Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Poet Barbara G.S. Hagerty
Reading May 30
At Piccolo Spoleto

On Thursday, May 30, poet Barbara G. S. Hagerty will be reading at the Piccolo Spoleto Sundown Poetry Series at 6:30 PM in the Dock Street Theatre Courtyard, located at 135 Church St., Charleston, SC. It’s free and open to the public. A reception and book signing for Barbara will follow at the Martin Gallery, 18 Broad St.

Bassist Anthony del Porto, of the bluegrass band Southern Flavor, will accompany her reading.

Barbara’s reading is but one of 10 that will go on during the festival as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Sundown Poetry series. All readings at 6:30 PM in the Dock Street Theater address above. Find out more about the festival readings, now through June 7, at Piccolo Spoleto. Poccolo Spoleto.

Barbara’s poem “Visiting Virginia P.” appeared in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events, an anthology of 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 nations. The poem is reprinted below, followed by an interview with Barbara.

Visiting Virginia P.

By Barbara G.S. Hagerty

We grow hollyhocks, paint glistening tomatoes,
watch how light fractures a glass of water,
look up words in the middle of the night.
Our bones and narrows rearranged,
we gave birth seven times between us.
Once we followed Berryman,
we were blond disciples
of his cauliflower syntax, his gothic architecture
and small houses, the ruined porch,
the bridge, the truss, the ice,
the freefall into madness.
Nothing could save us
from the gravitational pull of alcohol
until we washed up at AA
among the molded plastic orange chairs,
meetings, coffee, smoke—those were the days
when chain smoking was encouraged
as an antidote to worse things—
among the old timers who spoke in slogans
One Day at a Time, First Things First, Easy Does It.
I thought I’d landed on a planet full of ashtrays
run by an editorial committee of the Reader’s Digest.
Today you recalled I once said Pray
for the unknown help that’s already on its way
Now I meet your son, for the first time, he’s 18, grown well
and sturdy, like someone whose boughs we could climb into.

Interview With Barbara G.S. Hagerty

How did you come to write “Visiting Virginia P.”?

Chronological time is somewhat collapsed in “Visiting Virginia P.” Although I'd attended various 12-step meetings with Virginia in the late 70's and early 80's, and kept in touch with her after I had moved away, I did not meet her son until he was 18. In those intervening years, Virginia and I had, via both effort and grace, grown generally happier, healthier, and wiser--and had both become mothers. When I met her son, he struck me as whole and wholesome, traits attributable at least in part to healthy mothering. Tall, strong, towering over both of us, he brought to mind the qualities of a tree: sturdy, substantial, grounded in the earth, rooted in the real world. So the triggering event and the original experience it alludes to are separated in time by more than 25 years. Which is one of the bewitching things about poetry: all memory and all experience are available to the poet, always and in abundance.

Barbara G.S. Hagerty

How did writing this poem affect your recovery?

It didn't directly, as it was written so many years after the process of recovery began. But I would like to answer the question more broadly, to say that the act of writing is, for me, always salubrious in some way, always revelatory. I think of the pen as an epistemological tool, akin to an archeologist's probe or chisel. Writing helps excavate the layers and uncover the hidden strata, to see ways--often extraordinarily unexpected-- in which absolutely everything is interconnected. And, you know how the sages say you can't step in the same river twice? Similarly, no two days of excavating are ever alike--the finds are always different, even when you are probing similar territory.

Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped this poem come to life?

My poetry-making mind is omnivorous; that's the case, I think, with most poets. A phrase, a sound, a mood, an image, a sensory impression, a conundrum, a curiosity--almost anything can get me started. In this instance, the experience of meeting the young man elicited a flood of associations and memories. That John Berryman would appear in the poem just seemed organic and natural. Again, I marvel that imagery like "planet full of ashtrays," which must have been incubating somewhere in my mind for a long time, just seemed to emerge from the shadows when the poem demanded to be written.

Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?

Rhett Iseman Trull (The Real Warnings); Allen Peterson (All the Lavish in Common); Sandra Beasley (I Was the Jukebox); and Lisa Fay Coultey (In the Carnival of Breathing) are four poets I admire whose work is fairly new to me. I also admire the poetry of Gilbert Allen, Paul Guest, Lucia Perillo, D. Nurkse, Spencer Reece, Dan Albergotti, Susan Meyers, and Carol Ann Davis, among many others. The work of Larry Levis is important to me, and I recently read the remarkable Letters to a Stranger by Thomas James (who died in 1974 at the age of 27). Not to mention Li-Young Lee, Pablo Neruda, Yehuda Amichai, and Czeslaw Milosz....so many favorites! Recent prose works on poetry that I have read include Close Calls with Nonsense (Stephen Burt) and Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (Tony Hoagland). Finally, the one prose work I would take with me to that proverbial desert island is A Joseph Campbell Companion (edited by poet Diane Osbon). Essential!

What are you working on now?

I have just completed a new manuscript entitled Twinzilla; as the title suggests, it explores the duality of the self. I am tuning this manuscript up at the moment, as well as working on other individual poems in various stages of dishabille.

Barbara G.S. Hagerty is author of The Guest House and Motherfish (both from Finishing Line Press, in 2009 and 2012, respectively). She was awarded the Fellowship in Poetry from the South Carolina Arts Commission in 2010. She was also awarded a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work, both poetry and prose, has appeared widely. She lives in her native Charleston, SC, where she co-coordinates The Piccolo Spoleto Sundown Poetry Series (with Susan Meyers) and serves on the board of The Poetry Society of South Carolina. She has also worked as a magazine writer, journalist, photographer, curator, and teacher of poetry and creative non-fiction. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from The Johns Hopkins University's Writing Seminars.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Last Surviving Hymn to Hathor"
by Nehassaiu deGannes

Who leads us, moon-drunk, into clover
and sweeps the starch rectangle of the blank half
of the bed? You love him? You love him not?
Lolling on the dark howl’s tambourine.
Honey, can’t find true love ‘cuz yuh too afraid to die.
The train is in the cattle yard again,
clattering up and down the lonely tracks.

Gourd of lullabies and rich dark earth,
what makes us cough, plump the pillow, rise
to take a piss, catch the distance lowing in our ears—
Is that Ella all glissando?
What floods our hearts with thunder?
The train is in the cattle yard again, clattering
up and down the lonely tracks.

Look how her tail’s a metronome. Her eyes are bells
of iron. Those daddy-long-leg lashes flint and there are sparks
of hammered iron flying ‘bout the room. She’s crying
Why, when a man gets too close with a bunch of cow-slip
orchids growing from his fist, you cock your head, go very still—
wonder what he plans on doing with his other fist?

You’re hiding in the cattle yard again.

Pull a ream of paper from the white shelf of sleep
“blankness + me = possibility unchained;”
and drown the tinkling cowbells in the toilet’s oceanic hiss.
But our conductor drop kicks her orchestra again.
She’s lounging on your moon-white pillow.
Fool, love won’t find you. Can’t find you.
Her bassoon now quaking all the orchids in the room.

Why not lay your head down on her chamois lap?
She’s scattering an entire confluence for you
of what is done and gone and lost for good
Life’s a dung-hill and you plant your seeds in thati
of what’s to come is yours and can be yours to trust
Not in punishment but in sanctified pleasure. Cross over.
Cross over.
The train is in the cattle yard again.

Interview With Nehassaiu deGannes

How did you come to write The Last Surviving Hymn to Hathor?

“Last Surviving Hymn To Hathor” began as a failed sonnet. I became enthralled with the notion of writing little songs devoted to human failure, and while the sonnet form did not prove conducive to this particular meditation on failed love or the failure to love, the blues motif did. In the same way that traditional blues weave together the sacred and profane, this poem wanted to inhabit both the mythic and mundane. Here an earthy mythic voice whispers in the ear of a woman who tells herself she has awakened simply because she needs to take a piss. Nothing else. She’s ‘content’ and in control inside her protective shell of distrust and ambivalence, a shell that is a hard-earned armor, the result of childhood and adult sexual traumas. Yet something is gnawing at her. Tickling at her. Crooning in her ear. The truth that to truly survive we must relearn how to be vulnerable, to cross the tracks from victim to wholeness with all the risks that that entails, to trust, to break, to sing ourselves into wholeness---all of this was in the poem’s first seed, it’s first impulse, but it took several revisions to find it’s form and its meditation.

How did writing this poem affect your recovery?

I remember reading, while I was still an undergraduate, Alice Walkers’ IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS’ GARDENS, in which she speaks of writing the books she needs to read. My poem is indeed a poem I need to read. I am both the distrusting ambivalent woman and the fairy-godmother-goddess-cow (as in Hathor/ as in the cow that jumped over the moon). I am the one in need of the message and the one in which the message resides. Writing this poem helped me give voice to a slowly-dawning realization that to stay on this side of the hard-bitten tracks wasn’t going to be enough.

Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped this poem come to life?

I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, often allowing weeks and months between revisions. I listen and listen and listen, for as one of my first teachers, Sonia Sanchez, told me, “Listen to the poem. Always listen to the poem. It will tell you what it needs.” With this poem, I may also have employed a strategy that Rita Dove shared at a Cave Canem summer retreat: “Tear the poem in half length-wise. That will often reveal the dross.”

Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you’d recommend to others?

Right now, four of my favorite poets are Tracy K. Smith, Aracelis Girmay, Natasha Tretheway and Ross Gay. Some of my perennial favorites include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Kamau Brathwaite, Aimé Cesaire, and Lorna Goodison.

What are you working on now?

I am an actress and writer and am currently making my debut at the Stratford International Shakespeare Festival in Canada, playing "Lady Capulet" in Romeo & Juliet, directed by Tim Carroll of the UK's Old Globe and Factory Theatres, and "Anne of Austria, Queen of France" in The Three Musketeers, directed by Miles Potter. I will also be appearing in The Merchant of Venice, directed by Festival Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino. It will be a robust eight months.

Of the many projects I've collaborated on this past year, last Spring I played Diana Sands, opposite Broadway veteran actor and choreographer Hope Clarke, in a two-person play about Ms Sands' life and art. Diana was a brilliant African American actress, activist and pioneer, who passed away in 1973 at the age of 39, thus for many of us her work is little known or forgotten. She originated leading roles in Broadway productions of Hansberry's and Baldwin's plays, played Shaw’s “St. Joan” at Lincoln Center and was the first in a color-blind lead on Broadway, starring in THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT opposite Alan Alda, as well as many many other stage and film credits.

Whether acting or writing, my work lays claim to several cross-cultural literary and theatrical legacies: British, American, Caribbean and Canadian, classical and contemporary. I constantly claim the right to play roles both written for and those not written expressly for black women, and fortunately I have had several opportunities to do just that. Thus, learning about Ms Sands and embodying her legacy was a profound experience.
Nehassaiu deGannes is a theatre artist & poet. Winner of the 2011 Center For Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Award, the 2010 Inaugural Cave Canem Fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center, and several grants and awards to develop her one-woman show, Door of No Return, excerpts of which are featured in The Museum on Site’s book A Thousand Ships: A Ritual of Rembrance. Her poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Poem Memoir Story, American Poetry Review, Caribbean Writer, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tuesday: An Art Project, TORCH, Encyclopedia Project, After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery Anthology, The ARAVA Review and the Cave Canem Anthology XII. Recent acting credits include: "Kate" in Good People (Hampton Theatre); “Cordelia” in King Lear with Frankie Faison and Andre Braugher (Luna Stage); “Carmen” to Amy Irving’s “Madame Irma” (Red Bull Theatre); “The Nurse,” in Tony Walton’s production of EQUUS opposite Alec Baldwin (Guild Hall); the world premiere of The Tallest Building In The World (Luna Stage); “Betty,” A Song For My Father by David Budbill (Oldcastle Theatre), poet & mover in the national tour of Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso with Cynthia Oliver’s COCo Dance Theatre; and “Roberta Charles,” Room For Cream (Theatre of The Two-Headed Calf & LaMAMA ETC). Nehassaiu holds an MFA from Brown University and is a graduate of Trinity Rep Conservatory. She has taught poetry at The Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, and was a part-time Assistant Professor of Theatre at Rhode Island College (2007-12). Visit her web site at Nehassaiu's web site.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

After Shocks Poet John McAllister
Tells Why He Wrote The Station Sergeant
His New Detective Novel Set in Ireland

Irish poet and novelist John McAllister has just released his 2nd novel, The Station Sergeant (Portnoy Publishing, Dublin). His essay on why he wrote this murder mystery follows a brief synopsis of the book.

The Station Sergeant, set in the late 1950s and early 1960s in turbulent Ballymena, Northern Ireland, concerns the discovery of the body of a local farmer. Station Sergeant John Barlow’s investigation hits up against local hoodlums who steal cattle to order, an escaped WWII German soldier, and a new boss who hates Barlow.

Meanwhile, Barlow’s violent schizophrenic wife, his teenage daughter’s waywardness, and his affair with another woman distract him, but will tantalize readers. The Station Sergeant evokes the turbulence of the post-WWII period in Ireland and represents the best elements of classic crime writing. Available now at Amazon.com at The Station Sergreant.


By John McAllister

Way back at the start of the “Troubles”, the police in Belfast were being overwhelmed by the scale of the rioting. To help out, officers were shipped in from the country areas. Of course the city police made fun of their “country cousins”, none more so than of a slow moving, slow talking, slow thinking constable from way out in the bogs.

This “country cousin” said nothing: didn’t retaliate, didn’t show annoyance, but when the time came for him to go back to his country station he stopped at the door and looked back.

He said, ‘I mightn’t know much about police procedurals or all this modern policing stuff they teach you boys now. And I might spend more time herding cows off the road than chasing robbers, but I would know if someone had set up a poteen still in the house next to the police station.’

It worked the other way too. A young constable from a police patrol stopped to talk to a farmer. A cockerel jumped onto the wall beside them.
‘That’s a fighting cock,’ said the young constable.
‘It is not,’ said the farmer.
‘I tell you it is.’
‘And what would you, a city man, know about fighting cocks?’
My father kept them,’ said the young constable and walked on with the patrol.

                    John McAllister

The John Barlow in my book is such a man. He was modelled on a real-life policeman of the same name. In my youth story after story about the “doings” of Barlow were whispered around my home town of Ballymena. He was sly, he was cute, he was sleekit. He had a reputation for being stupid and, according to rumour, he blackmailed the District Inspector to get staying on in Ballymena when the man wanted him posted.

Barlow joined the RIC and stayed on after partition when it became the RUC. He apparently served in Ballymena for forty-five years. Mention him to one of my brothers-in-law and his blood pressure shoots up. Yet an old friend, Harry McLarnon, says, ‘John Barlow, now there was a great man'.

I was at Trinity College Dublin reading for my masters in Creative Writing. I always wrote on the train going to and coming from Dublin, but one night I was really tired and didn’t feel up to it. Rather than surrender entirely to my tiredness I promised myself “ten minutes and then I’ll stop”. I put the pad in front of me with absolutely no idea what I wanted to write about. Something about one of the “Barlow” stories of my youth popped into my head and I wrote it down. Ten minutes and a page of recollections later I had the basis for five stories. Five stories populated by real people from my youth.

Edward Adair “gentleman and drunk by profession” really did exist in the form of two people. Ballymena always seemed to have a tramp who was well known and popular with the townspeople. One of them, like Edward, really did live under a dry arch near Curles Bridge. When he went into hospital the hospital management had to beg people to stop clogging up the phone lines wanting to hear how he was doing and did he need anything. The local papers undertook to publish a weekly update on the tramp’s progress.

The second person that Edward is based on was a pleasant, very well spoken man who lived in digs near my home. He was a cousin of the then prime minister of Northern Ireland and related to the lords O’Neill. When he died suddenly at an early age he was found to have done complex mathematical calculations on the margins of newspapers. We’d all thought him a bit “soft”. In those days none of us had ever heard the expression “idiot savant”.

Ballymena also had a notorious family: utterly polite when sober, demons when drunk and occasionally more sinned against than sinning. Their antics as I grew up gave me the idea for a local family of – shall we say – chancers.

My mother’s mother was a Dunlop. The Dunlops were and are big farmers, leading lights in the local Orange Lodge, town mayors and extremely nice people. Out of sheer devilment I used their name and the ner-do-well Geordie Dunlop and his family were born.

The setting for the stories was easy. I just took Ballymena as I remember it in the fifties and sixties, relocated the real Curles Bridge to the Penny Bridge area and Adair Castle to the site of the new municipal cemetery. River Road really exists under another name but I put two bends in the adjoining river that you will never find on an ordinance map.

The five “Barlow” stories were published in my short story collection, The Fly Pool. Even now, ten years on, people still contact me to talk about the collection and always, always, always they want to talk about Barlow and the things he got up to.
One friend, who shapes a cross with his fingers to ward off evil if I even mention the RUC, kept nagging at me for another Barlow story. Way back I had started a sixth story but abandoned it for various reasons. I went back to that story and somehow a novel grew out of it. A very minor theme in the original version suddenly gripped me and The Station Sergeant as it now stands was born.

I kept John Barlow’s real name in my stories and book, to celebrate and keep alive the memory of a man who strode Ballymena like a goliath in his day. In real life, John Barlow was a mere constable but have I accorded him the long delayed accolade of Station Sergeant.

John McAllister was an Accountant in Practice and a Tax Consultant for forty-five years. He has now retired to become a fulltime writer. He read for an M. Phil. in Creative Writing at the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College, Dublin. His poems have been published in Europe, Australia and in the USA. His poem “Dog Days” appeared in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events. His collection of short stories, The Fly Pool, was published in 2003 by Black Mountain Press. He is currently working on a second collection. His first novel, Line of Flight, is available for Kindle. His latest novel, The Station Sergeant, from Portnoy Publishing is now available on Amazon.com for Kindle, click here to order The Station Sergeant by John McAllister.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Dog Days" by John McAllister
A Poem on Loss of Innocence

Dog Days

It was a row, a humdinger.
In the end the young bride damned
her marriage to hell, called the dog
and caught the train home to mother.

Which row it was she never said.
But she was always shifting furniture
so perhaps it was the time he got home from work
and went from bath to bedroom in the dark.

He gave her a few days, until it was plain
her temper would last as long as her red hair,
before he appeared at the door.
He said, I’ve come for the dog.

Interview with John McAllister

How did you come to write “Dog Days”?

I was never able to write a poem about my mother during her lifetime. Granny Sarah featured in several poems, and her strong character has inhabited some of my stories and books. But mother no.

Soon after mother’s death I went to a weeklong literary event in Killybegs, County Donegal. On the final morning mother’s stories of her early married life coalesced into “Dog Days” which was more or less written in one sitting.

I had just shown the poem to friends, Joan and Kate Newmann of Summer Palace Press, when I got a phone call to say that our family pet, a pug, had been knocked down and killed.

How did writing “Dog Days” affect your recovery?

My mother was quietly religious. She never preached but led by example and she felt that life, with all its ups and downs, should be celebrated. She was left a widow in her mid thirties with three children, all of whom had serious health problems. Instead of wrapping us in cotton wool she opened the door and told us to get out there and enjoy ourselves. She herself played bowls (doubles with an international champion) until months before her death. Writing the poem and remembering mother’s laughs as she recounted the different elements in it made me remember how she brought laughter to her own deathbed. When the Marie Curie nurse appeared she knew that the end was close. Instead of being tearful she introduced us as “This is my three children, but I have lovely grandchildren.”

Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped this poem come to life?

The only way prose or poetry can come to life is if you are involved in life itself. My best writing is where I am tapping a memory from childhood or dealing with something I regard as a miscarriage of justice. Sometimes I take a real-life character and twist. In my published novel Line of Flight the main character is based on a real SAS soldier BUT in the book he is so useless at defending himself that he has to get his baby brother to fight his battles.

Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?

Recommending favourite poets is like sending someone into a library to pick a novel. They’d be lucky if they find one they really like. It’s the same with poets, but I’ll mention three whom I know well both personally and through their work. Professor Nigel McLoughlin, University of Gloucestershire, England. In appearance and voice Nigel sounds like an all-American footballer, but he writes with great delicacy. Paul Maddern is originally from Bermuda and has recently taken up a lectureship in creative writing in England. Right from the first day we met at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast, I knew that Paul had a special gift. Jean O’Brien has won several international awards for her poetry. In spite of the fact that she has a low opinion of men generally, she still regards me as a friend.

What are you working on now?

I have one novel with a publisher which should be issued this year. The Priests’ House is about an Irish Catholic priest turning up at his new parish with his girlfriend. I have just published a novel about Ireland of the 1960s which is currently available NOW for Kindle at Amazon.com from Portnoy Publishing. The Station Sergeant is about an ageing policeman who likes being grumpy and hates being caught out in kindnesses. A mad gunman is killing people seemingly at random. Eventually the sergeant has to make some hard decisions before he can bring the killer to justice.

Having got that lot out of the way for a time I hope to get back to writing some poetry.

John McAllister was an Accountant in Practice and a Tax Consultant for forty-five years. He has now retired to become a fulltime writer. He read for an M. Phil. in Creative Writing at the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College, Dublin. His poems have been published in Europe, Australia and in the USA. His collection of short stories, The Fly Pool, was published in 2003 by Black Mountain Press. He is currently working on a second collection. His first novel, Line of Flight, is available on Kindle. His latest novel, The Station Sergeant, from Portnoy Publishing is now available on Amazon.com for Kindle, click here to order The Station Sergeant by John McAllister.