Sunday, June 24, 2012


It gives me cheesy grin pleasure to welcome fabled blogger TFE, otherwise known as poet Peadar O’ Donoghue to Snow Like Thought to talk about his sparkling debut collection Jewel.  

Well it’s great to be here Rae, I’ve never been to New Zealand before, in fact I’ve never left the front room before, so it’s a real pleasure, thank you!

Lovely to have you, Peadar, pull up a pew. Now, it’s easy to churn out the similes for your collection, Jewel, you’ve set it all up so nicely for us with the title but this seems to be the conceit of your poems generally. Humour, or rather wit, is omnipresent. There’s a danger then, would you agree, of the poem’s authority, its substance, being overlooked? And isn’t that the tragedy of clowns, that everyone laughs and moves on? So what is it that calls the reader to sit up and listen to your poems, and they do, beyond the point where the laughter has passed, and how difficult is it constructing such poems, a poem, say, like ‘With Scant Regard for Wordsworth’?

I like to make people laugh. I get a kick out of it and try to do it a bit in real life and a whole lot on Facebook. But when it comes to writing my poetry seems to spring from a different well entirely and rarely does humour pop up in one of my poems. There are 52 poems in the book and only 5 poems are funny (hopefully!) or have elements of humour in them. So the reader should see a clear line between the funny stuff and the darker side! 

My Wordsworth poem is a parody of his poem ‘Daffodils’ and took less than 10 minutes to write, but also a lifetime as does every poem. Wordsworth’s poem is a description of beauty and my poem is beauty destroyed, all the thoughts I had of corruption and greed that I have witnessed all my adult life could be encapsulated in the housing madness in Ireland where outrageous prices were sought for houses (not homes) and financially crippled a large part of the population. So I didn’t have to create these thoughts, they were inside me looking for a catalyst to spark their revolution. Some comment on FB did this (is it obvious yet that I’m hooked on FB?) and all I had to do (the poem was already there) was change Wordsworth's words (I didn’t know beyond the first line, I had to look them up) to mine, something I’d wanted to do for a while! What I mean is that ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ was probably the only line of poetry I knew growing up just like ‘Alas poor Yorick’ or ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo’ was all the Shakespeare I knew and it just sounded so poety in that awful poety way that I couldn’t wait to take the piss out of it. And I see what you mean now in the question but this is the only poem that blends taking the mick with a heartfelt serious cry of anger. But maybe I should do more! 

And it’s a tricky poem to pull off in terms of the reputation you’re perceived to be criticising by misreading; it seems to me there’s a lot at stake with this poem, you cut it to the sapwood. I’ve thought and thought about this poem, really, I can’t tell you how it has chewed my brain; I was trying to deconstruct it, then I was thinking, how is Wordsworth relevant, what is it that connects so powerfully and so deeply rooted as to make it difficult to express? And I realised, there are three major things at play, themes of your work as a whole, I think: one is the language – Irish lyricism and song, and English; the second is politics. Politics here is also inseparable from the language, I think. I re-read the collection with these ideas at the fore of my thoughts and I became conscious of the rhythm shifts from what I would term Peadar-isms – phrases that are distinctly yours in pattern, regardless of etymology, and what, for want of an accurate label, I’d call Anglo-isms. Is it possible for an Irish poet writing in English not to be political regardless of the subject matter, do you think?

Firstly I’m delighted that the poem caused such a reaction in you, ultimately that is surely what a poet wants, a reaction? And perhaps we should remember that poetry really is a two way thing, almost a dialogue, a deeply personal one, and just as the writer brings a lifetime of experiences to the table, so does the reader.

I think you are right there are 3 major things in my poems. I love words and language, I love playing with them/it, I love music and song lyrics, I love the sounds of words. I’m pleased you coin the word Peadarisms, as I like to think (for good or bad) that I have a unique voice. Anglo-isms too, I spent a large part of my life in England and that obviously shapes who I am and what I think. As for politics, I’m quite political, I care about things, particularly injustice, inequality, cruelty, bullying, violence, love, hate, hypocrisy. And as I’m a hypocrite myself and do little about any of these things and am probably capable of most of them, I feel well equipped to write about them. Is it possible for an Irish poet writing in English not to be political? Certainly. I see it every day.

I think if Wordsworth could have cracked a few more jokes and let the metre run he’d have been your equal. You write from the persona of the common man, and an Irish man, in terms anyone can understand, yet you manage to turn ordinary, even hackneyed phrases, Rumplestiltskin-like, into gold. If you had to write a manifesto, what would it include?

Oh I love that, Willy could have been my equal! Ha Ha! Thank you my epitaph is written! A manifesto? Wow! I don’t know but if I could rule the world, first I’d get Rapunzel to let down her hair, then I’d put honest benevolent dictators with the wisdom of Solomon in charge of each country in the world and do away with politicians entirely. When I say ‘do away with’ I don’t mean kill them, just rough them up a bit and make them live on a desert island together.

Finally – easy questions to end on – who are your influences?

I don’t really have any influences but I was ‘transformed’ on a visit to Heptonstall so I would have to say Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

What was your route into poetry?

I didn’t know anything about poetry, I just wanted to express myself, I wanted to be heard. I wrote in isolation, sent poems off in isolation and was plucked from obscurity by the wonderful Jessie Lendennie of Salmon Poetry.

What’s next for Peadar O’ Donoghue?

I have a magazine called The Poetry Bus, I’m working on the 4th issue (PB4) doing readings from Jewel where I can and dreaming of a second collection for 2015! (If I live that long!)

Where can we buy Jewel/find you?

All good bookstores in Ireland /England/America!  The Salmon website. The book depository. Amazon. And signed copies available from meself !

There’s a danger one is dazzled by the sparkle and misses the craft involved in turning a lump of rock into a gem. I hope we’ve given readers a reason to look beneath the starlight at the grounded words, where the real treasure is. Thank you, Peadar. 

Peadar O’Donoghue has had poems published in Poetry Ireland Review, The SHOp, Revival, Bare Hands Poetry, Can Can, and The Burning Bush. He has also published flash fiction in Ink Sweat and Tears. He founded, runs, and edits The Poetry Bus Magazine, an innovative journal of art, fiction and poetry, accompanied by a CD of the poets reading their work. An accomplished photographer, Peadar’s photos have been selected for a solo exhibition at The Signal Art Gallery, Bray and group exhibitions for Wicklow Arts Office and The Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray. They have been published in The Stinging Fly journal (and anthology) and The SHOp, including several front cover. They have also been published in Magma and The Dubliner.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Light of the Word

I first came across Dick Jones’ poetry when I started blogging, back in 2009. I had tentatively posted a poem, the title of which provides the header for this blog. Dick passed through, left a criticism and breezed out much the way people who are better than you do. But there was nothing aloof about Dick, which isn’t to say he doesn’t have the right to be. Indeed, Dick’s poetry, it was clear to me from the off, was never going to settle for blog land, I only thought it a travesty it did for so long. So it gives me immense pleasure to introduce Dick to talk about his debut collection Ancient Lights (Phoenicia Publishing,2012).

Dick, you’ve been here as a much appreciated commenter, your criticism of the poem I mentioned in the introduction really nailed that piece for me (thank you), and I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of your poetry on your Patteran Pages, it’s wonderful to have you here as a guest – finally. Could you tell me a little bit about the genesis of Ancient Lights and why it’s taken so long to get a collection out when clearly you were born spitting similes?

I’m delighted to be here, Rae! Thank you for the invitation. As to the compiling of ‘Ancient Lights’ and the length of time it’s taken me to produce a collection, I think it’s been primarily a function of confidence – the old ‘tread softly because you tread on my dreams’ inhibition. Although I’ve been submitting poems to journals for many years, I’ve only once before tried out for the publication of a book. In fact, had it not been for the energies of the entirely wonderful Beth Adams of Phoenicia Publishing, ‘Ancient Lights’ may well have never come to fruition. I’m enormously grateful to her for her enthusiasm, her encouragement, her efficiency and her patience. 

The first poem in the collection places the reader in the final throes of WW2, your birth. The action’s very at odds with the title ‘Stille Nacht’ in the context of the war but perfectly at ease with the imagery evoked by the English translation of the carol the title is taken from. You do contrasting parallelisms well; it struck me how exquisitely difficult it would be to mimic this technique. What was the process for this poem, how did it come to you?

Second things first. The whole poem tumbled out of the first stanza, which I scribbled into my notebook during a casual chat about Christmas at the poetry group I was attending at the time. We were all seated around our group of tables with Christmas a week or two away and the little conceit about the bells ringing at my birth popped into my head. It turned like a key and for the rest of the first part of the evening’s activities I carried on writing. By the time we got to the last hour of the meeting and the read-around I’d got most of it finished.

So it came out of one of those white-heat momentum processes that I find sometimes drive a piece of writing. When such cataracts occur there is a powerful element of automatic composition about it all. No glazed trances or zombie focus on the task in hand! But there is a sense throughout the writing of receiving something and acting more as an interpreter than one simply putting it all together from a set of components. In fact, this downhill impetus is much more apparent in the crafting of the longer pieces than the shorter. Both ‘Stille Nacht’ and ‘Binners’ (once I got past the first section) evolved more rapidly towards the closest one ever gets to a final draft than many a miniature piece, some of which have been years in the cooking. 

The collection begins with the poet’s ‘I’, giving the works an experienced authenticity, there’s omniscience to your observations. Each poem presents ways of describing familiar and unfamiliar things in a manner that renders them true, universally, yet innovatively (every poet’s wish) - and you have a child’s eye for detail, for what the grown-ups miss - but there’s an authority to your words, wisdom that seems almost to take the poem’s speaker by surprise. Possibly, in context of ‘Stille Nacht’, this is because of the inconceivable circumstance of the mature speaker retelling the memories told to him about his birth as if his own – a peculiar configuration of chronologies – but could you talk a little bit about how memory, yours, others’ or imagined, plays in your poetry? 

It’s peculiarly difficult to account for the operation of memory in my writing. I’m simply so close to the cutting edge of the functional process of collating and organising and then rendering it all that there’s a degree of can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees purblindness about it all. However, I am aware that my apparent memories of childhood are an extraordinarily rich compound of actual recall and constantly reiterated family lore. It’s as if the accounts related by my parents, my grandparents and our closest family friends have in some way elided with my own startlingly clear recollections (and my actual childhood recollections go back to the age of about 18 months) to create a kind of fertile humus from which narrative shoots continue to spring, even this far in time from their provenance. This mulching procedure works for all of us, of course, and the intensity of nostalgia evoked by some sound or fragrance is proof of its potency. But I remain baffled and intrigued as to why with me its momentum has been undiminished through the years. Maybe my child within is unusually wakeful and garrulous. One for the head doctors, I guess, but I’m not letting them close! 

Ancient Lights – it’s the perfect title for this collection. Side amble: I’ve always been awed by the seemingly never ending variety of descriptions you give, observations you make about light – it is a strong feature of your work, (obviously in light of the title, pun intended). What surprised me was the sound. In hindsight, it’s hardly surprising – you are a musician – but it was the combined effect of hearing the poems alongside one another, the way each seems to kick off from the previous one so fluidly – it really reads like an orchestral piece. Was this a conscious effort? Did you have to alter the poems after you’d written them to make them link and flow?

To a degree there was a sort of organic self-selection to the order of the poems within the book. I had no great difficulty in putting them all end-to-end. In fact, I did most of it at my partner’s parents' house standing by a laptop on the grand piano while the kids ran riot on the floor! I guess the constant edge of distraction enabled me to push and pull the poems around more intuitively. Too much focussed concentration might have made me too conscious of the demands of the task in hand. 

As to sonic properties in the ordering of the poems, I’m not conscious in retrospect of having sounded them against each other like duelling tuning forks! But at the point of writing I’m acutely sensitive to the way in which the words chime and I repeat sections over and again to ensure that there’s some melodic and/or rhythmic symmetry at work. For better or worse, I always aim for a musicality within each poem and I’m very conscious of the common ground between poetry and music. As an adolescent I was fascinated by the possibilities of poetry and jazz. In fact, all these years on ‘Red Bird’, Christopher Logue’s translations from Neruda spoken to a backing by a fine band led by drummer Tony Kinsey remains a favourite. (I waited for three years on eBay before finally picking up a replacement copy of the original EP!) And beyond the ongoing excesses of gangster rap, there’s some terrific hip-hop around that folds poetry and music into each other to great effect.  So I guess I must have operated as a sort of subconscious conductor when marshalling a whole flock of poems into a book! 

For me, the music really connected with the thoughts your poems inspired about memory; events re-remembered; events that stay with us; that push forward to future generations. Sound and light (senses) are what we remember and light will remain long after we have passed. I’m thinking of Larkin, ‘What will remain of us is love.’ What would you like to be remembered of you, Dick? 

I’m not sure how to answer that question. But for me that concluding line from ‘An Arundel Tomb’ is probably the finest clincher of any poem. Those whom I have loved and who have died are still loved. I have no religious belief at all, having felt at no time through my life so far any need for a god or God. I have a profound faith in the primal and redeeming properties of love between human beings and see no place for divinity above and beyond its transformative power. For me human love, eros and agape, is the light of the world. So I suppose would hope for love to transcend my passing in the hearts of those dear to me now. 

Initially wooed by the First World War poets and then seduced by the Beats, Dick Jones has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of 15. 

Dick’s work has been published in a number of magazines, print and online, including Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Westwords, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Rattlesnake and Ouroboros Review, and in several print anthologies, including Sing Freedom! (Amnesty International), Brilliant Coroners (Phoenicia Publishing), and Words of Power (qarrtsiluni/Phoenicia). His chapbook, Wavelengths, was a finalist in the 2009 qarrtsiluni chapbook contest, and he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010 for his poem, “Sea of Stars.”

In addition to thirty-five years of teaching drama in progressive schools, Dick Jones has been an avid musician all his life, playing bass guitar in rock, blues, and folk bands. He lives outside London with his wife and children, and blogs at Dick Jones’ Patteran Pages.

Ancient Lights is available to buy through Amazon Us and UK.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Not too tight

‘When we’re secure.’ The knot’s too tight.
A bright red double decker hisses, honks to a stop. The top’s missing, full of tourists. Here is the church, here the steeple. Look inside. Hunter stops tugging at his tie, gives me his dog carried from the battlefield look. ‘We’ve only been here a month, another, few, we’ll be set.’ He pulls the curtain.
‘I’m late.’
‘Me too. Don’t make dinner.’ The door doesn’t bang.


Hunter’s back when the street’s quiet. He hands me a bag, flicks the light on.
‘Art & Antiques,’ cover, Paperweight, 1987, Beverly Hallam: blue and silver glass the size of a tennis ball, plus a vase of white flowers holding down shadows of blinds guillotined by sunlight. I drop it on the bedside.


‘Let me.’ Hunter takes the sheets. ‘Cheer up – look on the table.’
It’s the wrong colour and the light goes right through it.


June is National Flash Fiction Month for New Zealand. This piece is for the Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival's celebration of flash fiction: Across Borders. Thanks to Dorothee Lang and Michelle Elvy for including it.