A Row of Thoughts

You may remember that I had a yen to knit a hat a good while back and rekindle a former love for knitting.

Well, I achieved my goal and yesterday finished my very first hat on circular needles, which had seemed like a peak too far when all this knitting thing came into my head again.

I have definitely become a bit, no more than a bit, addicted and am rather shocked at how easily I have fallen into happily spending hours just knitting row after row and also gazing at websites with vast arrays of patterns and most of all alluring yarns.

I have always felt that sport, especially tennis, has many lessons for us about life so I guess it was only a matter of time before I got to thinking about life lessons from knitting.

The main point that keeps cropping up relates to unravelling. In knitting, you can so easily rip up a piece and start afresh. Okay, you may well have learned from the mistake or whatever caused you to rip the piece but life seems more complex. It’s very hard to just undo something and start again, especially when it comes to relationships and interactions with other people. Lessons can be learned but starting afresh can still have a lot of baggage attached which can get in the way either consciously or subconsciously. However, knitting shows that sometimes restarting can be the best option or even going back to the point where things went wrong, like the dropped stitch. Is this the equivalent of talking things through and trying to sort out sticking points? I think it probably is.

I have also been haunted in these little projects with thoughts of a tour I took of historic Kikenny Castle and the point made by the guide that there were always mistakes deliberately left in the big tapestries that are so beautiful there. This was to symbolize the fact that humans make mistakes.

I love this idea and am treating the many blemishes in my humble hats as being akin to those in the great tapestries.

Such a way of thinking allows incredible freedom, though I have discovered that untreated dropped stitches are an unmitigated disaster.

Now back to knit 2, purl 2 …..







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




Kilkenny Castle ~ Gatherings from Ireland #182

Ireland has an abundance of castles but Kilkenny Castle is my absolute favourite. http://www.kilkennycastle.ie/en/

In many ways, it reminds me of  Trinity College in Dublin in the sense that it is an oasis of peace in the middle of a city but also a hive of activity in its own unique way.

There is something indescribably beautiful about Kilkenny Castle on a summer’s evening, such as last night, just before the gates are closed.

The Rose Garden, Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle and Court Yard
Kilkenny Castle and Court Yard

Kilkenny Castle Park
Kilkenny Castle Park

Kilkenny Arts Festival ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 179

I’m not long back from spending a few hours in Kilkenny.  It was one of those balmy evenings that I associate so much with times spent in this beautiful city over the years.


Sitting in the fragrant Rose Garden of Kilkenny Castle, I thought of all the years I’ve been attending the Kilkenny Arts Festival and experienced such wonders as poetry readings by Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Paul Durcan ….. and unexpected delights like the play Swimming with my Mother which totally captivated me last year.

There’s just so much to look forward to in this year’s 40th Festival which runs from August 9-18th. Just take a look at the brochure to whet your appetite!


Imperfection ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 123

I have a strange streak of perfectionism that has stalked me all my life and over the last week or so I’ve been doing battle with it, even in my dreams,  as I’ve been struggling with the ‘flu and feeling pretty lousy.

The situation is this: I’ve been doing a course since last September, working hard and reaping the rewards with decent marks. Now I’ve come face to face with the second last assignment ~ a ‘biggy’ ~ due in next week and I know that I just have to lower my standards or drop out.  Up to yesterday, I was more on the drop-out road than any other. But, I forced myself to take a look at what people have written about perfectionism and my old friend Leonard Cohen first jumped out at me:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

Then came Margaret Atwood:

If I waited for perfection … I would never write a word. 

Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle

As if this wasn’t enough, I suddenly remembered being in Kilkenny Castle, looking at a marvelous tapestry.  (I’m the person who never got passed trying to sew a buttonhole in Domestic Science Class when everyone else had made flowery aprons and sexy blouses.) Anyway, the Tour Guide pointed to a ‘flaw’ in the tapestry which she said had been deliberately put there to symbolise the fact that that ‘humans aren’t perfect.’ 

So, best get off and start cobbling the assignment together. I think I’ll leave Leonard Cohen playing in the background!


The Bracelet Girl ~ Kilkenny’s Social Bridge

I first saw the Bracelet Girl at the Kilkenny Arts Festival last year as I was strolling down the Parade which was buzzing with people all energised by the vast choice of events, exhibitions and sheer beauty of Kilkenny. She had small table near the railings which were lit up by a great array of  paintings, many of which portrayed bright flowers or scenes of historic Kilkenny.

Her table was one of those little desks with tiny seats attached to it ~ the kind one associates with happy Senior Infants.   As I drew near, I saw to my delight that this was a place where one could make one’s own bracelet.  There were boxes of colourful beads of all shapes and sizes in various containers and a girl was sitting there helping a small child to thread beads onto a string.

I was suddenly back in my youth sitting on the drawing-room floor in Drogheda with my big sister making necklaces from beads we had bought with our pocket money at the Dandelion Market off Grafton Street in Dublin.  I was also back in Old Town, Alexandria which I had visited in 2010 and where I was mesmerised by the array of shops selling beads.

The Bracelet Girl pulled me out of my reverie by asking softly if she could help me. She seemed a little surprised when I said I wanted to make a bracelet. I could have sat there all day delving into the boxes finding just the right bead to add to the string. Like my big sister, the Bracelet Girl had tied the first knot for me so that the beads would stay on. She didn’t impose on me; just let me be as creative as I wanted.  The bracelet that I made that day has lived on my wrist all year.  It’s a red and pink mix,  inspired by the roses in Kilkenny Castle – whose fragrance was wafting  down the Parade.

Back at the Festival last Saturday, I went in search of the Bracelet Girl.   She was in the same spot – just across the road from old Bank of Ireland building – now  The Left  Bank Bar – which was the first place my late father worked when he joined the bank in 1939.  She gave me a big smile through her semi-faced painted visage,  and said that she remembered me from last year!  It seems I was one of  few grown-ups who wanted to make their own bracelet but that’s changing now.

To me, she will always be  The Bracelet Girl, but her name is Aimee and her ambition is to train as a jewellery designer and set up her own business.   Every single instinct in me knows that my Bracelet Girl will one day make it big in Ireland and internationally. She has the talent, ambition, natural way with people and a true understanding of the fulfilment that can be derived from creativity. As she was tying the knot in my multi-coloured bracelet, both of us knew -without saying it – that she was bringing together a flood of  of our combined memories and hopes.

Kilkenny ~ A Social Bridge

Kilkenny is a historic city which has had a major impact on my life and which I write about in Section Eight of  Social Bridges.  It is where my parents first met in 1940, and where I  worked as a sociologist almost 30 years ago. It is also a place which connects my mother, myself and my son through tennis.  Each year, I return to savour the wonders of  the Kilkenny Arts Festival.

Haiku-a-Day July 2011 Slideshow – from Ireland Calling!

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