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Irish Writers’ Centre

Takin the Mic with guest MC Daniel Seery & special guest Melatu Uche Okorie

FREE

Friday 31 August 2018

7–9pm

Suggested donation: €5

Tickets: Eventbrite

Welcoming all to the first Takin the Mic in our new bi-monthly slot. This August, after a long summer of drought, we’re asking writers, poets and other performers to respond to the theme of ‘Plenty’.

Our guest MC for the evening is Dublin writer Daniel Seery who will be joined by special guest Melatu Uche Okorie.

Melatu Uche Okorie is a writer and scholar, currently living in Sligo with her daughter. Born in Nigeria, Melatu moved to Ireland in 2006. It was during her eight and a half years living in the direct provision system that she began to write. She has an M. Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin, and has had works published in numerous anthologies. In 2009, she won the Metro Éireann Writing Award for her story ‘Gathering Thoughts’. Melatu has a strong interest in issues concerning the welfare of asylum seekers and migrant education in Ireland and is currently studying for a PhD in Education at Trinity College, Dublin. This Hostel Life (Skein Press, May 2018) is her first book.

House Rules:

– Five mins per performer
– BYOB
– Slots are on a first come, first served basis
– Performers should sign up in advance via Eventbrite (free!)

 

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The Big Win

My latest piece on RTÉ Arena is about winning a few bob… have a listen or read on…

 

 

The Big Win

Most of us have been comforted with a winning tale or two. The uncle who scooped three hundred quid on a Quick Pick. The friend of a friend who was one number away from scooping the entire jackpot. The scratch card bonanza! Hard to believe, in the early twentieth century, lotteries were seen as a major moral dilemma throughout Europe. There was concern that gambling on pure luck might spread to the thrifty classes and more importantly, their trustee and post office savings accounts.

 

While many were debating the misgivings of largescale raffles, Dubliner Joe McGrath was setting up the controversial Irish Sweepstakes, a lottery devised to finance under-resourced Irish hospitals. Each sweepstake draw swam in pageantry and theatre. There were parades of peacocks and magpies, grown men dressed as playing cards. One year saw a procession of old-fashioned policemen, nankeen trousers and swallow tail coats. A number of settings were designed by Harry Clarke Studios, a company founded by the famous stained glass designer a year before his death. 1933 saw the company create sixteen decorative panels on an equine theme, scenes of galloping horses, military shows, a fox and stag hunt in full rowdiness.

 

cat eye2At the Grand National of 1934, the theme was all about luck, the sweepstake authorities seeking out an ordinary black cat to act as model for the campaign. With £5 pound on offer for the chosen cat, the police struggled to control the queues of owners that turned up. Estimated to be several thousand, they carried the felines in every type of conceivable container, bags and boxes, baskets and tins, make-shift holes for the animals to breathe. One lucky cat was selected as winner and a giant effigy of the creature was created, as big as a house, it sat on the back of a lorry.

 

For almost a decade, Sweepstake fever gripped the West, only dampening with outbreak of war in 1939. But talk of the ‘big win’ has never really left these shores, In everyday conversation, it’s right up there with bad weather, traffic congestion and Conor McGregor’s accent. For some, it can even overshadow personal ambition, something which reminds me of a story I read once, about a penniless nobleman and a wealthy count in St Petersburg. The count wagered his companion that he wouldn’t be able to drink a gallon of liquor in one sitting. With the deeds to a valuable estate as a prize, the penniless man duly succeeded in working his way through the liquor. He had no more received the deeds into his hand, when he dropped to the floor, dead.  It’s a story that might speak of stubbornness, desperation, the futility in chasing easy money. But surely one piece of advice beats at the heart of it all.
Be very careful what you wish for.

 

 

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Airports

Talking airports on RTÉ Arena this week
Have a listen here or read on…

 

airplane4Before the beard and mortgage, and inexplicable mistrust of modern music, in much the same way as normal people, I too was a child. It being the eighties, a time of homemade Evil Kneival ramps and power gats, pastimes for most kids could pretty much be summed up as a series of creative attempts to mortally wound themselves. While most parents steered youngsters toward sport or artistic endeavours, my father liked to bring us on daytrips to Dublin Airport. There was no end of planes to be looked at, the odd seasonal decoration, even an assortment of massive foreign flags. It was indeed a much simpler time.

airplane4

It’s true to say, there is more on offer for the modern airport wayfarer.  Many airports have transformed public spaces into art installations or exhibitions. In Dublin, painted trees sprawl walls of departure areas, deer watching from the shadows, foliage framing the words of Irish writers. W.B. Yeats, Katherine Tynan, James Joyce. But Dublin isn’t alone. Heathrow is home to a three dimensional neon taxi and has its own permanent art gallery, while Philadelphia airport houses volcanic landscapes. In Sacramento, a flock of cranes escape the baggage area. There are swarming ants in Atlanta and a giant weathervane-esque contraption in Helsinki. Amsterdam accommodates a rotating glass pavilion, displaying work from famous Dutch painters.

Airports have transformed massively over the years. Without doubt, the majority of the change in Dublin has been witnessed from the mounds that span a good half-mile beyond the fencing on the southern end of the runway. This is the home of the Airplane Spotter, gathered in bunches, watching the rhythm of the traffic, imagining themselves at the helm of each craft. But surely the sport is more than tracking flight numbers. I imagine these Spotters read ambition in the progress of engines, beauty in the sleek design. They must taste endless possibility in each take-off, a sense of assurance in each successful landing, Or perhaps, like, Ted Kooser and his piece Flying at Night, it is poetry they seek in the idea of flight…

 

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.

Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies

like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,

some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,

snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn

back into the little system of his care.

All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,

tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

 

by Ted Kooser
Published in “Flying at Night”

 

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Imagination

 

…my latest piece is about imagination.
Have a listen to it on Arena here or read on…

 

imagination

Imagination

 

I used to read dinosaur books as a kid. Everything about them screamed big. The oversized hardback covers and colourful illustrations. The lengthy prehistoric periods. Even their complicated names warranted the shouty ‘all-caps’ font.

GIGANTOSAURUS. TITANASAURUS. DOUBLE-MOCHA-GRANDE-SAURUS!

When it came to highlighting their magnitude, one thing that struck me was how these giant reptiles were always compared to the African elephant. In general, I’d never encountered that many elephants. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure the elephants I’d met were actually African. A person might believe it would make more sense to measure against commonplace objects, things that a child of the 80s could easily relate to. BMX bikes or space-hoppers, the fact that the Tyrannosaurus Rex weighed five-and-half-thousand Nintendo 64s. Or was as long as one-hundred-and-twenty Caramello bars. But the great thing about imagination is the ability to fill in the blanks. This skill of picturing objects or situations never experienced is a key element to creativity and something that’s widely considered to be a rarity in the animal kingdom.

dino2

Although limited in other species, we humans certainly know how to take it to the next level. Think entrepreneurship, advances in technology, the evolution of the gadget and the scope of stories in all their forms. For me it’s truly captured in our ability to build concrete worlds out of imagined foundations. Take the simplicity of something like the air guitar. There was a time when it was confined to the privacy of one’s own home, something the old man did after one too many glasses of stout. These days, not only is it common to see someone pretend to play a guitar on a night out, it’s even led to an annual air-guitar championship, where people converge from all over the world to showcase their skill at strumming the breeze.

The idea of pretending is something I see all the time with my own kids. The mundane transforms to a setting. Household objects become characters. I’ve been roped into countless worlds but in truth, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was running around the park as a child myself. We were soldiers. Explorers. Cowboys. There was never a character of office worker or IT consultant. You wouldn’t catch any of the lads acting out the part of lab technician in a supervisory capacity. And perhaps it is the destiny of most to end up in the shallower end of the imagination pool.  But sometimes, when I meet an old friend from school and we talk about our jobs and the economy, house-prices and bin charges, all the boring things that grown-ups are expected to talk about, I can’t help but shake the feeling that for some of us, the pretending never really went away.

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Bookmarks

Bit of a library theme infiltrating the old blog these days…the next one also mentions the humble bookmark. Click here to listen to it on RTÉ’s Arena show or read on…

 

globe new

 

Bookmarks

 

There’s something of the old and the new when it comes to libraries. The blending of modern tools for hunting information with an age-old medium, advice on how to manage citations fused with doomsday-type warnings against online encyclopaedias. The staff are skilled at the silent walk and the unassuming observation, that ability to differentiate fine-dodger from genuine mistake, studious from chancer, the few students who think that wandering the carpeted floors constitutes as actual study time.

They have also gained a healthy knowledge of the substitute bookmark. Receipts are a fairly common one, pencils or takeaway leaflets, shopping lists with the usual student staples of pizza and beer, sometimes spaghetti, spelt with too many ‘g’s and not enough ‘t’s. Recently, I came across a photograph used as a marker, a graduation, academic gowns and shiny new shoes. Judging by the hairstyles it might have been a souvenir from the mid-to-late nineties or perhaps it was just taken on a very blustery day. The find made me consider how the reading of a book can coincide with so many different occasions in life and how these moments can often influence the way a person reacts to the subject matter. It’s as if a writer produces one single book, but after it’s unleashed, it has the opportunity to become so much more.

Imagine what it would be like to have something similar to a bookmark in a life, a particular moment in time a person can return to when things start to go a bit off-kilter. Think of those ‘choose-your-own-ending books’ read as a kid, where multiple-choice options dictate the path the story is going to take. Then again, maybe this would only work to highlight how similar one day is to the next, how most of them begin in the kitchen, puffy eyes and soggy cereal, making a decision that will have little to no impact on the direction your life is going to take. Relating to lunch, perhaps. The homemade or shop-bought sandwich conundrum.

globe new2

I suppose there’s a case in stating that most of us are bookmarked already, restricted by financial constraints, held in place by limitations imposed by traditions or law, or inequality. Or perhaps, for some this could be the era in which too many prominent figures seem to have a complete disregard for the humble things in life, such as the bookmark.  Leaders who own volumes with nice covers but weakened spines. Characters who go over the same pages with little intention of ever finding the right path or moving onto the new. Or even worse, the bend-the-corner sort, that type of person who would fold the world in half, rather than spend a moment seeking out a much simpler solution.

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Allergies

The latest essay on the RTÉ is about allergies and…(cue thunder and sinister music) THE DANGERS OF LIBRARIES!

Click here or read on…

Allergies

It’s the time of year that we hay-fever sufferers tend to prefer. And for a brief time I did believe the sniffles were behind me, the red eyes and the congestion, that old familiar leaky-pipe kind of expression. But a recent project in work involved relocating thousands of books, most of them untouched in years. While everybody was swanning around the library with dirty hands and rolled up sleeves, I was wheezing from one bay to the next with a dust mask stuck to my mush. It slowly began to dawn on me that I might be one of those rare writers who are actually allergic to books.
I know there are some who laugh at the idea of a library being a hazardous place to work. But, are they really as safe as people might think? Of course there are the usual battles for seats around exam times to contend with. The murderous glances when the subject of a late fine pops up. Or even the time some old guy nearly throttled me for hitting the spacebar on my laptop too hard. But everyone should also be aware to the fact that paper is a combustible material and despite advances in modern technology, most library buildings are still crammed full of that stuff.

Another thing that doesn’t go unnoticed is how the library is always one of the first places to be hit when a regime decides to inflict some kind of culture shift on a nation. The Nazis were no stranger to this, destroying libraries in Germany, Serbia and Poland. While the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia destroyed 80% of the National library holdings. Nowadays, that very same library has recovered to hold over 100,000 works, including a special collection of palm manuscripts. These are strips of leaf etched in ornate calligraphy on folk tales or religious themes. And their survival is one which always makes me think of healthy green shoots, sprouting from vast fields of rubble.


Over the years there have been cases of libraries destroyed by flood or bomb, tales of collapsing shelves and falling books. But the biggest hazard is by far the smallest. Living in the mould that lurks between the pages of neglected volumes are multiple strains of bacteria, many of which can cause serious respiratory diseases. In the early nineties, a public library in New Mexico was forced to close down because of an unusual fungus outbreak in the reference section. In true ‘Day of the Triffids’ fashion, the fungus promptly spread to old history books before moving onto literary fiction. For all we know, it could be feeding on an George Eliot novel as we speak… So, for those who laugh in the face of library peril and the common allergy, this might be something worth thinking about when licking a finger to turn to the next page.

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The Graft

 

Last week, the 2017 East Wall History Festival began with a tribute to my uncle Tommy who sadly passed away in June of this year.  As well as being a key figure in local drama and the East Wall community, Tommy had been involved in the History Group since it first formed.  The evening involved performances from members of the P.E.G. Drama & Variety Group, Tommy’s grand-daughters Sophie and Ella , his son Anto and Peter Sheridan.
Tommy has been an inspiration and support to so many people over the years, including myself. This event gave me the chance to share my experience of delivering coal with Tommy when I was a younger man, and also to think about those days of ‘handballing’ cement and plaster to building sites with my own father,  who also passed away earlier this year…

Coal

 

The Graft


‘Got to keep those arms straight,’ he says.
‘Carry the weight along the shoulders,’ he means.
Because this route is all about the coal.
Summerhill and Donnycarney. Phoenix Park to Ballybough.
And isn’t most of the trail made up of flats. Those flights of uneven steps.
The pinging of footballs and the dogs baring teeth.
Jesus. That pressure in your elbows. The feel of it slipping away.
You‘ll be begging them to tell you where they want it dropped.

Don’t forget the narrow dark lanes and stubborn gates, bunkers and boxes and sheds. There’s a man in Fairview with a room full of porcelain owls. A girl in Arbour Hill who keeps handkerchief to mouth until you’ve left a bag of the smokeless. One woman on Constitution Hill has a floor covered in newspaper, shares her place with twenty cats. The reek of animal and piss and loneliness.
‘You met Bridget, did ye?’ He says.
‘The heart goes out to her,’ is what he means.


Back in the truck with the smoke and the dust and the Dempsey on the radio. And it’s difficult to shake the idea of her being in that flat at night, the felines crying like infants, scratching and tapping about the room.
Does it affect you? These people. This place? This route and this job.
Because it’s the same with your brother, isn’t it?
He does the cement, the lime and board. To building site and renovated home. Barren rooms and crusty floors and black webs that connect wall to wall and tie lampshades in knots.
‘I’m good at what I do,’ he says.
‘I do it for the family,’ he means.


This route is battered Dublin. Things free themselves from the lorry bed. Scrap of rope or loose Juncker, mostly it’s an empty sack. You might spot them in the grip of a tree or travelling through the air. To be caught on the rusting fang of an empty shed. To whip and thrash against the windscreen of a second-hand car on the airport road. To the coast where waves storm the rocks and the wind carries the taste of salt. Where you once drove a mini, too heavy with people to climb a steep hill.


To the factory and the outlet. Always rolling or moving. Conveyor belt. Wheel nut. Spinning tyre. The bar and the banter, the queue three person deep.
‘You can tell a lot about a man from standing next to him,’ he says.
‘Personality has substance,’ he means.
It’s not always about how they speak or what they plan to do. It’s as much about what they have done before.
Their history.
You’ll find that in the Sunday scoresheets or in the names on a local plaque.
It is in the people, the traders of stories.
The jokes and the sayings.
Don’t give a monkeys, he says.
Go on ye head-a-ball, he means.
It’s in the script in the drawer or the recipe for baking scones.
It’s in the shoebox on top of the wardrobe , the one with ill-fitting lid. In the photographs it contains. In the bundle of ticket stubs or football programmes. In the birthday card at the bottom. The words inside are large and unsteady. A child’s writing.
‘To Granda’ it reads.
‘Love always’, is what it says.