Poetry Blast: Alan Gillis & Leontia Flynn

For our May Poetry Blast we are proud to present two poets from Northern Ireland.The Ulster Way by Alan Gillis and Airports by Leontia Flynn are read by D.C. actor Patrick Flannery.

Alan Gillis

 Alan Gillis was born in Belfast in 1973 and lives in Scotland where he is Lecturer in English at The University of Edinburgh and editor of Edinburgh Review.

His first collection, Somebody, Somewhere (2004) was short-listed for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award and won the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award for best first collection. Hawks and Doves (2007), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection Here Comes the Night was published in 2010.


The Ulster Way


This is not about burns or hedges.

There will be no gorse. You will not

Notice the ceaseless photosynthesis

Or the dead tree’s thousand fingers,

the trunk’s inhumanity writhing with texture,

as you will not be passing into farmland.

Nor will you be set upon by cattle,


ingleberried, haunching and haunting

with their eyes, their shocking opals,

graving you, hoovering and scooping you,

full of a whatness that sieves you through

the abbatoir hillscape, the runnel’s slabber

through darkgrass, sweating for the night

that will purple to a love-bitten bruise.


All this is in your head. If you walk,

Don’t walk away, in silence, under the stars’

Ice-fires of violence, to the water’s darkened strand.

For this is not about horizons, or their curving

limitations. This is not about the rhythm

Of a songline. There are other paths to follow.

Everything is about you. Now listen.

Leontia Flynn


Leontia Flynn was born in County Down and now lives in Belfast. She is the author of several full-length collections of poetry, including Profit and Loss (2011), Drives (2008), and These Days (2004), which won the Forward Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award. She has also been awarded the Eric Gregory Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

Fran Brearton, writing in The Guardian described the poet as : "One of the most strikingly original and exciting poetic voices to have emerged from Northern Ireland since the extraordinary debut by Paul Muldoon 35 years ago."

Find out more about Leontia on her website.




Airports are their own peculiar weather.

Their lucid hallways ring like swimming pools.

From each sealed lounge, a pale nostalgic sky

burns up its gases over far-flung zones,

and the planes, like a child’s mobile, hang at random.


Like hospitals, they are their own dominion.

We have tried their dishes with plastic knives.

We have packed our bags ourselves, no one has tampered with them,

and as we pass through the eye of the charged needle,

our keys and wallets drop from us like stones.


But now we are passing quicker, colder, clearer,

From East to West un-policed, a gate of light

which lengthens like some animal proboscis

Or a hoop bowled along at speed beside the sun.

And when we return, the airports remain in us,

We rock, dry-eyed, and we are not at home.


Behind the Scenes of Stitching

In today's post composer Sarah O'Halloran takes us behind the scenes of her project Stitching. It's a music drama based on a play by Northern Irish playwright Colin Stanley Bell. As part of Sarah's residency at GWU there will be workshop performances of Stitching on April 4th and 5th. The shows are free and open to all.

Putting Stitching together has involved a lot of collaboration. The first collaboration was between me and Colin Bell, but once we had a script ready we began to work with others. In September 2013 I visited Colin in Edinburgh, where we hired local actors to record dialog for playback in the performances, and to take pictures and video. We worked with Jenny Hulse, Suzanne Dance, Liz Strange, and Tom Freeman.

We didn't have much time, and our budget was next to nothing, so we had to be quick and creative. We created a makeshift recording studio in the little hallway of Colin’s apartment, and tried not to fall over cables as we passed between the rooms.

Suzanne Dance and Colin Bell.

Suzanne Dance and Colin Bell.

For our mailman character Tom Colin borrowed a real Post Office uniform from a friend, and we took to the streets pretending to deliver mail. Suzanne Dance got some strange looks as she walked through busy streets in a nightgown, as the confused Nana.


Our work included a day trip to Dunbar, where the piece is set, to take pictures of Lana and Nana on the beach.

Colin Bell and Jenny Hulse

Colin Bell and Jenny Hulse

The gang on the way to Dunbar's beach.

The gang on the way to Dunbar's beach.

Suzanne Dance and Jenny Hulse joking around as Nana and Lana.

Suzanne Dance and Jenny Hulse joking around as Nana and Lana.

On our microscopic budget we could only afford four actors, so Colin and I had to step up and play Lana’s parents. Playing Lana’s mother, Hannah, involved walking into the freezing cold water at Dunbar’s beach. I was really glad to get piping hot fish and chips on the way home!


When I returned to Washington D.C. I began my residency at the GWU Music Department. This supported my work on Stitching. Creating the music for Stitching has been a fun challenge. It's allowed me to bring together my love of musicals, opera, and avant garde music theater. Stitching is about people facing a very real problem, age related memory loss, in a magical version of our world where memories are stored in the form of knitting, and lost memories are holes in the fabric, which might be reparable. I was attracted to the piece because it's emotionally rich and relatable, but it's also full of magic, whimsy, and humor. This allowed me to created a score with a lot of musical variety, and to create a piece that I believe is both artistically innovative and approachable.


My residency gave me a project budget to workshop the piece with faculty and student performers. Rehearsals are currently in full swing. Four faculty musicians and eight student performers are taking part. The workshop process is a wonderful opportunity for me.


Young composers rarely have the chance to try out material with an ensemble before presenting a final version. At a recent rehearsal I asked our musical director/pianist Neil Weston to play something differently. He mentioned that the first time he played exactly what I had written, I responded “Yes you did, and that’s how I knew my instruction was wrong.” You would not believe how rarely I have had the chance to both find out a weakness in my score and do something about it before the audience hears it!


If you're wondering what a workshop performance means in the case of Stitching. The performers will be well prepared, they will be wearing costumes, but they won't have memorized the material or be moving around the stage. The music that we will perform is a completed draft, but I plan to revisit it based on what I am learning from the rehearsal process, and the audience reaction. The images that will be projected during the performance are also subject to revision.


Creating projected images to accompany my music is a relatively new challenge for me. I've done it on a small scale in the past, but in Stitching it's a vital part of the storytelling. I'm using projected text to underscore sung text, contradict it, and to flesh out ideas that didn't fit in the libretto. I'm using the photos and video we shot in Scotland to give the performance life by taking us directly into Lana and Nana's world. I've also been animating the work of artist Nico Dodd, who recently joined the Stitching team. We met at a  networking lunch for D.C.’s Emerging Arts Leaders. I enlisted his help to create drawings related to the story of Lana and Nana, he’s taken a wonderfully whimsical approach to it.

Evil Agnes the Sea Witch

Evil Agnes the Sea Witch

Lana unravelling Nana's memories.

Lana unravelling Nana's memories.

I hope you can join us for the show. If you do, stick around and talk with us after. The audience is a vital part of the workshop process, we want to know what you think!

You can see a workshop performance of Stitching at GWU's Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater on April 4th and 5th at 7.30. 

Stitching is suited to audiences from about age 10 and up, if you'd like to bring your children with you we'll be happy to see them. The performance lasts about an hour.



Poetry Blast: Siobhán Campbell

“Acerbic, cool, controlled, Siobhan Campbell gives us poetry with attitude.”

We are delighted to present the work of Siobhán Campbell for our first ever Poetry Blast. Siobhán is from Dublin and she currently lives in Washington D.C. She tells us that critics have complimented her work by calling it 'bitter and twisted'. What do you think?

Siobhán Campbell is the author of five books of poetry from Seren Books and Blackstaff Press in the UK and Dufour Editions in the US. Siobhan was born in Dublin and spent several years in New York and San Francisco. She has won awards in the National, Troubadour, Mslexia and Wigtown International competitions.  She has broadcast her work on RTE and BBC  radio.

She lives in Washington DC with her husband and she has three children.

If you'd like to read some of Siobhán's poetry her 2010 collection Cross Talk is available from retailers including Amazon. Her earlier collection "The Permanent Wave" is also available.


Don’t bring haw into the house at night

Or in any month with a red fruit in season

Or when starlings bank against the light,

Don’t bring haw in. Don’t give me reason

To think you have hidden haw about you.

Tucked in secret, may its thorn thwart you.

Plucked in blossom, powdered by your thumb,

I will smell it for the hum of haw is long,

Its hold is low and lilting. I will know

You want me buried in the deep green field

Where god knows what is rotting.

These Women

“These men are no dreamers”

-MacDiarmaid, “The Wreck of the Swan”

These women are no dreamers.

They make happen the full wake,

the kettle hopping,  the oven warm.


They take death in hand

And force him to be civil.

In their lighting, the spitting candle calms

And the rosary settles out of irony.


These women are not kind

If you did not iron the sheets you borrowed,

If you bring batch instead of sliced,

What good is that for sandwiches?


These women bar all holds in the

screamed stall of the birthroom.

Instead they ask for the gummed grit

They found for themselves in that

most alone of coupled moments.

These women know how to mash potatoes

so that they charge despair

out of a teenager.


They have followed a father

and a small child on a combine harvester,

not to pick up the pieces of the boy’s arm


and bring them to his mother,

but because they felt the call of the back field

like something rotting in the feed shed

before chief rat jumps out.


These women will not pass through

The horse meadow, even on a summer night,

For there they have felt that the world might  let us go.


They’ve seen the consequence of that.

Ironing keeps it at bay

and doing what is right.

Poetry (is a) Blast!

Solas Nua featured eight poets in What’s the Story?, the book we co-published with The Stinging Fly for Irish Book Day. We are delighted by the positive reception the book has received from the public and the press. Ron Charles, fiction editor of The Washington Post, called the book ‘a pot of literary gold.Solas Nua's Paddy Meskell is here to announce a new literary initiative, a monthly Poetry Blast to showcase.

bus stop copy.jpg

When I think about poems, I think of dry stone walls in the west of Ireland. The stones are the words of the poem and the finished wall is the intricate pattern of lines and curves, sounds and silences, rhymes and rhythms that make up a great poem. As stones are the stuff of walls, so words are the stuff of poetry. And finding the right word and putting it in the right place next to the right word is the stuff of fine poetry.

We often call poets ‘wordsmiths’. To me, it conjures up a picture of a skilled person transforming words through the intense heat of labor, creativity and imagination into the magic and mystery that is a poem. Just like the blacksmith in my village in Castleconnell transformed metal into tools.

I love reading poems. I especially love reading them out loud.  Often, I feel that I am only skimming the surface of the poet’s intended meaning, but the sound of reading a good poem out loud is something to hold in the ear and roll around and savor.

Each month, we’ll produce a video to introduce a talented Irish poet, give some content for one of their poems, and then read it aloud. Sometimes the reading will be performed by the poet, sometimes by actors, or friends of Solas Nua. We invite you to engage with the poem and the poet by sharing your reactions and thoughts about the poem in the comments.

If you are an Irish poet and you’d like us to consider your work for the Solas Nua Poetry Blast you can reach us at contact@solasnua.org



Irish Book Day Impressions

paddy solo.jpg

Solas Nua's Chairman Paddy Meskell spent Irish Book Day 2014 giving away copies of What's the Story? at his local Metro Stop, Columbia Heights. In today's blog he'll share some of the highlights of his day spent sharing Irish literature with wonderful people from all around the world who have made D.C. their home.

What a great privilege and joy it is to put a book into the hands of someone with the words “enjoy some lovely Irish stories and poems today”.

Paddy Meskell, Pat Reilly, Molly Brauer. Photo by Kate Flannery

Paddy Meskell, Pat Reilly, Molly Brauer. Photo by Kate Flannery

Pat and Molly and Chris and Kate and myself gave out about 1,800 copies of What’s The Story? today.  We wonder how many stories will “What’s The Story?” create as the book makes its way around the city and suburbs.

Little Nellie from Peru stuffed her copy of What’s The Story? into her cute pink school bag and asked: “Is this really my own book”?

Patricia from DC took one book and returned for six more because she is an English teacher in a local school and will use the book to teach her students.

Baba from Dakar in Senegal put his copy beside a bunch of the red roses he was selling. “What’s The Story with The Red Roses?” we laughed together.

Veronica from El Salvador took one book and then asked for a second because she said her husband needs to stop watching soccer and needs to start learning English.

Anton from Jamaica flashed a smile that melted all the snow around us and wondered why the Irish can’t run as well as they can write.

Sam a rapper from DC, is a cool, smooth lad who took out his buds long enough to take the book, flick through it and promise to write some rhythm for whatever his favorite poem in the book will be.

Diana from Singapore studied in Galway and squealed with delight when she saw that the poet Sarah Clancy is also from Galway.

I watched two lads with white hats on the Irving Street building site sit down for their lunch break. They had burgers and fries to eat and their recently acquired copy of What’s The Story? to read.

Well, That’s The Story from Columbia Heights today.

Dedicated, enthusiastic Solas Nua volunteers gave away thousands of books at metro locations today, so stories like these were repeated over and over and over. 

Thanks to Declan Meade at The Stinging Fly, to Dennis Houlihan of Solas Nua and to all our wonderful volunteers, supporters and financial contributors, who helped to make this magic happen.


Countdown to Irish Book Day

Dennis Houlihan, President of Solas Nua and producer of Irish Book Day counts down to the event and gives us some insight into the process of creating and distributing What's the Story?

Dennis Houlihan photo by Kate Flannery

Dennis Houlihan photo by Kate Flannery

A Pot of Literary Gold for D.C. Commuters on St. Patrick’s Day.  This is how Ron Charles, Deputy Editor of the Washington Post Book Section, described our What's the Story?  this morning in his blog. What a great way to start the final countdown for our 9th annual Irish Book Day

The tens of thousands of books we have given away over the years has sparked conversations across the city about Ireland past and present, about reading and writing, about arts old and new.  The books have deepened personal connections to Ireland, brought back memories of trips, and inspired dreams of traveling to Ireland.

Tomorrow (March 15th) we will gather at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to put bookmarks in about 8,000 copies of What's the Story?  Then they go on to the Irish Book Day truck, and then to you. When you get your free copy on Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, whether it be on the street or from one of our storefront friends, tweet or post what you think on Facebook using #whatsthestory.  We really want to know what’s the story.

Dennis Houlihan presents   What's the Story   to Taoiseach Enda Kenney.

Dennis Houlihan presents What's the Story to Taoiseach Enda Kenney.

This is the first time we have published our own book.  We partnered with Declan Meade, editor of The Stinging Fly in Dublin, to develop a sampler of short stories and poetry.  It will fit in your pocket or bag so you can read it on the bus, on the Metro, at lunch or before you turn in at night.  By the time you finish What's the Story?  you will have met thirteen new Irish authors.

It doesn’t have to stop there, however.  Join us at the Solas Nua Book Club on April 14th, 7 pm, Teaism - Penn Quarter, where the book-of-the-month is What's the Story?  You join Solas Nua Book Club Facebook group too.

Special thanks to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for their generous support of Irish Book Day.

What's the Story, Declan Meade?

Declan Meade. Photo by John Minihan

Declan Meade. Photo by John Minihan

Irish Book Day 2014 is extra special because of our collaboration with Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly to create the first original Irish Book Day publication. Declan Meade of The Stinging Fly gives us a little insight into the process of creating What's the Story?

Declan Meade is the founding editor and publisher of The Stinging Fly magazine. In 2005 he set up The Stinging Fly Press. He has edited two anthologies of short stories for the imprint: These Are Our Lives (2006) and Let’s Be Alone Together (2008). He teaches a module on the business of publishing at the American College Dublin as part of their MFA in Creative Writing.

Declan Meade and Kevin Barry. Photo by John Minihan.

Declan Meade and Kevin Barry. Photo by John Minihan.

Tell us a bit about The Stinging Fly?

The Stinging Fly is a literary magazine based in Dublin that publishes new writers and new writing. I set it up with a friend of mine back in the late 1990s. At the time I was trying to write short stories myself – and I was meeting a lot of writers who were just starting out and who complained of the fact it was really hard to get their work published. There weren’t many places publishing short stories, in particular. So my friend and I just thought that we’d give this a go. We put out a call for submissions and very quickly the stories and poems started coming in. There was enough good work to put together our first issue. I think the first issue was about 28 pages and we had five stories and about twenty poems. And the work is still coming in now sixteen years later.

How did you get involved with Irish Book Day?

I was lucky enough to have been invited to take part in the Solas Nua Writers Festival in 2011. I met Dennis Houlihan when I was in D.C. It was always the plan that we’d try to do something together again and Irish Book Day was really the perfect opportunity for us to collaborate.

I love the idea of getting a free book. I also love any opportunity to discover new writers. That’s what Irish Book Day offers – that’s what it is all about.

What were the criteria you had in mind when creating What’s the Story?

I wanted to bring together in one volume some really good stories and poems that we have published in our different books and in recent issues of the magazine. Generally in deciding whether to publish a piece of writing, I will rely first and foremost on my gut reaction as a reader. If I’ve enjoyed reading a poem or story – if it has excited me, or thrilled me, if it has made me laugh or made me cry – I want to share that experience with other people. Of course, not everyone will respond to the work in the same way as I have. I hope that some people will though. 

With What’s The Story? as well, I wanted to offer a range of styles and approaches to the story and the poem. It’s a showcase for these different writers and their different work. Taken all together, I hope it will offer readers some fresh and interesting perspectives on Ireland and on Irishness now.

Cover image. What's the Story?

Cover image. What's the Story?

Tell us about the stories and poems you chose?

We’ve published four single-author short story collections under The Stinging Fly imprint. There are stories from each of those books here. Kevin Barry is the writer readers are most likely to have heard of and read before. Since we published his first collection, he has gone on to get published in The New Yorker and in other US magazines and to win a number of prestigious international prizes. His books are now published in the US by Graywolf. ‘Atlantic City’ is the first story from Kevin’s first book – and I think it’s still one of his favorites. It’s a very funny story about a group of teenagers and then it switches and it becomes a very sad story. I still remember reading it for the first time and that is true of the other stories and the poems in What’s The Story? too.

As a rule I tend not to say much about the work that I publish. I prefer to stand back and to let the readers decide. I think all these stories and poems deserve to be read and to be read widely – that is why I chose them for the book. I’m delighted that Irish Book Day is providing the opportunity for this work to reach a whole new group of readers. Reaching more readers, new readers – that’s something that will always make writers and publishers happy.

Irish Book Day is March 17th. Solas Nua volunteers will be giving away free copies of What's the Story? at Metro Stations and other locations around Washington D.C. Check Facebook and Twitter for up-to-date details on the day. If you get a book share your thoughts with us on Social Media using #whatsthestory

Click to Support Irish Book Day!