Sunday Miscellany at Culture Night

Image result for culture night 2016

A belated link to the episode of Sunday Miscellany that was recorded live as part of Culture Night. I’m delighted to have had two poems featured. You can have a listen back here.

We recorded the episode in Dublin Castle in the midst of the RTE Festivities. There was a great buzz around the place and I stuck around for the Poetry Programme too to hear Elaine Feeney, Doireann Ni Ghriofa and Dave Lordan read.

It’s good to see Culture Night going from strength to strength, but I do sometimes worry that it creates the impression of an Irish arts scene that’s more healthy and secure than it actually is. A serious lack of funding for the arts in Ireland is continuing to take its toll on artists across the board. I would hope that events like Culture Night will remind us all of the value of arts investment, and the great tradition of free access to culture in Irish society, rather than implying that art happens for free…

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New Poem on Arena

I was half asleep one night some time ago with the radio on in the room. There was a documentary playing about the forthcoming WWI commemorations in the UK. They had an archival recording of an elderly man from Wexford, who was talking about his experiences in the war. He must have been long gone by the time the documentary aired. He was talking about being asked to go back to the Somme, to see the graves, and he began to get a little upset and confused, and to say he wouldn’t know what to say to the lads who were buried there. Then – and this could have been my dream or his bewilderment – he said that he hoped that after dark, when all the visitors went home, that the lads would at least keep each other company in the ground, and talk to each other so they wouldn’t feel lonely.

The poem was broadcast on last Wednesday’s Arena, and you can listen back here

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The Café Review

Really happy to have some poems in the special Irish edition of The Café Review. Here’s a lovely review of the issue:

OFF RADAR: Cafe Review

A gathering of Irish voices

The Cafe Review Vol. 27 Spring 2016: A Gathering of Irish Voices

Steve Luttrell, editor

XPress, Portland, 2016

76 pages, perfect bound, $10

Everywhere you go, it seems, there are people with a soft spot in their hearts for Irish literature. It’s a special-interest group, in a way, with a sort of heightened intensity of feeling about family or historical ties to the Old Country, or for the curiosities of the Irish Gaelic language, or sometimes just an affinity for W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney.

Here in Maine, I knew a press technician who was teaching himself Gaelic. Hugh Curran, in Surry, a poet of first-generation Irish ancestry, sends frequent email alerts about Irish poetry and culture. And Steve Luttrell, of Portland, also has these roots, and he traveled to Ireland last month to kick off the spring issue of his long-running Cafe Review magazine because it contains a healthy slam of poetry straight from contemporary Ireland.

The selections are diverse in subject matter, and relatively uniform in tone and tenor. From the 34 contributing poets, there are many angles on the Irish landscape (including several images from the cliffs of Moher) and on the relationship of language to both personal and sometimes political (a perennial Irish preoccupation) realities. And there are color reproductions of woodcuts by Nonie O’Neill and, in an inevitable nod to history, of oil paintings of Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan by Liam O’Neill.

The tone of the poetry is largely pensive and wistful, with exceptions of course, and many of the selections are focused on hyper-personal sensibilities, sometimes with highly didactic ramifications. Paula Meehan’s short poem “The Melter,” from a series titled “Geomantic,” begins: “I remember you well in Grogan’s. / You called it the Poet’s Horror Hole.” From John Liddy’s “Enigma”:

Motionless beneath die canopy,

birds hopped around the floor,

indifferent to human presence,

imparting lessons in humility.

Janice Fitzpatrick-Simmons’ “Easter Rising” opens pensively: “I lived inside a Shakespearean winter; malcontent, / agreeing to a poverty of the soul. And thus agreed / what followed was anger and regret.” And Jessica Traynor’s “Lost Things,” wistfully: “We are living now / in the era of lost things.”

Eileen Sheehan’s unusually terse “and he kisses you” offers a sort of hyper-personal melancholia:

he kisses you

tastes your loneliness

sings you a song

both beautiful and sad

he kisses you

tastes salt on your tongue

thinks he has healed you

when all he has done

is to agitate

the black ice in your heart

and he kisses you

Among the departures from the tone of high introspection are a couple of boisterously expressed poems by Ciaran O’Driscoll, a widely published poet from Limerick (Ireland) — “All right, this is what’s happening. / Andrew Motion will recite a poem, / then I’ll recite one. And then you can go home.” Another poem, “Close Call,” recounts in headlong detail a near-miss car crash from swerve of road to bend of back door, a moment of stunned shock in which the protagonist (“you”) momentarily believes herself dead, then discovers she’s living again and, making her way “back to the world of the living,” recirculates into her environs by seeking comfort from three commodious onlookers.

Luttrell launched the magazine last month in Galway where it was enthusiastically received, he said in an email. He gave readings there with poets Kevin Higgins, John Walsh and Susan DuMars, then went on to Limerick where he read with O’Driscoll and others. In Dublin he was received by Meehan, one of Ireland’s most prominent poets, and Theo Dorgan who named him an “ambassador of poetry,” and he took part in Toners Pub’s longstanding Staccato Reading Series. His visit wound up in County Cork.

“Ireland truly is the land of the poets!” Luttrell said from the Old Country.

If you’re one of those many aficionados of Irish poetry, you might want to pick up a copy of this well-edited selection of writings by poets presently practicing their craft in Ireland.

More information is available on the Cafe Review website

Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections every other week. Contact Dana Wilde at

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A Demonstration

‘A Demonstration’, my poem for Dr Kathleen Lynn, is featured in today’s Irish Times, along with the video beautifully shot by Padraig Burke and co at the Irish Writer’s Centre. Really excited that this piece will reach a wide audience. You can watch the video and read the poem here.

The whole documentary on a Poet’s Rising, including poems by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Eilean Ni Chilleanain, Paul Muldoon, Theo Dorgan and Thomas McCarthy and with music by the gifted Colm Mac An Iomaire can be watched on the RTE Player here.


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A Poet’s Rising

I was really delighted to be commissioned as part of ‘A Poet’s Rising’, one of the Ireland 2016 projects. The Irish Writer’s Centre commissioned myself, Theo Dorgan, Thomas McCarthy, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Paul Muldoon to write poems in response to the experiences of the leaders of 1916, set at various locations around the city. I write mine about Dr Kathleen Lynn in City Hall. We launched our poems on the 31st March at the Irish Writer’s Centre, and the accompanying documentary (featuring all the poems with beautiful accompaniment from Colm Mac Con Iomaire) will be broadcast on RTE on the 19th April.

Here’s a picture of me reading on the night:

And here’s a great blog post from Catherine Dunne about the event itself:

A Poet’s Rising live event April 05 2016

at the Irish Writers Centre, 31 March 2016 

Catherine Dunne 


A Poet's Rising

‘When I think of all the false beginnings…

The man was a pair of hands,

the woman another pair, to be had more cheaply,

the wind blew, the children were thirsty – ’

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘For James Connolly’ was the first to be recited to a spellbound audience at the Irish Writers Centre in Parnell Square, Dublin, last Thursday night.

I found these opening lines deeply moving – they brought me right back to when I was ten or eleven and read my first adult biography. It was a portrait of James Connolly, one that concentrated on the family man, the deeply compassionate human being whose sense of fairness and decency was outraged by the appalling poverty in which the ‘common man’ – and woman and child – were living.

I thought that Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s lines captured that sense perfectly – the sense of a man tired of waiting for ‘the voices to shout Enough’.

‘For James Connolly’ is one of six poems commissioned by the Irish Writers Centre and supported by the Arts Council as part of the national commemoration of 1916.

The six poets concerned are Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Muldoon, Jessica Traynor, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Theo Dorgan and Thomas McCarthy.

Each poet focused on a key historical figure and a particular location associated with the Easter Rising. Paul Muldoon ‘ventriloquised’ Patrick Pearse. Jessica Traynor chose Dr Kathleen Lynn, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill the O Rathaille, and Theo Dorgan paid tribute to Elizabeth O’Farrell.

Thomas McCarthy inhabited the Garden of Remembrance, where he reflected upon ‘the two states we’re in/A state of mystical borders and broken spears/Left by a silent procession of things left unsaid.’

All of the poets were then filmed in their chosen locations and the film will soon be an app, freely available for download at the end of April.

Conor Kostick has written the historical links between each of the poems on the app, and the glimpses that the audience got of the final version were enticing.

As the poets are filmed reading their work, they are accompanied by the fiddle playing of the incomparable Colm Mac Con Iomaire. Colm composed a haunting score in response to the poets’ commissioned work. We, the audience on Thursday night, were privileged to be in attendance as he played ‘Solasta’ for us.

It was illuminating to focus on the humanitarian motivations shared by so many of those involved in Easter 1916.

In Jessica Traynor’s ‘A Demonstration’, she explores the work of Dr Kathleen Lynn:

‘Haunted by skulls

that boast through the thin skin of children

who ghost the alleyways, dying

young in silent demonstration,


I raise my own demonstration

against my limits as woman and doctor.’

And finally, among all the many riches of the evening, I took away with me the closing words of Thomas McCarthy from his beautiful ‘Garden of Remembrance’. Words of reconciliation, of understanding, of all the things we share in our common humanity:

‘we have a duty to make a firm nest –

Not an ill-advised pageant or a national barricade.

When the midday sun breaks through, my eyes rest

On harp and acorn, on trumpet and bronze hands,

On things a family without our history understands.’

This was a memorable evening on so many levels.

Congratulations to the Arts Council, to the Irish Writers Centre – particularly to Pádraig Burke, the Development Officer there – to Colm Mac Con Iomaire, to Conor Kostick and, of course, to all the poets involved.

I made my way home through the Dublin evening afterwards feeling uplifted, grateful, almost optimistic.

Thank you.

Catherine Dunne




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Reading at Staccato

Delighted to be reading at Staccato tonight, a great initiative of Tanya Farrelly and David Butler’s with a good mix of poetry, prose and music. It’s a great line up – drop by if you’re around town tonight:

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My Review of Night Letter by Fiona Moore over at Sabotage Reviews

Fiona Moore’s Night Letter is a short pamphlet of eleven poems, in which dreams wind their tendrils through our waking hours. This is an impressive collection, with a playful approach to the conceptual. Dense with memorable imagery, yet pleasingly relaxed in its rhythm, the pamphlet’s first poem ‘Numberless’ sets the tone for what’s to come:

It’s as if
the dream were acknowledging
numberless permutations
of daily life, so our waking selves
don’t need to, otherwise long ago
I’d have walked through the upstairs
bedroom window which leads
by now, to many places.

The unusual enjambment aids the rhythm, allowing the reader to participate directly in the poet’s discoveries.

‘Dimensional’ cleverly subverts that most quotidian of activities, the untangling of a wet duvet. In Moore’s hands, the duvet becomes a ravenous deep-sea creature, a giant squid or pale octopus that has crept from some dark subconscious space into our world. This surreal take demonstrates the poet’s imaginative touch, while also making a wry comment on the primitive hunger of desire:

the duvet starts eating itself, eats its own slack
pouch of inside-outness so it has to be held
over the steps by the back door, shaken
until its bamboo pattern turns to storm…

The liminal space between memory and imagination, dream and waking is confronted with rare skill in the pamphlet’s title poem, with its poignant but clear-eyed address to a lost friend who didn’t believe in an afterlife: “…if you’re out there, please / forgive me for imagining / you, out there.” (‘Night Letter’)

This is an elegiac pamphlet that contrasts minutely detailed intimacies with panoramic vistas, in poems such as ‘The Embrace’ and ‘City From
A Hill, Through Open Windows’, the latter widening perspective to encompass the dreams of “…eight million sleeping – curled, sprawled, / together or alone – / a counterpane of bodies…”

We then zoom back into the fragmented intimacies of the first-person experience of sleep, with the delicate ‘Sleep Sonnet’, its lace-like collage of stations, upholstery, and a women painting her nails – all glimpsed in the blinking half-sleep of a train journey – and ‘Poem in Which I Think Myself Out’, which steps out of the open window referred to in the pamphlet’s first poem, into a vivid stream of consciousness:

Do I
exist when I’m not in the mirror;
and what if
the large rusty manhole
on the swimming-pool floor
were to open? Our bodies
jammed in the sewer like pale fish.

As with ‘Dimensional’, the imagery here is stark and, like all dream imagery, has the potential to tug the edges of our anxiety. But the effect created is lasting – testament to a deeply meditative and questioning consciousness, capable of creating unique and memorable poems.

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