Mysterious Irish poetry: FOUND.

Yesterday I posted about a mysterious radio program I heard in the car on Sunday while driving through New York. The program was about Irish female poets and the divine feminine, and I couldn’t find it anywhere on the internet because I didn’t have call letters or a number for the radio station.

Well, I found it! The radio station was WBAI 99.5, the weekly program is called The Next Hour, and the actual show I was listening to is called “The Divine Feminine in Contemporary Irish Poetry.”

The show is hosted by actress and scholar Caraid O’Brien (who has possibly the neatest first name I’ve ever seen) and features actress and fiddler Mary Louise Bowe (an appropriate last name for a fiddler) and accordionist Martin O’Connell (best last name ever. Obviously.)

Click here to download the file from The Next Hour’s radio archives.

Thank you to everyone who helped me find this station and who sent me information about Irish poets. Thank you especially to Laura Fedele of WFUV, who commented on my last post and sent me fangirling round the bend. (WFUV is one of my favorite radio stations. I fight with the dial every day to get it to come in properly where I live.)

The Irish poetry that rescued me from radio hell… and then vanished.

hags with the bags, dublin

photo credit: infomatique via photopin cc

Yesterday I was driving through radio hell. You know radio hell. It’s that strange piece of highway that separates one region’s radio stations from another’s. I was headed into New York and had left Connecticut’s frequencies behind me, and I was trying to find anything to listen to that wasn’t a duet by Fun. or a baseball game. Then I heard a woman’s voice speaking in Irish.

I don’t speak Irish. The last words of Gaelic in my family died with my grandmother, and I suspect those were swears (when I was a little girl I begged her to teach me and she always changed the subject.) But I know Irish when I hear it, so I kept listening.

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, poetryIt was a radio show about women Irish poets and the divine feminine, and I’d come in on the program half-way through, and was listening to the voice of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill as she turned the tables on the men who objectified women with a lovely poem called “Nude.” I listened to her work, and the work of others whose names I didn’t quite catch, although I heard the name, and possibly the voice, of Medbh McGuckian and a younger poet also named Nuala, but I was checking my directions and didn’t get her family name.

Medbh McGuckian, poetryThe show ended and I reached my destination at the same time. I didn’t think to check the station, I just leaped out of the car. Big mistake. Because when I came home hours later, I remembered the show and I wanted to listen to the beginning of it, but I could not find it on the Internet. I don’t have call letters. I don’t have the number on the dial. I have nothing but what I think is the title: “Women Irish Poets and the Divine Feminine.” That’s probably not even it. It’s the Brigadoon of radio shows; when I turned the car on later, the station was broadcasting in Spanish. It just wasn’t there.

I’m generations away from Ireland on both sides of my family; my great grandparents came to the U.S. one hundred years ago and my grandparents married French Canadians and Italians, and so we have all kinds of different blood in the family.

Despite that, the radio show and that poetry were so familiar to me; I couldn’t understand the language, but I could understand the sentiments and attitude, and most of the subject matter. I know that particular brand of Catholicism and also, that brand of paganism that lives (denied) in even the most devout Irish Catholic. Mostly though, I recognized the tone of the women; romance and passion and poetry mixed with a kind of spare, practical, matter-of-factness that I remember hearing in the voices of my grandmother and her cousins, and that I often hear in my mother’s voice.

So this is where I beg for help. I’m going to keep searching for this phantom radio show, but if you know what I’m talking about, if you know the station or heard the show, please, please, please leave a comment and tell me where I can find it! I’m desperate to hear the parts I missed and read the poetry for myself (but in English.)

Reading on Enders Island.

Fairfield MFA

Reading today at Enders Island. If it looks like I’m on an altar, that’s because I am. Enders is a religious retreat, hence the cross and pulpit and stained glass. There’s also a relic in that church, but that’s another story entirely.

I’m back from my MFA program’s alumni day, which welcomes alums back to Enders Island for a meal and a hangout and allows us to attend a seminar and pretend that we’re still in school. Today I took a poetry seminar. I’m not a poet, but the teacher of the seminar I took is Baron Wormser, and he’s incredible, as you’d expect a poet laureate of Maine to be.  I’ve now taken two of his seminars, and just like the first seminar I took with him, this one – which explored argument in poetry – simultaneously inspired me and made my brain hurt.

The administration also very graciously allows us alumni authors to come back and read from our work during a special reading period, which is followed by a group book signing. I didn’t expect to be invited as a reader this residency, since I read last residency, but I was delighted to be invited back to the island to read alongside novelist Chris Belden and poet Colin Halloran.  Being a part of that line-up is no joke.

It’s also really cool for me for another reason: although I read primarily from Beware the Hawk, I was also able to read a taster from the upcoming book, The Eagle and the Arrow. One of the beautiful things about being part of the Fairfield MFA program is that it’s a safe place to share new work, and all three of us did that.

My husband was on camera duty for the reading, and I’m posting the fruits of his labors on my Facebook page. We had some technical difficulties with the lens, but he managed to get photos of the other readers as well. Feel free to visit, like the photos, comment, tag yourself and whatnot.

Spry is Live! (some favorites from the first issue of a new online journal.)

SpryA few months ago, I published an interview here with Erin Corriveau and Linsey Jayne, founders of Spry, a new literary journal that revels in the short form.

Well, my friends, Spry* is live.

Because Spry is about short powerful pieces, let me recommend three small pieces that pack a big punch: The Wake by Allie Marini Batts, a short piece which related personal disaster to natural disaster,  Genesis by Elizabeth Cooley, which imagines Western Civilization’s God as a creative child, and Reflections on my Parents’ Past, a surreal short story by Kate Alexander-Kirk, which furs the line between family member and beast.

These aren’t the only awesome pieces, of course, but they are some of my favorites. Please go to and pick out your own faves.

*I’m proud to say that my MFA program is well represented in this issue. Erin and Linsey are as I’ve mentioned fellow Fairfield University MFA alums, but there are others involved. Classmate Cisco Covino is responsible for the ‘zine’s graphic design. Elizabeth Hilts and Barbara Wannamaker submitted essays which were accepted (and Spry only accepts blind submissions), and former faculty member and author Porochista Khakpour was featured in an interview.

The short form: An interview with the editors of ‘Spry,’ a new literary journal

Linsey Jayne and Erin Corriveau, founders of Spry Literary Magazine.
(Photo by James McCready.)

On Monday, I had the pleasure of g-chatting with Erin Corriveau and Linsey Jayne, the founders of Spry, a brand new literary journal.

I know both Erin and Linsey from our MFA program, and I was intrigued by their mentions on Facebook and Twitter of a new literary magazine dedicated to brief literature.

As someone who naturally writes short, I really wanted to find out more, and so I asked them for an interview. After g-chatting with them for an hour, I’m excited about their project, which will showcase short, powerful pieces of writing, and I hope all the writers who read this blog will be as well.

Below is the interview, which is divided into three parts with page breaks. Click through, and enjoy!

Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted over the internet and has been edited. Lols have been removed, g-chat typos have been corrected, and for the sake of clarity, some  sections of the interview have been moved around.

(Also, the ladies make reference to a “Third Semester Project.” That’s an academic project that Fairfield University makes its MFA students do in order to obtain their degree.)

What is Spry?

ASpryJ: So tell me about Spry. What distinguishes Spry from the other journals out there? What’s your vision for this publication?

Erin: Well, Linsey and I both studied “short” or “brief” literature during our third semester projects and we also really respect how well words are used when the space is limited. I’d say that what distinguishes Spry from other journals is the dedication we have to concise yet well-done writing.

AJ: So all the pieces in Spry are going to be super-brief?

Linsey: Yeah, we want to reward the bravery and power and experimentation that exists in shorter forms.

Erin: Ditto to LJ, that being said though….We’ve seen a lot of poetry that is concise to a fault (even though I wouldn’t really want to put it that way) I think we have a lot of poets sending us work that is quite sparse… While we don’t want epic poems, we also aren’t only searching for haikus.

AJ: That’s pretty cool. For short-form work, I’ve seen a lot of flash fiction journals, but not so many cross-genre journals dedicated to the short form. You’re accepting a few different genres, right?

Linsey: We sure are! We’re accepting submissions in creative nonfiction, short fiction, flash fiction and poetry.
Sorry. Flash anything, not just fiction.

Erin: Yes, and…. flash creative nonfiction too.

On Brevity:

AJ: This might seem like a silly question, but what’s the difference between flash and short fiction or non-fiction? Is there a word count cutoff? How does it work?

Erin: We had many discussions about this.

Technically Linsey is the expert here. I can say, though, that for our journal, fiction and creative nonfiction must be under 2500 words for the “normal genre” and then for the Flash category, all fiction and creative nonfiction must be under 750 words.
I don’t know if Linsey wants to speak more to how we came up with those numbers or anything, but I can say there was a lot of discussion…. and also a lot of forgetting what number we chose.

Linsey: I can if you’d like – in my Third Semester Project, I studied the superfine lines that exist between prose poetry and flash fiction (and flash fiction / short fiction), and while more often than not this is something that is dictated by the presentation of content, most publications seem to consider flash fiction as being around 750 words. Sometimes it’s a bit longer, no longer than 1,000 usually. So since our passions were driven by the shorter, more agile work of the economy of words, we stuck to the shorter end of that spectrum. And when I say flash fiction, again, I just mean flash prose.

Next section: Submitting to Spry, Issue One and Naming Spry

Publicity for me and a fellow MFA alum.

Check out the flier created for me and fellow Fairfield University MFA alumni poet (whew, that’s a mouthful) Colin D. Halloran.  The kind people at our MFA alma mater, Fairfield U, put it together for us. Thank you, guys! I will be there on Oct. 10 and Colin will be there on Oct. 19.

Colin’s collection, Shortly Thereafter, which centers on veternan’s issues (Colin himself is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan) will be released on October 12; he will be at the Fairfield University bookstore a mere week after the release, for a reading and signing.

I’ll be there nine days earlier, and as you know if you read this blog regularly, I’m looking for reader input about my talk that night.


Reading in Mystic tomorrow – with some very impressive writers.

Tomorrow, at 4 p.m. on Enders Island at Mystic, I’m giving a reading with three of my published fellow Fairfield University MFA alumni. Each of them has achieved a huge career milestone this year. And when I talk about “huge,” I mean Godzilla-huge.

Our line-up tomorrow almost sounds like a joke: “So a HarpersCollins memoirist, a Oprah-endorsed writer and the inventor of a poetic form walk into a reading.”

What’s the punchline? That I get to join them up there. Me and Beware the Hawk are joining this trio!

Allow me to introduce them:

David Fitzpatrick was the first person in our MFA program to get a book contract. David was also one of the first people I remember meeting when I joined the Fairfield University MFA program. And he was a member of the first class to ever graduate. Always first, that David Fitzpatrick. He’s also the nicest guy, so when his book contract with HarperCollins was announced, the entire program was beside itself with pride. His memoir, Sharp, which documents David’s battle with mental illness, will come out later this summer. I’ve heard him read parts of it before, and I can’t wait to read the whole thing.

Deb Henry’s novel The Whipping Club made it onto Oprah’s summer reading list. Which is crazy, because during my very first residency, I workshopped with Deb and she gave us the very first chapter of The Whipping Club to read. And now Oprah’s recommending it.

Annabelle Moseley is a poet whose book, The Clock of the Long Now, was published earlier this year. A few weeks ago, she caused a stir when a reviewer realized she’d invented a new poetic form: the Mirror Sonnet. You can read more about the resulting discussion and what exactly a Mirror Sonnet is here.

I can’t even believe I get to share the stage with these writers. Check them out. If you can, come to Mystic and check us all out.

Announcement time: Stamford appearance and reading in Mystic.

It’s on the Internets, so I feel like it’s probably time to announce this here:

  • I will be the featured reader at the Stamford Town Center’s Barnes & Noble Poetry Night on Monday, August 13. The event starts at 8 p.m. There will be other readers before me and after me, but I will be reading and I will have books with me. Need more info? Here’s the announcement.

It feels weird to be announcing an appearance in Stamford, when I live so close, because I make “appearances” in Stamford fairly often. Some of my recent “appearances” include a) picking up a new battery at the Apple Store b) that time when I sleepily and mistakenly got off the train from NYC at the wrong stop and c) once when we met some cousins for dinner.

But it’s also really cool to be appearing in Stamford because that’s my old coverage area. (For the uninitiated, “coverage area” is  reporter-speak for “the town in which I used to cover board of education committee meetings.”) I used to spend a lot of time in Stamford. I even covered the work of local authors there, so it’s pretty cool to be headed there for a reading myself.

I totally have to thank my MFA colleague Nick Miele for setting this up for me. He’s a poet and he will also be reading.

  • Speaking of the MFA…. I will be reading on Thursday, July 19 in Mystic, at my MFA program’s  Alumni Day. I will post something separate about this, but the readings will run from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Chapel at Enders. I will be reading with David Fitzpatrick, Deb Henry and Annabelle Moseley. It’s auspicious company, to say the absolute least. I will blog more about this later in the week, because oh my god. All three of these colleagues have reached insane career heights in the last year and you need to know more about them.

Lastly, you all have three days to get name suggestions for my main character to me. Then the voting begins.

Scavenger Hunt, Day 7: The List of Craig

It’s day seven of the scavenger hunt and I want you to scour the Internet for today’s mission.

The protagonist in Beware the Hawk is a courier for a secret anti-government group called The Resistance. She found this job by responding to an intriguing ad on Craigslist. So today I’d like you to find an intriguing ad on Craigslist. It doesn’t have to be for a secret agency. It can be anything you find interesting or mysterious or  nefarious or just plain awesome.

Then tweet the link to me (@ann_oconnell) with the hashtag #bewarethehawk. Or post it to my author page on Facebook.

Speaking of which, let’s look at the results of yesterday’s mission, which was to write a haiku about a bird of prey. I’m excited to report that I had several submissions, and all of them are very different. Here they are, in order of receipt:

Mary-Jo Bates, who offers a different take on what a bird of prey is:

Robin feet in dirt
Worm hold lost
Flesh into flesh.

Esteemed poet Heidi St. Jean, sticking with the “hawk” theme:

Hawk stands tall on pine,
never wavering in wind –
breathes in warm mouse scent.

Alena Dillon, bemoaning the loss of her snack to a Long Island bird of prey:

It stole my pizza
and dropped it in the ocean
I so hate seagulls

Erin Skelly Cameron, with a requiem for a mouse:

Field mouse frolicking,
Beware the hawk swooping down!
Oh, no – no more mouse.

I was sort of sad that no one wrote a haiku about this kind of bird of prey, but that's just me.

Thoughts about poetry

On my first day of my grad school residency, about two weeks ago, one of my colleagues flagged me down.

“Why,” he asked, “do you write novels?”

This is a good question, and something I hadn’t really thought about.

Our grad school program is divided into three sections, or genres: Fiction, Non-fiction and Poetry. I think that sometimes we tend to get hung up on these labels. At our cores, we are all writers, and many of us – even if we don’t officially study cross-genre within our program – do write in other genres. You have only to attend a student reading to see fiction writers reading essays and non-fiction people reading poetry. I have yet to see a poet read fiction, but it’s sure to happen. We are all creative writers, and it would be silly to expect us to stick to one form.

So when my friend asked why I was writing fiction, and the novel in particular, I had to take a minute. My response was this: I write novels because I enjoy reading them, and because that’s what I read, I believe that the novel is the highest form the written word can take.

After a week and a half, I’m not quite satisfied with that answer.

My first love was poetry. I remember writing a poem at the age of seven. My mother tells me I was writing poetry earlier. I bought books of poetry in the fourth grade. I played with rhyme and meter all through high school and college. I’m a card-carrying member of the I-wrote-moody-poetry-in-high-school club. I was also a poetry slam groupie in high school. I fell deeply and indecently in love with Taylor Mali. (I got over that.) I wrote a collection of angsty poems in college. My first creative publication, in the now-defunct Citizen Culture Magazine, was a poem. I framed it. It hangs above my desk. Then, somehow, poetry took a backseat to fiction.

I don’t know why. I wrote fiction and poetry at the same time through high school in college. Like a kid who starts out left-handed, learns to use his right hand, becomes ambidextrous as a teenager and then grows into a right-handed adult, I switched to fiction. No reason. It just happened.

Except now, after the last residency, I’m considering a return to poetry. I took two poetry seminars, and went to a poetry graduate reading and it strikes me that I’m missing out on something I enjoy. I have no idea what the vocabulary of poetry is – I couldn’t identify a sonnet, for example. And I’m intimidated by the distilled emotion presented in poetry. I think I will have a go at it anyhow. I’m not planning to forsake fiction. It is possible that the novel is, for me, the highest form the written word can take. But that doesn’t mean that I have to neglect poetry.