Monday 17 October 2011


Participants in Limerick City's Cuisle International Poetry Festival stop at a spot near Fanore on their way through the Burren to Linnane's Pub, New Quay, for a plate of oysters and a pint of Guinness (or whatever you're havin' yourself).

Above: John Davies of Brighton who later in the evening (15 October 2011) won the annual Poetry Grand Slam.

Poets negotiating the grykes between rock pavements, L to R: Lee Harwood (UK), Iztok Osojnik (Slovenia), John Davies (UK), Thomas Zandegiacomo (Germany), Clare Best (UK).

The Group, L to R: Tom Lewis (Driver), Valerie Laws, Lee Harwood, Clare Best, Iztok Osojnik, Thomas Zandegiacomo, Yours Truly, John Davies, Tom Quinn (Driver).

Waiting for lunch in Linnane's with New Quay pier in the left background. My wife, Margaret Farrelly, who took the other photographs, is at the end of the left side of the table, raising a modest glass of Guinness.
Afterwards, the sun came out and the problem was to get everybody back from the idyllic setting in time for the evening events: the launching of Catalan poet Joan Margarit's latest collection, Strangely Happy, translated by Anna Crowe (I cannot recommend it highly enough), and a powerful reading by Margarit with Dublin poet Paula Meehan. 
This difficult task of keeping to the schedule was accomplished through the ancient art of gathering and herding poets into mechanically propelled vehicles.

Saturday 8 October 2011



This is the future, my wife says. 
We are already there, and it’s the same 
as the present. Your future, here, she says. 
And I’m talking to a robot on the phone. 
The robot is giving me countless options, 
none of which answer to my needs. 
Wonderful, says the robot 
when I give him my telephone number. 
And Great, says the robot 
when I give him my account number. 
I have a wonderful telephone number 
and a great account number, 
but I can find nothing to meet my needs 
on the telephone, and into my account 
(which is really the robot’s account) 
goes money, my money, to pay for nothing. 
I’m paying a robot for doing nothing. 
This call is free of charge, says the mind-reading robot. 
Yes but I’m paying for it, I shout, 
out of my wonderful account 
into my great telephone bill. 
Wonderful, says the robot. 
And my wife says, This is the future. 
I’m sorry, I don’t understand, says the robot. 
Please say Yes or No. 
Or you can say Repeat or Menu. 
You can say Yes, No, Repeat or Menu, 
Or you can say Agent if you’d like to talk 
to someone real, who is just as robotic. 
I scream Agent! and am cut off, 
and my wife says, This is the future. 
We are already there and it’s the same 
as the present. Your future, here, she says.
And I’m talking to a robot on the phone, 
and he is giving me no options 
in the guise of countless alternatives. 
We appreciate your patience. Please hold. 
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Please hold. 
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Please hold. 
Eine fucking Kleine Nachtmusik. 
And the robot transfers me to himself. 
Your call is important to us, he says. 
And my translator says, This means 
your call is not important to them. 
And my wife says, This is the future. 
And my translator says, Please hold 
means that, for all your accomplishments, 
the only way you can now meet your needs 
is by looting. Wonderful, says the robot 

Please hold. Please grow old. Please grow cold. 
Please do what you’re told. Grow old. Grow cold. 
This is the future. Please hold. 

© Ciaran O'Driscoll

Note: Originally published in Southword literary magazine (Cork), 'Please Hold' was selected as one of the Highly Commended poems in the Forward Book of Poetry 2009, and was published this month in Poems of the Decade: an anthology of the Forward books of poetry 2002-2011. 

Tuesday 20 September 2011


The last time I was in Tenerife, a friend of a friend from Limerick, who lived on the island for half of every year, took Margaret and myself in his car to see Mount Teide (El Teide), one of the highest volcanoes in the world if you start from the sea bed. In the tourist complex below the volcano, I experienced a brief period of acute shortness of breath. I began to think, This is it, until I realized I was over 2000 meters above sea level. The volcano is still active, though the last eruption was over a century ago, in 1909.
That is not a cow grazing to the right of the volcano's mouth!

We were also taken to see Tenerife's answer to the Cliffs of Moher – Los Gigantes, near the resort of Puerto de Santiago.

And here I am, a fish-eating mammal, back at sea level.

Thursday 25 August 2011


There’s a wasp in the session, zig-zagging
among the dancing fiddle bows. I can see
the hills of Clare from a window behind
the keyboard accompanist, who’s annoyed
by the presence of the wasp. Neophytes sit 
with instruments en garde, in expectation 
of doing battle with a jig they’ve learned.
Nattering non-stop, another wasp 
plonks himself in a chair reserved for players:
music has pressed his talk-button. Praise
in this culture is reticent, addressed
to the instrument – That whistle is going well
for you – or to the time and toil devoted
to the craft –  It’s not today nor yesterday
you took up the fiddle. A stout countryman
pauses on his way from the Gents and stares
at the lead fiddler as if staring could
yield up the point, the mystery of the music.
When the global economy collapses,
these tunes will still be played – wasps or no wasps.
A dozen or so digital recorders,
some of them so small they must have been
designed by Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman,
are planted near the session. The wasps have gone,
one through an open casement, one through the door.
Somebody calls for a song. The Clare Hills
are looking good: I see them through the window
as if for the first time. It’s not today
nor yesterday they learned to play the light.

© Ciaran O'Driscoll, 2011

Note: I wrote the first draft of this poem in Feakle, Co Clare, during a Sunday morning session at the annual Traditional Music Festival, on August 7th last. The 'lead fiddler' in the poem (and in the session) was Vincent Griffin.

Thursday 11 August 2011


Reka is the Slovene word for river. There is a river in Slovenia which is simply called Reka. Hence when we call it the Reka River in English, we are calling it the River River. An interesting idea: is there a River River, the essence of all rivers, the Platonic Idea of Riverdom?
The Reka rises in Croatia, flows through western Slovenia and enters the Skocjan Caves, where it disappears beneath the caves to re-emerge eventually as one of the springs that feed the Timavo River in Italy, hence makes its way to the sea as part of the Timavo. Many lives were lost in the nineteenth century by volunteers with inadequate equipment and experience who tried to find the path taken by the Reka when it went underneath the Skocjan Caves.
A strange river, but looking at this photograph (taken very close to where it enters the cave) you wouldn't think so!

river don’t cast me aside
in a mood-swing of your psyche 
we are passing the time of day
together, let me stay 
crouched here listening
to your pure palaver

Wednesday 20 July 2011


Novigrad is in Istria, Croatia, not far from the more well-known seaside resort of Porec. One of the town's features is a kind of loggia that stands all on its own, unattached to any larger building. These municipal loggia were typical of Istria, and placed on the external side of fortified walls. The one in Novigrad dates from the 16th Century. I imagine that these loggia were viewing points, places where the citizens could go and admire the view, i.e. when and if the town wasn't under siege.

Margaret and myself recently spent several days in Novigrad, which had the uncluttered relaxed air of an Irish seaside town in the 1960s, except that the weather was better. The first time I saw this loggia it reminded me forcefully of a painting by Magritte. Not any painting in particular, but for me the sight of the loggia standing alone (why wasn't it attached to a palace or something?), with its three windows looking out on empty sea, as in the above photo, evoked a strong impression of Magritte's style of surrealism.

How fast the horizon flies where suddenly
after aeons upon aeons of empty sea
a petrol tanker's spit of flame ignites.
(from Eugenio Montale's 'La Casa dei Doganieri', in my own translation.)

Speaking of Montale reminds me that we noticed (or rather, heard) a lot of Italian holidaymakers in Novigrad during our stay. Istria was historically a colony of Venice on account of its salt-works, and the Italian connection is long established. Anyway, it is not a very long drive from Trieste to Novigrad.

 Photos by Margaret (not Magritte)

Monday 11 July 2011


On 18th June last, I gave a presentation in the Academy of Arts, Pariser Platz 4, near the Brandenburg Gate, on behalf of Cuisle Limerick City International Poetry Festival, at the Berlin Poetry Festival organized by Literaturwerkstatt. The morning session was a kind of 'Poetry Market' in which representatives from various poetry festivals and projects throughout Europe, together with spokespersons for events in Canada and Chile, shared information and experiences. Each delegate had up to ten minutes to present their festival or project (although the official deadline was five minutes). One of the topics up for discussion in the afternoon session was 'The willingness of European Festivals to invest together in co-productions of poetry and other arts products'. In addition, it was agreed that a petition to governments, regarding imminent draconian cutbacks to arts budgets, would later be sent around by e-mail for the signature of everyone present.

Thursday 9 June 2011


Renowned playwrights John Arden and Margaretta D'Arcy read in Jan Sutton's house at Caherawoneen, near Kinvara, from a script on George Moore's attempts to engage with the Gaelic League, to an audience of friends and admirers, Sunday 5 July 2011.

Among those present were poet and author Fred Johnston (with his dog Tristan), poet Knute Skinner and his wife Edna Faye Kiel.

In an olde worlde atmosphere befitting the historical subject of the script and the grammatically perfect Victorian dialogue of some of its protagonists, tea was served, and (among other delicacies) scones with cream and jam. An unknown labrador took an intense interest in my scone, but in this picture he seems, temporarily at least, to have given up hope of sharing it.

Monday 23 May 2011


I seem to have a predilection for photographs of barren landscapes with figures in the distance. They are evocative. Where are the two figures going? Is this the beginning of a story or could it be the end? In Yevtushenko's poem, the old schoolmaster fades into the snow at the end, as the children watch him from the classroom window: 'a little longer and he will be so white/ we shall not see him in the whitened trees'.
Evocative of ends and beginnings: of leaving a scene or entering a new scene.
Perhaps one of the figures is luring the other into the barren landscape for a fell purpose.... Perhaps they are going to examine a curious set of markings on a rock....
Or maybe this scene is from the middle of a novel, and the two figures are taking a walk together to try and resolve a crisis....
In any case, the scene is in the Burren, near New Quay, on New Year's Day 2011.

Tuesday 10 May 2011


He pauses on the balcony steps for a photograph. He looks a bit fragile: he was admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis only a week before. That was in Limerick; now he is in rural Italy, in Umbria, on a farm which has been converted into apartments. The stone staircase leads up to the one he has rented for a few days with his wife. Two friends from London are renting another apartment at the bottom of the stairs.
The wall to the right of him has a couple of bird's nests in its crevices. To the left, a winter supply of logs for the huge open fire in his apartment is covered by polythene, and the wisteria has been excessively trimmed by the landlord. Beyond the wooden framework for a summer canopy, and some trees, a bluish haze of countryside suggests itself.

It's a few days later and he's in Perugia with his two London friends, on the Corso Vannucci, beside the famous fountain of Works and Days, refurbished over a decade and railed in now to prevent vandalism. Not one of the three of them is getting any younger, but he looks better in this photo, less etherial, more sensuous, with a trace of healthy insouciance.

The same setting, this time with herself, his wife, on the right; the photographer photographed.

ADDENDUM. Fascinating Italian phrase: In bocca al lupo. Meaning literally "into the mouth of the wolf", this expression is used to wish well to people undergoing competitive ordeals like exams, driving tests, interviews for jobs and so on. It seems on the face of it similar to the English expression 'break a leg' said to actors before a performance, i.e. it is simply a contrary way of wishing good luck by stating the opposite. However, it occurred to me on waking this morning (still under the influence of my few days in Italy) that the saying could go back all the way to Romulus and Remus, the twins who were abandoned at birth and carried off in the mouth of a she-wolf to be suckled and reared, and who went on to found the city of Rome.

Wednesday 27 April 2011


Here we are, Margaret and myself, in the summer of 2008 among Italian friends. The setting is a converted farmhouse in the countryside near Perugia. On Friday (29 April) we are returning for a few days to the farmhouse, where we spent a most amazing and creative year in 1994 – 1995. We are looking forward to meeting these friends again after almost three years, which is the longest period we have stayed away from the place since our year's sojourn there.
The area has become the setting for a gothic novel, 'A Year's Midnight', which I hope to publish shortly. I have already published a number of excerpts from it on this blog, e.g. 'A Desecration of Considerable Magnitude' and 'The Canine Position on Abortion'.
The idea of the novel was a sort of 'what if?' proposition. What if the year we spent in Italy had been a complete disaster, instead of a complete success? Imagine two characters like yourselves, who arrive in the heart of rural Italy with a five-year-old child, knowing practically nobody, with only a rudimentary knowledge of the language, hoping to make it a period of renewal, and everything gradually goes haywire for them.
It is largely thanks to the people in this photo, and a number of others, that we can look back on that year in Umbria with such affection and vivid memories.

Friday 15 April 2011


The person I am pointing at in the above photograph is Derry O'Sullivan, an Irish poet who has lived the best part of his life in Paris, and writes in Irish, translating much of his work into French and English. The occasion is the launching last year of his fourth collection, An bhfuil cead agam dul amach, má's é do thoil é? at the Centre Culturel Irlandais. The title means 'May I go out, please?' (literally Do I have permission to to go out, if it is your will?) Three of O'Sullivan's collections have titles which are questions, the previous two questions being 'Where is your Judas?' meaning judas-eye but with a hint of betrayal, and 'Where is the landlord of l'Univers?' – l'Univers being a pub in Paris which Derry frequented, but with a hint of God. His other collection is a long poem which was sparked by the discovery that his apartment in Paris housed a Jewish family during the Second World War, and that the family were taken away by the Nazis; it is called An lá go dtáinig siad  – 'The day they came'.

'An bhfuil cead agam dul amach má's é do thoil é?' is quite a lengthy title for a book, and indeed it was quite a mouthful for a primary school child in the 1950s to have to say if he or she wanted to – or pretended to want to – leave the classroom and go to the toilet. In my primary school in Ballyline, County Kilkenny, it became truncated to 'Mac-mac a dul é?' which of course is complete gibberish, reminiscent of the gibberish anglicisation of many Irish place-names, e.g. Knockcrockery, which to me conjures up an image of mayhem in a china shop. And what may we say about Termonfeckin? 

Tuesday 5 April 2011


Mighty Munster Poets at Crawley WordFest!
As part of our presence at Crawley WordFest, we are delighted to present a special free event featuring some of the finest wordsmiths from the poetry-rich region of Munster, Ireland.
With the support of Arts Services, Limerick City Council, the following three fascinating poets are to fly in especially for the Crawley WordFest:
Ciaran O'Driscoll
Jo Slade
Bridget Wallace
The event will take place at 8 pm on Friday 8th April, upstairs at
Pizza Express,
2 The Boulevard,
West Sussex,
RH10 1XX.
Tel: 01293 531678.
With its blend of dark humour and lyrical craft, it's no surprise that Ciaran O'Driscoll's poetry has received international acclaim. As shown in his Pighog collection, Surreal Man, his work combines a killer sense of humour with the acumen and verbal dexterity gained over a lifetime creating and teaching art and literature. 
     He was born in Callan, Co. Kilkenny, and presently lives in Limerick. He is a retired lecturer from the School of Art and Design at the Limerick Institute of Technology. In 2007, he was elected to Aosdána, an institution established by the Irish Arts Council to honour Irish artists and writers who have made an outstanding contribution to art and literature.    
     He has six collections of poetry to his credit: Gog and Magog (Salmon Publishing, Galway, 1987); The Poet and His Shadow (Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1990); Listening to Different Drummers (Ibid,1993); The Old Women of Magione (Ibid, 1997); Moving On, Still There: New and Selected Poems (Ibid, 2001); and Life Monitor (Three Spires Press, Cork, 2009). He has also published two poetry chapbooks, The Myth of the South with Dedalus in 1992 and Surreal Man with Pighog (UK) in 2006. Reviewing his most recent poetry collection Life Monitor in The Irish Times, Eamonn Grennan wrote of Ciaran O’Driscoll as "a poet in confident possession and exercise of his craft. [His] poems do what good poems should do, widening and deepening the world for the rest of us." 
   Liverpool University Press published his childhood memoir, A Runner Among Falling Leaves in 2001. 

Jo Slade is both poet and painter and lives and works in Limerick. She is celebrated both at home and abroad for her elegant and thought-provoking poetry. Her poems are widely published in journals and anthologies internationally and have been translated into French, Spanish, Romanian, Russian and Slovenian. Her first collection In Fields I Hear Them Sing came out in 1989. Her second collection The Vigilant One (1994) was nominated for the Irish Times / Aer Lingus Literature Prize. 
    Her Certain Octobers (1997) combines French and English verse and exemplifies the linguistic prowess which has earned her recognition as Writer-in-Residence at the Centre Culturel Irlandais and as a nominee for the Prix Evelyne Encelot Ecriture Prize, Paris. City of Bridges was published in 2005. She has led poetry Master classes throughout Ireland, and represented her country at International Poetry Festivals in France, Canada and Slovenia. She has been Writer-in-Residence with Limerick County Council Arts Office.

Bridget Wallace is a native of Limerick city. She has been writing poetry for many years and has been published in Incognito and The Stony Thursday Book. Some of her most recent work appears in Sextet, an anthology published by Revival Press. Bridget has a strong academic interest in literature, particularly poetry, and has been a tutor with Oscail, the Irish Open University. In 2010 she graduated with a Phd. from Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Bridget’s special area of interest is Postcolonial theory and modern Middle Eastern literature with an emphasis on poetry. 

The WordFest already boasts a superb selection of events, including Report, Discuss, Promote, a panel discussion on spreading words with new and old media, featuring Pighog Press Director John Davies, and a Live Open Mic night featuring the launch of Antony Owen's stunning new pamphlet, The Dreaded Boy.
Our friends in Crawley expect to be adding to their impressive line-up of poetry, music, fiction and debate over the next week, so please check their events page for all the latest information,
See you there! 

Monday 28 March 2011


I give an impromptu reading, on request, outside Bushe's Bar, Baltimore, West Cork at around one in the morning, 26 June 2010. The poem I am reading is 'Turnip' from my latest collection Life Monitor (2009).

The boy with the acne at the cash register
didn’t know what the code for turnip was
and had to shout across to the girl
at the cash register on the other side
who shouted back ‘It’s T-U-R’.
The button for TUR on the cash register 
was caked with deposits of the ages
and coated with cobwebs, apparently
no one had bought a turnip for centuries.
(The button beside it was for TUT:
the boy king sent to early mummy cloths?) 
The lad with the acne looked at me,
pity in his eyes, and asked ‘Is that all?’
I wanted to tell him that turnips
were the salvation of my father
in the hungry thirties, he stole them
from the fields and ate them raw,
only for turnips I might not be here today,
but all I said was ‘Yes, that’s all,’
and the lad pressed the button and I paid 
and left with my solid Swede,
which is another name for a turnip
especially in the UK, where the latter
is something different, smaller and white.
A turnip keeps me cheerful in November:
strong-tasting, redolent of contentment
when diced and boiled, buttered and peppered,
it brings a golden comfort in cold weather,
and conjures up in its own selfless way
a feeling of protection and good order,
of sleeping safe and sound in your bed.
I think the world should be run by a turnip. 

As a result of the huge royalties I earned from this collection, below you can see me enjoying a holiday in Portugal.

NOT!!! (Well, yes, it is Portugal....) 

Wednesday 9 March 2011


A spider in mid-air on a dull morning. Photo taken on Alexander Road, London N 19.

Monday 28 February 2011


Not the White Cliffs of Dover, but the Seven Sisters (if you count the hills), which are in East Sussex between Eastbourne and Seaford, off the A259. We walked the length of them, up down up down, on a walking holiday in July 2009. A very pleasant day, one of a week's 10km-or-so daily excursions. (We kept to the 'easy walk' category; there were also medium and difficult ones to chose from day to day.)

We came across this knotty tree on another, rural walk in Sussex. It wasn't far from a small Norman church but I can't remember the exact location.

The Chanctonbury Ring, ancient fortress and temple, sown in later times with beech trees. Local legend has it that the Chanctonbury Ring was created by the Devil and that he can be summoned by running around the clump of trees seven times anti-clockwise. When he appears he will offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul. Obviously not a consomme or any kind of clear soup. Have to be a murky broth, it would!