Wednesday 31 January 2007

Poetry News....

Tracy Cutting reviews Electric Publications Poetry Anthology of Modern Irish Verse, Where the Hazel Falls in February's edition of the Touchstone Magazine Uk


MARY ANN GROSSMANN Book Critic
More than 30 Minnesota women poets will read at Open Book on Saturday, celebrating publication of a new anthology to which they contributed, and Thom Tammaro, co-editor of "To Sing Along the Way," can't remember the last time so many women poets agreed to gather for a local event......

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Firenne

Firenne: the life force "truth" that under-pins all living things. The most complex and yet elegantly simple philosophy of my ancestors; a creation theory and blueprint for life rolled into one.
Firenne comes at a cost; those who would reduce our pagan heritage to new age charlatanry want to reduce the colour of our beliefs to a monotone should remember that Firenne brings life and death, light and shade and while it was the mainstay of Brehon justice by which even kings fell it is equally the weapon of punishment, the scourge of the filí on those who dishonour.




In modern paganism, websites, forums, groups and covens trot out the whitewashed version of ancient, complex and culturally contextual beliefs. The mantra is "it's my path...I can do as I please..." but Firenne remains immutable no matter how we try to change the world and shape it to our vox-pop imaginations. And those who claim to live by "honour" invoke Firenne whether they understand it or not - invoke both its duties and its rewards and most of all, its judgement.

The following piece was written, like Speak and be Damned, because of a campaign of hate and bullying that flared up in 2005 online, attacks by pseudo-pagans who wanted to use a project online to shore up their social lives and build up a little following or the faithful to pander to their egos. Those who opposed them found themselves in the centre of a bloody war of words; in the end it came down to a clash between those who actually follow a pagan path and those who wished merely to play at it, while gathering kudos and a little power over the gullible.


Sadly not exactly an unusual situation among neo-pagan groups, bitching and warring being only second to claiming extraordinary powers for oneself. But some wars are worth fighting; unless your beliefs are as shallow as theirs!




As a poem, it is based loosely on the rhythms and patterns of the Old Irish poems and roscanna. As a personal statement it represents the ties of loyalty, of standing by those who are in the right, of choosing honour over reputation or popularity; it is also a prediction, of the cost of betraying honour and Firenne. The cost is not always visible but in the end the one true loser is the dishonourable, reducing their inner landscape to desert, atrophying in a mire of lies. In Old Irish writing, to live without Firenne is to die.



Firenne

I have seen
the best of my warband
struck by arrows
from treacherous hands
and yet they stand.

They are wrongly accused,
harrased by shrill jackals
whose minds are unshackled
by any standard of honour;
and yet they stand.

When you adopt
the cloak of lies,
how threadbare your clothes!
How ragged you are
how unfit to be seen.

When you bully,
crawl on your bellies
in filth, for the prize
of fool's gold -
you become lower than dust.

The people of honour
will not stand with you
nor breathe the same air
nor eat from your plate
for you are poison to them.

The land will not hold you
the very stones turn from you
how polluted you are
how tainted the blood
spilt from your veins.

The crows turn from you
the worms cannot feast
your bones are not part of us
you speak not our tongue
alone and unmourned are you.

I have seen
honest hearts pierced
truthful mouths stopped
loving hands bound
these are abominations.

I have seen Firenne
dishonoured
but I have been comforted
for the penalties are great
and they are inexorable.

No man need lift hand
Firenne brought down the ramparts
at Royal Tara on the breath
of a single word.
so too will it tumble you.
Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Tuesday 30 January 2007

Snow in Dublin


Celtic Clipart 904
Originally uploaded by charlesbyrnemusic.

I love this poem; it's included in the Where the Hazel Falls anthology.

It's not the most elegant or serous poem, but it reminds me of the most perfect snowy morning ever a few years back...marred only by the fact that I had to go to work, thus preventing it from being a true snow day!


Snow in Dublin


You can keep your snow-capped mountains
I can pass
on fields of virgin white.
The real power of snow is seen
on chimney stacks and pavements,
perfection silhouetted against a city skyline.
Ice on the locks
of the Canal;
Prim herbaceous borders
flaunting feather boas of powdered frost
sequined like housewives at christmas.
Children freed from board and desk
run amok. Good oldfashioned amok.
There are no smells to rival
your neighbour's breakfast
cooking on a snowy morning.
Skies of leaden foreboding,
offset by central heating and
curried chips.
The fleeting pathos of a snow day
the knife-edge balance of work and
roads too snowbound for traffic
O! the thrill.
You can keep vistas of grandeur
nothing beats the slow and stately grace
of the 46A sailing past, unable to stop
on brakes too far gone for snowy roads.



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April Showers

The gods of weather are fighting it out above the city today: the contest sparked by a row over the glorious spring weather, sponsored in a fit of generosity by Dagda the great father whose special interest in crops seems to have prompted him to provide the nearest thing to a summer we've seen in five years. Albeit in April.
But on the other side we have Manannán, undisputed king of the sea, ruler of the western wave and traditional ruler of Dublin, ably assisted by Anna Livia Herself, the great Liffey lover of Manannán.
"Oh, Anna, " He sighs in the wind, the seagulls driven inwards to the city to act as a chorus to His love poems; "Oh Anna, 'tis too dry, too still, too quiet"

Anna Livia, basking in the unaccustomed warmth and sunshine, rouses Herself with a guilty start, and tries to look as busy as possible. Manannan calls again sadly "O! Anna, sweet Livia, Where are the wild winds of April, the showers of sweet rain, the rainbows the ark like a virgins promise from land to heaven? Where are the last great storms of winter, my last crashing waves against the shore?"
Anna caresses the land as She passes, not wishing to reply, not wishing to fight, wishing only to surrender Herself to the waiting arms of Her lover. But She knows enough to know He'll sulk if She doesn't say something, so She murmurs her sympathy and watches the sunlight through the trees as She croons.

The Dagda smiles down and with a flick of a lazy wrist adjusts the clouds, little wispy summer clouds, hard to conjure out of nowhere in April, soft clouds that adorn the pale blue sky. "Come now, Manannán ," His voice is like laughter on the wind, like ice-cream in a pink bowl. "It's been almost ten years since they had a good summer!"
"Who?" Manannan is puzzled. The gods? the Sheep? the fish? The ants?
"The children," Dagda says casting an indulgent eye over Grafton Street, his favourite street although He knows he should really have chosen Kildare street, for the Politics or one of the Gracious Georgian Squares for a bit of class. What can He say? He likes Brown Thomas' and Monsoon. He likes the young women in flighty minis and the boys in trousers that remind Him vaguely of harem pants He saw once on holiday.
He quite likes the buskers except the ones who play Van Morrison. He wishes He'd never thought to give "Van the Man" an interest in music - He'd thought maybe the boy would take up the fiddle or even be a music journalist. He really hadn't meant Van Morrison. But the ones playing Allison Moyet were pretty good. He liked the little colourful stalls and he really liked the smell of coffee from Bewleys, and the little winding streets off Grafton street, they were pretty damn fine if He said so Himself.
He frowns momentarily: that cheeky Viking upstart taking credit for His winding streets...but no, He smiles again and the sun reappears, the sudden cool shadow cast over the city lifting like gossamer in a summer breeze. He'd proven his point, and now all was well with the world: and the spring having gone down so well with the kids, He had big plans for the summer, long hazy days, hot afternoons, impossibly blue skies. It had been ages, ages, since He'd pulled out all the stops. Manannan growled softly."I've told you before, it shouldn't matter what they think" He spread His arms and the waves rose against the shore beating against the rocks in ceaseless rebellion.
He tossed His head and the rain spat against the cobbles and assaulted the window panes in venomous sprays."Don't be so hard!" Dagda chides. Anna Livia stirs Herself, jealous for Her lovers sake, quick to take offence on His behalf, "Don't you speak to Him like that!" she hisses, undulating in her bed like a lustful snake. And as Manannán stirs the air She raises herself to meet him, baring Her beautiful shoulders and breasts and swelling above the tight marble lines of Her city clothes. "Look" Manannán says proudly. "look. I am the Sea, I am life to these little men. I am the last refuge of the first creatures. I am the loins from which they crawled mewling and gasping, amphibious monsters noone else would tolerate. I fed them, I bore them, but what am I if I listen to them! I am the Sea. I am the Ocean. I am Implacable, Unbridled, Unpredictable. I must roar out the last of my winter blues, I must stretch myself against two continents. I miss the wind, where is my wind"

At this the four winds hear the call of their master and in their haste to reach His side, alarmed by the rising note of anger and frustration in His voice, collide in mid air and the clouds swirl in confusion, Anna Livia eddies and flows in a whirlpool of movement and the Great Dagda himself is momentarily thrown off balance, a thing He hates. He glares at Manannán and with a click of His fingers restores the clear sky and the sun, the city looking skyward in surprise at the sudden spate of rain and wind, and the as-sudden restoration of glorious unseasonable heat.

"Don't you dare" Dagda snarls. "It's taken me three months to plan this spring."Manannán gives a mocking little mince. "ooooooh, three whole months! I've only been at this game a few hundred thousand years, myself. I suppose you think they'll be grateful do you? think they'll be planning a feast like the old days? oooh, dear Dagda, thank you for the decent weather and could you keep it dry for the bank holiday? At least I still get the occasional offering, Old Boy and do you know why? because I don't pander to them, me. They respect me."

Dagda turns his dark eyes upon the defiant Manannán, the indomitable Sea-lord, who stares into those dark stars without a trace of fear or awe. Anna Livia thrills with excitement....a storm, a storm...perhaps even some lightening. Already the rain begins to fall softly at first then in great teardrops splashing dark against the pastels and tans of the fashion conscious. It takes all of the Father's concentration to hold the spring together: the rain and cold howling in the outer darkness, banished but resentful, probing for a weak moment so they can roar back into town, take over once more, play with the citizens as they were used to do. Hold off, threaten, hold off, threaten, wait for it, wait for it, she's got a new hairdo, he's not wearing a jacket, wait for it, NOW! rain at will!

Dagda swears in annoyance and throws a small blast of anger at the Sea-Lord. "Now look what you made me do, " he grumbles, "it'll take all afternoon to round them up again. You've ruined today."Manannán roars in pure anger, dwarfing the Daghda's kindly grumbling or the bitter spite of the rain and cold, summoning up the memories of great storms, hurricanes, tidal waves, continental shift, shark-fins at night, icebergs scraping against iron, lifeboats floating forlornly. "I am Manannán Mac Lir, King of the Sea. I will not cease to roar so that they may have a picnic on my beaches!"

The winds regroup and spin in harmony around His head, a halo of wiry sprites, cheeks puffing and huffing with the desire to blow and wail. The fish settle nervously on the sea bottom, the sharks of the Atlantic take a sharp left away from the west coast, the three headed mutant fish colony of the Irish sea dance their mad dance of glee, too stupid and too crazed to know when to hide. The sky grows dark. The winds rise. The city holds its breath, staring at the sky anxiously, willing the weather to stay good, just few more days, o don't break now, don't let us down!and the sweet sound of the Mother Danaan soothes the air, her voice like honey pouring from a silver spoon.

"Be quiet" she sighs, and raises her head from its slumbers. Her hair spread like red-gold across the Dublin Mountains, her profile raised to the stars, noble in its matronly beauty. She smiles and the sun forces its way through the gathering storm, shinning its rainbow across her brow, His love for Her in every hue. She winks at Him, her oldest friend and admirer and then looks reproachfully at the quarrelling Gods."I was having a nap" Dagda looks sheepishly at His feet and Manannán almost bites off his own tongue in His haste to excuse Himself. His wife Fand smiles up at Danaan, enjoying Her husband's moment of embarrassment. "hush, now" She says, languid and redolent.
"Dagda, I agree with you. The children deserve a little good weather. but Manannán must do as He pleases at sea. He has always ruled the sea."Her voice caresses the city like the smell of chips at dusk, when you're hungry and tired from the play of long summer day, like the memory of childhood, like the feel of warm sand between your toes. The rain dies down, fades in the face of Her wish, and the Sun makes His triumphant return to the loud applause of the citizens.

"I hear, " She smiles at the Sealord, "I hear there is room for a storm out in the Atlantic. I did enjoy that storm you did there last November. I always think they look so much better out there, out in the open. I can really appreciate the subtleties of your craft when I can see the whole storm on the big screen, you know?"Manannán brightens perceptibly. "we-ell," He says diffidently "I might as well get a bit of practice in, I suppose" He turns his chariot and raises His whip but pauses to ask somewhat suspiciously "you will be watching now, won't you" Danaan smiles their special secret smile...."Of course I will" and Manannán races happily across the waves. "Humpph" Dagda settles himself again, to look at the city. "I suppose I had better try to get this sorted....a whole day ruined though. Pity." Danaan leans gently across His shoulder and looks at the little city, now slightly bedraggled, the puddles gleaming like jewels in the smug rays of the reinstated afternoon Sun."No, I think it looks nice. You should do another sunset, last night's was beautiful"
The Dagda grinned involuntarily. "I wondered if you'd noticed!" He exclaims. "It was quite some job getting that orange-red shade at this time of year, I can tell you. And the Shaded Violets and Indigoes took hours to perfect!"
"lovely" Danaan says hastily, "well, one just like it then!""Oh, yes, okay," She looks at the great shoulders of Her kindly husband, His earnest good nature showing in every line as He poured over the city streets, trying to catch at the perfect shade of afternoon to suit its mood. His beloved Dublin, his Crossing at the Ford, His Baile Atha Cliath. She smiled at Him, the helpless affection of ten thousand years. "Here" she says plucking it from her perfect brow and handing to Him. "You can have my rainbow"

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Irish and brain atrophy

Well the Gael Linn course started last night. My poor brain, accustomed as it's become over recent years to the more esoteric studies of mythology, reconstructionism, occultism and general strangeness, found the rigours of good old fashioned classroom teaching quite a shock. At first it went into a blind panic, refused to communicate and did the mental equivalent of sneaking off round the back and having a cigarette while all the other organs tried to compensate for its absence. Hence copious note taking and solemn eyecontact and head nodding everytime the Múinteoir stared at me. It didn't help that he seeemed determined to deliver his entire lecture directly to me, out of everyone in the room though that may have been slight paranoia on my part.
But once it had calmed down it not only managed to participate but it managed to pull some long forgotten words and phrases from the dusty files down in the basement. Admittedly the lesson concentrated on things like "cónas atá tú?" and "Ba mhaith leat glinne Fion Dearg?" and other handy social phrases but the teacher managed to remind us of such things as grammar, spelling etc while at it.
The funniest part was when we all had to turn to each other and speak. My immediate nieghbour and I introduced ourselves about 20 times, learning to say "how are you? " "where are you from?" til we were sick of the sight of each other. But it was fun, a freindly buinch and most importantly all willing to make asses of themselves spluttering and stammering out the few words of Irish. Fun, and already I've learnt something.

A litle worried that I will miss both lessons next week but so will at least two other people so I'm hoping it won't set me back terribly. I may invest in an Irish grammar and see if I can;t pull myself up a bit more while away.....

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Saturday 27 January 2007

The poet's defence mechanism...

...Humour.

The bane of my writing existence is this - I find the most sincerely expressed emotion comes across as Hallmark sentimentality. This is true when I approach the softer emotions at least - anger and outrage tend to come across as ponderous bombast if it goes wrong whereas Love, happiness, nostaliga all tend to emerge from my poetry as cheap, sentimental or facile. Unless I retreat behind symbolism and layers of refractive meaning (which is something i do from time to time) I find that the deeper the emotion the more a delicate touch is needed. Sadly this is reflected in real life; when I want to say something true and deep to my utter horror I frequently hear something smartarsed and inappropriate coming out of my mouth (I also have problems taking compliments, and sometimes go to say something I really want to say and find myself incapable of speaking.) As a poet this can lead to many a shredded poem; attempts to express genuine emotion turning under my very hands into so much sludge.

Unless leavened by humour.

I find that while I rarely write directly humourous poetry I do need that pinch of humour to add relief to my emotions. I need to see the ridiculous in myself - both in real life and in my imaginative life. I need to express this and link it to the similar frailty and bathos of other lives.

Part of me envies poets of bygone eras; when great concepts like Love, Honour, Duty didn't reing quite so hollow in the ears of the listener. Or perhaps moreaccurately they probably did, but society conspired to wink at the deception and people were free to indulge sentiment and sensibilities without fear.

But part of me, the honest part, acknowledges two truths; the first, that I cannot look at myself or my emotions without seeing the Divine Comedy in them and the second, that a poet should be of her time and in this slice of reality the sublime and ridiculous are intrinsic to each other. I am not without dignity in my most idiotic excesses nor am I bereft of idiocy in my most noble moments. Nor are most of us; we are equal parts King and Fool.

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God in the Dock!

There you go ...okay so it's not real, it's better than real (it's the Onion !)

What a lovely thought though...put God in the dock...

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Friday 26 January 2007

Some Poets Change the World...


Burma’s poet laureate Tin Moe is dead, and Burmese people at home and abroad are still sending condolences and holding ceremonies in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Europe and California, where he died last Monday.

By Aung Zaw January 26, 2007

Rest of Story

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Down in the Hollow

Down in the Hollow was written for the PPP edition last Samhain: it's my very own ghost tale. For me it's interest and hence inclusion today is personal and private; it's based on a personal experience. Obviously not as desrcibed; but the inspiration came from an experience I once had. Ever wander into land that doesn't want you there? or where reality seems to bend under some force? If so, you'll know this could be true.......



Down in the Hollow



There is a hollow
near the river, half in the meadow
half in the woods.
I do not go there
in the daylight, nor the twilight
nor the dusk
I will not walk there
in the moonlight, or the dawn
or full of day
For there is no time
bright or dimming, when the angels
there hold sway.

Cold the Hollow
Damp and gloomy, smelling of the
Secret grave
Musk pervades it
Death invades it: stench and rot
In rising wave
Chokes the spirit,
Weakens limbs, shakes the heart
And makes men faint
‘Til all around it
Who can, avoid it: anxious to
Escape its taint.

Lucy smith and
Mary Curley, heeded not the
Solemn tales
Took a dare
And merry were they, setting off
Across the dales.
Where are they now
Those pretty lasses? Never more
The girls were seen
Except by lone
and forlorn travelers: on wild nights
in haunting dreams


I will not walk there
I would not tarry, not for gold nor
Fame nor Glory
Of all the tales they
Tell to scare you, doubt not the truth
Of the Hollow story.
Do not leave the
wide smooth road, nor follow sounds
that tempt the ear
Young girls laughter
Children’s singing, tempt the stranger
to draw near


Once only went I
To The Hollow, once only crossed its
Crawling floor.
The night that Lucy
Smith went missing, my mind was lost
My heart was sore
We searched the dales
We searched the woods, the riverbed
And flowing streams.
Sometimes caught we
distant laughter, but more often did it
sound like screams.

As dawn broke dark,
The others failing, I screwed my courage
To the bone.
I pushed my way
In blind despair, into the Hollow
All alone.
Ask me not
Why I am trembling, ask not why
My tears do fall
But if you must
Pass by the Hollow, answer not
Its evil call

Nay stop your ears
And close your eyes, from sights you
Should not see
And never stray
Or wander off, no matter who calls
Out for thee.
And when you’re past
And safe away, stop and say a
Prayer or two
And thank the gods
That the fate of others, came not this day
Or night, for you.


Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Thursday 25 January 2007

Things that amused me today...

Some things that interested me today:

Human Skull Mounted as Trophy

Prooving that our ancestors had a robust view of interior decoration and rather different ideas about what constitutes "tasteful"

Wouldn't you Love to Live here?

Okay so as has been pointed out to me I would be a dilittante and of course would insist that it was heated to the max, and had all mod cons and really only want to live there because it's cute but just think - Irish Poet writes about pagan nature in a house like that! I'd sell books, so I would!

Modern Pagans Honour Zeus in Athens


How nice it is, I think Zeus deserves it much as He isn't one of my lot.

and finally I shouldn't laugh - but.....

Australians Mourn Gnomesville Massacre

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Speak or be Damned

This is an angry poem, an outraged poem.
I rarely get angry, ever, but as anyone who has ever been involved in an internet forum knows, nothing can be as devastatingly vicious or bitchy as a falling out between online "friends".
There is a peculiar kind of passive aggressive behaviour played out online, which is not only almost impossible to counteract but worse, is insidious -sooner or later it infects you. Worse, it can inform your own behaviour to a startling degree.
In 2005 a group of close friends split apart revealing deep-rooted resentments, lies, betrayals - a painful thing to watch and a sorry tale all round. One of the most frustrating things about the situation was that while knowing that people were lying, if we tried to explain our point of view there was no way to do so without revealing extremely damaging things about people who were after all, once friends. We also wished to avoid imposing the situation on those not directly involved so we forbore to bitch and whine at them.
But by not doing so, a lot of people believed the one side they heard in detail and interpreted silence as either guilt or acceptance. One had to choose between personal integrity and self defence - a deply uncomfortable position.
And this was just online stupidity; imagine the wife trying to fight against the shadow of her husband's mistress or the person trying to defend against the hydra of rumour in the workplace. The political prisoner or the innocent wrongly convicted - how often can they cry out without being dismissed? Michael Moore is labelled a crank for telling us the truth as he perceives it. Other figures suffer similar malignancy - but silence is and always will be interpreted wrongly.

A friend once told me "you can't be misquoted if you say nothing". I now disagree - I have seen myself quoted having said nothing. My silence was either quoted against me, or my silence was filled with words and lies of their choosing. I was lucky, hurtful though it was it was all trivial, it was not real life nor a matter of great importance nor when it came down to it did the loss of such people diminish my life in any way. All that was hurt was pride; and perhaps a little tender-heartedness and sentimental sniffling, go on I'll admit to it!

But it did make me think, and as always happens when one tastes injustice - or at least should always happen - it made me a tiny bit more appreciative of all those who really suffer from it I understand those who are trapped between the desire not to debase oneself in the game of mudslinging and the added injustice of having such mud slung all the harder, because they will not play. And of course of knowing that the moment they do stoop to respond there will be happy and gleeful cries of "AHA! you're just as bad...." So this little poem, while not terribly elegant is heartfelt and dedicated to those who have the real experience, of which just a taste was enough for me!


Speak or be Damned

There is nothing like the itch
of unspoken secrets, the fever
of injustice when we know ourselves
maligned. The ache of heart
when innocence is bought and paid for.

What coinage this, tarnished and warm
from dirty pockets? have you ever realised
betrayal in the silence of a friend? oh, i
am heartsore with the glances
whispers like arrows and words
like stones.

Were you, like me, brought up
to be graceful? don't give them the
satisfaction, don't backbite, don't bite back.
if you do, the taste of it lingers like
drinking blood, curdled.
and what can you do?

Speak and be evil spoken:
stay silent and be mis-spoken: the
burden of soiled trust is not easy to unload.

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Wednesday 24 January 2007

Where Once Stood Tribes

We like to think our generation is the most evolved, and of our ancestors as primitive; whereas in fact there are standards to which our ancestors adhered, in the light of which we are savages, unreconstructed and illiterate.
"Where Once Stood Tribes" is an expression of loss, for the things our ancestors knew and felt, that we have cavalierly discarded.




Where Once Stood Tribes

Where once stood tribes
who rose and fell
on the bounty of a living land
soul and soil intertwined
One blood, one heart,
of one mind,
muscle and sinew
rock and tree

now stand deserts
raized and mined
farmed not free and filled
with remnants of a glorious past
now dismissed
barbourous land
savage land
free land

Once here ran the young
chasing after quarry
wild whooping youth
training for the fight
with hunt and flight
stone blow
axe fell
arrow flew


Once stood Warriors
honour bound to those
whose small lives fed
whose small bones ground:
love of warrior
for the fallen enemy,
so sweet in pain
life in death
alive in death.

Who can judge
from these degenerate times
the free and brave?
Bearers of ancient honours
honour of soul
of strong arm
of strong back
of keen eye
of fleet foot?

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Tuesday 23 January 2007

January is Freezing

Posted for no other reason than that it's freezing out today My feet are so cold - I feel about 90 years of age moaning about my aches and pains. So I was reminded of this poem, about a different kind of cold and a different kind of freezing.



January is Freezing

Cold light seeped in, through misted frames
Casting a golden glow over smoke rising
from the cigarette in my hand and hanging over the grill;
tobacco and bacon and fried eggs.
The smell of a Sunday afternoon.
I lean elbows on a crumb-laden table
and watch a sullen shadow cross the mahogany,
cast by a bottle, like an alcoholic sun dial;
and it is strange to have you sitting here again,
your shoulder touching mine, your cup warm against my hand.
The scattered cartons of a late-night ill-advised meal
one lone rice grain welded to a fork,
careless reminders of a moment of mad abandon.
Shivering gratefully and huddled against the draught
I try to normal out, without the pain.
In the enervation of a Sunday hangover, still
sourly tasting the delights of the night before
I cannot ask you where have you been,
I can only watch the pearls of rain,
mingling with the icy glass and sigh





Geraldine Moorkens Byrne January 2003

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At Cluain Moccu Nois

Inspired by the syncretic process of creating the Celtic Church, the adaptation and adoption of Pagan philosophies into a largely benign and progressive body, until the Roman CHurch suceeded in imposing its power in the Late middle ages. As the Filíocht schools survived til the 17th century the following exchange may well have happened,. as the Celtic CHurch gave way to the Roman and the "common folk" seanachies unprotected by teh institutions of Brehon law or status as a filí were forced to yield their stories.


At Cluain Moccu Nois

On the first attempt by the Monastery of
Cluain Moccu Nois to 'record and correct the stories of the simple
people.'




He questioned me with eyes
burnng with certainty
and a mouth closed tight like a fist
with suspicion, with distaste,
he questions me.
if the word inquisitor
had been invented
he could have worn it like an old coat
settling into the dark corners of its meaning
with comfort.
but his religion is yet young
though he was born old.

I am the old man,
marking time til death.
He has taken to this new religion
fully.
It has no corners only clarity.
Think? there is a formula for thought.
all needs prescribed, proscribed
scribed
this man calls himself a scribe

Like portable dolmens, stone circles of words
he seeks to imprison the knowledge,
my gold, the stories of my race.
he waits with the kind of careful patience
that allows torturers to wait
befre applying a second heated blade
to already burned skin.
In each stoke of quill on vellum
seeks
to pin down with weighty thoughts
the gods
whose blood still flows in these veins
seeks to cleanse them
'if they must be told, let them be told properly
with all due reverence to almighty god'

I think he means it.

Fr my part I am illiterate

92 years and in all that time
I have never yet felt the want of words or knowledge
until they brought me here and told to me that word
illiterate
I turn it over in my mouth
taste it
it is sour
like the bitter herbs my mother used for battle wounds
acrid
like the spring smoke used to clease the calves
what price knowledge for an illiterate?
I am the sacred liar
teller of tall tales
He assures me all wilts
in the glare of his god's truth.

I had thought to have earned my place.
In my youth
a warrior
in my old age
the filí of Eriu have sat at my knee
fuelled their visions
on the back of my words, my stories
my store of treasures
The druids
now turned culdee
wearing their new religion lightly
like to see
chieftain, farmer, warrior
around the fire
like little boys again
reminded of their place in this busy world.

He has no place in that world
removes himself with fastidious care
away from the noisome press of us
his god is deaf i think
he can only hear him in silence.
I shift and sigh buying time
at my age I thought to have done with war
but now like a distant echo
sound of bone on bodhrán
faintest tone of spear on shield
in some long-disused shadow of my soul
I feel the blood stir
rise against the cool smiles and impatient patience
of these neutered men.

I reach out,
half blind, half lame
reach out across decades
I feel my stories,
how they turn in on themselves
fold, unfold, reveal by hiding
mislead and teach a
dozen lessons
I grope through them,
their secrets laid out
waiting for the words to come
words to blind
words to shine

I think suddenly
of my own grandmother
of how she would tell her favourite story
not of men, nor gods
nor heroes
but of how when she was small
she had in this world one treasure
an string of beads, a bracelet
that she found
in the river
a gift from Suir for rescuing a swan
The fear of losing it, or it being stolen
was upon her
it fretted at her
until she knew no peace
she hid it nine times
and nine times changed its place
until at last she hit upon the one
how she laughed to know
her precious gift was safe
under the muck and shite
of the pig-sty, where no sane person
would ever think to look

I face him
his middle-aged youth
with milk-blind eyes
and smile
I begin to speak and he to write
he the erudite... I,
illiterate
I have one more war to fight:
one weapon left
at stake a priceless store.

I'll hide it in the murky depths
in plain view in every twisted phrase
Let him pile on the swill
I'll match him word for word
I will,
My treaure will not tarnish
will not fade.
and someday come the people to their own
and seeking hands will grasp the buried loot
My sacred lie will outshine his tawdry
truth.


Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Saturday 20 January 2007

Solstice


Solstice is an event often represented among pagans as part of some wiccan calendar wheel or as a kind of national Djembe festival. This poem springs from an attempt to express the moment of Solstice both as an astronomical event and as a spiritual one. The suspended moment provides opportunity; the place, Royal Tara, provides the Brí and Bua - the accompanying energy and context for any moment of spiritual intensity. Unlike other poems I have written, which are flights of imagination, this like "Dowsing" is a real event recounted in poetic language; an inversion of reality and imagination.


Solstice



1.
Circular
these are the paths we walk
Spiral.

I turn inwards
following the threads
of a rambling thought
in the still-dark of dawn.
Once familiar shapes now
loom, catching me
unawares; opening my eyes
to their true nature
immutable, inscrutable;
more, suddenly, than the
gentle mounds, motherly breasts
undulations of Tara
I turn again
disoriented, in my own land.

II.

I am shaken
my presumption is revealed.
How I have said before
I know these things
I who missed the stark pride
of Lia Fail; the cool aching
slope of the mound?
I who was used to run
over the edge
of what this new light shows
to be a chasm?
Dizzying heights and depths
spinning in infinity

III.

I sink into knee-high grass
my senses filled, my eyes
dazed. The light eats sky
til only day remains.
the veil has descended
as the dark recedes
and all around me-
familiar terrain, well loved
tracks, the geography of
Tara reasserts itself.
But I have glimpsed
an inner scheme; overlaid
the landscape of my soul
with the bones of this place.
I walk the spiral
from the Royal mound
to Eireann; in the bowels
of the earthworks, on the edge
of the ramparts
marvelling.

IV.
As the full day blossoms
smiling on a motley group
of locals, pagans,
lost drunks and tourists
drums and voices raised
I struggle to reconcile
an eternal moment
an internal moment
with the careless gaiety
of an Irish feile in summer
that heartbreaking suspension
simultaneous dwelling
that - to me -
is Solstice.


Geraldine Moorkens Byrne 2006

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Lament for Setanta

"Setanta" was inspired by a conversation with a friend and fellow poet, J Evans, who remarked on the difficulty of actually liking Cú Chlainn the man; which led me to consider poor Setanta the boy, and all that was innocent and lost as the legend took over.


Setanta

Setanta! hard syllables of boyhood
matured into Cú Chulainn, soft vowels
sinister in their promise
of war; lovely in their pledge of honour.

Setanta, young man of flawed ability
ran with hounds and stepped lightly
over the heather. Now how the ground
trembles at the approach of the man!

Setanta, did your friends ever mourn you?
regret the impulsive youth, the boy
or were they all too dazzled by the warrior
Cú Chulainn Champion of Ulster?

Setanta, I will shed a tear for you, torn
from the bosum of your family to run across
foreign hills, losing in the chase the lad;
to forge in his stead, the legend.

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne 2006

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Friday 19 January 2007

Toast and Belgian Chocolates An apology to Aengus ÓG

An Apology to Aengus Óg (Work in Progress)



Usually I find the first lines of a poem come unbidden; sometimes an almost complete poem arrives in the head but more often it is the "kernel" the little grit in the heart of the pearl, fully formed and pointing in a given direction. Occasionally those lines end up being the middle or the end but again, more often than not it's the start.

Of course I often find I am incapable of living up to the promise those heaven sent lines show, but if that happens I just put it aside and come back. At the moment I have a neatly wrapped present from the muse and have to try to build something worthwhile on it. For a variety of personal reasons i want this one to come out well (which of course means my most heartfelt sentiments will sound trite and clichéd and my deepest emotions facile and shallow!)









Toast and Belgian Chocolate





We breakfast on toast and
Belgian chocolate;
dine on kisses,
sleep on promises
soft as feather beds.
It's not meant to be this easy, you said.



I disagree. I have fought my battles
and plead my case - Aengus owes me
for the many nights of lonely heroism,
stoic facing down of single combat.



We move in a shy dance
through past and present;
signpost failures,
and flag our successes;
with some aplomb
lay both at each other's feet.



I remark His presence
in the irony
of our sudden being -
laughing at our surprise
and tricking us out
in His favours, while we stare.



I owe Him an apology, unreserved
for the simple pleasure I recieve
in the giving and recieving of a kiss
warming cold lips before we leave.



January 2007 Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Manannán Mac Lir



Of all the Old ones Mannanán is my favourite male. I love his story, his icongraphy. Especially I love his relationship with Fand, who gave up her Love not to hurt his feelings and his pride. This poem came to me in Dingle five years ago, but took another year of knocking round the back of the head to actually come out.

Manannan Mac Lir


Manannán Mac Lir
King of the Western Wave
Quick to anger and brave
driving the Wave sweeper
Fand by his side,
Even now, she dreams of the great warrior
The love she sacrificed for Mannanán Mac Lir

These mortals do plague him
Fascinate and madden him
Mongan the sweet fruit of Caintigerna
His prize beyond words
And with indulgence he can contemplate
The strange ways of these children
As the mirror of his son

He is the slant of the setting sun
Across the cliff-tops of Clare
The wild call of the gulls in the storm
Fand reaches out to him with a smile
And points to the rise of the Beara peaks
And the touches of gold in his beard and hair
Are the colour of the world at dawn.


Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Thursday 18 January 2007

Poetry, Gael linn and Irish...

To my horror and shame I can barely spell in Irish anymore, so rusty has the little drummed into me in school become. But...this will soon be remedied, I hope. I have enrolled in Gael linn's "MEÁNCHÚRSA" apparently geared towards adults like me, who did learn Irish in school, took it for the Leaving Certificate and were actually once reasonably fluent. Then completely forgot everything they ever learnt as their brain atrophied and their mind liquified over the years.

I really want to speak fluently, more than anything else but one of my ambitions is to write a poem in Irish. I have written Roscanna before but elliptic obscurity is almost de riguer when doing so, with the result that one can get away with horribly bad grammar. The translations of OI poetry I have read have influenced the content and style of my poetry, as has the rhythm and style of the poems beaten into us in school, despite my brain's best efforts to delete all data.

More than this though, the music of our national tongue itself is the music of Irish poetry in either language.

And today Irish had a day out in the European parliament:



Famous first words: Gaeilge makes its EU debut 'Is mór an onóir dom labhairt i mo theanga dúchais anseo tráthnóna inniu'

The atmosphere around the European Parliament is infectious all the Irish MEPs contributing to debates are opening their contributions with a few words of Irish to test the system.

It has even spread to the press centre when a number of Irish language journalists are working for the week, and where most of the conversations are handled in the first language.

GAELPORT

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Dowsing

I have a unfounded belief that I can do things, if only I try. For example, Dowsing has always fascinated me - so much so that I am the proud owner of a pair of dowsing rods, and had the honour to be shown the ropes by people who actually know about these things. And I was still rubbish.
My mother (aged 74) picked up the rods and found every water pipe in the area. I walked Tara, the one place on earth where I would have got a twitch out of those rods, if it was ever going to happen, but to no avail.
Hereafter, the confession of that pitiful attempt. Feel free to mock.



Dowsing

Twitch! I think.
Twitch, I beg.
Stumbling over uneven ground
trying to feel with rods,
and see
without looking
and walk without falling face down
in a cow pat.

I am a source of unlimited
amusement
to the man who can dowse.
He was introduced in a flurry
of West Cork accents
and I am still not sure
if he is Pat, or Aloysius or Maurice
But he is one of these three
and his two brothers also watch
ancient sprites with gleeful malice
the Dublin bint in her dowsing infancy.

I am not getting anywhere.
My Mother can dowse without effort
my own hands are clumsy
they can feel the note in a cello string
but they are not open to the music
that is water or energy.
I feel the anger of failure
I am not a good loser.
I consider faking it
but something tells me they would not
be even slightly convinced.

I am not good at this.
I listen humbly while Pat
or Maurice or Aloysius
tells me to relax, to practice
to hold, to loosen, to be more aware
to be less self conscious.
I vow to go home and walk
the length and breadth of the park
clutching these infernal rods
of course I don't-
they sit as I write
reproaching me from the sideboard.
I may be destined never to unlock
their elusive secrets.

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Wednesday 17 January 2007

Huangzhu





This is a poem written for Michael Ryan who enabled me to travel to China last year, on a wonderful trip; this is the poem of New and Old China, centred around the city of Huangzhu and the West Lake (pictured here, the Buddhas on Peak-Flying-From-Afar, West Lake, Huangzhu)




Hangzhou

For Michael Ryan



On distant peaks, Pagodas smile with upturned roof
As we traverse polished stairways in descent
From lofty Imperial heights,
To Californian China, of neon lights -
I have two Chinas in my mind.

One, dreaming hills in morning mist and dragons’ heads;
Temple bells and prayers of incense
Pious spirals make
Above the merchant city on the lake.
Hangzhou of silk and fragrant teas.

The other, stern blocks of light and coloured glass;
Red martyrs side by side with western fare;
And traffic does not cease
Its attempts to shatter West Lake’s mirrored peace
But fades like echoes on its shores.

Hangzhou, city of so many souls.
Rich and poor, life and death; entwined
In endless fight
New and old: both seemed poised for flight -
I have two Chinas in my mind

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne
October 20th 2006 Hangzhou, China



I do occasionally foray into short stories but with what can be best described as indifferent success. I must post one or two...eventually...when I find them (not the best for saving and labelling things on the computor, I'm afraid!)


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The Commitee for the Formation of Pagan Creation Theories

The scene: a darkened amphitheatre,
the centre stage bare but for the lone poet,
the spotlight his at last.
He raises soulful eyes to heaven and quoth he
'In the beginning, you see
there was this god called He
and She was his wife. In boredom
they created their own offspring,
and thus it all began'

The muttering from the back grows louder
-'Ballcocks! ' a learned colleague calls.
Standing with the righteous wrath
of six halves and two chasers
'In the beginning there was
the Great Mother Cow,
and She created the Great Bull
by whom she had the Heifers of Plenty
everyone knows that'

'What?
'the elegant repartee of the Lady Principle
of the Esteemed College of Bards and Ovates
interjects with her customary pith.
'That shit? you think that's how it all began?
My good man, you obviously forget
We bards know it best. Danu and Dagda
carried the world in a bag til their Bowling night,
and they needed a strike to stay on top of the league
And we are hurtling through space as a result,
our mission is to win them first place.'

Togas flapping, she is soon drowned out
by the combined wrath of the Roman school
with some support from the Greeks
who are chanting 'Zeus' and making rude gestures
indicating virility; Homer has Plato on his shoulders
and both are trying to headbutt
the Master of the College at Byzantium.
In the melee, the Egyptians manage
to shout something about dungbeetles
laying eggs in the sky
and ugly big jackal-headed mothers.

The Amazonian tribes politely submit their views
ignoring the vulgar jeers of the Phoenicians
who smile the other side of their faces
when the Norsemen decide they can't hear over them
and decide to make a stand for public manners
mainly on Pheonician heads.
Snorri Snugglesbum, Master Saga writer,
challenges the hall
to proove it was not Odin, on a Tuesday, in the Library, with
the candlestick.

At last the dust settles, another robust debate
abated. The Committee for the Formation
of Pagan Theory of Creation
surveys the scene with complacent eyes -
'Well that was interesting ' The chairman sighs happily'
Same time next week, lads?
and someone else can bring the biscuits'

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Tuesday 16 January 2007

Irish Cowboys

First published in Prairie Poetry , Irish Cowboys has prooven one of my more popular pieces and can be found in various publications and online. I remember games we played as kids, that always seemed to revolve around Cowboys (one in particular we called "the sherrif game" and played it for what seems like years but was probably in reality only a few months!) A lot of our imagination as kids was informed as much by american programs and tv shows and of course films as by the Irish history and mythology beloved of my parents.

Irish Cowboys


The wild west for us
was never the stone walls
and fragments of land between them
the ragged, wild, bog-spawned
west of Ireland
It was a topography, a dialect, a code
as familiar as our parents
or our national tongue
gleaned from Television, old movies
dog-eared paperbacks.
We were born in Dublin
but we all, each one,
roamed the wild praries
hunting buffalo in our souls
spat tobaccy and smoked Marlborough
walked bowlegged - howdy pardner -
or grim and gimlet-eyed, we eyed the
scorching sun
talking in monosyllabic knowing exchanges
about drought, and cattle dying, and crops failing
thwarted in our childish hearts by
near incessant rain
and insolent verdant green

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The Murder Of Cliona

Written for the "Emergency Edition" of the PPP last year; the Murder of CLiona refers both to our lack of respect and blindness to our destruction of the environment and to our strangulation of spirit, and thought, in our rather greedy modernity.
This is a companion piece to Cliona of the Ninth Wave which also references destruction and survival.

The Murder of Cliona

Cliona sits by the shore
Singing songs of love and loss
Like any underdressed lady of the sea;
passing as one of them, the myths and nymphs
Brushing hair with comb and bone
While all the time, counting waves.

The Ninth one is still hers. She yet
rides the horses of the surf
And Mannanán calls her from the west;
It would be best to return
not wait and hide and hope
for cornucopias of adoration

But she clings on still, a languid
survivor on a rock.
Connla calls by, Sinnan at his side;
they have long ago given up on us,
our ways beyond the
comprehension of mere gods.

They beg her, leave. Come with us
Into the glittering sunsets, into the
Land of Promises. Leave behind
the heartbreak of rejection. Sing with us
once more, don’t let them
poison you here, where you sit.

It’s true her hair is dull
her eyes are swollen and her lips
chaffed. O! mortals, you are killing
Her, killing Cliona of the Ninth Wave.
And yet she sits and waits,
Refusing to drown her hope.


Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Monday 15 January 2007

Gods seen through splinters

This is an attempt to express both the nature of the Gods, through imagery and the impossibility of fully descibing them.

Gods seen through splinters

Aengus Óg is a wisp of red silk
on a tablecloth of crocheted lace
with sparkling champagne in elegant flutes

Morrigan is a stain of Rowanberries
crushed blood-red into virgin snow
by the outspread wing of a fallen crow

Áine is the burnished glow
of a golden vessel on a marble hearth,
reflecting the embered glow of the fire

Cliona is the the taste of salt
on a breeze that whips up from the west
at twilight on a summers eve

Chrom Dubh is the rocky outcrop
on the hill above Lough Dan
where froaghaon berries grow late under a pale blue sky

Dagda is the Waterfall
the silent noise of power
the inexorable progress of gravity

Dana is the soft springy moss
between children's toes on a turf-grown plain
bog-cotton gaily growing amid rough grasses

Mannanán is the slice of reeds on sanddunes
unexpected sharpness against the bleached white
of shells and bones and smooth round stones.

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Breaking Faith with Aengus óg

This was my "anti-love poem" a few years back. (I think I may well have to write an apology to Aengus now, as it seems He was merely keeping my schedule free to meet a lovely man :) )Aengus óg is the ancient God of Love in Ireland, with a reputation for both protecting lovers...and having a jape at our expense when we try to find love. Written for a Valentine's day "Anti-Love Poem" event on the PPP.


Breaking Faith with Aengus Óg

I no longer love thee,
Aengus Óg.
I ll burn thee no more incense.
I ll leave no meat nor mead nor gold;
my faith in thee has grown
stone cold.
I no longer love thee, Aengus Óg.

Too many tears and
sleepless nights;
too many phone calls unreturned.
My heart has burned and froze and crack'd
and ached, for every lover
lacked.
I cannot longer stand the rack.

Too many faithless, fickle
men
with cruel intent and wand'ring eye;
with hand and mind and deed have broke
my soul and put it to
the Yoke,
and made me, but their secret joke.


No, no longer will I love and lose,
nor wait until another choose:
I no longer love thee,
Aengus Óg -
I'll burn thee no more
Incense.

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Ancestor

This was written in 2005 for a friend who requested a prayer suitable for a remembrance ceremony. Along with Lower Me Down (in the Where The Hazel Falls anthology) this was read at the funerary service. Since then it has been used several times.

Ancestor

If I should die tonight
and my bones laid in the earth
would my voice not be the wind
and the sun my smile?
I am the blood in your veins;
all the lives I have lived
have been, in this way,
transmuted to new life
flowing from your heart to mine.
I am the beat of the Bodhrán
and the touch of the line on water
I am the thought unbidden
the instinct that springs -
If you listen not to me,
then you ignore yourself,
and silence your own voice.
I am the string plucked,
the note quivering
the dream sung by voices
you remember from your cradle.
I am the silent watch of the nights
and the first breath of morning
because you carry me always in your heart

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Saturday 13 January 2007

Bealtine

Beltane or Bealtine was first published in the Jane Raeburn Pagan Muse Anthology: since then it has been performed in Ireland, Scotland and the USA as a piece for two voices, as part of "ritual performances" or theatre.

"Beltane":
from Rivers of Light

The fires were extinguished at dusk;
doused, dampened, across the
belly of the land.


The last inspiration of twilight,
fading with the dying rays of sun
denying the existence of hope.

The rushlights and candles
standing in brown pots
snuffed out with ruthless decision.

Breathless and wanton
She welcomes the dark
finding perfect acceptance.

A rapidness, daringness, derangement
of wood on skinfulness, sinful the way
they dance against the gathering night.

Cool breath of death
against overheated limbs
brushing against mountain ranges.

Hidden the contours of valley and hill
From the eyes of greed and envy
And on they dance still, heavy with desire
Pausing with expectations
refusing extolments of false praise
insisting on the truth of cruelty.

Til light streaks and nudity is warmed
By the rising sun, colour restored
In a land overlooked

The mid-time, the time of forgetting
The removal of knowledge
The trampling of self.

Til light steaks and reawakens
In a land unobserved, the tumultuous waters
Unaltered in course by the reappearance of light.

And the union of dark and lucid
Galvanizes the sleeping soul
of rush bordered lake and pebbled beach

And the call of the curlew opens up
The soft turf and heather of the marshy
straights, straddling the west

slight lines of silver traverse
the sleeping Eriu, the stretchmarks
of rebirth.

The Fires are relit at dawn, reborn
with tongues of merriment
sending messages across the face of god.

Rivers of silver this time,
free-flowing, pushing the days out
So that evening meets dawn.


© Geraldine Moorkens Byrne

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Some Poems, Some thoughts

....not necessarily in that order :)

Well I thought it might be nice to actually have a more permanent blog, somewhere to share poems and thoughts. I have a habit of starting these things and then wandering away, but I like the blogspot set-up so finger's crossed here is where I'll stay.

I have poems hosted on www.poemhunter.com (search for Geraldine Moorkens Byrne) and published in a few anthologies....the most recent and strangely enough the first Irish one is Where the Hazel Falls although one of my favourite poems is only available in Jane Raeburn's Anthology The Pagan Muse.

Well enough for now...hope to get more posted properly later.

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