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On a Turning Wing: Interview with Paddy Bushe

Paddy Bushe

Paddy Bushe in email conversation with Pat Boran about his latest collection of poems, On a Turning Wing, winner of the 2017  Irish Times Poetry Now Award

How important is place to your writing life, both in terms of subject matter and your actual modus operandi, the locations where poems come to you and/or get written down?

Place is of primary significance in my poems, probably the element which is most essential to them. I think this may be because I grew up in a Dublin suburb to which I felt no familial or imaginative ties, and that I have a consequent yearning to  be integrated into place, to be a part of place.  Of course the result is a willed, creative process rather than an organic, natural one, and this feeds into my poetry.  I can place the genesis of most of my poems, a genesis or place that may disappear in the poem itself, but which is very much part of how it develops and survives – if it does. Love poems, political poems, poems about the nature of art – all of these can begin as a kind of invocation of place. For many years most of my work was ‘placed’ in Iveragh in South Kerry, my adoptive home. In more recent times my focus has widened, but usually with Iveragh not too far in the back of my mind.

Your poems are often ‘set’ far from home, reflecting your interest in travel and, in particular, hill-climbing and mountain-trekking. Are you actively writing, note-taking for instance, when you’re on the move? Can you make final versions in situations like that, or is it a case of poetry being something ‘recollected in tranquillity’, as Wordsworth had it?

I’m always full of good intentions about using notebooks, voice recorders, cameras and so forth. But I’m afraid I’m highly disorganised and unsystematic. Notebooks tend to be lost or neglected fairly quickly, and voice recorders gloriously blank when I return. I do find a camera useful as an aide-memoire, and even a stimulus for some new insight after a trip. Sometimes I get a reasonably complete draft of a poem. But my poems usually “stew” for quite a while after the spark first comes, generally in the form of a line or three which move around in my mind for weeks on end. So yes, I’m actively writing, but perhaps in a way that others wouldn’t notice. That’s my usual method – if that’s not too much of an overstatement – whether my work is placed at home or away.

Of course it’s not just in seemingly adventurous things activities like trekking or visiting formerly remote places (is anywhere really remote today?) that inspiration is to be found – galleries in Madrid or Paris, or conversations with musicians and poets in the extraordinary landscape of An tEilean Sgitheanach (The Isle of Skye) can stimulate poems. The genesis and working-out of most poems is humdrum enough, as it is, I imagine, for most poems by most poets. All of which is really to partially concur with Wordsworth’s ‘recollected in tranquillity’ formulation.

It’s the business of the poet, I think, to create rather than recreate. It’s what’s on the page that’s important, not the stimulus that gave rise to it.

Can you talk a bit about being a poet in two languages, Irish and English? Translation aside, how closely related is your poetry in the two languages? Are their subjects that seem more at home or more suited to one or other language?

I suppose the first thing to say is that English was and remains my first language. That’s a matter of fact, not necessarily a matter of choice. I speak, read and write more instinctively and more fluently in English than in Irish. When I began to write, in my late teens, I tended to write mainly in Irish, for ideological reasons. When I started to write again, in my thirties, aspects of that ideological commitment had faded, and I wrote solely in English. Both choices were limiting, and both exclusivist. I began to write again in Irish, especially when the “starter lines” I spoke about earlier suggested themselves in Irish, or in echoes of Irish. These echoes are especially strong where I live, which is residually a strong Gaeltacht area, and whose landscape, culture and history speak to me in Irish more than in English. So the subject and originating circumstances usually now determine the language in which I write, as well as any social or linguistic situation which may have given rise to the poem.

On a slightly different note, I find it puzzling, and indeed a matter of regret, that poets who are capable of writing in both languages so seldom do so. Of course I understand that poetry needs sources with cultural and linguistic depth that goes beyond competence, but I cannot help thinking that the choice is still often influenced – in both linguistic directions – by a hangover from the nationalistic and political takeover of the Gaelic Revival , which I believe has done great damage to the language. I greatly regret, for example, that Michael Hartnett bade A Farewell to English rather than simply making Irish welcome. Further back, I think it’s a great pity that Douglas Hyde – who opposed the nationalistic hijacking of Irish – did not write “The Necessity for Gaelicising Ireland” rather than “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland”.

Let it be said, of course, that those who would dismiss our Gaelic inheritance, for either ideological or meretriciously pragmatic reasons, do no service to our cultural life. Irish life and Irish poetry should celebrate the possibility of being genuinely bilingual, and not decide to close one eye in order to favour the other.

Many Irish language poets (who speak fluent English) prefer to have others translate their work, perhaps as a way to keep the energy within the language. How do you approach that task with regard to your own poems, a number of which appear in your new book as they did in earlier volumes?

To be honest, translating myself was a matter of necessity as much as of choice – there was no queue of translators lining up to take on the work!  But really I approach the task as I do when I’m translating the poems of, say, Cathal Ó Searcaigh or Gabriel Rosenstock. That is to respect the work, to be as close as possible to the original in meaning, line structure, sound patterns and so forth, while at the same time producing a poem which works in its own right. Obviously, as far as rhyme or other sound patterns is concerned, this can mean finding equivalence rather than exact reflection. The same applies to idioms, metaphors and so on.  As a rule of thumb, if I feel I can’t do that, I try to avoid translating the poem.

Some years back you edited the anthology Voices at the World’s Edge, a volume of poetry and prose (with photographs) inspired by the visits under your guidance of a number of poets to Skellig Michael, a place that’s part of the physical and mental landscape you inhabit. If one could put aside the crassness of turning the Skelligs into a kind of monastic Disneyland, as some Government ministers seem determined to do, how would you describe their real value in contemporary Ireland? Do you think we’ve lost the ability to admire and cherish places we are unable to master?

The island isn’t actually visible from my house, as it lies just behind Bolus Head, the northern headland of the two which enclose Ballinskelligs Bay, or Bá na Scealg, on the edge of which I live. But I suppose you could say that for a long time I have had an imaginative line of sight to Skellig, and that it has been central to my imaginative and poetic world for most of my writing life.

The value of Skellig Michael, even in a country which is increasingly post-religious, is primarily spiritual. In other words, it provides an entrance into otherness, otherness of time and place, otherness which I have seen have a profound effect on believers and atheists alike.

And of course there is the extraordinary wildlife and physical beauty of the place, which are part of that spiritual dimension, along with its role in mythology, history, folklore and the various combinations of all three which animate our perceptions of it. The commoditisation xxx of this extraordinary and place is indeed crass. One of the most shameful things I have seen in respect to Sceilg Mhichíl is a tourism promotion film, for which Fáilte Ireland actually paid €25,000 to Disney Lucas, and in which the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht spoke. Neither she nor anybody else in the film even mentioned that there was an intact Early Christian monastic site on the island. It’s only quality, the viewers are implicitly told, is how well it fits into the Star Wars narrative. It would be shocking were Donald Trump to say it. To have a government with this mentality – and this went to the highest level of government – is profoundly disturbing. Significantly J.J. Abrams expressed amazement in the film that he had been permitted to film on Skellig. He must have been amazed at the gombeen mentality that secretly gave him that permission.

Your new book takes its title from a line by Hopkins. And Hopkins is something of a guiding presence in a good deal of your writing. What is it you admire in him? Is his influence more marked in your English language writing?

I had always liked Hopkins, from schooldays on. I admire his open and absorbent sensibility, and I recognise, even though I no longer share, his fear-ridden and guilt-ridden Catholicism. He makes great poetry out of feelings and thoughts that I grew up with. I am also fascinated by his intelligence and craft. It seems to me that he combines the sensibility of a romantic poet with the intelligence and craft of a metaphysical poet. When I did an MA with the Open University after retiring from teaching in 1990, I wrote a dissertation on the influence of his feelings of exile and alienation on his Dublin poems. So I read his work fairly intensively at that time. And around the same time, on Skellig Michael, I looked into an abyss (I can be terrified of height) and Hopkins’s lines leaped into my mind:

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

That led to my long sequence “Hopkins on Skellig Michael” where my obsession with Skellig coalesced with my enforced obsession with Hopkins. I should make it clear that Hopkins never went there, but I used an imaginary overnight retreat by Hopkins to explore Hopkins’s mind and work, while physically exploring the island.

As you say, Hopkins is an overt presence in this new collection, especially in “Of Paint and Clay and Words”, a line of which gives the collection its name. As regards his general influence on my writing, I’m sure there is, in both languages. But I think that’s for others to trace. It would feel presumptuous for me to do so.

The Scottish Gaelic poet Somhairle MacGill-Eain / Sorley Maclean has been another significant influence, and you walked in his footsteps, literally and metaphorically, when you translated his collected poems into Irish (Ó Choill go Barr Ghéarain, Coiscéim, 2013) a couple of years back. There’s great love of and understanding of place in his work, and great sadness at what is lost. Is it too much, do you think, to suggest that great poetry always walks a line between celebration and elegy?

Somhairle, whom I had the privilege of meeting a few times, is certainly an influence, in both languages. I think he was by far the greatest Gaelic poet, Irish or Scottish, of his era. That’s why I took the decision, against all good sense and reason, to translate his collected poems into Irish. I was very aware that the potential readership of poetry in a threatened minority language translated into a sister threatened minority language would be of interest to a minority of a minority of a minority. But I got enormous satisfaction from it, despite it being such challenging work over a period of three years.

I have also dedicated two poems to him, one in English and another in Irish. And, although the connections is disguised rather than overt, the poem ‘The Music Master and the Poet’ in my new collection is based on a story the poet and musicologist John Purser, who lives on Skye, told me about himself and Somhairle.

I also got great satisfaction out of working with my son, Éanna de Buis, on his film Ar Lorg Shomhairle: In Sorley’s Footsteps in which we traced Somhairle’s poetry in the landscape of Skye and Raasay which stimulated so much of his poetry, even though he rarely took landscape description as a subject for his poems. But he embodied love poems, political poems and historical poems in his landscape, in works of enormous power, beauty and above all, integrity.

I think there is a great deal of truth in what you say about elegy and celebration in great poetry. I’ll pass on whether or not it applies to all great poetry, but it certainly applies to many great works of art, be they literary, dramatic, musical, visual or whatever. And I would certainly think that all elegy necessarily implies celebration.

That sense of both celebration and elegy is certainly evident in the poem sequence here about Tech Amergin, the arts centre in which you and your wife Fíona were very much involved for many years. Arguments like this often, and rightly, take place in the public arena of a local newspaper. What are you hopes and intentions in giving it a new life in verse?

That sequence, which I found extraordinarily difficult to write, and still find difficult to read aloud, started out as an outburst of rage and of contempt for the bureaucracy which, in an act of corporate revenge and vindictiveness, got rid of the voluntary group which for a number of years, on a completely voluntary basis, had run a high-quality, wide-ranging arts programme at a tiny cost, and at no cost to the educational committee which held legal ownership of the centre, again entirely due to local voluntary effort. At the moment, four years later, there is a minimal programme which is a shadow of what there used to be.

The detail of that deliberate destruction of an arts programme is for another day. But as I was writing the poem, I realised that merely to vent my anger and contempt might give me temporary satisfaction, but would tell a very limited story. So I decided also to celebrate what there had been, and to try to show a little of how precious it had been in the community, and how the bureaucratic bullying which lay behind the destruction of that preciousness hurt the community which the bureaucracy nominally served. I hope the poem speaks for the belief that all communities are enriched by access to the arts, and becomes a plea for that access to be universal.


Link: On A Turning Wing by Paddy Bushe

Second Sight: Poems in Irish

second Sight by Paddy Bushe, Dedalus Press

Described by Bernard O’Donoghue as “the leading poet writing in both Irish and English”, Paddy Bushe is a committed, engaged and highly accomplished writer in Ireland’s two official languages. He is also a much admired translator from the Irish.

Double Vision is the umbrella title of two new books: .

Second Sight draws attention to his achievement in Irish, presenting in a dual-language format the poet’s own selection from three previous books, together with his own English language translations.

In Peripheral Vision, meanwhile, Bushe’s latest collection of poems in English, he explores the relationship between seeing and vision, between the often solitary pilgrimage of the artist and the collective journey of the arts in their many expressions and forms.

Together, these two books offer a comprehensive and timely overview of the work of one of the most significant of contemporary Irish poets.

The two books, Second Sight and Peripheral Vision, are available in paperback form while both together, in the single volume Double Vision, are available only in hardback.

Despite the tough tone of Bushe’s poetry, reflecting its material, there is an intelligent sensitivity always at work that does justice to the more tender of human experiences.
— The Irish Times

Peripheral Vision

Peripheral Vision by Paddy Bushe

Described by Bernard O’Donoghue as “the leading poet writing in both Irish and English”, Paddy Bushe is a committed, engaged and highly accomplished writer in Ireland’s two official languages. He is also a much admired translator from the Irish.

Double Vision is the umbrella title of two new books: In Peripheral Vision, Bushe’s latest collection of poems in English, he explores the relationship between seeing and vision, between the often solitary pilgrimage of the artist and the collective journey of the arts in their many expressions and forms.

Second Sight, meanwhile, draws attention to his achievement in Irish, presenting in a dual-language format the poet’s own selection from three previous books, together with his own English language translations.

Together, these two books offer a comprehensive and timely overview of the work of one of the most significant of contemporary Irish poets.

The two books, Second Sight and Peripheral Vision, are available in paperback form while both together, in the single volume Double Vision, are available only in hardback.

Despite the tough tone of Bushe’s poetry, reflecting its material, there is an intelligent sensitivity always at work that does justice to the more tender of human experiences.
— The Irish Times

On A Turning Wing

Paddy Bushe’s latest collection of poems opens with a stirring suite on music and art, seeing them not as rarefied experiences but as fundamental and nourishing encounters for both their makers and their audience. The distinction between here and elsewhere is blurred, and the playing of an Irish piper seems echoed by that of other musicians in far-flung parts where the poet’s enthusiasm for travel and hill-walking takes him.

The transition from such open, light-filled spaces to the more uncertain areas of Irish political life makes perfect sense in Bushe’s work, the poet’s freedom bringing with it a responsibility to engage. And Bushe’s defence of a local arts centre is lifted far above what might have been a parochial dispute into a passionate argument for access to the arts beyond favouritism or political interference.

On a Turning Wing contains some of Bushe’s finest sketches of the natural world, as well as touching lyrics on the birth of a grandchild and the joy and consolation of companionship and love.


for Ciairín, three months pregnant

The scissoring blades had come so close
That I almost sliced the nest and its three
Speckled blue eggs, suddenly and brutally
Exposed, balanced, on a few new shoots
Of the hedge I was cutting. And I thought
She would never return, that the nest
And eggs would shrivel away into a sad
Might have been. But less than an hour
Saw her brown tail again cocked over the nest,
Her yellow beak and accusing eye willing me
Not to betray her again, willing the wind
Not to capsize her world, willing the blades
To hold off awhile. And now a gale has come
And gone, and she is still sitting on the eggs,
And I am holding my breath day after day,
Willing her just a few more weeks of grace.

May 2013

To Ring in Silence

To Ring in Silence. Paddy Bushe. Dedalus Press, poetry from Ireland and the world
To Ring in Silence is Paddy Bushe’s New and Selected Poems, drawing on all of his previous English language collections and including a number of Irish language poems, accompanied by the author’s own translations.
To Ring in Silence: New and Selected Poems gathers work from all of his previous publications, and, as Bernard O’Donoghue suggests in his Introduction, shows Bushe to have assumed Michael Hartnett’s mantle as “the leading poet writing in both Irish and English.”
“This book does a magnificent service to Irish literature and the Irish language, by showing them to be anything but parochial. Its humanism reaches out to all times and cultures and places. We should take note. And it is something of a miracle that a work which is so instructive and thought-provoking is at the same time so riveting and enjoyable.”

ISBN 978 1 904556 88 6 Paperback
140 x 216 mm
February 2008

My Lord Buddha of Carraig Éanna

My Lord Buddha of Carraig Éanna. Dedalus Press, poetry from Ireland and the world

Commencing in Norwich Cathedral where “organ-pipes, sunstruck by the last rays / Through the high cathedral windows, beamed / Beyond sin or sanctity”, the poems in Paddy Bushe’s new collection explore questions of identity and self- knowledge, particularly in the light of time spent in places such as the abandoned monastic settlement of Skellig Michael, or the mountains of Nepal. The coming together of here and there, of East and West, is alluded to in the title poem, centred around a plastercast of the Buddha in the poet’s garden “Rooted in all this betwixt and between!”

The fourth section is made up of poems that deal with mortality, fragility, the threat of loss and “utter absence”, as well as poems of joy and transcendence. The book closes with The Howl for Art Ó Laoghaire, the poet’s translation of the great eighteenth-century Gaelic poem, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire

“Despite the tough tone of Bushe’s poetry, reflecting its material, there is an intelligent sensitivity always at work that does justice to the more tender of human experiences” – The Irish Times

ISBN 9781906614522 paperback
97 pp, 216 x 140 mm / 5.5″ x 8.5″
February 2012

Voices at the World’s Edge

Paddy Bushe (ed.)
Foreword Marie Heaney
Photographs John Minihan

For some 700 years after its foundation in the 6th century, the monastery on Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast (a climb of 670 steps above sea level) was home to a vibrant monastic community, and one of the earliest of such settlements in Ireland.

For this unique and fascinating anthology, Dublin-born Paddy Bushe (long since living within sight of the Skelligs) invited some of Ireland’s best-known poets to spend the night among bee-hive huts, puffins and gannets, and to write of the experience at the one-time ‘edge of the world’.

Paddy Bushe, John F. Deane, Theo Dorgan, Kerry Hardie, Biddy Jenkinson, Seán Lysaght, Derek Mahon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Bernard O’Donoghue, Cathal Ó Searcaigh and Macdara Woods.

Special Collector’s Editon

A Special Collector’s Edition of this book is also available. Casebound, it comes in a matte grey slipcase, and is limited to 50 numbered copies only, each of which is signed by all of the contributors, the photographer and the publisher.

The Word Ark

THE WORD ARK is a pocket-sized, 146-page anthology of poems responding to our fellow creatures, great and small, published at a time when not only the animal kingdom but the world at large is beset by dangers on an unprecedented scale. It is, in the words of its editor Pat Boran, “An invitation to look more intently at the world beyond ourselves, an external balance to our inner turmoil.”

Featuring contributions from 45 poets – including Paula Meehan, Patrick Deeley, Paddy Bushe, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Francis Harvey, Mark Roper, Eva Bourke and Boran himself – and beautifully illustrated by the editor’s’s father-in-law, Sicilian artist Gaetano Tranchino (see The Word Ark is a highly personal and timely response to a crisis, and an opportunity in these troubling times to love, laud and celebrate.

I greatly welcome this timely publication and the images of the animals we share our surroundings with, as presented by the poets, who see the world of nature in a very clear way indeed.
— Éanna Ní Lamhna, biologist, author, broadcaster

Leland Bardwell, Pat Boran, Eva Bourke, Paddy Bushe, Conor Carville, Inger Christensen, Marie Coveney, Enda Coyle-Greene, Catherine Ann Cullen, Pádraig J Daly, Patrick Deeley, Theo Dorgan, Katherine Duffy, Erin Fornoff, Matthew Geden, Ray Givans, Francis Harvey, Eleanor Hooker, Patrick Kehoe, John Kelly, Tom Mathews, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Philip McDonagh, Iggy McGovern, Paula Meehan, Mary Montague, Aidan Murphy, Gerry Murphy, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Mary Noonan, Peggy O’Brien, John O’Donnell, Mary O’Donoghue, Paul Perry, Leeanne Quinn, Ger Reidy, Mark Roper, Gerard Smyth, Ross Thompson, Richard Tillinghast, Jessica Traynor, Grace Wells, Joseph Woods, Macdara Woods and Enda Wyley.

01 June 2020, 146 pp
PB 105 x 170 mm — HB 127 x 203 mm

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Dedalus Press 2020 Vision

selection of books - Dedalus Press 2020 Vision

First a brief recap of the year just ended, then back to the future!

Before we consider the Dedalus Press 2020 vision, let’s take a brief look back at the year just ended.

Bogusia Wardein reading

2019: What A Year That Was

With new collections of poetry from Mary Noonan, Pat Boran, Catherine Phil MacCarthy and Patrick Deeley, Mikiro Sasaki, Enda Wyley and Ross Thompson, and our biggest project of the year, the publication of Writing Home: The ‘New Irish’ Poets, this year more than ever we feel we’ve helped redefine the meaning of the phrase ‘new writing from Ireland’.

Writing Home poets group photograph - Dedalus Press 2020 Vision

WRITING HOME feature in The Irish Times

Writing Home signatures

The Dedalus Press 2020 Vision

THE YEAR AHEAD is every bit as exciting and adventurous. With the first new books already set for publication in early February, our line up for 2020 includes new collections by Enda Coyle-Greene, Leeanne Quinn, Doireann Ní Ghriofa, Gerry Murphy and Gerard Smyth, the much-anticipated Selected Poems of Paula Meehan, the English language debut of Russian-born Polina Cosgrave (one of the contributors to Writing Home), an anthology of 100 classical Japanese poems translated into English by Nell Regan and James Hanley, and a two-volume publication from Paddy Bushe featuring a new collection in English and his selected poems in Irish, accompanied by the author’s own translations.

Patrick Deeley reading - Dedalus Press 2020 Vision

We’ve long been convinced that Ireland is ideally placed to act as a bridge between Europe and the New World, not only to promote our own writers to an international audience, but also to play a central role in the global poetry conversation. We look forward to further exploring these connections in the year (and decade!) ahead.

Enda Wyley and Ross Thompson - Dedalus Press

Become a Friend or Subscriber

BECOME A FRIEND OR SUBSCRIBER to the Dedalus Press and support us in our mission to Spread the Word.

Ranging from €100 to €300 annually, there are three basic levels of support, Paperback, Hardback and Friend, all of which see all new books (a minimum of 8 in the coming year, and where possible signed by the authors) dispatched to subscribers in the week of publication. Any additional, occasional or special publications during the year are also automatically included at no extra cost.

In recognition of their extra level of support, Friends also receive an exclusive Limited Edition publication, not otherwise for sale, comprising new work by poets associated with the press.

selection of books - Dedalus Press 2020 Vision
Mikiro Sasaki Reading

Subscriptions are for a period of one year (Subscribers can choose whether to begin with the next or the most recent Dedalus Press publications). And, in what we think should be standard practice in such matters, Subscriptions DO NOT automatically renew: instead we are more than happy to send a polite reminder to subscribers when their current subscription comes due for renewal.

For more details of the various options available, or to sign up for a Subscription for yourself, or indeed a gift Subscription for a friend or loved one, please see the full details on the Dedalus Press website here.

In any case, thank you for your interest and support during what has been one of our busiest years to date. We hope we can look forward to your continued support in the Dedalus Press 2020 vision in the year to come.

YOUTUBE VIDEO: A brief overview of the work of the Dedalus Press, featuring clips of readings by Enda Wyley, Rafael Mendes, Polina Cosgrave, John O’Donnell, Bogusia Wardein, Mikiro Sasaki, Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi, Theo Dorgan, Jessica Traynor, Evgeny Shtorn, John Kelly, Nidhi Zak and Macdara Woods.