Eileen Casey – Guest Editorial
Fluctuations between Light and Dark

Casey LE Y P&W Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Young Poets & Writers December 2020.

Poet, fiction writer, journalist, Eileen Casey was born in County Offaly, now based in South Dublin. Most recent poetry collection, ‘Berries for Singing Birds’ published October 2019 (Arlen House). Poetry is published widely in anthologies and journals by Dedalus, The Stinging Fly, The Nordic Irish Studies Journal, Poetry Ireland Review, Lisburn Linen Museum, The Moth, The Ulster Tatler Literary Miscellany, among others. Poetry awards include The Oliver Goldsmith International Prize, The Hanna Grealy Awards (Roscommon Libraries) and a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship, among others. Five poetry collections (including two in collaboration with Offaly Visual Artist Emma Barone) are published by Arlen House, New Island, AltEnts (Alternative Entertainments, Rua Red Arts Centre, Tallaght). ‘The Lea-Green Down’, a response anthology to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and featuring works from over 60 poets was published in 2018 by Casey’s small press Fiery Arrow. Currently working on a series of poems documenting her Stonemason heritage, an undertaking supported by Creative Ireland Support for Artists and County Offaly Arts.

Full Moon photograph by Mark Ulyseas
Photograph by Mark Ulyseas

Yehudi Menuhin wrote that ‘Blake’s tiger would never have burnt bright in the forests of an adult’s night, but simply have gone out like a light while the adult died of fright.’ Menuhin maintains that things are not as fearful in the innocent world of the child ‘because there, one has curiosity instead of terror and a suppleness of mind that adjusts itself to the wonder of the unexpected as easily as the pupil of the eye to the fluctuations of light and dark.’ The child’s world is the poet’s world which is why adult poets should read work by children on a continuing basis. Luckily, a friend, Lynda Tavakoli, gifted me People Can’t Cry on the Moon. Published by Down Lisburn Trust, I read it on a regular basis. It reminds me to have clarity, ‘a sense of the ludicrous, wit, humour and pathos and makes me mindful to try and conjure up the same honesty and sensibility’ (Lorna Hastings, Director, Arts Care).

Because of the time of year, I’m including a poem from this wonderful anthology,

I’m off school.
I’ve got a ghost at home
And a mask.
Mum hid my ghost.
I’m not scared
I believe in ghosts.
I’ve never seen one.
– Hallowee’en, People Can’t Cry on the Moon, author unknown.

It’s easy to see why this poem is a poet’s joy.  Poets, especially at a young age, perform conjuring acts in such subtle ways. The opening line ‘I’m off school’ implies a sense of no longer liking this institution as well as being ‘off’ on a mid-term break. Belief is gifted by a willingness to experience the unseen with inner vision. Children are not like Doubting Thomas. A child poet is confident enough in their creative world to boast of their own ghost…where else but at home; hidden by an adult authority figure. What the adult hides, the child will find. ‘And a mask’. The ability to shape-shift, to re-invent and to be an identity Houdini, escaping mundanity via pen and paper. Poetry has no rules, it can rhyme or not.  ‘Hallowe’en’ is a capricious poem. It may have no logical meaning yet it works.

It’s a pleasure to include a section devoted to spooky poems by LCC (Coláiste na Tulchann), Dublin. One such offering is by Saoirse.  This young poet shrouds the school in grey and uses technological language to introduce the teachers. ‘The site of the teachers is frightening,/they will eat you with just one bite.’ The language in the poem is an indication of how technology intrudes on poetic consciousness. On the surface, ‘Hallowe’en at LCC’ seems like a moan but it’s quite a deep poem and reveals a fearfulness of the adult world…very rite of passage. The journey from childhood to the world of adults is a ‘walk’ not a run, a warning, not a prescription.

This edition welcomes older poets from a girl’s school in Melbourne, Australia, written by students whose ages range from 15 years to 17 years. These poems already show a maturity regarding choice of subject matter and its execution. Britney chose the character Iago from Othello, in a poem which demonstrates how the master of mischief himself may have been slighted and deceived by others. Britney creates an authentic framework for the poem, using archaic language and for a poet so young, her imagery is very fresh, ‘My sleeves have wrinkles like my enemies’ sheets’ is a memorable description but there are many more to be enjoyed from Motivated Malignancy. Fara’s Land of Poems and Pomegranates  is a sensory delight. Wistful and whimsical, the repetition of the opening line sets up a rhythm that is trancelike and seductive. ‘My mind is woven like a rug/-immortal in its colourful intricacies/,’ is a perfect way to highlight the many poetic threads from which this poet weaves her narrative. An amazing achievement in one so young.

Simran, a Year 11 student, uses music, in particular the violin to transport us from ‘silence, swelling and blooming,’ to ‘the other side of the earth’. Clearly, music is a passion for this poet and where there’s passion, there’s light and shade. Music, as well as being an instrument, is also a weapon; ‘This music pierced me, with each/Master stroke I bled a little more/’. Aarabi reaches into mythology for her poem The Sun and his Lover. This young poet, with chutzpah it must be said, sets up a sun monologue addressed to both Icarus and Apollo. It’s a complex poem, revealing at its heart disappointed love, the lover Icarus doomed in his quest yet triumphant in his dreaming. Ultimately, it makes the argument ‘why you should not love a god’. However, love will have its sway and love endures despite tragedy; ‘The songs will say you plummeted in agony/You flew, Icarus, even as you fell’.

Photograph by Mark Ulyseas
Photograph by Mark Ulyseas

What I find intriguing is that the poems contain nothing at all about Covid-19. I honestly expected this terrible virus to rear its head in all its monstrous manifestations. Perhaps it needs the passage of time when, hopefully, it will enter the realm of lore, when it will no longer be visible, merely a ghostly presence haunting imaginative corridors for generations to come.

Going forward, I offer the advice to read as much as possible (clearly evident in the work published here) and to journal on a regular basis. Writing is like music or any other creative pursuit. Practise on a regular basis and develop that special relationship between the pen and the page. Practise makes perfect or so the saying goes. Striving for perfection is not the goal, we poets know that. It’s what slips through the cracks when we least expect it that excites us.

All of the poems in these pages are worthy of praise. Writing poetry is a tremendous achievement, yet, it takes courage to put the poems ‘out there’ in the universe. Thanks to Live Encounters a vital global platform exists. I also commend teachers and mentors who are also invaluable creative stepping stones for young poets and writers everywhere.

© Eileen Casey