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An Irish peacekeeper’s war poetry

Michael J Whelan’s collection Peacekeeper draws on his experience as an Irish soldier serving with the UN in Lebanon and Kosovo

I saw all that I witnessed, I just didn’t realise I was absorbing it and though it was hard and sometimes it is still difficult to reconcile to the world I lived in I hope at the end of my days to be able to say this was one of the good things I did with my life.

Distant Whisper

Do you remember
how drops of water
trickle down stone walls
in the wadiis of south Lebanon,
as they have for a thousand years,
over contours, between grooves,
slowing on rough rendering?

How it reminded you of the west of Ireland,
white lines on her hills?

Do you remember
liquid moving like a teardrop,
trickling in a whisper of life,
the hum of a bee, or an insect
living in its own significance,
going about its business
as time stands still
long enough for you to study
the erosion of war,
knowing that a belt of Point Five ammunition
fired at you could turn this feature to rubble
in an instant?

Do you remember thinking
if you die here today – behind this old wall,
trickles will go on forming slow grooves
and you will be that distant whisper?

Deliverance
(Lebanon)

In the orphanage a child
cowers from cursing men outside.
She wants to climb back into
her dead mother’s womb
and hide inside its warm, soft,
un-edged safety,
where no explanation is needed
or reason to hide under splintered
staircases or run the gauntlet to basement
bomb shelters, existing minute to minute
with strangers until the dawn arrives with her
deliverance and she refuses to be born.

Broken Spade
(Kosovo)

You lay in your frozen field, slack-jawed at how you
came to be there, your mouth caked in last year’s mud,
limbs twisted about your body as if in the midst of some
remembered dance or tempered at your rotting crops,
bent over in disgust, yielding in the half light and startled
at the cold – they have never felt.
This harvest, un-reaped and yet reaped upon you
hides the stale shoe and crushed spectacles,
the broken spade that hastily covered you in the soft
clay you loved, now steeled hard against the sharp sky.

I imagine the fears of your kin as they searched the high
golden horizon that summer day.
They might have felt the distant calamity that took you
following the bullet casings along the beaten track,
and I wonder if they found you,
then I see the scars of cluster bombs and scorched
stalks of your petrified labours and there, there in the shrapnel
of this bitter harvest I behold your seed,
torn apart but reaching out to the one who bore them.

Michael J Whelan is caretaker of the Military Aviation Collection at Baldonnel. He holds an MA in modern history from NUI Maynooth. His poems have won second place in the Patrick Kavanagh and 3rd in the Jonathan Swift Awards. Peacekeeper was published in 2016 by Doire Press and is available from good bookshops at €12. 

Massive thank you Martin Doyle for publishing this article see original here http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/an-irish-peacekeeper-s-war-poetry-1.2897917?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

'Peacekeeper' by Michael J. Whelan. Poetry collection published by Doire Press - April 2016

‘Peacekeeper’ by Michael J. Whelan. Poetry collection published by Doire Press – April 2016

I will be taking part in this event to celebrate the 50th issue of A New Ulster (Ed. Amos Grieg)
With David Rigsbee 
and Peter O’ Neill, where I will also read and discuss poems from the Peacekeeper collection (Doire Press), which were first published in ANU. Please come along to what promises to be a fantastic event in Books Upstairs on D’Olier Street, Dublin City at 6.30pm next Tuesday evening 15th November 2016.

Hope to see you there

See details below

Michael J. Whelan - poet, Lebanon 1994

Michael J. Whelan – poet, Lebanon 1994

 

 

 

Celebrating the 50th issue of A New Ulster
With David Rigsbee,
Michael J. Whelan and Peter O’ Neill

A New Ulster magazine was established in 2012 and is celebrating its 50th issue this month. To mark this milestone, some of the magazine’s most prolific contributors will come together to read and discuss their poetry and translations. On the night we’ll have guest of honour, American poet and translator of Joseph Brodsky, David Rigsbee, as well as poets Peter O’Neill and Michael J. Whelan. A New Ulster magazine promotes contemporary literature across all 32 counties, publishing poetry, fictional prose, translations and transversions, reviews, interviews and art works from writers and artists not only from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but from the USA, UK, and the EU making it a truly international literary journal which, in its four intensely packed years, has made it truly a force to be reckoned with.

David Rigsbee is the author of School of the Americas and Not Alone in My Dancing:  Essays and Reviews, as well as the forthcoming Dream Baby (Lapwing) and This Much I Can Tell You (Black Lawrence Press). He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in Literature and awards from The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Academy of American Poets. He is the author of critical studies of Carolyn Kizer and Joseph Brodsky and has coedited Invited Guest:  An Anthology of Twentieth Century Southern Poetry.  He lives in New York.

Michael J. Whelan is a historian and award-winning poet. A serving member of the Irish Air Corps, he is currently curator and keeper of the Irish Air Corps Military Aviation Museum & Collection at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. He is the author of two history books and his poetry has been published in Ireland, Mexico, Paris, the UK and included in The Hundred Years’ War –Anthology of Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe UK). His debut collection ‘Peacekeeper’ (Doire Press, 2016) is the first of its kind to reference the role of Irish citizens on international peace support missions.

Peter O’ Neill is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Divertimento The Muse is a Dominatrix(mgv2>publishing, France) and Sker (Lapwing). He edited And Agamemnon Dead, An Anthology of Early Twenty First Centurywith Walter Ruhlmann (mgv2>publishing). He is the founder of Donkey Shots, an avant garde poetry festival which takes place in the spring in his home-town of Skerries, north county Dublin, where he also hosts The Gladstone Readings.

book-upstairs-pic

Tickets are  €5.92 and available at the Eventbrite link below

DATE AND TIME

 

Tue 15 November 2016

18:30 – 19:30 GMT

 

LOCATION

Books Upstairs,

17 D’Olier Street

2 Dublin

 

https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/celebrating-the-50th-issue-of-a-new-ulster-tickets-29272855900?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&aff=esfb&utm-source=fb&utm-term=listing

Defence Post, South Lebanon -1990s Photo: Michael J. Whelan

Defence Post, South Lebanon -1990s. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

 

RECONNAISSANCE BY FIRE

 (Observations in Irish UN Operations area S. Lebanon – 1990s)

 

Just before the night

white plumes on hillsides

mark the end of journeys

as artillery bombs sweep the ground

and machinegun bullets

rip through wadis

in a reconnaissance by fire

along known approaches,

tearing up usual routes

just in case

they’re already there

preparing,

priming themselves

and then,

through darkness-spilled

shadows,

the silence is torn again

by the shrieks of screaming metal

cursing with hate.

 

Sometimes the best defence

is to attack

even when

there are no targets.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 Wadi = Dried up riverbed/valley

 

Part of a sequence of poems titled ‘Holding The Road’ which was published by Mark Ulyseas in Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016 see link below

http://liveencounters.net/live-encounters-poetry-2016/12-december-poetry-2016/3-michael-j-whelan-holding-the-road/

Part of the Irish Battalion area from Camp Shamrock with Hill 880 - 1990s (c)Michael J. Whelan

Part of the Irish Battalion area of operations viewed from Camp Shamrock with section of ‘Hill 880’ – 1990s (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

BATTLEFIELD

(Observations in Irish UN Operations area S. Lebanon – 1990s)

 

Early morning.

A steely mist waited

through the night

to storm the hilltop hiding

the warriors approach

in resistance and stealthy guile.

They paused at pre-ranged paces,

unleashed hate from guns,

then retreated

to whence they came

before the mist released

a battlefield, and enemies

were seen.

 

Michael J. Whelan

Part of a sequence of poems titled ‘Holding The Road’ which was published by Mark Ulyseas in Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016 see link below

http://liveencounters.net/live-encounters-poetry-2016/12-december-poetry-2016/3-michael-j-whelan-holding-the-road/

 

Michael J. Whelan - poet, Tibnine Castle, South Lebanon 1994

  South Lebanon 1990s – (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

SPECTRE

 

There are nights when you have had enough.

Disappearing into the shadow corners of your room,

watching the fabric of grey days unfold again,

move about in strange colours on the walls,

the window open to the world,

white curtain hanging half in

half out like a trapped ghost

fighting hard to escape,

to find its former self,

go home,

sink into its own bones and flesh

and the smiles of a lover.

Then, somehow, you shut the window on those dreams

and wait for a moment while the spectre hangs by its neck

till stilled, goes silent, limp.

You switch on the light and the shadows disappear,

courage fills you up for one more day.

 

There are nights still when I remember the grey days

but in my house the windows have blinds.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Part of a sequence of poems titled ‘Holding The Road’ which was published by Mark Ulyseas in Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016 see link below

http://liveencounters.net/live-encounters-poetry-2016/12-december-poetry-2016/3-michael-j-whelan-holding-the-road/

HOLDING THE ROAD profile pic - Irish Peacekeepers - South Lebanon 1990s (c)Michael J. Whelan

HOLDING THE ROAD profile pic – Irish Peacekeepers – South Lebanon 1990s (c)Michael J. Whelan

HOLDING THE ROAD

 

The peacekeeper,

flak-jacket buttoned to the neck,

blue helmet fastened tight

under the chin,

rifle slung across the chest,

muzzle pointing at the distant ground,

trigger finger tensed

along the trigger guard

switched to automatic.

 

Alone he stands there,

holding the road

in front of wire entanglements

and tank-stops

in the narrow chicane

of a sun trapped checkpoint,

left arm raised high,

the palm of his hand

facing the threat.

 

Michael J. Whelan

Part of a sequence of poems titled ‘Holding The Road’ which was published by Mark Ulyseas in Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016 see link below

http://liveencounters.net/live-encounters-poetry-2016/12-december-poetry-2016/3-michael-j-whelan-holding-the-road/

 

South Lebanon 1990s (c) Michael J. Whelan

South Lebanon (L) 1990s (c) Michael J. Whelan

MARHABA

 

For peacekeepers

in South Lebanon

the friendly stage

sometimes came

after confrontation

and before conflict.

Marhaba my friend”

was the first thing said

to a resistance fighter

pointing a gun at you.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Part of a sequence of poems titled ‘Holding The Road’ which was published by Mark Ulyseas in Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016 see link below

http://liveencounters.net/live-encounters-poetry-2016/12-december-poetry-2016/3-michael-j-whelan-holding-the-road/