Uncategorized, Workshops

Horses for courses – 2016 Here I Come

I’ve discovered that I’m at my happiest in a classroom. There’s nothing nicer than sharing a big room with a large table and lots and lots of like-minded people. As a writer, it’s been one of the great joys of life to be able to work with other writers to develop their voices; it reminds me of all those wonderful teachers who made such a difference to me over the years. Katie Donovan will forever have my gratitude for being the first professional writer to tell me that I had something worth developing – my own voice. I took a course with her at the Irish Writers Centre in 1994 or early ’95, and her encouragement gave me the courage to persevere and to take risks.

So that’s why I’m so excited to have the chance this year to extend my range of teaching to new areas. I’ll be co-teaching a course on poetry with the wonderful Peter Sirr at Borris House this April; the course is being organised by the superb Margaret O’Brien and Nollaig Brennan of The Story House, and you can get more details on http://www.thestoryhouseireland.org/#!our-next-course/c573

I’m also visiting Listowel Writers’ Week for the first time this year, and will be facilitating a 3-day beginners creative writing workshop. I’ve heard wonderful things about Writers Week, so am thrilled to have the opportunity to experience it first hand. There are more details of this on http://writersweek.ie/creative-writing-workshops-2016/

And of course I’m teaching once again at the Irish Writers Centre, where my popular Finding Your Form course will be running again this Spring. More details on http://irishwriterscentre.ie/collections/beginner/products/finding-your-form-with-nessa-omahony-spring-2016.

So plenty of reasons to be cheerful this year – and that’s just the ones I already know about.

Blog, Features

Beat up little seagull – old tunes and new in Baltimore and DC

IMG_4058 IMG_4047 IMG_4048 IMG_4049 IMG_4051 IMG_4052 IMG_4054 IMG_4057 IMG_4060 IMG_4061 IMG_4062 IMG_4064 IMG_4066 IMG_4070 I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing writers and teachers over the past number of years. One of my happiest collaborations has been with the amazing faculty of the Armagh Project, a US-based outfit that brings undergraduate students over to Armagh for the month of July to experience the life, culture and politics of that extraordinary part of our island. Some of the faculty members of the Armagh Project are based at the University of Baltimore, in Maryland, and many of their students participate in the programme each year, so I was especially thrilled when UB-based playwright Kimberley Lynne invited me over to perform my work at the UB Spotlight’s Charles Wright theatre during the month of April. Culture Ireland kindly agreed to support the trip, which also included a reading in Washington DC.

Kimberley also suggested that, while in Baltimore, I might like to meet some of the class groups to talk about Irish culture and poetry, so the reading tour took on a whole additional dimension as I cast about for subjects that would suit the different class groups, who study 20th century culture and ideas, creative writing and Irish studies. I felt rather privileged to get a chance to talk about my country, its writers and history, to groups of American students, and also rather daunted. I wanted to get the balance right – to be informative and accessible without being simplistic. In fact, many of these students turned out to be far more informed about Ireland and its history than I was, down to the expertise and dedication of teachers like Kimberley and Joan Weber, a writer and theatre in education specialist, who have immersed themselves in Irish culture over the years.

The reading at the Wright Theatre was great fun; the audience was attentive and informed and there was an excellent question and answer session at the end during which I was asked about my predilection for water-based imagery. It’s marvellous when readers notice something one hadn’t previously.

One of the best parts of visiting Baltimore was to get the chance to see it through the eyes of people who’ve lived their all their lives, or much of them. It is a beautiful city: a huge stretch of water (Chesapeake Bay) at its heart and extraordinary Victorian architecture at its centre. And I had wonderful tour guides. Both Kimberley and Joan are proud Baltimorians, and they taught me a great deal about its history, both distant and recent. The riots over the death in custody of Freddie Gray hadn’t happened yet (in fact, they broke out just a day or two after we left the city) but he had already died and both Kimberley and Joan had been speaking about the tensions simmering in a city where the ethnic divide stretches back to the ‘White Flight’ of the post MLK assassination- troubles of 1968 and beyond to the legacies of the Civil War itself. Indeed Joan and I had been discussing the difficulties caused by the failure to face up to Civil War legacies, both in her country and on our small island. So it was very distressing to see reports of the trouble flaring up in the days after our departure. Baltimore is just the latest in a long line of similar events, with the same issues at their core. I just hope that some longer term solutions can be found, if Americans are prepared to do the sort of ‘soul searching’ that President Obama was recommending in the aftermath of Gray’s death.

Throughout my visit, I referenced Randy Newman’s song ‘Baltimore’, which I’d heard constantly growing up in a Churchtown house with a brother who was one of his greatest fans. Oddly enough, Newman’s name rarely got more than a quizzical grunt when I mentioned him. Perhaps Baltimorians took his line ‘It’s hard to live’ at face value; in a place where the cannon on the hill is aimed directly into the centre of the town (another Civil War legacy) they do tend to have a long memory.

Uncategorized

From Wales to here

 

66_Nautical_Miles_1024x1024

I spent three of the happiest years of my life living in Wales. I was studying for a PhD at Bangor University and living in a mid-terrace Georgian building, with a bay-window fronting out onto the Menai Straits and the Snowdonia Mountains. I was immersed in books  reading and walking and researching and couldn’t have conceived of a better life. Money was tight, of course, but that was good training for the freelance writing life that was to follow 😉

One of the greatest joys was finding out about Welsh culture and literature. Up to that point, the only taste of it I’d had was a brief exposure to the writings of Dylan Thomas and the extraordinary privilege of hearing R.S. Thomas at the Irish Writers Centre, sometime in the 1990s. So I had no idea of how culturally rich a country Wales is, what extraordinary pride the Welsh take in their writers and painters and scholars, and how little lip service is paid to the notion of the arts and culture. Their devotion is genuine and manifest. Their separate language is visible everywhere, and heard constantly, in the north of the country at the very least. If you want to work in the public services there, you need to learn the language, you don’t get away with a nod or a wink. And the landscape is dotted with stone circles commemorating the holding of one of their large cultural festivals, or eisteddfod.

What I also discovered was how close Ireland and Wales are. Although it is indeed 66 nautical miles between Dublin and Holyhead (or so the old Stena banners used to claim), at its closest point (between the Llyn Peninsula and Wicklow Head) it’s only 27 nautical miles, and there are historical records of the regular raids that Irish pirates made on the Welsh coast throughout the centuries. Many place names in Wales contain words for Ireland or the Irish in them, and even St. Patrick is commemorated in more than one early Christian church there, including the glorious Llanbadraig on the coast of Anglesey.

So I was delighted when the Irish Writers Centre agreed to hold an event exploring the many cultural links between our two countries. There’s a fantastic panel lined up – sublime poet Nerys Williams (who lectures at UCD), exquisite prose stylist Simon Holloway (who lives outside Bangor and teaches at Bolton), Lleucu Siencyn, head of the agency that promotes and develops literature in Wales, and Jonathan Williams, a Welshman who has become one of Ireland’s most influential literary agents. There’ll even be a Welsh male voice choir. What more could you possibly ask.

So join us on Thursday 26th February, the Irish Writers Centre. More details on how to book are here: http://irishwriterscentre.ie/products/66-nautical-miles

Blog, Workshops

Early birds catch the creative writing worm at Brewery Lane this Easter

I’m very excited to be taking part in a three-day writing workshop alongside the fabulous Ferdia MacAnna for the Brewery Lane Writers Weekend this Easter. It takes place from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th April (that’s the weekend after Easter) at the Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick on Suir, Co. Tipperary.

Organiser Margaret O’Brien, one of the powerhouses behind the new Arvon-inspired The Story House writing workshops, tells me that there is an early bird offer of  €160 if paid by Thurs. 12th Feb. (It will be €175 after that date)

Ferdia and I will be offering a mix of facilitated workshops and one-to-one sessions and there’ll be opportunities for performance as well.

You can get more information, or book your space, by contacting Margaret directly via http://margaretaobrien.com/contact-2/poster-2015-brewery-lane-writers-w_e

Blog, Poems

Fancy a free download?

To celebrate the publication of my first audio book, I’ve got a free code to offer to download the book from the Audible website. All you have to do to win the code is to respond to this post, or to the Facebook posting of this link. I’ll enter each name into a hat and email or Facebook the lucky individual – then all you need to do is write a little review telling the world what you think of Bar Talk. Sweet, eh?

You can visit the Audible Page for Bar Talk at

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bar-Talk-Unabridged/dp/B00R794GI4

Blog

Bar Talk – the Musical

That caught your attention, didn’t it?

Well there’s no actual singing, but lots of lyrics in the new audio book version of my first poetry collection, Bar Talk. You can download it here.

I was thrilled when Helen Shaw of Athena Media approached me with the suggestion of turning Bar Talk into an audio book. It hasn’t been in print for years (it was first published in 1999) and although an online version was available through creative commons due to the marvellous guys at Irish Literary Revival, it had disappeared from sight, by and large.

And audio is something different; a chance to hear the work as it was intended to be heard. So I enthusiastically agreed.

The whole process of recording it was fascinating. Athena’s terrific sound editor Amy Miller coached me through the whole process, reminding me that I should read as if I had one favourite listener in mind. Poetry is story, after all, so it really helped me to reconnect with the poems and the ideas behind them when I visualised the people who I first had in mind when I wrote them and told them the story again.

Some of those people are still in my life, thankfully, others long gone, so it was particularly poignant to get myself back into the mindset of the young woman I once was. I really rather liked her.

And one whole collection of poems takes only 49  minutes to listen to. Who knew?

 

Workshops

Finding the Form – new course begins Irish Writers Centre

As creative writers, we face two main challenges when starting out. The first is to find a voice that is unique to us, the second is to find a form or shape that best suits our vision. I really enjoy working with students on both levels and am really looking forward to teaching a new course on form in the Spring of 2015.

The course I will be facilatating is called Finding the Form. It follows on from my Beginners Finding the Story course at the Irish Writers Centre and it starts on 10th February. It will run for 10 weeks, on Tuesday mornings from 11am to 1pm.

Further details, including how to book, can be found hereiwc lgo:

Uncategorized

Visiting the Creel, Westport Quay, 27th November 2014

I recently paid a visit to the Creel, Westport Quay, where I read poems from Her Father’s Daughter.  Thanks very much to John McHugh and James O’Doherty for inviting me. While there, I met a lovely man called Oliver Whyte, who filmed this short interview with me, as well as a reading from the book. The interview is here

The film of me reading ‘Deserted Village’ is here:

Thanks to Oliver for doing that, and for uploading it on Youtube.

Reviews

Review of Her Father’s Daughter (Salmon Poetry 2014)

Grandad_2

 

Extract from “Past Masters: elegies and the reconstruction of lost worlds”, John McAuliffe, The Irish Times, 22nd November 2014

In Her Father’s Daughter (Salmon, €12) Nessa O’Mahony describes a family history set off by her talent for finishing poems with a surprising turn. The domestic scene of ‘After Noon’ moves from concrete description to a more suggestive note:
And I watch the sky
cloudless for once
in this Irish summer,
and think that
for the first time in a while,
I know how this could be
even more
perfect.
O’Mahony is sure-footed too in a longer narrative sequence about her grandfather, even if its closing motif, of a walking stick being handed down from one generation to another, seems to elide some of the more difficult aspects of family inheritances.
Like [Kerry] Hardie, she can be suspicious of her own facility, and ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Father’ is usefully self-conscious: ‘My words were cool, disapproving: / those tidy coal-strokes of the dead. // Now what else can I do / as I sit and watch you sleep / one of your countless / dress rehearsals?”

Reviews

Reviews of Trapping A Ghost (Bluechrome 2005)

From New Hope International, edited by Gerald England

Nessa O’Mahony is a prize winning poet and TRAPPING A GHOST is her second collection. The poems here revolve around family, including THE WRITING SLOPE a sequence of poems about the poet’s grandmother and her life in 1920s Ireland. These poems are conversational in tone, historically interesting and full of detail. However, sometimes they are almost too conversational in tone, prompting the reader almost to wonder what was gained in transferring these letters and journal entries into poetry, rather than publishing them in their original format.
Elsewhere, however, O’Mahony has a fine ear for the sounds of language, as here in the last stanza of VISITING SILVIA:
My eyes keep straying to surrounding hills,
the snow’s retreat at boundary walls
as if heat of any sort were to be found there.

She also has an ability to express things in interesting ways that make the reader stop and think. An example from YORK CHILD:

and when she sniffs the air,
she thinks she can smell
the opposite of hunger.

Her other strength is in beautiful, perceptive observations, as in FOOLS GOLD IN NORFOLK that describes how pebbles collected at the beach lose their glistening fascination and become:
pockets full
of sullen geology.

and here at the end of BALCONY AT ROSIE’S:

The cat seems sure, kissing
the path with delicate pads,
holding you in her almond gaze,
teasing you with the answer.

This is a collection of unpretentious poetry of particular appeal to those interested in 20th century Irish history
Juliet Wilson

 

From Marie Lecrivain in Poetic Diversity

Is it worth the trouble to review a poetry book from overseas when there are SO many poets to review in my own backyard?

Poetry cannot be defined by geography. When I learned that Nessa O’Mahony, the Irish poet and editor of the online literary magazine The Electric Acorn had published a new book of poetry, I immediately ordered a copy… and I was right to listen to my instincts.

Trapping a Ghost (bluechrome press 2005) is a three-part collection that represents the best of contemporary Irish poetry. O’Mahony successfully summons and traps the ghosts of memory through cinematic imagery, clarity, and a well-timed sense of irony.

The first section of Ghost – also titled by the same name introduces the reader to the fragility of memory, specifically in relation to loved ones. A woman’s ideal memory of her father is shaken by a chance encounter, as explored in “Still Life:”

“Your face in repose
the lines smoothed out,
the Stewart Grainger
hairline still intact,
hair still pepper and salt
despite your 77 years.


Your open mouth,
a perfect crescent moon,
upturned.
And in that instant,
it’s my heart that stops.”

“Still Life” cleverly and succinctly reminds one not only of how ephemeral memory is, but how the internal image one carries of a parental figure can be easily shattered.

A scrap of paper that can symbolize variegated meanings is illustrated in the poem “Love Tokens,” a narrative about a daughter’s recollections of the times her father spent playing the ponies. Here, a betting slip is introduced as something almost inconsequential:

“They are rectangular strips, flimsy from a week’s wear,
Your handwriting clear, that familiar neatness…”

And then transformed into a symbol at the pivotal moment:

“…I’d watch you
rocking back and forth
in your invisible saddle,
momentum building with every length,
tension coiled, waiting to spring
with joy, or a feck me pink of torn slips-
much like the ones I’m holding now.”

In the end, the slip is regarded as an almost priceless artifact:

“My father’s daughter,
I’ll retrace your steps to Dover Street
and redeem them,
knowing the girl at the desk
will tot them up and never guess their value.”

The second and most compelling section of Ghost, “The Writing Slope” is a series of poems and lyrical prose (in the guise of correspondence) that tell the story of an old woman’s hidden memoirs.

What is revealed is the modest, tragic love story of Anne, a young woman who fell in love with William Flynn, an “Irregular” (one of a group of guerilla soldiers who fought against the partition of Ireland that eventually led to civil war after the British started to withdraw their troops in the early 1920’s).

After Flynn emigrates to America to escape the authorities, Anne is left behind to struggle through loneliness, abandonment, the shame of being a “marked woman” in a small backward town, the tentative courtship by a local police officer, and the growing suspicions of Flynn’s infidelity, as deftly illustrated in the poem, “Between the Lines”:

“A harmless postcard
waiting for me on the hall table.

There’s someone new,
why else
would he tell me to wait?

Now I must stay
in the shade,
behind the counter,

listening to Maire drone,
watching the rust corrode
the bars on the windows,

wipe off the dust
only to see it reappear,
day after day.

Knowing I was his
kept me safe,
from the women of the town.

Now they’ll measure me up,
as I cut their cloth.”

In “Anniversary,” Anne reflects on her decision to marry another man, and how her choice transformed her into a wife and mother with a passel of children, an unemployed husband, and few prospects. The tone of these pieces is that of a woman who is wistful; who in the privacy of her mind relives those happy times of romance with Flynn. The poem, “Returned Yank,” reintroduces Flynn as a lonely bachelor who is grateful for Anne’s friendship at the midpoint of their lives, because he has no other family. The final poem, “Afterward,” shows that although Anne’s love for Flynn was hidden, it never ceased to burn:

“A photo of you and him –
your faces radiant
as life offered up
its riches.”

The final section, “Travels and Translations,” contains slice-of-life vignettes inspired by a variety of European settings that read like nothing more than a lovely travelogue. And this is almost a letdown until one encounters the gem “24 rue de Cotte,” which quietly leads the reader into those deeply buried memories of childhood where the desire to recapture a simpler time in the lost intimacy with a loved one is examined:

“You depart in a whirl
of last minute reminders
of what to do
and where to put myself…”
I’m still slipping,
and though you’re not here
to pick me up
I feel you in the mint walls;
the four roses drooping
after a night on the town;
the champagne stockpiled;
the sibilant hiss of
TFS jazz radio.”

Note the following: I was first introduced to this poem by the alleged plagiarist Amari Hamadene (for more information on this “flapdoodle,” read the following www.redbridgereview.co.uk/html/hamadene.html ). In 2003-04 Hamadene became the darling of the global poetry community when he made a name for himself on the web and in print. While his alleged version (entitled “Paris Follies”) was published several times, it has done nothing to damage the delicacy of O’Mahony’s work, or detract from the beauty of this particular piece.

Nessa O’Mahony’s Trapping a Ghost revels in the desire to recapture the ghost of a memory; to escape, to hold onto a bit of happiness, or to search for answers in the quest for identity.

Trapping a Ghost, Nessa O’Mahoney, copyright 2005, bluechrome publishing (www.bluechrome.co.uk), 84 pages, ISBN: 1-904781-70-5, £7.99