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

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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.

A Taste for Hemlock

Michele Vassal

Reviews for A Taste For Hemlock:
This is a book of consequences, but it is also a book of consequence, it matters.
     Martin Egan  (multi-platinum selling songwriter)

By far the best and most challenging collection of poems by a poet issued in 2011 is Michele Vassal's, A Taste For Hemlock (Salmon Poetry), with a cover by the author. Here is a European sensibility charging through the conventional staidness of much Irish contemporary work. It is richly to be hoped that this book receives the critical attention and promotion that it deserves; a book without decent promotion behind it by its publisher can often sadly wither and die. Ask for this book in bookshops or chase it up online. 
Fred Johnston, Western Writers' Centre 

The author of A Taste for Hemlock is not just sensual but uninhibitedly sensuous, as anyone who has plucked les fleurs du mal must be…Sharp, clever, funny, wonderfully evocative and with more hard-won wisdom than most, this is one of the 2011’s best collections of poetry....There’s a Baudelairean sensibility and aesthetic at work in A Taste for Hemlock, a delight in and of the senses, a savouring and appreciation of all that the wide world has to offer, and the bitter flavour attendant on wisdom. There’s also an understanding that the brightest moment of an object’s life, whether that be an animal, plant or fruit, or even a human, is just before the turning point of decay or a bruise; but that this is cyclical and to be anticipated is one of our consolations for loss… 
Alan Garvey, Gloom Cupboard 

A Taste for Hemlock is a mystical journey of transmutation birthed in the crucible of cultural dichotomy. Grounded in myths and storytelling, Michèle Vassal’s vision is uncompromising, incisive, and laden with a rich painterly sensuality.  In this book, she unravels, with honesty and sensitivity, the golden thread that runs through personal and collective memory, honouring both the frailties and beauty of our humanity. Each section, indeed each poem is like a way-station in the development of the human spirit enduring and then emerging from incredible adversity into true identity and ability in all its different guises. It has been said that beauty has nothing to do with being pretty. This book bears that out completely.  And it still manages to be mythic, absorbing and beautiful.
Martin Egan 

Michele Vassal has the rare gift of turning poetry into music. Each elegant, spare, melodic verse lingers in the mind like a beautiful song. 
Ferdia McAnna (Writer and Film Director)

The title poem “A Taste for Hemlock” is  a flawless sequence of short verse. It distils the complex, the communal drive to inevitable death at the end of a systemic melancholy thread.  “Defining desire and death,” a conceptual, moveable verse, disperses its acquired wisdom beyond the dull ache of long pain, above the throb of ritualistic grief. The verdant background of the book cover, the glistening cerulean undertones understate pure, passionate, pleasure. 
Nadine Sellers, Last Known Nest

The Juno Charm

Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Review: The Juno Charm by Nuala Ni Chonchuir reviewed by David Harmer for Orbis, Spring 2012


There is much to admire in this collection of poems that can swing their mood from the nuances of 'Menses' - 'Before the butterfly days / are the fly days / and before those / the days of the spider' - to the earthy and often rural basics of poems like 'Sofa': 'I squat by a farm-gate like a sneaky pisser/hunched low, arms bent, wearing ruin heavily.'
   The poet is herself the centre of the work and the work is centred on her experience. The cover notes make a reference to Blake and it is not without foundation. There are in this collection many examples of poems describing with a disarming simplicity the poet's worldview, one which has often been hard earned, but of course that simplicity masks a richness of poetic sensibility at work beneath the surface. Here there are moments of profound love, of bitter betrayal, of childbirth and joy, of disquiet and of peace and all resting in a deep sense of the writer as a woman. It is no surprise to find a poem entitled 'Poem Beginning with a Line by Plath'.
   Equally important, is the sense of the poet and the work being rooted firmly in a place. Sometimes she is in America, where a poem like 'Chinatown, New York' rings out a list of specific evidence line by chiming line glorying in the esoteric, the newly revealed ; or in 'Valentine's Day' where the poet is in a Lexington Avenue hotel, with the sounds and smells of the city rising up to surround the lovers nestled in bed. 'We steal heat through our skins / safe from the wind that hurtles up the island.' These urgent, urban moments are often contrasted with calmer more reflective rhythms and with a sense of Irishness and the land itself. A good example is the poem 'Galway' where 'Skirling origami swans decorate / the Claddagh basin while Galway / settles her night-shawl down, / boats and birds safe at her breast.' One of the best poems 'Dancing With Paul Durcan' seems so deeply Irish and funny and mad that really I should quote it all. Two lines will have to do.

'Paul,' I said, 'your poetry is filthy with longing.'
He said, 'Would you like to dance?'

   At times there is a clunk or two, perhaps because the poet seems too knowing, too aware of her craft, giving us writing too arch for its own good. In 'Airwaves' for example we find a 'newly-minted marriage' which is scarcely original, in 'Gull' I wish the bridges didn't 'bracelet the river' and the wedding breakfast in 'This Is No Cana' didn't agree with me. However, these are rare moments. In the magnificent, enriching and boldly coloured 'Frida Kahalo Visits Ballinasloe', any such carpings are knocked away by a poet who sings out the belief in art, in the creative life, in the need for the mustering of perceptions, energies and strengths to fight against whatever painful, grey version of reality the artist and writer finds herself in:

'Viva la vida,' says unflinching Frida, painter of pain.

The Book of Water

John Murphy

Review: The Book of Water reviewed by Barry Cole for Ambit (210, November 2012)

John Murphy is the greatest ex-Olympic-style wrestler and professor of computer science ever. He is also a very good poet, as this first collection confirms.

The Book of Water is sort of Cabinet of Curiosities, and a bit of a teaser. The poem 'Seems to Be', for example:

What with me being me and you seeming you,
  and you being you and me seeming me:
mirage, motive, will, and fixed point of view,
  transcendent other, yet singular being:
     in mode of the seen and mode of the seeing
     we are nothing at all if not seem and be.

Neat, but unexceptional? Not in the collection's context. The timelessness - it could have been written at any time in the last four hundred years - is juxtaposed (deliberately?) on the opposite page, by 'Riding with the Pig Man after Later with Jools' which, with the aid of, e.g., Radio Times, one could date its birth: the opening alone gives cultural relevance: 

So here goes, son.  Breathe.  No pressure.  Speak now.
I say the black guitar is a Burns and the band 
is Chris Barber’s fronted by Andy Fairweather-Low—

I’ve gambled on this late night music program 
hoping you’ll put down your paper and we’ll talk,
though lately all I say seems forced and false.

It's a cracking poem (I assume the 'program is an IT man's programme), and indicative of his cultural range. Which is wide. There's 'The Man Who Built Ireland', where Murphy doesn't play the Irish card, but embodies a tiny and moving Irish moment:

My father troops us along the North Circular
Pointing at churches, schools, and select houses. 
He says he built them all and we half believe him.

At Doyle’s corner DeValera’s coffin passes, 
Flag-draped on a shining gun carriage.
My father reloads his nicotine-stained finger.

I shoot my mouth off and say it’s rude to point.
My face stings and my eyes burn with grief.
I stand corrected before the man who built Ireland.

His range is wider than these examples indicate, but there's hardly a dud. The blurb, accurately for once, says 'John Murphy could break your arm, but chooses to break your heart instead...'

Barry Cole

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