She sits and says a prayer in the morning
that she takes another step back from the ledge
and the birds outside on the electrical wire
sing like the choirs at Zagorsk.
She stands by the window and says it’s spring.
Minus nine might turn to minus five.
She picks the right boots to wear
and ties her hair into an Imperial style.
This weather is not for everyone;
the Empire is frozen and the apartments are cold.
The birds outside on the electrical wire
pick at the air waiting for grass to grow.

from Lost Republics (Salmon Poetry, 2008)



Last night, in the International Bar, I launched a chapbook by Kerrie O'Brien, a young poet from Dublin. Seeing someone make a start as a poet, publishing in magazines and getting their first body of work out, got me thinking about why people do it and, I suppose, what makes them keep doing it. We know it's not for money or fame; even the most cursory involvement with the poetry scene almost anywhere extinguishes any hope a young writer may have had for well heeled celebrity. There is also the question of why should anyone out there care about, much less read or buy, any of the numerous volumes of poetry issued on an almost daily basis?

So why do we do it? The audience is minimal, the books hardly sell and the money is lousy. What is it for then? Is it enough to suggest, as poets often do, that we simply must write or that we can't live without it? I'm not sure. Those reasons seem inadequate somehow. They don't suggest anything about writing well.

Joseph Brodsky's assertion was that one of the most important distinctions between humans and other species is our use of language, words to be exact, and that poetry is the "supreme linguistic operation". He assigned to poetry an anthropological function. Is that why we do it? Are poets kind of pioneers of the human condition? Metaphysical surgeons mapping the design of the species and cloaking the organs and works in shrouds of words?

Brodsky was right of course, language and words distinguish us from every other species on the planet. Poetry survives many things and so too does our language. It passes along, even if only among dozens or hundreds, to be maintained, always finding new takers and adjusting as needed.

Through language we transmit information. The more we know about it, the more we realise it is not simply an instrument to make others believe what you believe or to buy the things you want to sell. Language is knowledge. It is our defence against the excuse: but I didn't know.

As for books, launches and the process of all that: it seems for poets that with each collection, each body of work, becomes less and less a destination in itself. They become more like stepping stones on the way to the next one, like Brecht's whiskey bars. They go without asking, always looking for the next poem just up ahead.

Is it maybe as Apollinaire, the French poet, critic, futurist and occasional art thief, wrote about what purpose poetry and art serve: that when primitive man wanted a device that would go, that would walk, he invented the wheel which, of course, in no way resembles a leg.

Maybe when we launch a book what we hope for is that it will move on from us, find its own place and leave us clear to get on with the next thing; that we will grapple with the operation of language as best we can and hope to succeed in whatever way possible in reaching our anthropological goal, as Brodsky had it, whether with old devices or new ones; and that we will maintain the capacity to see things in more than one way.

Poetry should always push you towards the new or at least towards the previously undiscovered. So, it's encouraging when you go to the basement of a bar in Dublin and it's packed with, mainly young, people who for whatever reason went along to see one more book of poems slip out the door and make its way to god knows where. Long may they not be jaded.


Dublin Event for Salmon Poetry

As some of you may know, my publisher Salmon Poetry is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, Salmon has been holding events throughout the year, all over Ireland, Britain and the USA. As 2011 draws to a close, Salmon is putting on a couple of gala readings, showcasing many of the writers on its list, at Charlie Byrnes Bookshop, Galway on the 28th October and the Unitarian Church, (St. Stephen's Green), Dublin on the 1st November. Full details are here.

It's a great opportunity to see many different poets from Ireland, the UK and the USA in one go and, at the same time, show your support for one of the best, and hardest working, independent small presses out there.

Celebrating 30 Years of Literary Publishing

 Arts Council


London Event for Salmon Poetry 30th

As part of the Salmon Poetry 30th celebrations, several poets from Ireland and the UK will read at the Troubadour Club in London on Monday 17th October. Details are here.

Alan Jude Moore has been short-listed twice for the Hennessy Prize; his third collection is Strasbourg (2011);
Julian Stannard taught English & American Lit. at University of Genoa for many years— The Parrots of Villa Gruber Discover Lapis Lazuli (2011) completes his Genoese trilogy;
Lorna Shaughnessy has published translations of contemporary Mexican poetry—most recent poetry collection, Witness Trees ( 2011);
Todd Swift lectures in creative writing at Kingston University and is Oxfam poet-in-residence, collections include Seaway: New & Selected Poems (2008);
Nessa O’Mahony won the National Women’s Poetry Competition—her verse-novel In Sight of Home was published in 2009;
Noel Monahan’s fifth Salmon collection is Curve of the Moon (2010)—his poetry is now prescribed text for Leaving Certificate English;
Anne Le Marquand Hartigan’s seventh collection will be Unsweet Dreams: Poems of Laughter, Wit and Sex (Oct, 2011)—her prose includes Clearing the Space, the Why of Writing (1996);
Salmon Poetry co-founder/editor Jessie Lendennie has edited anthologies, and a book of essays, Poetry: Reading It, Writing It, Publishing It (2009)—latest poetry collection, Walking Here (2011);



flags wave on the precipice
lead down to the sound
of horns and harps

unknown songs
dictate the pace
heavy boots
thumping slabs in time

flags wave on the precipice
music plays
from deep historic drains

how little we know of these others
these patriots using our names

speaking of indivisibility
from out on the other side

from Strasbourg (Salmon Poetry, 2010)


за Гоголя! / For Gogol!

Spotted in the filological faculty gardens of St. Petersburg State University: a sculpture depicting a sort of homemade steampunk tank with a flag bearing the slogan "за Гоголя" (For Gogol). A very Russian joke.

So, Blok.....



Last night
wandered completely
through the terminal
In the morning
some October
a sort of sunlight
slides down the building

These spaces surrounded
by effigies of love
burn a little less
Across the balconies
familiar bodies
fade into each other

Outside the window
tripped on the street
faces fly in the face of another
shadows lost
in the brown glass hulk
of Alfa-Bank
and another woman waits
for her song to be sung

Late for something
lost voices
turn the corner again
These places
by 9:45
will be touched
by nothing more
than low blue flames
and the noise of afterburners

Out by the airport
a car door slammed
Wings rise in the sky
like a photograph
Someone took a walk
in the woods today

Born from concrete
and the noise of aeroplanes
It is not unusual
to be aimless in nature
Do not remember
It will leave you breathless
leaning from the window-ledge

Today they held a parade
The long dark steps
and big salutes
will not be interrupted
in their cursed trajectory
A new holiday
a distant celebration
Like always
the patriots have got there first
to straighten up their arms
in a hopeless march
Deep in different streets
millions of bones are rolling
into dust
and someone
took a walk in the woods today

These spaces
these creations
dragged moments of speech
across Moscow Warsaw and Kiev

Do not remember
It will leave you breathless
leaning from the window-ledge
At night there are fireflies
I am not the one
who draws you here

Lost Republics (Salmon Poetry, 2008)


The Palace

The cobblestones have been cleaned of blood.

With the sun they almost shine in the morning.

Three young women walk in Pushkin’s steps.
Mapping their way around the palace.
Shouts from on top of frozen water.
The others are running in the wrong direction.
Where are we going through the deep snow?
Deep through the snow where everyone goes.

I have seen these faces in silent movies,
brushing against a Cossack’s blade.

I have listened for horses coming up the street
and the tiny knocks on apartment doors.

I have run my fingers along the window-ledge,
looked for heads split open like water melons.
Where are we going deep through the snow?
Through the deep snow where everyone goes.

Past the girls out walking towards the port,
pulled my collar tight when I heard the bullets.

I have held my breath against the frozen wind,
waiting for the air to be light and clean.

I have left my initials on the frosted glass
of galleries and stations from here to Siberia.

The cobblestones have been cleaned of blood.
With the sun they almost shine in the morning.

from Lost Republics (Salmon Poetry, 2008)


Mr. Monck

16 Earlsfort Terrace,
Dublin 2

Here Mr.Monck first made
electrical measurement of starlight,
around the corner from the synagogue
and all the ancient gauging of God.

So we carry on:
to measure the pressure
of effervescence,
the weight of joy
on some,
the length of sadness,
the depth of sin,
the carbons and proteins that hold us together.

Down long dark lines
of cobble and leaves,
it finally arrived; on Adelaide Road
I hear the hoofing

of ladies and gentlemen
who still have miles to go.

from Strasbourg (Salmon Poetry, 2010) / also published in MARKS (The Stinging Fly & Circa Magazine)


Ship Street

the castle sits on top
of streams and remains
buried deep in the solid
tracts of all that time
passed since founding

since walls formed
over forgotten gold and silver
running beneath us
in underground seams
another thing undiscovered

like the bore holes
and well shafts silted over
half driven into the world
our small communications
measured in torsion

our paw prints marked
on iron railings and steps
straightened up on exit
tunnels left to fold themselves
back into the earth

from Strasbourg (Salmon Poetry, 2010)


I am waiting here for the running of the bulls
by the broken chassis and humming bird voices
the tears of candles melting from the balcony
and the perfume of burning funeral flowers

I am waiting here for the turning of the tides
by the foundation walls and cracked Grecian tiles
the fundamental noises deep beneath the oceans
dead gulls pulled down strangled shores

I am waiting here for trumpet players
to go passing by in golden caskets
for the flaming wheels and dancing girls
feathers waving in concentric circles

I am waiting here for the revolution
from deep in the mud of our hearts' surrounds
the pulses and shudders of the final moments
the new edge of love the razor waves

I am waiting here for Venetian vases
expectant ashes and the last exploration
the citizens and me go dragging our heels
laying down our markers on sinking ground

from Strasbourg, (Salmon Poetry 2010) / published in The Stinging Fly Winter 2009 / 2010


Dark Green Water

this dark green water
dulled by rain clouds
hung over rusted
barn buildings and outhouses

corrugated shelters
barely standing
by rested rolling stock
and motorway plumage


pieces of tile and porcelain
scattered on the tarmac

in heaps behind the depot
will be washed away

into effluent and leaves
become ancient someday
buried in the groundswell
fingerprints erased

          through units of foliage
flow slightly towards the road
between cattle batches
and cellular masts

deep behind the fields
bells ring     hopefuls
hobble up and down
stone streets and the small
city walls

seeds to be sown

tired pools of nightmare
reflect the spectrum
caught on spare branches
air and space fought for

every evening


substation warning lights
dip in the distance
vast all our carbon remains
breathing in time

with the carriage sway

track clicks our measure
light flickers in darkness
final actions boxed objects
dissolve in due course



but we
do not own this
we are not planters

we are transit
from one place to the next

aiming our greetings
and appointments

at satellites
and outposts

at the end of imagination

from Strasbourg, (Salmon Poetry 2010) / published in The American Poetry Journal #10


Reading at Dublin Book Festival

SATURDAY 5 MARCH 1.15pm: The Cube, Project Arts Centre, Essex Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN, ITS PLACE IN POETRY in association with Dublin UNESCO City of Literature
Peter Sirr, Gerard Smyth, Michael O’Loughlin, Iggy McGovern, Jessie Lendennie,
Alan Jude Moore, Máighréad Medbh
Tickets: €5 – all tickets can be exchanged at the event for €5 Dublin Book Festival Bookshop Voucher! Click here to BOOK NOW!! or telephone the Project Arts Centre 01 8819614 / 01 8819613.


SUNDAY 6 MARCH 12.15pm: Come Celebrate!
Main Stage, City Hall, Dublin 2
Anne Le Marquand Hartigan, Nessa O’Mahony, Maurice Harmon, Patrick Chapman
Admission Free – no booking necessary!

There's other stuff as well of course; the full programme of the Dublin Book Festival can be found here.



Got back last week from the USA where I did readings in Pittsburgh and Washington DC. Big thanks to everyone at The New Yinzer Presents reading series in Pittsburgh and to Manuel in DC for hosting the Salmon Poetry reading at his Pigment Art Studios in Adams Morgan. All went well, all was good. Until the next time America...


Gala Reading & Book Launch in Washington DC to celebrate Salmon’s 30th Anniversary

Salmon Poetry Events WASHINGTON DC, Pigment Art Studio - Salmon 30th Anniversary Gala Reading & Book Launch to celebrate Salmon’s 30th Anniversary:

WASHINGTON DC, Pigment Art Studio - Salmon 30th Anniversary Gala Reading & Book Launch to celebrate Salmon’s 30th Anniversary
Date: Friday, February 04, 2011
Time: 8 p.m.
Venue: Pigment Art Studio, 1848 Columbia Road Northwest, Washington D.C., DC 20009
To celebrate Salmon’s 30th Anniversary, we are hosting a poetry reading and book launch at the Pigment Art Studio in Washington D.C.

Readers include: Simmons B. Buntin, Andrea Cohen, Allan Peterson, Kevin Higgins, Susan Millar DuMars, Alan Jude Moore, Patrick Chapman, Drucilla Wall, Eamonn Wall, Michael S. Begnal, Patrick Hicks, Stephen Roger Powers, Drew Blanchard, Philip Fried, John Fitzgerald, Christopher Locke, Hélène Cardona, Devon McNamara, William Pitt Root, J.D. Smith, Pam Uschuk, Jeanne Wagner.

All are welcome to attend - please do come along!

Salmon Poetry has received financial support from
Culture Ireland to attend the 2011 AWP Conference

Contact: Jessie Lendennie
Phone: 065-7081941
Website: http://www.pigmentartstudio.com/


Commute # 1

rats run under the track
the tracks are rat riddled
we travel on skeleton trains
carting our bones over the river
like cells in blood pumped
around the body; falling leaves
and creaking voiced stations
wait for us

the shopping bags and boys
in nylon suits take up space
left by women of a certain age
encased in proteins and immunitas
wrapped in hope against decay
the throwaway brides fancying
fast affairs in warmer places;
dead flowers in October streams

in Polish the bank advertisement
is the same as the native –
only words have been reshaped
as if all language works one way
discrepancies eradicated
by keen interest rates or photographs
of a telephonist smiling
back through the grubby window

by the shaking of hands
the secrecy of backrooms
and done deals of dirty governments;
the rats run under the track
the tracks are rat riddled
we rattle through on skeleton trains
wait for autumn leaves to fall
for some sign of grace



Shine light on the edge of the square
and there a clutch of the creatures
brass necks and ostrich eyes
guffaw grins and slapped sore thighs

walk without waking through the lanes
the baton charge and horseback riders
weighing up with pounds and ounces
how to stop these kilograms

from taking hold and spreading over
the marble halls and archways     now
calculate in museums of science
the length and breadth of grotesques

the passing down of tiny charters
the illness of self delusion     creeping
quicksand rising around
bonded children’s necks

shine a light on the square
illumination and refoundation
impossible words to comprehend
for old grey men with ostrich heads