with the morning sun behind him, my father reasoned, we’d soon reach Kerrs yard, or as SatNav today would have it, ‘’our final destination”.

There were no clues in that half-built landscape to guide a stranger, and no kerb or corner had yet acquired the significance that comes with habitation. The sun was useless as a daylight star. My father should, of course, have stopped to ask directions, to start that conversation when a person lost entrusts his safety to a person found, and listens closely to hear the route described. “Do you recall a stack of breezeblocks about a mile back?” The most ordinary things are turned into landmarks when described to a stranger. Only through another’s call to look up and look around, can things passed, or passing or to come, become our way stations on the path back from being lost, places to recover meaning from that moment of panic when we face annihilation.

This is an old-fashioned story. The estates were empty that Sunday morning and it was some time before my father finally admitted defeat and found his way back onto the road that led directly home. It’s hard to get lost these days, and it’s not just the residents who know their way round. On Street View anyone can scope out a neighbourhood without risk of wet or conversation.

People too are mappable. We can all be scoped in profile, befriended or defriended, rejected or accepted before we’ve ever met. Emanuel Levinas says we discover our humanity in the gaze of the other, that moment of trust when we lose ourselves in another’s eyes. How I wonder, is this encounter compromised if we let our social network first determine who appears on that horizon? In the face-to-face encounter, the window rolled down, do we find new features to discover? Or, if we have lost our capacity to get lost, always knowing how to reach our final destination, do we not also lose our ability to engage fully with the people we meet along the way?

Before Sat Nav, there were field guides, but they didn’t announce the species – you still had to use your own eyes to spot and identify the bird. Art’s best ideas come from making strange, from telling others why they should consider an ordinary stone a landmark. They come from risk, and adventure, from getting your feet wet in your encounters with the world. And if public art provides a door to elsewhere as tonight’s performance suggests, then In Context4 provides a brand new field guide to show us what is there to discover and inhabit just beyond those horizons we tend to set for ourselves.

[1] Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Penguin 2006.

Kick: The True Story of Kick Kennedy by Paula Byrne

In March 1941 the upper-crust English communist Decca Mitford sent her youngest sister a telegram congratulating her on an “excellent season’s duking”. Decca’s words were premature. Debo, a comparative moderate among notable extremes, had indeed bagged the dashing Andrew Cavendish, but the Devonshire title and the family seat at Chatsworth were destined for his eldest brother William, or Billy Hartington as he was known to friends.

“Duking” was what the London season was all about, although polite girls would deny it. In Hons and Rebels (1960) Decca recalled the “endless successions of flower-banked ballrooms filled with very young men and women, resembling uniformly processed market produce at its approximate peak, with here and there an overripe or under-ripe exception,

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