Stepping Out for Inspiration

Before Composing a Syllable
Before Composing a Syllable

There are times when  I seriously doubt my sanity and those doubts came in massive waves the other morning when I went for the two hour walk around Tramore Beach on what was the most bitterly cold morning we’ve had in years.

I just couldn’t resist it and was heartened by a teenage memory of walking on Baltray Beach, Co. Louth with my father when our faces were battered by the hardest, cruelest hailstones that ever fell from the sky! It was a day we laughed about right up until he died over half a century later.

As I huddled into the wind, determined I would never tell anyone I’d gone for this mad walk, I doubled back to take a second look at a chair which someone had lodged securely against the elements and which was obviously a special place for him/her. It was at the half-way point where one walks up the ‘channel’ towards the Backstrand.

Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford
Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford

That chair brought me to this poem from one of my poetic heroes, Billy Collins. It’s a poem that I read over and over and is one which never fails to inspire me.

Advice to Writers

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

Billy Collins

(Source: Billy Collins, 2000,  Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes: Selected Poems, Picador)

Writing from the Heart
Writing from the Heart

Billy Collins, It’s Game On!

Billy Collins at The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny,  August 2014
Billy Collins at The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny,
August 2014

Saturday night was special for me as I went to a poetry reading by arguably America’s best known and most well-loved contemporary poet at the Kilkenny Arts Festival. I have been reading his work for the last three years now since he was catapulted into my consciousness via the poetry thread that I set up on Linkedin back in September 2011.

I was a tad apprehensive about even attending the event because I felt that past readings in Kilkenny by Irish greats like Seamus Heaney, Michael Longely, Paul Muldoon and Paul Durcan were setting the bar very high and I felt I was setting myself and Billy Collins up for a messy anti-climax. But the dithers were dissolved by hearing Seamus Heaney’s quiet urgings to just go and enjoy what was to be enjoyed and learn what was to be learned.

Well, Billy Collins didn’t even look like I imagined he would from the photos I’d seen. He kinda stood out as he was wearing red trousers that were very definitely 0f the arty kind.

I’d been expecting a Woody Allen type accent but it was much less American and can only be described as velvety.

Billy Collins’ poetry is ‘simple’ on the face of it and is about the most mundane of things.  It reminded me of  occasions when I’ve seen world class sportspeople, like Seve Ballesteros, Bjorn Borg, Sonia O’Sullivan – it all seemed so easy, effortless and natural but you know that there has to have been a lifetime’s dedication, training and determination involved as well.

Billy Collins can have you guffawing, blubbering, doing mental somersaults all in the space of a few lines. How he turns the world inside out, upside down, takes it on full force or just caresses it gently to peer inside is beyond me.

The reading and subsequent Q&A were tantalisingly short but it’s only now that I’m beginning to process words that Billy Collins scattered around the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle.  I guess they will surface in all sorts of different contexts over the coming months, years.

For now, I can’t stop thinking of how he talked about how writing a poem is something he does as a single experience. As he said, when he gets an idea, It’s game on, and there isn’t a question of writing a stanza and then heading off to a movie. No, the draft is written in a notebook, and subsequent revisions are about improving, improving, improving ….. be it rhythm, assonance or whatever. When he finally puts the poem on computer, its shape is crucially important because, for him, a poem is like a piece of sculpture.

Oh, and I loved how he talked about poem titles ~ some, he sees as just icing but others are fundamental to the whole poem.

Lots and lots to ponder ~ and you’re right Billy Collins, women want more than similes!

And you’re also right to wonder which American poets are ‘big’ over here in Ireland. For me, it’s Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Galway Kinnell and YOU.

I’m interested to hear what others think on the matter! 

Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle

 

 

 

An Irish Welcome in Kilkenny City

I was in Kilkenny City this evening to hear the great American poet, Billy Collins, read at the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival.

The very first welcome I received was about 10 metres from where I parked my car and it came from a Kilkenny cat who purred and purred on a wall, calling for my attention.

As one with a big interest in hurling and basically being star-stuck by the Kilkenny Team, otherwise known as The Cats, it seemed just right that this would be my welcome to the place where my beloved parents met way back in the early 1940s.

Talk about ‘connections’ ~ eh?

Kilkenny Cat!
Kilkenny Cat!

Paroxysm of Excitement

The Kilkenny Arts Festival is a major highlight in my year and my first thought is always about the poets who will be reading there.

As I opened the Programme for this year, I thought of the wondrous evening in 2009 when I sat spellbound, just weeks after my mother’s death, listening to Seamus Heaney read as if I was the only person in St. Canice’s Cathedral. Nothing will ever take away that precious memory.

I pondered on just what poet could take my breath away even half as much as Seamus Heaney and doubted that anyone could.

However, I felt a frantic beating of my heart when I saw that Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the US (2001-2003),  will be reading at this year’s Festival. To tell the truth, I did about ten double-takes and re-checks just to be sure to be sure that it is THE Billy Collins whom I’ve come to love with a grand passion since being well introduced to him on my poetry thread on Linkedin.

Billy Collins Source: http:whatsnotwrong.wordpress.com
Billy Collins
Source: https://whatsnotwrong.wordpress.com

While I don’t want to wish the Summer away, I can’t wait for August 16th at the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle. What I would give to have a chance to talk with this man who has written so many poems that I adore. I can feel Seamus Heaney smiling  as I write this. Well, you might, Seamus; but no matter what you’ll always be my number one!

Walking Across the Atlantic

I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.

Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.
I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.

But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.

Billy Collins