Recent Reviews

A selection of recent reviews of Salmon titles. Click on the book images to find out more about each title.

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The Lucky Star of Hidden Things

Afric McGlinchey

Review: The Lucky Star of Hidden Things reviewed by Thomas McCarthy for The Examiner, Saturday April 13th, 2013

"Diaspora speak with new rhythms and perspective"

Here are two new collections by poets of the Irish diaspora, two writers of Irish parentage who returned to Ireland with a different story to tell. 

Both are out of Africa, with McGlinchey following the star of Sadalachbia, the harbinger of an African spring, and Casey homeward-bound with Afrikaans as well as Munster Irish in his vocabulary. Their presence is enriching and melodic: they carry rhythms of affection that is continental in its humanity, inclusive, and multi-cultural: 

’The board flicks names: Brazzaville, Lilongwe, Kinshasa, Babouti ...Our destinations will land u sin the ice-chill, erase all memory of this temperature, the slow, languorous sway of sun people.’ 

McGlinchey was elaborately educated at Rhodes University and Cape Town, but her African nature is aural and sensory. Her poems are an anthology of sensations, collected and stored in the mind as she does her athletic free-running across page after page of this, her first collection.

She may editorialise on Harare life, remain discreet about the dampness of Cork, but, on the evidence of this book, she’s cracked more egg shells than most poets, and, what’s more, she’s seen 

’a girl/in south Sudan walk a thousand miles with only insects/ for food, then deliver an infant in the desert. 

Quite simply, this is a beautiful collection from a supremely gracious new voice in our midst. 

Reviewed alongside home more or less by Paul Casey

Reviewed by Susan Millar Du Mars in Skylight 47

The Lucky Star of Hidden Things is an unusually assured debut. A quick glance at the acknowledgements tells us poet Afric McGlinchey has been writing and submitting work for a long time, and has the accolades to prove it. A glance at the poems tells us McGlinchey has lived, does live, a full life. She has the observational and reflective capacity to render that life – the small, vital moments of it – accessible to the reader. All the shades. textures and moods are there, and with them comes resonance.
McGlinchey is at her best in unforced moments of witnessing. Sometimes her touch is light, as in ‘On not flicking my tea towel at his departing behind’, a poem about her teenage son in which affection wins out over irritation. At other times her voice becomes quieter, detached yet infinitely tender as it tackles Iife’s more painful truths. My favourite poem is ‘Last Conquest’, in which the poet describes helping her elderly, ailing father take a bath. McGlinchey uses words like ‘conquest’, ‘king’, ‘remote’, behemoth,' to give us a sense of how big and powerful, how grand, her father once seemed to her. And now he is ‘bird-thin, bone-white’. At the poem's end, father and daughter stand side by side in a lift: ‘face I tight-jawed doors, and wait / sorrow’s invasion borne /  in a tomb of silence’. lt’s a moment all of us have lived through with loved ones: the one in which there is so much to say, nothing is said. The inclusion of ‘tomb’ reminds us there is only one destination possible for this journey. This poem gave me the fluttering-breath-in-the-throat feeling that the best poems do. I won't soon forget it.
McGlinchey has a great ear. You'll want to eat her words like figs, tearing through the membrane of sense to taste what is rich, sweet, yielding: ‘saddle sweat, smack of salt, almond; / twang of diesel. turning milk’ (from ‘Night Scents’). She has an imagist's sense of which small detail to serve up in brief, unadorned lines: ‘All that's left  / dusty footprints  / on a windowsill'(from ‘Red Letter Day’).
Afric's first name honours the continent on which she has lived most of her life and from which she takes much of her arresting imagery. There is a glossary in the back of the book explaining vocabulary of Shona or Afrikaans origin. The book's first section is called ‘In my dreams I travel home to Africa’. I needed the glossary lots in this section. l started to feel like l was reading a National Geographic article, rather than poetry. There's not a thing wrong with integrating words from different cultures into poetry – in McGlinchey's work, they stud the poems like jewels. However, grouping so many poems on Africa together means the jewels' glow becomes a glare. Far better to stir these poems into the whole. Reading them together, our attention is drawn to what is different about this land, these people: I prefer poetry that emphasises what cultures share.
This is the type of grouping error common in unwieldy first collections: certainly not a fatal flaw. It makes me feel protective of McGlinchey, though, as it may leave her open to the charge of being an ‘exotica writer‘. You know the sort. They liberally sprinkle foreign names into their work so you'll know they've travelled a bit. They completely overlook the point that moments of great meaning happen all the time on our own cross streets, in our own kitchens. McGlinchey is not an exotica writer. I'd place her instead amongst a group of current poets who are descendants of Whitman with his blade of grass: ‘l celebrate myself, and sing myself / And what I assume you shall assume / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you’.
The modern children of Whitman write poems less overtly political, and polemical, than some of their contemporaries. Their voices are quieter: their focus on the smaller details – the blades of grass – through which they access what both connects and transcends human experience.
McGlinchey. with her blend of the sensual and spiritual, her deep humility as a witness, her yearning for both the safe and the sublime that home can offer, is a Whitmanesque poet of enormous promise. Both she and Salmon Poetry can be proud of this lyrical, evocative début.

Interview: Afric McGlinchey interviewed for Al-Khemia Poetica on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Read the interview here>>

Other Reviews:

'A début with sensuous detail. McGlinchey's always assured.' Noel Williams (Orbis)

'McGlinchey's strength lies in her ability to record the noisome flux of the world.' Dave Lordan (Southword)

home more or less

Paul Casey

Review: home more or less reviewed by Dave Lordan for Southword (Munster Literature Centre)

home more or less

The present is undoubtedly a period of transition and of transformation in Irish poetry, one in which the meaning of the very term "Irish poetry" is being opened up, interrogated, changed and expanded by those who practice poetry in Ireland. In fact, things are changing so much that the term "Irish poetry" simply fails to account for the range and variety of contemporary practices here. Experimentalists may argue that this has been the case throughout the 20th century, at least, and it is true that many marginal and avant-garde practitioners have preferred to place themselves globally. But this was in parallel to, and often in reaction to, a mainstream which was overwhelmingly dominated by poets and poems which clothed and rooted themselves in versions of Irishness, and never shut up about it. These days, however, who can really claim that Ireland is anything more than the name of a convenient accounting trick? Who can tell what the mainstream of Irish poetry is nowadays? Poems using ancient Celtic myths, or political myths concerning modern day Ireland as their ur-text, certainly don’t count for what they used to. These kind of poems published by poets of our generation often seem way past their sell-by date, and (given that the main challenges for artists in any discipline remain making it now and making it new) sadly lacking in contemporary nous and artistic ambition.
It's the condition of wandering exile which gives rise, perhaps, to the most understandable attachment to mythologies. Cast away from the land of our birth we may need the sustaining lie of the motherland to keep us on our feet. There are many poems in which a mythical Africa and a mythical Ireland and even a mythical Cork are well couched and beautifully presented in Paul Casey's home more or less. But I was much more impressed with the poems which eschewed cultural signposting, such as the mysterious and novelistic 'Return', or poems which offered an invigorating cut-up of the source material such as 'Imbas', 'Spell of Rest', and 'Puzzle Invocation'. These I found intriguing, memorable, original.
One of the most interesting recent developments in poetry in this jurisdiction is the emergence of a multicultural and multilingual poetic in place of the centuries' deep bilingual one, a process gestured to by the recent Landing Places anthology of immigrant poetry, and confirmed here by Paul Casey. Although it talks a lot about national identities and relies to a certain extent on mist-shrouded national mythologies, home more or less, at its most mongrelly innovative, can be read as undermining the attempt to place art according to political geographies or "linguistic communities". home more or less contains poems entirely or partially in the languages of English, Gaelic, Afrikaans and Zulu. Is an Afrikaans or a Zulu poem an Irish one?
The question may seem absurd until we remember the absurd fact that most poems we call Irish are written in the othertongue of English anyway. In any case a piece of art is never absurd until we approach it with our own absurdity. An attempt to place a poem in a category in which it patently does not belong is absurd and generates absurdity, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misleadingness. The best art resists and refutes attempts to claim it for any labelling prerogative. Our artistic practice should be the means by which we individually unlabel ourselves and shed all the imposed and mispronouncing layers of nation, myth, religion... The collection's stand-out poem 'Learning Afrikaans in the SADF' brilliantly personalises and dramatises this confrontation between the free and uncategorisable and the old and diabolical machinery of labelling and exploitation:
'Sorry sir, I don't speak Afrikaans', I managed
and what replied was my introduction
to the classified, sonic weaponry
the inmost algorithms of apartheid's armature.
Haai pasop roef! Jaa nie fock nie boetie ... Jy!
jy's net nog 'n fokken dom rooineck ne?
nou draai daardie wit mosdop op
jou kop jou klein poes bliksom se doos!
The refusal to be a good Afrikaner, a good racist, a good killer, literally drives the drill Sergeant insane:
Eruptions of spew and
fury jowl-contorted sounds
half-formed hieroglyphs....
I hear an echo of the conventional critic/anthologiser railing against the brazen and unsummarisable variousness of our poetic present, losing their angry mind because we refuse to a make sense to them in the way they might wish to knock the damned sense right out of us.

© 2013 Dave Lordan

Dave Lordan was born in Derby, England, in 1975, and grew up in Clonakilty in West Cork. In 2004 he was awarded an Arts Council bursary and in 2005 he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. His collections are The Boy in the Ring (Cliffs of Moher, Salmon Poetry, 2007), which won the Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish writer and was shortlisted for the Irish Times poetry prize; and Invitation to a Sacrifice (Salmon Poetry, 2010). Eigse Riada theatre company produced his first play, Jo Bangles, at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in 2010. He has lived in Holland, Greece and Italy, and now resides in Greystones, Co Wicklow.  His third collection of poetry, we are not falling, we are being thrown, will be published by Salmon later this year.

Review: home more or less reviewed by Thomas McCarthy for The Examiner, Saturday April 13th, 2013

"New collections of poetry from Afric McGlinchey and Paul Casey."

Here are two new collections by poets of the Irish diaspora, two writers of Irish parentage who returned to Ireland with a different story to tell. 

Both are out of Africa, with McGlinchey following the star of Sadalachbia, the harbinger of an African spring, and Casey homeward-bound with Afrikaans as well as Munster Irish in his vocabulary. Their presence is enriching and melodic: they carry rhythms of affection that is continental in its humanity, inclusive, and multi-cultural...

...Sensuous too, Paul Casey learned his Afrikaans courtesy of the SADF: 'Haai pasop roef! He responds 

'Like sub-Saharan thorns translation skills mutate and still their flowers must dilate. 

He coped with the expected harshness of South Africa, and ended up teaching scriptwriting at Nelson Mandela University. Mindful of the Zulu proverb that poetry sits still while hunger is a wanderer, he hungered after another language, and as if to prove that the hunger of wandering is settled, he has written a poem for Alan Titley: 

Cathain a bheith tú ag teach ar ais? tá said ag monabharcad é sin i ríocht na ndaoine? tá fhios again...'

Casey is more political than McGlinchey, and therefore more disturbed culturally. His naming of names or pointing at milestones, from Kavanagh's bench to the reworking of a Douglas Hyde translation, looks like part of a sophisticated effort to find a landing-place with enough flat grass to allow a descent. 

With his mixture of humour, robust language and neurasthenic wandering, he is a serious talent; a man to demand attention. He might be addressing us all with these words: 

'There you are little sisteran Irish mist about your cheek.'
Reviewed alongside Afric McGlinchey's The Lucky Star of Hidden Things.

The Mind

John Fitzgerald

Review: The Mind reviewed by Tulika Bahadur for On Art and Aesthetics - April 3, 2017


At the heart of John FitzGerald’s third poetry collection The Mind (2011, Salmon Poetry) is the seemingly important yet forever elusive concept called “The Center”. What is this center? It is never directly defined, just that the effects of its proximity, and lack thereof, to human consciousness are given expression through unforgettable imagery – biological, geometrical. Also legal, which makes sense, for the poet happens to be an attorney (for the disabled, in Los Angeles).

The Center, the reader gets an impression, is some kind of metaphysical place. A location of wholeness, of clarity. Separation from it is pain. We do not know what the Center is composed of, but mid-way through The Mind, the poet drops a particularly illuminating line on its role and its function in our lives – “from the center,” writes he, “we attribute value”.

On a structural level, the book is a circle. It commences with departure/disorientation (“Removed from the Center”) and concludes with arrival/reorientation (“Regaining the Center”). The journey in between is broken into nine deeply philosophical sections: “Fear”, “Time”, “Beauty and Truth”, “Death”, “I”, “Prophesy”, “Rules”, “Choice” and “A Mind like the Wind”.

As he begins this work, the poet finds himself alone, in darkness. He wants to understand “the mind”. Face it. Through it, find a way ahead. But the mind is too complex, too large, too stunning. FitzGerald writes:

Removed from the center, I begin again, / where someone in the crowd might be, / those absolute strangers, in whose lives I am.
I can only look into the mind for five more seconds. / The true mind, the one of thinking, is far too bright to see directly. / I have to veil it to contain it.
I have to trick myself into believing I even can contain it. / The way someone drowning swallows the ocean, / I can take no more than a glass of river, and the rest consumes me.
“I can only look into the mind for five more seconds. / The true mind, the one of thinking, is far too bright to see directly. / I have to veil it to contain it.” 
Removed from the center, the poet is afraid. He soon talks of the demise of his father and his uncle. He dwells upon the taste and the smell and the shape of fear. Fear is like dust, thinks FitzGerald. And fear is unlike desire. Desire starts small and gets bigger and bigger, remaining the same version all along. But fear is unpredictable. It can transform itself, turn into success or failure:

Fear begins as larva. / Compare that to desire, / which is born just a smaller version of what it always will be.
Fear transforms into other things, desires just get bigger. / Some like to point out that the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. / Maggots become flies,but who pretends to notice?
Fears can become both flies and butterflies, given a choice. / Fear predicts the future. / That is how it knows where it is now.
FitzGerald continues to concentrate on different phenomena: Time, Beauty, Truth, Death. On time, he makes a most interesting observation: “The mind is door after door after door, / Time is keeper of the keys.” Time, in a way, helps the self handle the mysterious enormity of the mind. Time unravels moments, keeps things from happening all at once. Time, the passing of which we like to indicate through rhythmic mechanistic ticking, fundamentally remains “as silent as ellipses”.

After a while, the human sense of identity – the “I” – emerges like a divinity in the book. What is it? Who is it? For the poet, “I” is at once the generative and intelligent deity and the privileged Adam in paradise, who must engage in taxonomy (Genesis 2:19-20) – “I is the Creator. Or at least, the giver of names.” But this semi-human semi-divine “I” feels weak and threatened. It has a fluctuating constitution. It has no proper territory – “It recognizes other gods before it, to be sure. / If I’m not in the center, then where am I?” The poet tries hard to chart and calculate his character but his doubts and confusions regarding himself and reality hardly fade away:

Where would I go if I were a word? / I’ve been seeking landmarks to pinpoint my position. / There is no other reason to even bother to observe.
I draw an azimuth from four corners, / I try triangulation too. Here, where spaces / and lines intersect, is exactly where I should be.
Yet such measurements only serve to prove / that the mind doesn’t seem to exist. / And where would that leave this version of reality?
Reflections on “Rules” and “Choice” follow – thoughts on what could be and must be done in life (“dreaming”, “writing”), thoughts on the various possibilities available to the human self (“being”, “willing”). The poet, through these musings, starts to “regain the center”. He is pushed to, he confesses, a rather “anticlimactic end”. Nothing new here. He has just found what he had lost. What’s the difference? What’s the whole point then? According to him, the advantage of a newer, sharper vision. He writes:

Regaining the center is anticlimactic, like finding the end of a rope. / A complication of untangling. / Lost remains the only way to find.
But no need to search for a known location. / Simply go back the way you came. / Except on return the path looks different.
It is difficult to sufficiently capture the profundity of The Mind in a single write-up. It is a challenging psychological read with sharp insights that lovers of serious literature will love and learn from. The project is rendered all the more meaningful and beautiful with the poet’s honest descriptions of his life’s great events…of his grief, his vulnerability.

Review: The Mind reviewed by Diann Blakely for Smartish Pace

… If John FitzGerald’s earlier work shows Berryman’s influence, he comes strongly into his own with The Mind. Like Galassi’s third collection, its has its own tomb-like depths and angelic heights. The book indicates FitzGerald’s early in saturation in Rilke, one of whose New Poems [1907] is titled “The Cathedral,” and has a flight and plummet not dissimilar to “Leaving a Dove.”

FitzGerald’s sensibility is riven not only between the here and the not-here, the concrete and the abstract, but also ancestry. While his name draws the very map of Ireland, Italy once again enters into the equation, as do, so to speak, numbers: these, not titles, which are given only to the book’s eleven sections, identify The Mind’s poems, which gradually reveal, sometimes litanically, the age of his father and his grandfather at death, his own terrifying experience with a collapsed lung, and even rules. In “Sixty,” he writes, they are “dreams,” and “like everything, [grow].”

    What? Did you think the rules never changed?
    Well, I might bend them before your eyes.

    Rules are something I can get into.
    Collections of words are my forte.
    Some might come up again a little later.

    But for now, by choice, I still abide.
    Choice is also easily numbered.
    The two choices here are delete or revise.

FitzGerald is far too intelligent not to know that “forte,” a term from fencing, is pronounced with a silent “e”: there is much silence in The Mind—note the white space between the tercets—and  as for “forte,” think of where the angels came to visit Rilke. Duino Tower was originally a “fortification,” of course,  yet what FitzGerald longs for are the angelic visitations that wrested the famous “Elegies” from the former poet and might beat back into unconsciousness the demonic fears that “manifest in body.”

My favorite two poems in the book are the duo of endings: both offer hope chastened by experience. “Eighty-eight” and “Eighty-nine” limn the the possibility of new beginnings, which yes, is intertwined with terror in Rilke’s angels—”inasmuch as hell survives, we grow attached to other people”—but by this point, we know that FitzGerald’s salvation has been found in earthly form, and if part of that “form” is human, the other art is poetry of the highest—and bravest—order:


    Regaining the center is anticlimactic, like finding the end of a rope.
    A complication of untangling.
    Lost remain the only way to find. 

    But no need to search for a known location.
    Simply go back the way you came.
    Except on return the path looks different.

    So, run off and start your own religion,
    wherein mindsong can make a tree sigh just in passing.
    Let us question each verse till it shows us.

About the Reviewer: Diann Blakely is the author of three books of poetry as well as an editor, essayist, and reviewer. She taught at Belmont University, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, Watkins Arts Institute, and also served as the first poet-in-residence at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee. A Robert Frost Fellow at Bread Loaf, she was a Dakin Williams Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Blakely has been anthologized in numerous volumes, including Best American Poetry 2003 and Pushcart Prize Anthologies XIX and XX. Diann Blakely passed away in 2014.

Review: The Mind reviewed by Amelie Frank at The Lit Pub (January 2015)

If I were still working with John FitzGerald (in the interest of full disclosure, we worked together at Red Hen Press), I would nudge him and say of his book THE MIND, "Skynet becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th."

My sense of John is that he has been aware of himself for a long time, but not in a solipsistic or narcissistic way at all. He is a keen observer, a consumer of origins, fine distinctions, continua, grand schemes, and minute details. He likely began observing and contemplating information from the moment he experienced the glare of light in the delivery room, and he has never stopped. 

Interestingly, while THE MIND is about the remarkable way John thinks, it speaks to the larger questions of how we all think, how we came to be sapient in the first place, and how we develop as thinking souls in space and time. Keeping the language of his prose-like tercets basic, unadorned, and free-flowing, he accomplishes poetry of significance and elemental beauty. Left brain contemplation of structure and systems aligns itself with right brain wonder and whimsy, but neither hemisphere dominates in the work, so the reader can only expect the unexpected. And the rewards are great: poems of curiosity, orientation with the universe, sorrow, finding center, and surprising hilarity. (Only John can make the idea of rocks funny.)

If I were teaching from John's book, I would encourage poetry students to examine his masterful skill with personification. I would encourage philosophy students to wrestle with his experiences of phenomena. I would ask psychology and neuro-biology candidates to experience the brain from inside-out. I would ask physics students to explore how we process space and time in an era when such concepts are continually challenged and updated. I would ask divinity students to consider creation from the point of view of the created. THE MIND weighs so many approaches to thinking and being that you won't devour it in one or two sittings. Read it as you would the Book of Genesis, or Hawking, or an introduction to meditation. You will not think the same way ever again after reading it.

Review: The Mind reviewed in Midwest Book Review

"This collection of poems reflects on the events in our lives that take place even while we are reaching for light in a dark world. Always out of reach, like listening to the wind, but missing the point, we stumble on. Thoughtful and leaving readers thinking, The Mind is an excellent collection and very highly recommended." 

Review: The Mind reviewed in by Marie Lecrivain for Al-Khemia

"John FitzGerald's new collection, The Mind, is one poet's journey through his internal cosmos. In The Mind, the poet wanders through the realms of life, beauty, truth, death, The Self, and possibility (or, prophecy), but... to what end? Fitzgerald's The Mind is a 21st Century companion to Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, but one endowed with an immediate, vibrant accessibility; a Hero's Journey not soon to be forgotten."  

Review: The Mind reviewed by John Starbuck on Goodreads:

The Mind is JOHN FITZGERALD’s third poetry collection and continues and expands on his insight into the myriad aspects of human emotion. The poems are philosophical; emotions are set against the ‘objective’ consciousness of the mind. The result is a deep exploration of what it means to be human.

Interview: John Fitzgerald interviewed by Marie Lecrivain for Al-Khemia Poetica:

     John Fitzgerald's new collection, The Mind (copyright 2011 Salmon Poetry), is one poet's journey through his internal cosmos. In The Mind, the poet wanders through the realms of life, beauty, truth, death, The Self, and possibility (or, prophecy), but... to what end? FitzGerald's, The Mind is a 21 Century companion to Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, but one endowed with an immediate, vibrant accessibility; a Hero's Journey not soon to be forgotten.

     FitzGerald, an attorney who fights for the rights of the disabled, took some time to answer questions regarding the inception, as well as literary process that went into his latest collection of work.

     Q: Please explain the what events led you to form the concept behind The Mind?

     A: A couple ideas collided. My father died unexpectedly at forty-two, while I was in Europe. It was ten days after his burial I first learned of his death. My own forty-second birthday was approaching, and I reached it. I felt it worthy of some memorialization. I had been working a long time on a piece that didn’t pan out, wherein I catalogued aspects of the mind, as if descended from one another genealogically. Those efforts transformed into this.

     Q: Your use of the article “The,” in the title is telling. Are you referring to the “universal” mind, as in shared global consciousness, or to your “own” mind, by removing yourself from The Center and placing yourself in the role of observer. Why/why not?

     A: I’m working on a non-fiction book, in which I answer that question like this: There was a time before language. Suppose you are a hunter, with nothing but your wits and a spear you made yourself. You don’t just wander aimlessly, hoping some piglet impales itself. You track. That’s what hunting is. Reading signs. And those signs speak much as any words. I may never have seen the particular creature I’m after, but it came through the brush here, scraped its fur against this branch, put its right front foot just here as it drank from the stream. I have no doubt it is an antelope, a heavy male. It marked its territory there, a sign for other antelope to read. But I speak antelope. It nibbled from those shoots then took off in that direction. This story told itself in my head. Earth spoke it directly to me in a voice no other can here. Once we have words to describe this process, that internalized voice of Earth is ‘The Mind.’

     Q: The first stanza, in poem “Three,” caught my attention:

     The mind could be a very long poem.
     It could pick up where you left off, so many years ago,
     before you became law abiding.”

     This could infer that the poet is an outlaw. Based on that, as an attorney, how do your reconcile your dual roles of lawmaker and poet?

      A: My forthcoming book of poetry addresses that question directly, with a ‘fictional’ poem about the conflict between an attorney and his inner poet. Actually, I think the selected lines not merely infer, but directly states the opposite: that I am not an outlaw now, but may once have been. I understand how disappointing this can be. My first poems were published before I began law school in 1993. Once law school began, I had to give up writing poetry.

     Completion of law school left quite a vacuum. I wrote four poetry books between 1998 and 2004, of which The Mind was the first. When they were done I adopted the notion I would not write more until I published these, so applied myself to that. The fourth book I wrote, SpringWater, was the first published in 2005. The third, TellingTime by the Shadows was published in 2008. The first, this one, was published in 2011. And the second book I wrote will be published by Salmon in 2014. I became an attorney to learn how far law could be stretched before breaking. Knowledge of law allows one to exist at its limits. Law school changes a person, makes one foreseer of liabilities. With these four books all published, I was freed to go back to writing again, and am now working on non-fiction.

     Q: There are many references to your own mortality, and the death of family (father, uncle), in your collection, particularly to the ages where both these men both passed on. Would you say that gaining a greater awareness of your own mortality is a gift, or a detriment, to your poetry, and, is it something that you will continue to foster? Why/why not?

     A: The men in the line I find myself die relatively young. The aforementioned uncle set a record reaching sixty. I would say I am acutely aware of the limitations. It makes me feel as if I never have enough time, or things are not getting accomplished quickly enough. Still, I consider it advantageous. There’s something intrinsically rewarding in fascination, at least for me. I love to be fascinated, and spend time making myself that way.

     Q: The Mind reads like a philosophical treatise, with you, as The Poet, hypothesizing/researching/and possibly concluding where He stands in the universal order of things. Did/did you not you intend for your book to be so?

     A: Absolutely. By the time I wrote The Mind, my father was dead longer than I knew him. His death was so unexpected. I have both his birth certificate and death certificates, as if they prove he ever even existed. Cause of death was retropharyngeal abscess dissecting into mediastinum with bilateral serofibrinopurlent empyema. His body produced its own poison, and he choked of unpronounceable words. Turns out that is just an infection, and had he gone to a doctor, might even be here now. The awareness became even more acute when, at age 42, I found myself in a hospital bed breathing through tubes, and I realized then how surprisingly death can come upon you.

     Q: The Mind contains nine lines per poem, all the poem titles numbered “One” through “Eighty-nine.” Why such specific structure?

     A: When I began, I did not expect to write such a long poem. That aspect just evolved. I set out only to write nine lines, and it grew from there. When I first finished parts one through ten, I considered it done, but couldn’t get that format out of my head, so just kept at it. Originally it had 111 parts, but was scaled down to this, with remnants found in Telling Time, which indeed takes its title from a line in The Mind. I find that establishing artificial rules for the poem provides a sort of frame into which a picture must be forced to fit. In Spring Water, for example, every poem is 32 lines, 4 parts of 8 lines each, with no line longer than 65 characters. In the mind, I wanted each tercet to stand alone, and each part to stand alone as they form a comprehensive whole. So when you’re reaching that ninth line you know you’re time is running short and you’d better get to the point.

     Q: Now that The Mind, is a published collection of poetry, what kind of feedback are you receiving from your readers?

     A: The Mind was completed in 2002. I have been reading it at venues since, so it’s been known to many for a long time before publication in print. It has an oral tradition. The feedback has been overwhelming. Everybody loves it.

     Q: As a poet with dual citizenship, where do you find your true inspiration, in the Irish poetry tradition, or in the American? Why/why not?

     A: I do not think I am inspired. There is a thing that makes me write and that is the need to record what seems to cross through my awareness. I am an avid note taker. Day to day life tends to become so routine, it’s rare to think something new and original. But I set that goal for myself, and have note pads everywhere, in my car and every room of my house. It’s not so much inspiration as a conscious effort to notice a good line when it occurs.

     Q: According to your bio, you have several literary projects: Primate, a novel and screenplay; The People of the Net, a work of poetic literary non-fiction;  and the poetry collection The Charter of Effects, currently in progress. Which one can we expect next to come to fruition?

     A: Well, Charter is scheduled for publication by Salmon Poetry in 2014. Most likely, that will be next, though it may have a different title. Primate is out there floating around. The other works continue to progress. I find that works I once thought complete tend to be absorbed by more recent writings until they’re basically sucked into a black hole and no longer exist in their former incarnation. So People of the Net no longer exists, it is part of something else now. All will be published at some point, it’s just a matter of making them known to the right people. 

article content © 2012 marie lecrivain


Pete Mullineaux

Review: Trevor Conway profiles "Swan Heron Ducks", a poem from Pete Mullineaux's collection Session for the Poems in Profile website, as well as interviewing Pete...


Perhaps the most prominent feature of the poem, for me, was its tone. It’s the only poem I’ve come across where the first word I’d use to describe it (and especially its tone) is “patient”. And that’s despite the use of run-on lines, which usually create a sense of urgency in a poem.
There’s an odd mix of the quiet and the melodramatic here. Odd in the sense that the combination works so well. It’s quite like a classical tune luring us into lulls, followed by crescendos such as “tuning feathers; then like a great winged / accordion at the heart of this session, flamboyant / flapping brings wind and sound to the picture”.
At heart, this is a nature poem which, in many ways, feels like a poem about people. Maybe we are so used to birds doing very bird-like things such as flying that the unusual descriptions here resonate on a deeper level. And it feels as though simple acts such as dipping and diving have extra meaning for the animals themselves. Conveying this is evidence of the poet’s skill, and such deeper meaning is, I think, something we associate with good poetry.
Swan, Heron, Ducks

The surface on the canal tonight: black cellophane.
And music without volume – here in overlapping
rhythmic channels of water birds. On her island nest
a white goddess folds an angular neck, arranging
and tuning feathers; then like a great winged
accordion at the heart of this session, flamboyant
flapping brings wind and sound to the picture.
Across the weir, her partner raps with an old heron –
bird banter between tunes, before the grey one swoops
above the reeds towards a suitable platform for business;
no show, motionless now on spindly fiddle-bow legs –
content to sit this one out, waiting perhaps for a call
to sing an old heron song – and all this time, weaving
in their own patterns, the coming and going of ducks,
silver-grey in the moonlight, tracking their own
invisible melody, dipping and diving…

>>>>> Read Trevor Conway's interview with Pete Mullineaux HERE>>>>

Review: Session reviewed by Anne Marie Kennedy (May 2015)

A Poet Prepared: Pete Mullineaux looks insightfully at traditional Irish music

The Bristol born, Galway based poet, author and playwright Pete Mullineaux knows his way confidently around traditional Irish music. His poetry collection, Session, (Salmon Poetry), dedicated to his mother, with artwork by Fran McCann, is guaranteed to leave his readers wanting more. 

The poetry, like the regional variations in the music, varies in style and tone, the common link being the poet’s voice as a silent observer. Mullineaux uses evocative images, insightful observation, humour, playfulness and nostalgia. He is a scrutiniser of intricacies, a watchful eye, someone who listens to the tunes and observes the people who play them. The reader sees the players’ eyes, fingers, their bodies, the body language and the resulting inter-personal and inter-musical relationships being formed. Mullineaux also explores the emotions and psychologies of his subjects with curiosity and admiration. 

One of this writer’s favourites is ‘A Piper Prepares,’ where the speaker intimately describes the uileann piper’s preamble. It is a tantalisingly visual poem with so much anticipation in the opening lines that the reader hopes the preamble goes on. ‘It’s almost like shooting up; a captivating ritual / as the belt is looped around the forearm; the buckle/ notched, blowpipe joined to leather bag; a shard/ of cloth, folded between elbow and rib for comfort.’ Mullineaux has the speaker in this poem watch the piper assemble the instrument and describe it in slow motion detail. ‘Drones are attached like pistol silencers, regulators poised,’ and while acknowledging the tune of the same name, ‘the piper’s apron,’ he remarks on the leather patch across the lap which provides ‘protection from the crazed jabs of the chanter, / its manic hypodermic dance.’ As the tune begins, ‘a primal hum vibrates,’ and ‘a gasp/ for air as the bellows fill and suddenly there’s life/ in the lungs and wind in the reeds...’ 

‘The Five Mile Chase,’ is a tribute to Patrick Street. Andy Irvine, John Carty, Kevin Burke and Jed Foley have their individual stage movements noted and matched to rhythm, playing styles and character nuances. ‘A tilt of the chin for the pigeon on the gate/ a bend in the waist for the stack of wheat/ a wink in the eye for the blue eyed rascal/ a slip in the hip for a trip up the stairs.’ It’s a twelve line piece that could be sung in jig time. Hup! 
Mullineaux uses a coupling motif throughout the collection. In ‘The Lads of Leitrim,’ an accordion and a flute player meet up regularly to play a session in a snug in Manorhamilton. The poet compares their ease and joy in the music to a long standing marriage. ‘Could there be a love closer to their hearts/ than this – something to cherish for a lifetime -/ never to part, for better or worse/ in sickness and in health.’ As they launch into the Fermoy Lasses, he declares ‘these fellas are wedded to the music.’ 

Another couple, Paddy Canny and Frankie Gavin, have their musical communion told with slow lyrical ease in ‘Cave Music II.’ Canny, ‘the elder statesman has eyelids drawn / tight like a mole,’ while the younger Frankie, ‘allows the older man the lead, follows the set tone/ finding his own empathetic touch.’ Mullineaux provides the snapshot, watching the young Gavin who could have closed his eyes, but chose not to. Gavin, who was ‘a generation apart’ at the time, kept watch of the older man, ‘aware how much this moment must be fixed, / treasured deep in his own vaults.’ 

Watching Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke's playing compelled the poet to write ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lámh.’ Byrne’s accordion sits ‘like a sleeping child in his lap,’ and Blancke ‘leans forward, the harp/against her cheek, listening/ for a heartbeat...’ The poem moves swiftly from the womb analogy, to a child one, when Byrne ‘tickles and squeezes’ the accordion, and like an infant, growing with the pace and momentum of the tune, together, the duo, ‘fast forward, to courtship, / dancing, making crazy love / through music.’ 

This aptly titled collection, Session, by Pete Mullineaux is a gem. Encore, si’l vous plait? It is available from, bookshops and music stores.

Article: "Irish Poetry soaked in waves of musical imagery and sound". Pete Mullineaux featured on Fusion: A Global Forum of Music, Words and Art

tfInterview:  Pete Mullineaux interviewed by Denise McNamara for the City Lives column of The Galway City Tribune, Friday 19th October 2012

"Educator Pete is driven by creativity" - Denise McNamara meets writer and teacher, Pete Mullineaux

Pete Mullineaux is a man on a mission. That mission is to inspire as much creativity and imagination and across as many different forms as there are out there.

If ever there was a man to exude creativity, it is the amiable Bristol man.

A Jack of all trades in the arts world, he is a published poet, songwriter, musician, dramatist, actor, comedian, educationalist and lately, just for relax- ation, a fiddle player.

This week he turns his attention to two favourite themes that crop up often in his writing: fairness and equality.

As part of the Baboró children’s arts festival, Pete is holding workshops with national school children which encour- age them to write poetry which will tip the balance towards a more just and equal society.

Held in association with Poetry Ireland and Trócaire, this poetry encounter is designed to get kids to think creatively about the world and their place in it.

“There’s so much information out there. We know there are 250 million child labourers in the world for example, we know there are 25,000 who die every day from hunger. But our leaders seem to lack the imagination to do anything about it,” he insists.

“These kids are coming up with weird and wacky ideas to tip the scales but they’re no weirder or wackier than have been tried by governments which are not working. Imagination can change the world. Our imagination is the greatest gift we have.”

The workshops instill confidence in young people to express themselves and help them get over an innate fear of being wrong which can dampen cre- ativity, he believes.

“It’s about knowing the importance of having a voice. We have a voice to articulate the imagination, we can sing, write, draw – but a lot of people don’t have a voice. This is about instilling the confidence in themselves that what they feel and what they think matters."

Free workshops are also being held in the Galway City Museum for families on Saturday to allow parents to compose poetry with their kids, creating a rich memory for posterity.

Much of Pete's working life involves teaching, al to of it teaching poetry to school kids of alleges through his association with Poetry Ireland, which runs the Writers in Schools Scheme, one of the longest running arts-in-education programmes in the country, which is funded by the Arts Council.

He leads a regular creative writing course in Oughterard as well as other creative writing courses with older people throughout the city. He teaches act- ing classes in the Galway Arts Centre and works with the Galway Youth Theatre, training the young actors in the art of devising plays.

Outside of teaching, there is his own writing. He has published three collec- tions of poetry, the last one in 2011 entitled Session, which is inspired by his love affair with the fiddle and the regular music sessions.

One of his favourite ways to relax is to get lost in the fiddle with the Dusty Banjos, a community session for beginners and improvers held weekly at the Western Hotel in Prospect Hill.

Pete’s previous poetry collection was A Father’s Day, featuring stories about dads and dedicated to his own father, “an extraordinarily caring and kind and self-sacrificing person”. That came out in 2008. The first was called Zen Traffic Lights, which was published in 2005.

The very first poem he had published was when he was just 13.

His class was asked to write a poem inspired by the annual harvest festival and the poem, Harvest Festival, was featured in the school magazine. McMillan Publishers then wrote to him asking if they could include it in an anthology featuring such luminaries as Keats, Yeats and Shakespeare, called Poetry & Song.

It was his mother who nurtured that side of his talent. “She was always act- ing in school plays and embarrassing me. She always played the principal boy – Aladdin, Jack or Dick. I remem- ber from a very, very young age she was reading and telling us stories, mak- ing up poems. She gave me a sense of love of the language and words and story.”

But it was music rather than poetry that took over his life when he moved to London in the late 70s.

He played in a punk band called The Resisters before going solo as Pete Zero performing in two Glastonbury Festivals, once sharing the stage with the Pogues. Protest singers such as Bob Dylan and Woodie Gutherie were his biggest inspirations.

His top hit was Disposable Tissues, which the BBC chose as their crazy song of the week.

Making a living on the comedy and performance poetry circuit proved a bit difficult. He decided to instead study drama as a mature student in Middlesex University and went on to teach drama

It was in London while working for a campaigning group for the elderly that he met his wife-to-be, Moya Roddy from Dublin, who was also a writer.

When the couple’s only child Cass had turned two, they decided to move to Roscahill in Connemara where they had friends.

“I got fed up pushing her around parks in London when I could be pushing her around the countryside. We came in 1991 and have never left.”

Unsurprisingly his daughter, now 22, is big into the arts but has chosen to study law and German. Moya continues to write and has published a novel, short stories as well as plays for theatre and the radio.

The couple have frequently collaborated and in 2010 they wrote the radio play, Butterfly Wings, which aired on RTÉ.

To wind down he plays the guitar and now the fiddle, which he believes is excellent training for him.
“Learning the fiddle reminds me what it’s like to be on the receiving end. I do a lot of courses with active retirement groups and many of them are afraid of writing, they might have had a bad experience with it. Learning the fiddle is so difficult. It helps me to keep in touch with how scary learning can be,” he explains.

“The fiddle is where I go into another place. You can only play it when you get into the zone. I like to play in the bathroom. I went to a Martin Hayes workshop and he said he loves my poetry – I have poems about the fiddle. He too likes to play in the bathroom,” he grins.

As well as the teaching, he runs the poetry “slam” at the Galway Arts Centre and MCs a “Grand Slam” poetry final at the Cúirt literary festival in the city in April.

He also hosts a Cúirt slam at the Electric Picnic festival mind field area in Stradbally every year. Pete is currently working on a sci-fi children’s book aimed at the 12 or 13 age group.
“This is my first novel and it’s a new venture. I do so many school visits, it would be great to have my own book to share with them. I really want to enjoy writing it.”

Review: Session by Pete Mullineaux reviewed by S.J. Holloway for Orbis, Spring 2012


It is indicative of the content of Mullineaux's third collection that many of the poems take as their source small town, small bar folk songs, and their performances. The unity of musicians, although perhaps strangers, found in the reconstruction of traditional Irish music underpins the book: communities and connections appear and fade; the renditions of these songs are themselves equally transient. That seems to be Mullineaux's main lament as well as his joy. Poems such as 'Loosening the Grip' and 'Dusty Windowsills' both celebrate and mourn the music to which they refer. In 'Concertina', for example, there is

nothing strange then in a concertina sounding jolly
while the player's expression
is so often grave, giving little away
of what lies beneath.

   The book's other main preoccupation is water, specifically the otherness or confusion of being in its presence. '[A] compromise / with nature, to survive in water / you meet your nemesis half way' ('Boats Marinating') and 'Today we came upon two animated swans / with their fluffy young, taking the tarmac / away from the river / like refugees' ('Dry River Blues') allow the poet to explore this displacement alongside that of the music. For he is an outsider, an immigrant to the rural rooms of Galway and Mayo, and in this sense he knows that to relay the music accurately is somehow to be on the inside looking out rather than the reverse, and this frustration is evident. 
   The problem with much of this collection, fine though it is, is that these pastoral, almost private readings thus often lack external relevance. It is possible to read a few pages at random without realising that you read those same pages some hours before. As the poet says in 'Naming the Tunes: Swinging on the Gate/The Cup of Tea': 'Music or thought, which comes first? / What subliminal transaction occurs [...]?' Yet this is not to say that the poems are not worth rereading, or do not contain levels of meaning which can only be discovered with time, but merely to suggest that in dwelling so often on the causes of music rather than its effects leads to repetition, if not in language or syntax then in tone.
   For the music he speaks of is more than cultural, more than a fact of life. Perhaps this explains why lines as awkward as 'For all the brightness is within' from 'Cave Music II' can sit alongside such beautiful phrasing as 'a CD inside is playing: / Cathal Hayden's fiddle / soft as water' from 'Powell's Doorway'. As many poets have discovered before Mullineaux it is extremely difficult to transpose the sounds of music into words. Here it is done most effectively in part III, when his attempts to describe or define the causes of music are transferred to its effects. These reflections and resonances are evocative and insightful, whether human as in 'A Precarious Pint', or related to the natural world as in 'Fiddle Fox', 'Shags' ('Where are they going with such intent - these troubadours?') or the marvellous 'Requiem', which talks of cows anticipating their calves being taken away:

we make recordings of whales and dolphins
but the cows are singing in their camp
marking their loss
celebrating the grass
thanking the rain.

That the poems about the performance of music are slightly esoteric is unsurprising, but in looking past the sounds themselves and concentrating on what they might represent Mullineaux crafts genuine and perceptive surprises. More, please.

Sky Thick With Fireflies

Ethna McKiernan

Review: Sky Thick With Fireflies by Ethna McKiernan reviewed by Rory Brennan for Books Ireland (Summer 2012)

Poetry has been defined as memorable speech, by W.H. Auden among others.  We remember the voices of poets for different reasons: tone, wit, feeling, humor rancor, bleakness, joy, acuteness of expression. We recall Tennyson for his sadness, Swift for his anger. But others linger because of their defects: Utter flatness, self-indulgence, vacuity, pretentiousness. Let's see how the poets we consider here do in the "memorable test".

Ethna McKiernan has the sharp eye of the poet; like a good draughtsman who makes a revealing sketch she captures the nature and condition of objects and scenes with a persuasive realism. John Updike said his training at an art school in Oxford greatly enhanced his writing. This visual aspect is only one of the qualities of McKiernan's writing. She writes in direct, generally unadorned lines that have an unobtrusive, almost shy musicality.

Eavan Boland, who supplies the epigraph to the first poem in this substantial collection and is actually addressed in it, is clearly an influence as is Adrienne Rich. It is always a pleasure to find poetry that contains urgency, a need of expression, an imperative to be unburdened. This sense is left by most of the work here whether the themes are late motherhood, the ambiguities of loving, political protest, the triumph of art in (not over) domesticity "Rain flays the lake" is a recurring phrase that is one of the best I have rest for ages.

McKiernan's vision is of the kind described as unsparing. She casts a cold eye which of course has the paradoxical effect in art of heartening us, of strangely warming us with the chill of truth. This is a significant book and, as noted, a full one, large as many people's 'selected poems'. It is memorable for all the above reasons; a serious and resonant collection.

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