In the Stepping Stones interviews Seamus Heaney spoke to Dennis O’Driscoll about the ‘power of a dividing line’: the line of the first ploughed furrow; the laying of a house foundation; the marking out of a football pitch; the place of sanctuary behind the altar rails; the space between graveyard and road. Lines mark out spaces that are ‘utterly empty, utterly a source’.
Lines loop around and through Jo Slade’s most recent poetry collection The Painter’s House. In the poem ‘Twine’, time is the length of twine her father used ‘to set in straight lines a run of lettuce’; now it is a line that ‘draws distance in and out’, connecting poet and father. The parent’s hand in the earth is a conductor, ‘a bridge across forbidden space’ that reaches out to the writer whose hands are weaving together another line in ‘a braid of words’.
The Painter’s House is a memoir collection, stretching back to great-grandfather clock-maker Joseph Wangler: ‘his nimble fingers placing the pins / his musical ear timing the cogs / his eye like a moon in the ocular.’ There is the 1963 scene recalled of the poet’s father, Peter, ‘so beautiful / skating the lake / making a figure of eight’, and that of daughter and fragile mother, ‘her old back bent over / and sometimes the drag was immense – ‘. In ‘Last Journey’, the poet is an observer at the back of a cinema watching those she has loved in life flit across the screen, realizing that she still carries them around: ‘… they weigh me in / but they are blameless as shadows’.
The boundary line that marks the crossover into the artist’s inner space is at the heart of this collection. In the section ‘The Artist’s Room’ (previously published as a chapbook) the writer follows the artist Gwen John through Paris, at the same time pursuing her own artistic impulse: turning inward, becoming ‘so still at the still point’, ‘completeness contained’. In this collection we are led steadily and gracefully across the threshold line, inward into the artist’s house, ‘which is where she sits her easel tilted / to the light and there’s the painting / she makes with a house at its centre / and the nails she feels that hold it together.’
This is my half-dozen list of books from Ireland or by Irish writers that I think would make great Christmas gifts. And not a whiff of misery writing about the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger or the sorry IMF/ECB bailout.
Emma Donoghue’s Room was my book of the year before it won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year prize. Asked at the awards ceremony why she thought the book had such an impact Emma said, ‘I think it touches on the universal theme of a young person discovering there’s more to life their own little world.’ That little world of Jack and Ma incarcerated in a room is richly imagined and conveyed with humour and freshness through the voice of the child narrator.
I was at the launch of Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain at the Abbey Theatre in September where the poet roamed over and back between old poems and new. This is his twelfth collection. John Banville said: ‘Human Chain marks many deaths but all the markings are a celebration of what was lived.’
The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story is edited by Anne Enright. How on earth did she make her selection from a century of Irish short story writing? ‘I wanted to put together a book that was varied and good to read, with a strong eye to the contemporary,’ she said. It is a delight to have O Faolain and O’Connor, Mary Lavin and Maeve Brennan, Kevin Barry, Claire Keegan and many others in one volume.
A legendary Irish text-book has been reprinted. Soundings, a poetry anthology edited by Gus Martin will evoke mixed emotions if you sat your Leaving Cert between 1969 and 2000. Joseph O’Connor describes it well: ‘Amid the ink-stains of our adolescence, the shocking sweetness of first kisses, the pimples and growth-spurts and uncertainties and aches, it saw to it that poetry would find a way of seeding itself.’
The Thank You Book is edited by Roisin Ingle and is a fund-raising initiative of the Irish Hospice Foundation. The book will be largely written by you as you fill the pages with your gratitude lists in these dismal times.
There’s a personal bias in my last selection, Michael Viney’s Wild Mayo. It is my native county but the places are familiar to many through Michael’s weekly column in the Irish Times. Described as ‘a poem to a place’, it captures a county’s natural history and evokes a wild landscape of peatlands and islands and rocky shores illustrated with sumptuous photos.
(If you are looking for other Irish book ideas, Publishing Ireland have a list of 25 to choose from here.)
Any suggestions? Of Irish books as Christmas gifts? Would love to hear.
The inaugural World Book Night will take place on Saturday, 5 March 2011, two days after World Book Day.
With the full support of the Publishers Association, the Booksellers Association, the Independent Publishers Guild, the Reading Agency with libraries, World Book Day and the BBC, one million books will be given away by an army of passionate readers to members of the public across the UK and Ireland – and you could be one of them!
Read the launch announcement here.
A Life Like Other People’s Agent Zigzag All Quiet on the Western Front Beloved
Case Histories Cloud Atlas Dissolution Fingersmith Half of a Yellow Sun
Killing Floor Life of Pi Love in the Time of Cholera Northern Lights One Day
Rachel’s Holiday New Selected Poems
This site will help you:
- Find out about World Book Night
- Read about the twenty-five titles
- Register to be considered as a book-giver
- Find your nearest library and bookshop
In the week that Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain was published, four of us – me, Joan, Deirdre and Mary – wound our way along the blue waymarked path around Mullaghmore in the Burren. The heat of the day was blunted by a lively breeze and Mary asked us, Did you hear Seamus Heaney on the radio this morning talking about how he searched his father’s suit pocket for cigarette butts? He had a way of describing the look and smell of that suit but for the life of me I can’t remember the words he used. I said I could tell them about it after Sunday since I was going to hear Seamus read from his new collection at the Abbey Theatre two days later.
Then we followed the red-arrowed path that took us between Mullaghmore and its sister hill Sliabh Rua for a spot of lunch and chat and then down the west side with a fine view of Craggy Island Parochial Hall – Father Ted’s House – and back to Corofin and a drink in Bofey Quinn’s where a girl paraded in a blood-red bridesmaid dress.
The sun had deserted Dublin by late Sunday afternoon and drenched hurling supporters waited at the Luas stop beside the Abbey – the Tipperary fans the happier after dethroning the Cats – and I met up with my friend, Heather, and soon I had a signed copy of Human Chain in my hands. There it was, the description of the blue serge suit in the poem, ‘The Butts’, and that smell: stale smoke and oxter-sweat/came at you in a stirred-up brew/when you reached in.
The poet ranged over and back between old poems and new ones ‘written in sudden swoops’ and in a nice symmetry ended with an earlier piece ‘Postcript’ that is set in The Burren: And some time make the time to drive out west/Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore/In September or October, when the wind/And the light are working off each other …
We headed back in a grey night drizzle, caught up in the Kilkenny and Premier County traffic after the hurling heroics. I knew the summer days were over.
There are a host of literary things to do in Erris – the area in the north-west corner of County Mayo, Ireland, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. A thrilling place for the literary inclined. Here are a half-dozen suggestions of things to do and texts to read:
- Read Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Belderg’ at the Ceide Fields – the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world dating from 5000 years ago: ‘A landscape fossilized, / Its stone-wall patternings / Repeated before your eyes / In the stone walls of Mayo / Before I turn to go.’
- Follow in the footsteps of JM Synge and Jack Yeats who visited Erris in 1905 on their Congested Districts Tour. Read Synge’s account: ‘Belmullet itself is curiously placed on an isthmus – recently pierced by a canal – that divides Broad Haven form Blacksod Bay. Beyond the isthmus there is a long peninsula some fourteen miles in length, running north and south, and separating these two bays from the Atlantic.’
- Walk the six-mile Children of Lir Loop at Carrowteigue in the North Mayo Gaeltacht near Benwee Head after you have read the legend of the childrens’ wanderings until they found rest on Inishglora out in the Atlantic west of the Mullet Peninsula. View the one hundred metre long earth and stone mound sculpture that is part of the North Mayo Sculpture Trail.
- Take a boat from Blacksod to the deserted Inishkea Islands off the Mullet Peninsula armed with Brian Doran’s, Mayo Lost Island: The Inishkeas. View the remnants of the whaling station. Visit Ionad Deirbhle Heritage Centre at Aughleam to see wonderful film footage of men at the whaling station a century ago.
- Drive across the strand to the island of Claggan and read the words of poet Derek Mahon (‘Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’) engraved on a stone at Marion O’Donnell’s sculpture at the burial site of the anonymous dead: ‘They are begging us you see in their wordless way, / To do something to speak on their behalf, / Or at least not to close the door again.’
- Visit Geesala where JM Synge once boarded and watched girls picking cockles on the strand at Doolough which gave him the inspiration for the ‘village girls’ – Sara Tansey, Susan Brady and Honor Blake in The Playboy of the Western World. Druid Theatre group visited here in 2004 while rehearsing a 21st century version of The Playboy.