Tuesday 29 September 2015


The tenth celebration of the poetry festival Riflessi DiVersi (hence RIFLESSI DIVERSIX on the programme booklet) took place in Perugia and Magione from 20th to 27th September. This photo is from the final night, Friday last, at the Torre dei Lambardi in Magione. All the readings are over, the festival has been hugely enjoyable and good-humoured, there remains a beautiful meal to be savoured at Luciano's in Passegnano, and for Margaret and myself, a 'free day' on Saturday and then it's up on Sunday morning at 5am to drive to Pisa for our flight back home.
Somewhat irreverently, the joke that I'm making here concerns my 'half-stigmata' (right hand only), which means I'm really only half a saint, and therefore not fit to give the assembled pilgrims my blessing.
Present L to R: Aurelio Stoppini, Vera Lúcia di Oliveira [talking to unseen Marco Viscomi], Self, Margherita Bernardini, Rita Castigli and Andreina Panico.

Tuesday 21 July 2015


I wrote a post a few years back called 'Did Magritte Holiday in Novigrad?' in which I admired an ancient loggia in that Istrian town. Looking out at the sea through the arches of the little loggia reminded me of the surreal effect of a Magritte painting.
The great thing about the loggia at that time was its public access; now, sadly, it has been privatized, bought, and closed to the public as the Croatian word privatno announces on the notice hanging on the cordon in the picture below.

Here are two of the original pictures taken by Margaret on our first visit to Novigrad in 2011:

In the first of these, a bicycle leans against the end of the loggia, and a woman (presumably the owner of the bicycle) takes a photo from inside, through a glassless arched opening looking out over the sea to the left. That casual freedom to lean a bicycle against a public monument, to inspect and explore a public amenity, are now abolished by the word privatno.
The second picture attempts to capture the 'Magritte effect' which first attracted me to the loggia back in 2011.
And here, finally, is the loggia in full, as it looks today, after privatization, with tasteless up-to-date windows and its eccentric use as somebody's breakfast room. A hybrid, neither here nor there.

Wednesday 17 June 2015


The Sound of Typing

In a poem I wrote a decade or two ago, a bison appears to me in a dream, and gives me a short, facetious resumé of my writing career, dwelling mainly on the development of the technical aspects:

A sentence now, a sentence then;
a pencil, ruler and a pen;
a page to score a verbal goal on;
comma, full-stop and semi-colon.
Then Appleworks and Microsoft:
up from the basement to the loft
of technological expertise,
forgetting intermediaries....

One of the ‘intermediaries’ which the bison neglects to mention is a typewriter by the name of Brother. One day, I was typing what would now be called an ‘active document’:  something that I was making up as I went along, rather than a completed piece that I was simply transferring from handwriting to print. I know that I must have been in the throes of composition, as opposed to transcription, because there were long pauses without any sound of typing.

I wasn’t really aware of those long pauses, although my attention was finally drawn to them because of a distraction. I had retired to that clinical mind-space into which the environment intrudes only as distraction. A long-lost friend of mine once expressed, very neatly and ironically, the paradoxical attitude writers often display in their dealings with reality: Don’t bother me now. I want to write a poem about how much I care for you. 

Some writers are acutely aware of this paradox, but it doesn’t deter them in the least; they incorporate it into their work. The ancient Latin author, Petronius, in his Satyricon, has a poet sitting on a rock after a shipwreck, writing about the tragedy of it, while people are drowning all around him.

That day, I worked on and on, totally absorbed by whatever I was typing. Gradually, a noise began to insinuate itself into my mind; a sound that had originally been insignificant, part of the excluded environment: a repeated word. There was a voice coming at me that said Again. And then, after another while, Again.

I knew, of course, at some level of awareness, that the voice was my son’s. He was one and a bit at the time, and was in the next room, resting in his buggy. And for some reason, he kept saying Again. A mystery began to grow and grow, opening a sizeable gap in my concentration. Again what? 

Eventually, my wife arrived down from upstairs, laughing.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked, annoyed by the conviction that the game was up for this particular piece of writing; it would be lost to the world.

‘He wants you to keep typing,’ she said. ‘He likes the sound of it.’

It was a humbling moment. There I was, irritable, fastidious, writing a piece that wouldn’t resolve itself into the simplicity I wanted, while outside my mental exclusion zone, the world was being created anew.  And one of its first sounds was the tapping of my typewriter. 

©Ciaran O'Driscoll 

Monday 4 May 2015



I stand in the somewhat battered plenitude
of my life, a man in his own garden
in the almost middle of May overawed
by the beauty of lime trees.
They form the boundary between two schools
on the other side of the wall,
these tall latecomers into leaf;
and how long have I waited until
the catch in my breath
when I stepped out the back door last night
and they glistened fresh as morning
in the pallor of city lights?
But gazing at them today
in the slightly drunk mid-afternoon,
I am baffled, ill at ease.
How can I hold my ground against this:
lime trees in newest leaf,
gentle arboreal fireworks
showering in stillness,
clusters of leaf-green stars?
Pendulous with their random constellations,
a receding row of universes,
they stand as much beyond
my language as beyond my wall,
and I’m afraid to look at them
much longer, in case I’ll be struck dumb
or spend the rest of my days
gibbering about lime trees.

From The Old Women of Magione (1997)
©Ciaran O'Driscoll
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Monday 16 March 2015


The Irish Times Weekend Review 26 June 2010 
Mo Mowlam and other poems
Ciaran O’Driscoll
Life Monitor
By Ciaran O’Driscoll
Three Spires Press, 64pp, €10
The Song the Oriole Sang
By Philip McDonagh
Dedalus Press, 108pp, €12.502
LIFE MONITOR is Ciaran O’Driscoll’s variously pitched sixth volume. Among the poems I especially like here are those in which a sharply etched moment is tested, tasted, savoured, then developed into a probing meditation or just left to be simply, sufficiently itself, quietly celebrated without fuss or amplifying comment.

Girl at Station Exit in the Snow, for example, has the stillness and visual exactitude of a painting, each of its elements precisely delineated, right up to the sight of “her dark eyes moving among flakes of snow”.
In a poem such as the title piece, Life Monitor , this same epiphanal instinct is married to a thoughtful exploration of what any such moment implies. Here the lyrical moment – the speaker looks in on his sleeping teenage son – is expanded to include deeper night thoughts, the language progressively enriched to handle them, moving from paternal affection for the boy who “gels his hair with American Crew, / and worries about the first spot on his chin” to a sense of the bedroom as “a simple chapel where I still incline / to hear the sermon of the essential: / his breathing’s rise and fall”.
Outside such an oasis of feeling and scrupulous observation, O’Driscoll strikes different notes. One of these is satiric, another partakes of the surreal. At times both are sounded in the same poem. This conjunction of forces leads to such startling and entertaining pieces as The Melancholy and Mystery of a Gap, The Lost Jockey, Please Hold, Gluttony and The Speaking Trees, in all of which a slightly anarchic persona speaks his piece about a world seen from a tilted, sometimes jaundiced, mostly humane point of view.
Oddly enough for a poet of such essentially independent inclination, Life Monitor reveals the tracks and traces of many other artists. Durcan, Kavanagh, Magritte, Chagall, Basho, Montale (in three strong translations) and (in a couple of prose poems) Elizabeth Bishop all leave their varied prints here, a fact that can give the book a somewhat uneven feel as a collection. But that matters less because out of such influences and associations O’Driscoll weaves his own original take on the world he tirelessly monitors, able in one poem “to trip on every day of my existence” or in another to move from a supermarket cash register into a lovely riff on that innocent veg the turnip (“strong-tasting, redolent of contentment . . . a golden comfort in cold weather”).
The Song the Oriole Sang is only Philip McDonagh’s second collection, but it shows him to be an assured, mature voice in supple control of his medium. (Being 50 at his publishing debut, in 2003, his late start was possibly due to his being a diplomat working in a number of demanding situations – currently as our Ambassador to Russia.) Calmly lyrical, instinctively meditative, formally alert, his poems range over public and private worlds – moving from Ireland to England, India, Finland, Italy. He’s never merely the visitor, though, always infusing his specific perceptions of foreign life with his own thoughtful ruminations, which in a number of instances recall earlier poets of global and historical gaze (Seferis, Cavafy or the dean of Irish diplomat poets, Denis Devlin).
Another abiding presence is the ninth-century Chinese poet Bai Juyi, a governor of provinces, whose poetry is “a retreat and a respite” and who “within vicissitude” had still time to notice “the song the oriole sang” and other small miracles of the ordinary world. It is McDonagh’s ability to negotiate by means of imagination between these two worlds that is his most winning, most ambitious, most characteristic quality, movingly on view in his opening poem, Mo Díreach, a touching celebration of the life – both as diplomat and as intense, humane, unaffected, unsheltered human being – of Mo Mowlam.
McDonagh’s greatest gift may be – unsurprisingly, given his profession – how he can speak in a low, careful, discreet yet firm tone of voice, whether he’s evoking “a crocodile by water, / dead-like as the root / of the gnarled banyan”, or performing (in Alumna ) his own prayer for a daughter, or charting Memories of an Ionian Diplomat , (whose heart is “plangent as the rain”), or invoking a poem by Mairtín Ó Direáin, or imagining “Casement cribbed in Pentonville”.
Throughout this richly thoughtful collection McDonagh’s trademark is balanced ease of expression, a fluency embodying maturity of intelligence and stability of vision. Where Ciaran O’Driscoll’s energy comes from his edgily expressed uncertainty and from being, as it were, partisan in argument, McDonagh’s is the result of his ability to lay out any matter in an almost philosophic way, warming it with his own lyrical feel for the particulars, his own humane understanding that “life’s parts in here / in equilibrium / all in the one sphere”. And if at times McDonagh’s attention to matters of fact can be prosaic, or if O’Driscoll in his urgency can sometimes blur an effect by over-determining it, each of these volumes is the work of a poet in confident possession and exercise of his craft. Their poems do what good poems should do, widening and deepening the world for the rest of us.

Thursday 5 March 2015


(on the occasion of his receiving 
the Freedom of Dublin City)

Half of those at Brother Kevin’s dinners
are on drugs, says the Lord. And sure why not?
They’re there for company as much as grub.
And they have such small appetites except
for joints and temple black and crack cocaine
and the harder gear that makes the quicker stiff.
The stiffs who quicken towards my Pearly Gates
have been cared and catered for by Brother Kevin
and on account of that he’s on the way 
to the three stages of canonization
from venerable to blesséd and to saint.
But that won’t happen till I call him home
and doesn’t puff the plucky friar up
no more than sharing Dublin City’s freedom
with a famous footballer has turned his head.
Those Brother Kevin feeds, spaced out or not,
are welcome at my supper too, says God.

© Ciaran O'Driscoll 2015

Saturday 28 February 2015


by Merill Moore

He stroked the cats on account of a specific cause,
Namely, when he entered the house he felt
That the floor might split and the four walls suddenly melt
In strict accord with certain magic laws.
That, it seemed, the carving over the door meant,
Laws violated when men like himself stepped in,
But he had nothing to lose and nothing to win,
So in he always stepped. Before him went
Always his shadow. The sun was at his back.
The ceilings were high and the passageway was so black
That he welcomed the great cats who advanced to meet him,
The two of them arching their soft high backs to greet him;
He would kneel and stroke them gently under their jaws,
All that is mentioned above being the cause.

Friday 6 February 2015


Liverpool University Press have announced a 'special February discount' on my memoir 'A Runner Among Falling Leaves'. £5 only, buy now while stocks last!!

‘O’Driscoll’s book is an important document: well written, brisk, unfooled, it makes cool, frank and poetic observations of the intersection between personal desire and cultural possibility. At a time when we risk losing the run of ourselves in the forever ‘new’ Ireland of today, this brave, honest book should not be missed.’
Gerald Dawe, The Irish Times.

'Ciaran O'Driscoll is a poet of the first order. This book makes it clear that he is also a consummate writer of prose. This memoir reveals much suffering as well as unusual integrity, with humour and youth in it in spite of everything, and a hard-won resolution at the end. It is an extraordinary feat. Read it.'   Pearse Hutchinson, The RTE Guide.

 ‘A wonderfully evocative exploration of personal childhood traumas and their adult resonance… a rarity in the field.’ 
Darragh McManus, The Irish Examiner

'Ciaran O'Driscoll can compete with Frank McCourt in the misery stakes, but A Runner Among Falling Leaves is neither predictable nor derivative, and the author's lyrical style gives it an edge over the dozens of other memoirs clamouring for space on our bookshelves.' 
Shirley Kelly, Books Ireland

‘The book combines nostalgia with truth and social commentary with poetry.... O’Driscoll’s return to his background and his humane portrayal of growing up, a process which is life-long, is rich and compelling.’  Sue O’Connor, The Reader (UK)

'I grew up in the town of this memoir. It all comes back to me through O'Driscoll"s poetic eye, the back row of Egan's cinema, the stink and sweat of Fair Days, the schoolboy jingles, the girls swimming in the King's River. But at the heart of the book is a deeply affecting, traumatic relationship between father and son. Here the writing is terrifying and like no other memoir I have read.'
Thomas Kilroy, playwright and author of The Big Chapel.

Wednesday 7 January 2015


On the old rose bush against our garden wall, behold roses in the beginning of bloom and new buds appearing, while all around (what can't be captured in my photo) a chorus of birds giving a bit of oomph to the dull, rainy morning. Date 07 January 2015. Time: 10.45 am.

Happy New Year!