Monday, 7 December 2009

Edinburgh Sense of Place

Well, my novel, 'Anna's Ghost' (working title) is more or less finished. So I'll be returning to tutoring Creative Writing - mainly poetry in 2010. One can get so tired of the sight of a screen! It will be nice to meet up with former and new students again.

So here's advance publicity:

Edinburgh Sense of Place: Creative Writing course.

From 27th Jan for 10 sessions. Wednesdays from 10.30am-12.30pm (No session on 10th Feb) Visits round Edinburgh to places of historical, or cultural interest as springboards for poetry or short prose writing, alternating with workshop sessions (venue tbc) to read out work produced.

This term visits will be to mostly new venues including the Scottish National Museum, Chambers St., the Writers Museum (special reference to R.L. Stevenson), The Royal College of Surgeons' Museum, the Temperance Palm House, Royal Botanical Gardens and the Traquair Mansfield Centre (to see the murals by Phoebe Traquair).

We usually have an optional lunch together after. All very convivial and friendly.

Do check out my webpage, for further details, if you're interested

Monday, 2 November 2009

Iona Sense of Place 2010

Following on a fantastic, atmospheric week this year, Sense of Place, a residential poetry writing course on Iona will again be offered in 2010, dates Tuesday 31st August-4th September. Please see my web-link for further details:
(Note the 2). It will be tutored by myself and Mary Gladstone, a poet, dramatist, literary critic and journalist well known as a sympathetic tutor to her students at the OLL, University of Edinburgh.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

ConFAB Glasgow Hidden City 5 on Youtube

Extracts from Hidden City 5 performances, part of the Hidden City 5, Merchant City Festival, 27th September, 2009.

Site 1: The Ramsthorn Kirkyard
Poets: Viv Gee, Sean McBride, Allan Radcliffe, Mary Smith, Gerry Stewart

Site 2: Tontine Lane
Poets : Martin O'Connor, Derek Read, Rowena M. Love, Anita Govan, Larry Butler, Tracy Patrick, myself (Stephanie Green) Lorna Callery and Larry Butler (again).

Site 3: New Wynd Poets: A.C. Clarke, Bashabi Fraser, Mandy Haggith, Michael McGill, Nalini Paul, Kate Robinson, Marc R. Sherland

Site 4: Paddy's Market
Poets: Jo Clifford, Alex Frew, Ashby McGowan, Wendy Miller, John Savage, Daryl Tayar, Sheila Templeton

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Glasgow Hidden City 5, Merchant City Festival, 27th September, 2009

4 different sites and 27 poets performed poetry in (and inspired by) hidden, unknown nooks of the Merchant City, Glasgow It was great fun to be asked to take part. We had been shown the secret sites earlier in the summer to inspire the poems and sworn to secrecy. On the performance day, the audience were asked to meet outside the Ramsthorn Theatre (a converted church )in Ingram Street at hourly intervals (4 different times - so over the day that was a fair number of folk - 30-50 each group, so c. 150-200 in total - not bad for a poetry event).

Each group were then taken to the mystery sites - the graveyard behind the Ramsthorn church, a quiet, unknown oasis of peace where 18th c grandees are buried ; Tontine Close - formerly an 18th c piazza where the Tobacco Lords read papers and made deals in the coffee houses - now a car-park and refuse bin area, enclosed by the backs of the surrounding white-tiled shops and offices - a short cut used after-hours as a pissoir; the back of the Pantechnicon, decorated by fluorescent lights and overlooking the metal fence of another car-park and finally outside the locked steel gates of the former Paddy's Market.

Being part of the Merchant City Festival we poets were given two security men (both called Brian) complete with fluorescent stripes on their jackets to accompany us, stopping the traffic to marshal the audience across the road on their journey from site to site and protect us poets from them (or them from us.) Those poets. Trouble-makers all.

As you might suspect, dog shit, litter, broken bottles etc featured heavily in the poems - but also 18th and modern ghosts, and surprisingly animal and bird life - twilight owls and a bear, ( the Pantechnicon had had a performing bear in one of their acts in the past); the poetic styles ranged from rap, elegy to polemic. (Maybe the security guards were necessary.)

Incidentally, I bumped into one of the Brians outside another event later in the evening. More poets/trouble-makers? No, this time a 3D art video by Billy Cowie which you watched in the dark lying on the floor looking up through red and blue glasses at a screen suspended from the ceiling. I was the only one there. Very mesmeric. I almost fell asleep (not out of boredom, out of sheer relaxation).

Tough job you've got, I said to Brian after. 'I enjoyed your poetry event,' he said. 'I might well go to a few other poetry events now.'

All hail and thanks to Rachel Jury for organizing this event and for having the vision that it could work. (The result of 4 other previous events over the last 4 years and the grand finale.)

Oh, and there's a wee book for sale of the poems plus atmospheric photos of the sites. See and you can read my poem on

There will be a video with short extracts of each poet's performance up on Youtube in due course.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Iona Sense of Place poetry writing course

More photos up for our Sense of Place poetry writing course on Iona (tutored by Mandy Haggith and myself.) on link below.
Blissful weather, blue skies, sun and only grey on the last day. We even managed to land on Staffa and got inside Fingal's Cave. That's the third time I've taken the boat trip and only the first time I've actually managed to land. So great excitement.
It was quite choppy and getting on and off the ferry at Staffa was just a wee bit heart-stopping. One slip and...churning seas smashing the boat against the pier and you in between. And then there is a narrow channel between Staffa and a baby island (also of hexagonal basalt blocks) through which the waves pour and hurl themselves ferociously into the air just where you need to pass, holding onto a very fragile before you even get to the cave you're fully psyched up.
Our skipper told us we would not get the full orchestra that day as it was not quite rough enough. Do they have an orchestra in there, someone asked. No, it's the sound effects of wind and waves, he said. So we went one by one down the slippy steps to the roped off viewing/hearing area and were amazed to hear not just the smash of waves on rocks and booming echoes, but after the waves subside and before the next onrush there is a pause and then it happens: long musical notes like an organ, or even a brass instrument followed by booms and a deep drum roll ending with the tinny shh of cymbals. Well, that's what I heard. Others heard other music.
Mandy's writing exercize for the trip produced some very rhythmic sound poems, appropriately. In the evening we listened to Mendelssohn's Hebridean Overture. (Well, you have to, don't you.) I was very chuffed that it worked: downloaded (by my son for me) from the internet and played on my computor plus using mini-loud-speakers. Not sure the sound quality was up to the standards of one of our students, however, who is a viola player in a national orchestra!

On other days we visited the Abbey and environs and Heritage Museum for workshops and afternoons were free for the group to walk to the many isolated white beaches. There's a very spooky atmosphere on Iona and many poems came out of its history as the Isle of the Dead, the ancient burial place of the Lords of the Isles and Kings of Scotland.

However, the delicious food kept us cheerful - fresh crayfish caught that day to be had at the Martyrs' Bay restaurant and chocolate fondue desert, kept warm with nightlights, at the Argyll Hotel was another highlight.
Atmospheric island, plenty of history and stories, remote landscapes and time to write with like-minded souls, or wander off on your own to isolated white beaches. Can't all be bad, despite the soaking one student got on the ferry home! A rogue wave and no time to move out of the way.

We are already planning next year's course...possibly a trip to Iona for a new group of students...and a different location for those who want somewhere different. Keep watching this blog.
See side-bar for Photo Gallery: 1) Iona and 2) Past courses (for students and trips)

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Underword 5 star rating

Well, I guess Loose Tongues can take a share in the 5 stars.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Loose Tongues at Underword, Edinburgh Fringe

Front row: Lynsey Calderwood, Irene Brown, Janie McKie, Elaine Feeney and Mandy Haggith.
Back row: Stephanie Green and Tricia (Patricia) Ace.

A great performance Tuesday night of Loose Tongues and guests at Fingers' Piano Bar(Edinburgh). Quite a crowd, even a heckler (A LT first). But fun had by all and everyone said they enjoyed the variety - some literary poems, some pure performance, all performed with pazzazz. We had a last minute addition to our line up with Irene Brown. Great to have her on board.
Requests for us to perform again soon.....

Monday, 13 July 2009

Loose Tongues at Edinburgh Fringe

Loose Tongues, will be reading at Underword, a Spoken Word festival, part of the Edinburgh Fringe on 11th August, 7.50pm-8.40pm at Fingers Piano Bar, Frederick St. No piano.

Loose Tongues started as a group of poets who all met on the Glasgow MPhil (now called MLitt) in Creative Writing back in 2004. We have often invited musicians and other poets to perform alongside us, and I'm very pleased to have got a terrific line-up of fellow poets to join forces with us this Fringe.
So far, the line up is Patricia Ace, (her pamphlet 'First Blood' is published by Happenstance,) Lynsey Calderwood,(her autobiographical novel 'Cracked' about brain damage aged 14 and having to learn to talk again), Elaine Feeney, (Winner of the Galway Cuirt Slam recently), Jane McKie (her first collection published by Cinnamon was winner of the Scottish First Poetry Book Award and she has a new collection out with Polygon shortly), and original LT member, Mandy Haggith (poetry collection 'Castings' published by Two Ravens Press,) and myself.
(Eunice Buchanan, former LT member, has since emigrated to Australia following her grand-children but who knows she may perform with us again one day.)

This is part of a 'free' Fringe - a reaction to the staggering prices venues charge and overpriced tickets, militating against new talent, either hiring a venue or being able to go to much. There will be a bucket handed round after the event for 'Donations' not totally free but up to people's inclination, purse, good will etc. For further info see

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Strokestown Poetry Festival, County Roscommon, Ireland, May 2009

It was a tremendous festival, a privilege and terrific opportunity to read with Big Names and meet fellow short-listed poets in such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the beautiful but homely Strokestown House. The gold on the wall paper glinting behind the poets reading in the evenings, the lambs peering in during the day-time readings (now I know why actors prefer not perform with children or animals), everyone sitting on the sofas, flipping through Country House magazines in the breaks (I overheard a local say that previously they would not have been allowed in the grounds, let alone the house and wasn't it amazing we were all making ourselves at home in the sitting-room), the lovely garden tour and the last night Hoolie in the Victorian kitchen are some happy memories. I loved the way the whole community was involved with the schools' competition readings, the late night pub readings and the satirical verse competition - a great balance to the more literary readings.
It was good to catch up with the Irish poetry scene too - although I do subscribe to the Poetry Ireland online newsletter and read the various literary magazines it's not the same as actually going to hear the poets read. John F. Deane (who founded Poetry Ireland and others) came late on the Sunday as he had previously been reading at the Heinrich Boll Festival on Achill Island (where Deane comes from), Paddy Bushe, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, (Editor of Cyphers literary magazine), Celia de Freine, James Harpur, Penelope Shuttle,(from Cornwall, of course, not Ireland), Joseph Woods (Director of Poetry Ireland) were the major poets who read.

Deane, Bushe and Harpur's poems had similar themes concerned with spirituality, Deane and Bushe springing from Gaelic culture. Paddy Bushe who lives in Waterville, has a sequence inspired by Skellig Michael - that remote, craggy offshore island where the early Celtic monks were hermits and I was particularly impressed by the scathing edge of his political sequence on Spenser, referring to the massacre at Dun an Oir (Smerwick) perpetrated by Lord Grey, (Spencer was his Secretary and wrote an account for Elizabeth) and Sir Walter Raleigh, who figured out a quota for each soldier:
'That body count worked out at five per man
That tidy mind would make a sonnet scan.'
( From 'Poets at Smerwick' in To Ring in Silence (The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2008)

James Harpur's The Dark Age (Anvil Press, 2007) is poetry of a fine musicality and precision. I discovered the truth of his poem 'Roscommon Rain' in the days following the festival when the heavens opened. You can read the whole poem on the Poetry Ireland online newsletter but this will give you a taster, a few lines from the middle:

'Swept, soft again, like a haze of locusts
Across the ridge, then shifted shape in sudden wind
Drifting, finer than chimney smoke,
Like a passing pang of some great loss
Away from where more rain was coming in
From somewhere else beyond the world's rim....'

Celia de Freine (who writes in Irish Gaelic as well as English) introduced her reading by congratulating Carol Ann Duffy on her Poet Laureateship, just announced. Her own poems were a refreshing burst of felt experience (mainly female but not all,) mostly as dramatic monologues - some resonances of Carol Ann here, reaching out to a wider politics, beyond Ireland to Belarus, the world of soldiers and refugees.

Her voice is direct, colloquial, a voice speaking to you, the opening lines straight in, grabbing your attention:

'Emilia says that for all the world
she'd sleep with another man. How quickly
love turns sour.'

(From 'On my bed my wedding sheets')


'It's a strange thing this poetry, the way
It can take over our lives, dictate how
we eat, drink, sleep...'
(From 'Never defter nor smarter')
Both above poems in Scarecrows at Newtownards (Scotus Press, Dublin, 2005)

Not surprising to learn that she is also a playwright and screen-writer. It's hard to quote just a few lines, since the poem has to be read as a whole to appreciate their qualities as story.

A special pleasure to hear Penelope Shuttle read - expecially as I had heard her read at the Falmouth Fesitval only the week before - she read the same programme but as I love them all, it was a double pleasure to hear them again and begin to get to know them. She also reads with great clarity, giving her words a serious weight without over-stressing, beautifully modulated, so that it is an extremely moving performance. Many of her poems are litanies, and work by the juxtaposition of the unlikely, or quirkily humourous with the deeply felt:

'A poem stays awake long after midnight
taking you from room to room,

does not care that walls have ears,.....

Every year
a poem tosses a young woman from the cliffs
to the rocky sea below

A poem acidentally sends the entire letter f
off to Florence

but keeps the letter t
in a matchbox, like a tiny contraband tortoise

a poem is your only daughter...'

(From 'Poem' in 'Redgrove's Wife')

Many other poets, too numerous to quote, were memorable, especially hearing poems read in Irish Gaelic. I couldn't understand much of the Irish but pleased to note that when written down, my Scottish Gaelic helped me pick out quite a bit. Great to put a face to a name in Jo(seph) Woods' case - as Director of Poetry Ireland - and experience his ironical sense of humour .

I had not expected to win the competition - just delighted to be chosen as one of the short-listed. The first prize (of the English language section) went to Padraig (which I discover is pronounced Poric) Rooney - well deserved. He has several collections out but as he lives in Switzerland has been rather over-looked. I'm sure all that will change now. He will be reading at the Troubador, Earl's Court, London soon. Incidentally, Angela France, another shortlistee, will be reading at the Ledbury Festival in July.
More personal connections for me: nerve-wracking experience of my own reading , when Eilean Ni Chuilleanain was in the audience, whose lectures I attended when a student at Trinity back in the mid-60s. Also meeting Margaret Hickey and Merrily Harpur (organizer of the Festival) and learning that we were all contemporaries at Trinity - tho we didn't known eachother then. So a few reminiscences about people we knew in common.

On a more particular, personal note: It was quite a surprise to realize how much Percy French still means in Ireland and what a crowd the satirical verse event drew, from all over Ireland. Even more of a surprise to be invited to present the prizes, as a PF kinswoman. (*See below)Nice to be connected with one of the Anglo-Irish who was loved in Ireland - a pleasant change, to balance the grim but necessary task of going round the Famine Museum.

I stayed for a week in Strokestown after the Festival ended as I was invited to the Percy French Society AGM in Roscommon town - I joined them once the 'business' side of the meeting was over and had great fun listening to all the stories - their sense of humour exactly the same as that of Percy French himself. I also stayed on to visit the sites (mainly Ch. of Ireland churches) my Percy ancestors were connected with: one now a Heritage Centre, another a ruin, another a public library. So it goes.
*Note: the Percy French connection: through the maternal line -PF's mother and my maternal great grandmother were sisters, Susan Emma and Jane Caroline Percy, daughters of the Rev William Alexander Percy, Rector of St. George's Church (Kiltoghert parish), in Carrick-on-Shannon (Co. Leitrim, just over the Roscommon county border.) So I am PF's second cousin, twice removed. Thanks to my friend, Caroline, who studied Anthropology and has worked this out for me!
More photos: I shall be putting up more photos on my Facebook page and also on my main webpage in due course

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

StAnza 2009, St. Andrew's Poetry Festival

This year I took few photos of St Andrew's itself as taken so many in previous years. (See link below, for photos of St A ).

But did get this very characterful portrait of Carol Ann Duffy, taken outside the Trust Museum after the 'Round Table' intimate reading. I was very lucky to get a ticket - only 12 places. So like the Apostles we gathered round and had a chance to meet CA as a person, rather than a spotlit dot on a stage which is the usual experience of her readings that one gets. A different selection from the reading she had given on the Byre stage the night before too and some little personal introductions and asides.

Two bits of info were of particular interest to me - that 'Standing Female Nude' (in Mean Time)was the first poem CA wrote where she felt she was writing as herself. (Something which, as all poets know, is as hard as it is essential.) 'This should be read naked in a French accent but even though this is an intimate reading, it's not going to happen,' she said.

The other interesting aside was a game she told us she likes to play with an hour to spare and a glass of wine- thinking up Moon similies: mirrors, windows etc and how many poets write poems to the moon from Sappho to Alice Oswald.

I think this event was the highlight of the festival for me - though CA's reading along with Patience Agbabi on the main Byre stage was mesmerizing. CA read from The World's Wife, 'Mrs Midas' and one other from WW (I forget right now which) with her usual consumate skill of irony and use of dramatic pauses and then a selection of her love poems from Rapture. I have read this sequence many times, and admire the range of tone, and also extraordinary variety of poetic form (though all versions of sonnets) and yet some of the poems still hit one in the solar plexus with their emotional force. So hearing her read them was a moving experience. She punctuated the evening with excerpts from the poem about the girls' laughter sabotaging a school which was an inspired device. She also read 'Prayer' which was the third time I have heard her read it in one year - but I can never hear it too many times. As I've said in previous blog, one of my most favourite poems.
It does have to be heard for the music of its cadences.

Incidentally Patience Agbabi was an inspired pairing. I've heard PA read or 'perform' before at a festival in North Wales many years ago and that was a memorable experience in an old fashioned, draughty hotel in Criccieth. I have to confess that this second hearing was not so striking for me this time - the 'performance' poems - with their strong images and beat were still as successful as ever but her new foray into writing sonnets seemed rather thin.

PA exemplifed how a dramatic performance can lift a poem only so much and was a living example of issues raised in the Breakfast Discussion later on the Sunday, the event entitled 'Poetry Breakfast: Actors or Poets?' I've gone on many times in my blog about my own preference for hearing poets read loud and clear. I can't bear mumblers (which seems to me a false modesty and inconsiderate of your audience.) The multi-layered page poem, justifying several readings to tease everything out, may not be totally appreciated on stage but sometimes (as in the case of CA) it can hold its own as performance too.

Hearing the actor Crispin Bonham Carter read out a poem by Ros Brackenbury followed by Ros herself was interesting. BC brought out one interpretation - strong, audible, dramatically effective. He engaged the audience in eye contact for a moment at the end, re-enforcing the effect of the last line. In comparison, Ros' own reading was poor. (But not many poets could match an actor for drama, so I don't mean to dismiss her performance.) The discussion centred on how an actor, must inevitably focus on one interpretation - and inevitably failed to bring out the poet's many shifts of tone, nuances, subtly suggested several interpretations - which only became apparent on several readings. George Szirtes, co-incidentally, muses on this topic in his blog where he says no two readings are ever the same - even that of the poet themselves, depending on their mood that day etc. entry for 29 March .

I enjoyed a variation on this theme at the Poetry Breakfast: Poems and Song Lyrics, chaired very intelligently and professionally by Roddy Lumsden leading a discussion with Ian Rankin, Simon Armitage, Martin Newell, Stephen Scobie, and Marco Fazzini.

Stephen Scobie had brought along two audio excerpts which really helped. I wish the others had thought to do this too. However, some interesting points were raised about the way in which a poem is like or not like a song.

Multi-levels, as SA, pointed out seemed to be the main issue - necessary in a poem - but death in a song! He also said writing songs is not just a matter of handing it over as a poem. 'Song writing is an art too.' ...'It is a question of intent and integrity.' And how you can't control the pace (of delivery) of a song as you might in a reading. SA's poems 'have their own cadence' and if put to pop music, with its insistent beat, just don't work.

Most of the panel commented on how music can lift the words of a song - 'Music is magic,'as SA put it. Ian Rankin was amusing and self-deprecatory, as ever, acting out his teenage reaction to some words by Bob Dylan 'Wow!!! then ten minutes later 'Oh, that's crap.' He also confessed to his own band as a teenager, the Amoebas - which existed only in his own head but how he had designed the cover of the vinyl discs, the t-shirts etc.

As someone who has tried to write songs - words and music (and I must confess with not much success with the musical side of things)I would have liked more musicians invited - even though Martin Newell was amusing and played us a song - there was no serious discussion or examples of how a musician goes about putting words to song (or v.v.). A workshop might be an idea for a future StAnza, Eleanor? There must be hundreds of singer/songwriters who would be interested in such an event.

I also enjoyed the 'Round Table' with Simon Armitage, where he introduced his reading with the genesis and background to his translation of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. I had heard some of the stories in an interview on the Radio but enjoyed hearing him tell again of his treatment by the British Library - who did not know who he was and would not initially let him see the MS. 'It does not have any pictures' said the librarian! (Actually, it does as SA explained.)

At his main stage Byre reading, he read some rather prosey new poems (one about a sperm whale was memorable). He said that it was a reaction to spending several years writing the alliterative verse of Sir G . I quizzed him on the use of prose in poetry and he explained that 'prose' in a poem was acceptable as long as it was not 'prosaic.' A helpful tip!

In his Byre reading, the poem that stood out most was the poem about the 9/11 bombing of the Twin Towers used to accompany some film footage showing a man using his shirt to wave from one of the towers before he tires, just as the arm of whoever is holding the camera tires. A heart-stopping poem. How to convey, without spelling it out, the unimaginable horror of what must happen next.

Very briefly, I also enjoyed a New Zealand poet, new to me, Jenny Bornholdt. Not knowing which of her many books to buy, (since buying so many other poets, I thought I better ration myself)so Iplumped for 'Summer' which is about her father's death but also about living in Katherine Mansfield's house in Menton (as part of a writers' residency) - mainly because Katherine Mansfield was one of my mother's favourite writers and she introduced her short stories to me when I was 15 or so - partly because my mother also had T.B. as a child and spent time in a Swiss sanitorium - a terribly, lonely experience for a 12 year old, though luckily, unlike KM, my mother recovered ( and also, unlike my aunt, Georgina, my mother's sister, who died as a child.) This sadness apart, the stories were and are wonderful and so are Jenny Bornholdt's poems. I think I may well have to buy all her other books too!

I was sorry to miss the 'Past and Present' events - where two poets discuss a poet who has influenced them, in particular Jay Parini talking about Robert Frost. These are always fascinating events but I could not make it till the Friday evening this year and also I would have liked to hear more of the foreign poets. There is so much on in StAnza, it is impossible to go to everything one would like.

I managed the Italians however - both interesting in their different ways: Elisa Biagini - an art historian as well as poet: short, not surprisingly imagistic poems. with punch (influenced by characters from European Fairy Tales) and Bianca Tarozzi, who introduced her poems about her house with charming and wry remarks. I bought her book that illustrates the poems with photos of her 'house' or rather the shelves crammed with books, mementoes and memories.

Lastly, I enjoyed the cartoons by Tim Cockburn, (drawn during StAnza 2007) exhibited round the Byre bar foyer . H/w one example to show Tim's humour and eye for line.

and also Jim Carruth's visual poems, 'Cowpit Yowe.' Some with a sense of humour, but one here tinged with sadness concerning the foot and mouth tragedy.

For my photos of St Andrews, See and click on link to Photos.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Strokestown Poetry Festival, Co. Roscommon, Ireland and Percy French

Just heard today that I am one of the short-listed poets for this festival competition and will get a chance to read with the other short-listed poets. So am delighted to be going over to Ireland for it...especially as County Roscommon has links with the singer/composer Percy French who is one of my ancestors and I have been meaning to explore these ancestral roots for ages. (His mother was my great-great aunt or something, on my mother's side.) A pity I was not also short-listed for the Percy French prize for satirical verse but never mind. Obviously those genes were not passed down.

Percy French, if you don't already know, composed 'The Mountains of Mourne', 'Phil the Fluter's Ball' and other songs often thought of as by Anon (Traditional). He lived in Edwardian times, was part of the Anglo-Irish but was not interested in politics. He was well-loved by everyone and his songs were inspired by his days as Inspector of Drains cycling round Cavan and the 'characters' he met - at whom he pokes fun with great affection and with great compassion. I believe there has been a revival of interest in Ireland in his work - and particularly in his water-colours, often sunsets on the bog, or the breaking wave (sure fire best sellers. His 'pot boilers' as Ettie and Joan, his daughters (my cousins) used to say.

I shall find a chance to explore the site of Cloonyquin, the house where he grew up - now pulled down - shame - not in the Troubles, I hasten to add (though I gather it was not of great architectural merit, more of a former shooting lodge.) The Frenches were apparently good to their tenants, provided soup and work during the Famine etc. The house was sold and pulled down by the new owner - along with it the avenue of copper beeches, to provide more farming land. Ettie and Joan had a magnificent copper beech in their garden in Suffolk which was grown from a Cloonyquin seedling and I remember having tea with them sitting on a rug below this tree when I presented my baby son to them back in the 1990's when he was one and they were in their 80s. I am sorry they are not still alive to learn of my trip to their father's birthplace.

There is a wonderful collection of his paintings and other memorabilia in Bangor, County Down, many of which I saw in my cousins' cottage many times before they died.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Iona: Sense of Place Residential Poetry writing course

Some of my former OLL students have asked me to organize a residential writing course (poetry or short prose) somewhere inspiring, so where more inspiring than Iona?
14th-19th September, 2009

There will be places spare for anyone interested in coming along, (see website below):

Many of you have probably been to Iona - possibly many times. I have been many times and never tire of it. There is a special atmosphere on Iona, mystical, remote and an intense silence (once the last ferry of tourists has left for the day) and with no cars allowed on the island, apart from a few local ones. The light is clear, the landscape sparse, with stunning long white beaches and breath-taking views of Ben Mor on the east and open sea to the west .There you can empathise with the early monks who felt they were on the edge of the known world.....
for more , see

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