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Archive for January, 2011

Beautiful Burren Beyond Compare – Sarah Poyntz Final Diary

30/01/2011 2 comments

Columnist who gave her readers glimpse of the Burren calls it a day – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 28, 2011.

Sarah Poyntz’s essay gems in The Guardian’s Country Diary have come to an end. Her subject was the Burren, a place where I love to ramble and ruminate.

In her final contribution she watches starlings wheel as she walks between Abbey and Turlough hills, an  area which was ‘a platinum setting for myriad jewels, as light and water combined to dazzle’.

We wish her well.

Columnist who gave her readers glimpse of the Burren calls it a day

Burren resident Sarah Poyntz, who has retired from writing the
TWENTY-FOUR years after her first “Country Diary” appeared in the London Guardian newspaper, one of the Burren’s best-known residents, Sarah Poyntz (84), has stepped down from the role.

Each month since 1987, the Co Wexford native has written a “Country Diary” for the London-based newspaper, recounting to readers, in carefully crafted despatches of 350 words, the surprises and beauty the Burren landscape reveals.

In her recently published final diary entry, she recounts a dawn walk in the Burren near Corcomroe Abbey, where she witnessed “the most perfect rainbow” over the bay, interrupted by a flash of lightning, telling readers how she said aloud in response, “This, our Burren, is beautiful beyond compare”.

A Ballyvaughan resident since 1984, Poyntz said yesterday: “I still walk the Burren and now have to remind myself that I don’t have to write about what I see for the Guardian .”

She remarked: “I’m the wrong side of 84. I’m 85 in March. It was time to stop. I’m quite happy. The column kept going for a long time.”

She added: “I love the Burren and above all I love its people. I love the peace and beauty here. It gives me a complete life as one can have.”

Mercier Press last year published Poyntz’s Burren Villages , which includes contributions from a number of writers on the Burren, and which followed her earlier work, A Burren Journal .

The author and diarist said yesterday that she has been “overwhelmed” by the response from readers since she told them her December column would be her last.

She said: “Some of the letters were upsetting as there was a couple from people who enjoyed the column, but made them very nostalgic and sad for home. They are our people.”

One reader wrote to say, “No more from Black Head, Ballyvaughan and the Burren. Sarah’s observations of the natural world in that wondrous corner of Ireland certainly made this exile feel closer to home.”

Another reader told her by letter, “I didn’t realise I had been ‘hooked’ on your diaries for so long. You will be very much missed by us all.”

The columns allowed Poyntz to combine her love for the English language with her passion for nature.

Her love of English and French led to her spending an afternoon sharing a bottle of wine with Samuel Beckett in Paris in the early 1960s.

She said yesterday: “I loved his work and wrote to him, saying that I would love to see him and he sent me a postcard and we arranged to meet.”

A UCD arts graduate, Poyntz taught at a number of English schools before a bout of ill-health forced her to retire early from teaching

A Half-Dozen Literary Lists

27/01/2011 Comments off

 

For six months now I’ve been posting an occasional ‘half-dozen list’ on reading and writing and literary bits and pieces. I looked back over them today and found I had a half-dozen such lists. So I’ve put them all together as a half-dozen literary bunch. Here they are:

  1. Book Club Reads: A Half-Dozen Selection
  2. Books on Writing: My Well-Thumbed Half-Dozen
  3. A Half-Dozen Selection of Irish Short Stories
  4. Six Literary Things to do in Erris
  5. I’d Like These (6) Books for Christmas if I didn’t have Them Already
  6. Short Story (6) First Lines

 

There will be more half-dozen literary lists to come, I hope.

    
Categories: Half-Dozen Lists

Fret Over The Sentence

25/01/2011 Comments off

FT.com / Life & Arts – The art of good writing.

I fret about writing a sentence: whether to make it concise, minimalist and pared-down or, exuberant and rhythmic to match the tone. Are the rules that dictate brevity and concreteness enduring? My new year resolution was to craft the best sentences I could.

‘How to Write a Sentence’ by Stanley Fish and ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk & WhiteAdam Haslett’s feature ‘The Art of  Good Writing’ is one of the best pieces I’ve read about the sentence dilemma in the ungovernable activity of writing.  He looks at the forthcoming book from Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.

He quotes from William Trevor’s story ‘A Day’ to illustrate how the aural effect and rhythm of a sentence matches the pathology of his character.

Haslett counts himself among those readers who fell in love with literature not by becoming enthralled to books but ‘by discovering individual sentences whose rhythm and rhetoric was so compelling they couldn’t help but repeat them’.

Butterland

23/01/2011 Comments off

Irish Farmhouse Butter | I Married An Irish Farmer.

This blog from I married and Irish farmer on home-made butter made my mouth water with childhood tastes of runny buttery eggs, slides of soda bread and sharp butter milk drinks in hay fields. Golden nostalgic moments but have I the courage to go for the butter making in my kitchen after all those years?

One of my New Year “promises” is to become more involved in farm projects. This means less worrying about what has become of my M&M’s {Manolos and Milk Duds} and more concentrating on creating something fulfilling and worthwhile here at home in Ireland. If you follow along on Twitter you may have heard some mention of a certain sweet little thatched cottage restoration that I will be taking on in 2011. I have also been wanting to try my hand at making butter from our own fresh cream and honey. So, when I gleefully received the gift of a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into some Adventures in Butterland!

 Turns out, it’s pretty easy.

First, you’ll need to get some raw milk from your farm or local dairy. (7 litres {about 2 gallons} yields about 2 pints {4 cups} of cream) Leave it sit still long enough to form a layer of cream on top. 12-24 hours worked for me. If you want a more traditional flavour, you can leave it out instead of keeping it in the fridge the whole time.

Once you skim the cream off the top of your milk, pour it straight into an electric mixer and pop it on medium speed. After 2 minutes, it should look like this:

After a few more minutes, like this:

And after about 6-9 minutes,

the butterfat will separate from buttermilk and it should look like this:

Remove the butter from the bowl and place it into a cold sieve to strain out all of the buttermilk.

{save the buttermilk for pancakes or scones}

When you’re sure you’ve squeezed out as much buttermilk as possible,

use your hands or wooden spatulas or butter bats to form the butter,

and make sure you keep the utensils icy cold or the butter will begin to melt.

{Since I have kid-sized hands, these children’s spatulas worked perfectly!}

If you want, add some honey, like I did

or fennel, garlic, thyme, rosemary, lemon…

and maybe stamp it with a special motif.

After you have it all shaped and pretty,

Serve it with a special meal

or slathered on a piece of morning toast.

Yum!

When is a book not a book?

19/01/2011 Comments off

 

When is a book not a book? « Lynsey May writes down the night.

This post by Edinburgh blogger Lysney May got me thinking. Is the word book taking on a totally different meaning she asks?

When is a book not a book?

As technology grows ever snazzier, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to work out exactly what the word ‘book’ defines. Back when I was a kid that was a pretty easy question to work out. A book was a collection of pages bound together, normally with a pretty picture on the cover. True, some books were made of cloth and some were even waterproof and inflatable (I wish you could get those bath time books for adults), but they were all essentially the same thing.

Then there were audio books and story tapes, and these were a little trickier to classify, but it wasn’t much of a problem, seeing as you’d naturally assume there was a solid, paper book present during the creation of the tape – they had to be reading the story from something after all.

The movement of stories from paper and print to pixels muddied the water slightly, but when I think of ebooks, I still think of something that resembles a physical book. In my mind, it’s just a digital representation of those paper creations I know and love – whether it’s a whole book on my laptop or a short story on Ether, it’s still a ‘book’ to me.

But yesterday I saw a news story about Penguin’s new book for babies, which seems to be an interactive story experience on the iPad for the teeny ones, and I started wondering when you reached the point where a book was no longer a book. True, many children’s books are interactive – from those cute ones with spaces for finger puppets to pop up varieties – but then, so are plenty of video games.

Getting stuck into a console based game such as Final Fantasy or Fable isn’t considered the same thing as reading a book, and I definitely don’t think it should be, but there’s plenty of storytelling – and generally reading involved in these experiences.

So, if playing games like those are considered something very separate from reading a book, where do you draw the line when it comes to the new, multimedia offerings that are being branded as books these days? I’m thinking of things like the new Penguin release, or Ann Rice’s ebook experiment, or any of the other new developments that combine traditional books with new technology to make something new. When does a book stop being a book? Or does the word book just have a totally different meaning these days?

At the Lake of the Jewel Mouth

17/01/2011 2 comments

 

I was back on the hills this week, in the heart of the Galtee Mountains, at Lake Muskry; back to where the pulse beat of the walking helps to pattern the rhythm of story and words.

Appropriately, it is the place of the ‘jewel mouth’. For folklore has it that the ancient name for Lake Muskry was Lough Beal Sead – Lake of the Jewel Mouth. This refers to the powerful Coerabar Boeth who was attended at the lake by her maidens and wore a necklace of red-gold with a sparkling jewel at its centre.

Many writers have put on their walking or running boots, seeing the fluidity of movement as an aid to their literary work. Joyce Carol Oates spoke eloquently of the connection between the ‘literary mind’ and ‘literary feet’.

Talking about her running routine she says, ‘the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms’.

So I plan to keep the literary feet moving this year and hope for some fluency benefits from the place of the jewel mouth high above the Glen of Aherlow.

A half-dozen selection of Irish Short Stories

12/01/2011 3 comments

 

It was one of my books for Christmas. The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story. And it was my recommended read for our book club this month.

But they’re a stubborn crowd, my book club lot. They know their own minds. What did they think of the book? 

Took a long while to get into.

Some of the stories were lousy.

There are writers  here  I like, but they have better stories than what we got in this collection.

Some of the stories had no beginning or middle or end.

These can’t be the best Irish short stories of the last century!

It was time to turn the discussion around, get it working on a more positive vein.

Well, can we talk about the stories we DID like. Let’s see if we can select a half-dozen.

This did the trick. Lots of stories were enjoyed. We got a consensus on the top half-dozen Irish short stories from the Granta selection:

Claire Keegan’s ‘Men and Women’

From the 1999 collection Antartica, this story gets going with the great opening lines, ‘My father took me places. He had artificial hips, so he needs me to open gates.’ For our discerning lot, Claire Keegan’s stories, set in her rural mythic landscapes, are a triumph of writing.

Colm Tobin’s ‘A Priest in the Family’

We admired the grit, the dignity, the self-possession of Molly, mother of the child-abuser priest. After informing her of the devastating news, Father Greenwood adds, ‘I’d say people will be very kind.’ Molly replies knowingly: ‘Well, you don’t know them, then.’

Edna O’Brien’s, Sister Imelda

It’s almost 30 years since this story first appeared and it captures the boarding school world of bacon and cabbage, tapioca pudding, ‘fairly green rhubarb jam’ and the nuns’  ‘monotonous Latin chanting, long before the birds began’.

Eugene McCabe’s ‘Music at Annahullion’

 Three siblings share a home on ‘thirty wet sour acres’ and their wretched lives are captured in words spoken in Annie’s dream: ‘I wish to God we were never born.’

Mary Lavin’s ‘Lilacs’

This piece goes back almost six decades to Mary Lavin’s collection Tales from Bective Bridge.  The images of dung and lilac counterpoint the worlds of gritty reality and class aspiration with astute precision.

William Trevor’s ‘The Dressmaker’s Child’

The last story in the Granta selection and the master does not disappoint with this world of the greasy garage, the wayside weeping statue and the strange dressmaker.

We all agreed there were enough good stories in this collection to be getting along with – even if each of us had our hate list.

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