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If you happened to miss it then please check out the link (below) to my chat with Rick O’ Shea about the PEACEKEEPER poetry collection, which was broadcast on Saturday 27th August 2016.

The Poetry Programme, Saturday 27th August

In the first of a new season of the Poetry Programme Rick O’Shea visits the Irish Poetry Reading Archive at UCD and meets soldier-poet Michael Whelan.

The Irish Poetry Reading Archive was started in 2014 and is created and managed by UCD Library. Rick hears what has already been achieved, and what is planned, from Ursula Byrne, Head of Development and Strategic Programmes in UCD Library, and Dr Lucy Collins of the School of English, Drama and Film. He also meets Medbh McGuckian as she prepares to make her own contribution to the archive and reads a poem from her latest collection, ‘Blaris Moor’, published by Gallery Press.

Michael Whelan is following in a long tradition of soldier-poets and he meets Rick to talk about his debut collection, ‘Peacekeeper’, published by Doire Press, and read poems inspired by his experiences in Lebanon and Kosovo.

The programme ends with two short war poems by Michael Longley from his collection ‘The Stairwell’, published by Cape Poetry.

 

You can listen to the programme here:

https://www.rte.ie/radio1/the-poetry-programme/programmes/2016/0827/811618-the-poetry-programme-saturday-27-august-2016/?clipid=2269830#2269830

This article/review of PEACEKEEPER was published Tuesday August 2016 in the Leinster Leader Newspaper

 

A Review by Liam Kenny

Michael J. Whelan, 2016, Peacekeeper, Doíre Press,

Casla, Co. na Gaillimhe.

ISBN: 978-1-907682-46-9.

 

Voice of the soldier-poet

Local newspapers are good at reflecting the nuances and characteristics of the community they serve. The reports of meetings, court-cases, politics, profiles, incidents, matches, launches, local notes and much else create a nuanced picture of everyday life in the locality covered by the paper. It is often been said that to reconstruct Dublin in the early 20th century a reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses would provide all the working drawings needed by way of its multi-layered descriptions of people and places. Much the same can be said about the local newspapers. To view the files of this paper from, say, a hundred years ago, is to surround oneself with the ebb and flow of life in a past generation.

Making friends: Peacekeeper and poet Airman Michael Whelan chats with local children in Kosovo

All of this appreciation of the strength of local newspapers also points up a weakness. While papers are strong in covering the activities of the population within the local area they do not have the reach to document the experiences of local people in foreign settings. It’s as if the interest value melts when a local passes over the county boundary. Perhaps this reality explains why the experiences and service of the Irish women and men on peace-keeping missions throughout the world has gone largely untapped by local newspapers.

 

 

 

With the presence of the Curragh Camp in the county, and going back some years, the active military stations in Kildare town and Naas, there were inevitably many hundreds of soldiers from the locality wearing the blue beret of the United Nations.  It was an awareness of this commitment that prompted the Leinster Leader to send a journalist to the Lebanon in 1989 – the first regional paper to do so — and report on the reality of life for Lilywhite soldiers north of the contested Lebanon-Israel border.

The emphasis in the Leader reportage was to convey a sense of connection and explore how the service of two or three generations of army families meant that there was a familiarity with the geography and culture of the Middle-East which had not been registered by writers on the home front. It soon became apparent that place-names such as Tibnin, At Tiri and Roshaniqra were as familiar around the kitchen-tables of soldiering families in Kildare as were Brownstown, Moorefield and Ballymany.

Creating a sense of connection across such different cultures is often best achieved through the sensibilities of poetry rather than the less malleable word structures of prose.  Taking up the poet’s pen for some years now has been Ireland’s first soldier-poet of the modern era – Michael Whelan who is stationed at Casement Aerodrome, a little north of the Kildare-Dublin county boundary. An accomplished student of military history – he holds an M.A in History from Maynooth University and is curator and champion of the Air Corps museum – he is steeped in the culture and tradition of the Irish Defence Forces. His intellectual scope covers an even wider range through his service on peace-keeping missions under the melting sun of a Lebanese sky and the sharper climes of the Kosovan hills. The imagery and colour of local life and the brutal sights and sounds of gunfire and death form contrasting but interwoven themes in his poetry.

His latest collection of poems entitled “Peacekeeper” published by the Doire Press, Inverin, Co Galway blends the grit of peacekeeping with sensitivity for local people suffering as uncaring warlords vent lethal fury.   This quality of emotional generosity in the face of death and destruction is identifiable in a striking poem titled “Grapes of Wrath” which was inspired by the notorious Qana massacre when in April 1996 Israeli artillery deliberately poured lethal shellfire onto a small village under UN protection where Lebanese refugees had sought sanctuary from the fighting.

Michael Whelan writes of the aftermath:

 

“A soldier climbs from the rubbled limbs

and discarded faces, his eyes caked black with tears,

his hands at arm’s length clutching the newborn baby

that looks like a headless doll.”

 

A frequently cited characteristic of the Irish peacekeepers is their ability to – using that word again – “empathise” with the people in their area of operations. Beneath the radar of their armed peacekeeping duties are their thousand-and-one kindnesses which try and bring relief to the desperate existence of men, women and children whose lives have been atomised by war. In his poem “Peacekeeper” he writes of being among the frozen hills of Kosovo at Christmas and visiting the home of a local family – eight hungry children and their mother “whose sanity had run out.” He is faced with the disturbing contrast of the privations of the family compared with the Christmas plenty being enjoyed by families in Ireland at the same moment. His conscience troubles him with a question:

 

“How do I sort this out?

 No one can threaten hunger with bullets.”

 

But what can he do – a lone peacekeeper witnessing the broken humanity caused by political forces way beyond his ability to influence? The situation claws at his conscience for a response and it is one that comes with generosity:

 

“Tiny hands were in my pockets.

I gave her my watch.”

 

While such instances go to the heart of peace-keeping it would be wrong to characterise the collection as being dark and depressing. The collection is leavened with lyrical verse perfumed with the aromas of Lebanon’s cedar-scented hillsides. The skin warms with his powerful depictions of the blaze of the sun against the background of azure skies. His poem entitled: “An Irish Peacekeeper on the Coast Road Driving South from Lebanon to Israel” flows with the sensuousness of the environs:

 

Eyes closed and I’m there

cruising along the coast road

in the back of a white soft-topped UN jeep,

rifle at my knee, sun warming my face

burning my outstretched arm.

in the open window.”

 

A reading of Michael Whelan’s poetry has the great value of impressing on the mind the ancient and multi-layered civilisation of the Middle East. While to many, the place-names of that region are nothing more than the ticker tape flicking across a TV screen reporting the latest atrocity the poet delves deep into the stories of a people who inhabit the cradle of the civilised world. In “Paradox of the Peacekeeper in the Holy Land” he writes:

 

“In Lebanon I sought redemption

like the pilgrim at the cross of Helipolis,

on the Bekaa’s great range where Bedouin caravans met

and Romans laid their bodies down in supplication to their gods”

 

Poets come from many backgrounds – farmers, teachers, home-makers, and full-time writers but the voice of the poet-in-uniform is one which has been absent from Irish bookshelves. Now with the publication of “Peacekeeper” Michael Whelan has claimed a space for the soldier-poet in the literary consciousness of the nation. Series no: 499.

 

This review of PEACEKEEPER was published on Saturday 06th August 2016 on ‘Tintean’ (Australian/Irish website). The link to the article as it appears on ‘Tintean’ is included at the bottom.

A Poetry Review by Edward Reillystacks-image-1644852

Michael J. Whelan, 2016, Peacekeeper, Doíre Press, Casla, Co. na Gaillimhe.

ISBN: 978-1-907682-46-9.

These poems are firsthand reports from the newest episode in a continuing war. In 638 Jerusalem fell to the Arabs, and the Levant was lost. Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. Vienna was finally relieved in 1683, and it took 250 more bitter years of struggle to expel the invaders from all but a small pocket of Europe. Yet their legacy remains; the Balkans are littered with mosques, pockets of Turks and Muslimized populations, havens for the new, and ambitious Islamists. And today, Jerusalem is only half-free, whilst Europe, in its widest sense, is under attack once again.

At first, Whelan seems to play the rôle of an honest soldier, a wide-eyed innocent of sorts, merely recording reactions to the situation in Lebanon: ‘The journey from Beirut … was long and hot’, a battle becomes ‘a circus / of tracer and flash’, whilst his contingent is ‘always caught in the middle’ between ‘Hezbollah’ and ‘Israeli backed militia’. Yes, but this is the modern soldier’s lot, and in being thrown into a hot war, like my uncles coming up against the Japanese, a man can only hope to survive against ‘booby traps’, ‘bullets’ that connect to an ‘unlucky peacekeeper’ caught in crossfire. All the romance of tourist brochures is eventually swept away with the realisation that Lebanon ‘is the land of giants, where Gilgamesh / raped the mountains of cedars’, and the vocabulary grows battle-hardened.

Progressing beyond a travelogue, Whelan begins to use his schooling to shape thoughtful and engrossing poems. In the finely wrought ‘Paradox of the Peacekeeper in the Holy Land’ (p. 39), he comprehends the nature of the sacred land, seeking ‘redemption’, from what we’re not told, calling to mind the long processions of Syrians, Romans, ‘Jewish zealots’, St. Helen of the Cross, Crusaders and so on. But also sees beauty in ‘red anemone, wild tulip and poppy / and young girls [who] might seek the damask rose’ amidst the carnage, wherein ‘we must watch our step’. Certainty is a fleeting quality in this blood-soaked land.

By the end of this section one must ask what, if anything, was achieved by successive UN interventions in the Lebanon, noting that the current UNFIL mandate expires at the end of this August. Will Hezbollah resume its blindly merciless attacks on Christian communities in Lebanon, or even seek to resume full-scale war against Israel? Will the loss of 47 Irish soldiers, ‘martyrs’ he nominates them, all be in vain?

By the second section Whelan’s vision has grown even darker, for if Lebanon was dangerous ground, giving rise to dreams of redemption and martyrdom, then Kosovo was Hell. While Tito’s Jugoslavija fell apart at the seams, the vultures moved in. Serbians wanted to regain Kosovo, a tangled ‘field of blackbirds’, that had been lost during the Turkish occupation to the largely-Muslim Albanians, the new Islamicists seeing an opportunity. It was as if the Four Horsemen were going into rehearsal for the next big one.

In the midst of this brutal war, Whelan is an acute observer, noting how the village children can be welcoming, indifferent or even threatening. He sees how ‘The rain has come / to wash away the footprints of the killers’, where the victims are reduced to fragments of ‘white bone on the deepening red mud’. It’s worse than in Lebanon, now it’s ‘always’ raining, and ‘the fear comes when no adult comes to greet you’, where the survivors may be alive but ‘not happy’.

Another finely observed, deeply moving poem is ‘Broken Spade’ (p. 60), wherein he contemplates a farmer, slain in the act of tending his fields, his ‘harvest, un-reaped and yet reaped upon you’. Not even in the days of sacred observance were people safe. In ‘Roadside Bomb’ (p. 61) he records the effect of a massacre, ‘legs hanging from roof windows’, ‘others swimming in boiling / blood’, ‘broken conversations’. A group of Serbians had been under NATO escort as they were going to visit their local cemetery in preparation for the annual Day of the Dead, their bus ripped apart by a ‘perfectly’ timed bomb. All were killed, so callously. Whelan noting, ‘we heard / the details later’. This is about as close as the book comes to an open expression of anger. But the ire boils and nags at him in the last half dozen or so short poems, as NATO cluster bombs ‘accidently’ smash friendly villages, the poet realising ‘the merchants never cared’, finally lapsing into despair, as ‘there is no end to old stories’.

One puts the book down, numb beyond weeping, for it goes well beyond the romance of being a soldier-poet ‘in the tradition of Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon’ and others, as one reviewer, K. Higgins, would have it, as the conflicts in Lebanon and Kosovo did not have the same moral clarity as the invasion of Belgium. If any soldier-poets can be invoked it would be the battle-weary and despairing Solženycin of Prussian Nights, or Grass as author of The Tin Drum. And if Whelan comes close to a fit of Celtic despair in the final pages, we as readers must withdraw somewhat, re-reading these poems as a record of the continuing interaction between an enlightened Good and a persistent Evil, both of which change in ‘form’ according to time and situation, an essentially moral, problem Whelan asks us to consider.

Edward Reilly

Edward Reilly has published poetry & criticism in journals such as James Joyce QuarterlyPoetry Ireland ReviewPoetry Salzburg ReviewTinteán et al. He is the founding editor of Azuria, a small literary journal published by Geelong Writers.

Beyond the Romance of the Soldier-Poet

Hi all, please see the poster and link below for an Excellent line up of poets who I will be reading with at The Winding Stair bookstore (on the quays near the Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin city) on Tuesday next 19th July at 6.30pm.

It promises to be a very worthy event if you come along, which will make it even more spectacular.

So why not come along, looking forward to seeing you,

Michael

 

Folks! TUESDAY 19th of July @ 6.30pm we promise a diverse offering of THREE of Ireland’s award winning poets.
Featuring Michael J. Whelan’s debut collection PEACEKEEPER; Peter O’Neill’s sixth collection SKER, and Rob Buchanan’s THE COST OF LIVING.
In order of inspiration: inspired by Michael’s tours of duty on peace support missions, Peter’s background in philosophy and comparative literature and Rob’s human experience using the macrocosm of Irish history, literature and religion.


See you then.

Winding Stair Bookshop

https://www.facebook.com/Winding-Stair-Bookshop-287404113181/?fref=nf&pnref=story

 

The Winding Stair - three poets  one evening

The Winding Stair – three poets one evening

Massive thank you to Kevin Higgins for this fantastic review and to Kernan Andrews and team at the Galway Advertiser, where it was published on Thursday, Jun 23, 2016

‘IT IS fashionable for reviewers, of the perpetually disappointed variety, to lodge Basil Fawlty style complaints against a poet’s first published collection.

The poet in question, we are typically told, has the occasional nice turn of phrase, but does not have anything to write about because s/he has little of experience of life, a subject on which the disappointed reviewer is unfortunately something of an expert.

There are over indulged newbie poets who, as of yet, amount to not much more than a stunning haircut and professionally taken publicity photo. Generally, though, such complaints tend to be grapes of the vinegary variety. It will be interesting to see what reaction Michael J Whelan’s debut book of poems, Peacekeeper, published by Doire Press, gets from said literary gatekeepers.

Whelan may be a new poet but, having joined the Irish Defence Forces in 1990 and served as a peacekeeper in Lebanon and Kosovo, he is not exactly young. He has had life experiences from which most poetry reviewers would run screaming. Crucially these experiences are the often bloody meat of this quite exceptional debut. Whelan is no dabbler, but a war poet in the tradition of Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Keith Douglas.

The poems here are products of direct experience – part one covering his time in South Lebanon, part two his stint with the Peace-Enforcement mission in Kosovo. There are some breathtaking lines, as in ‘The Rain Has Come’: “The rain has come/to wash away the footprints of the killers.” The poem finishes with the image of “a rusting bullet casing/exposed like a white bone on the deepening red mud.”

The blood which has reddened the mud is, as is hardly ever the case in poems these days, more real than metaphorical. From the first poem ‘Blue Helmets’, Whelan approaches his subject in the unromantic way soldier poets nearly always do: “We were issued our blue helmets/and flak-jackets there, mine were/in really bad shape, like they had been/through the wars.”

His tribute to his fellow Irish soldiers who died on service in Lebanon – “where the cedar grows forever/and remembers everything” – is a poem of stunning beauty. A number of his poems bring home the way that, even when the war is over, and the papers of record around the world trumpet the advent of peace, it is often not really over at all. One poem opens: “The war is long over but it is not ended.” Another, ‘Inshalla’, tells us “The war is over in the South, again.”

Whelan is a poet of experience rather than innocence. Many have experiences. Very few have the talent he does for finding exactly the words to force the reader to imagine him/herself struggling across those bloodstained landscapes in Whelan’s own war-weary boots.’

Michael J. Whelan  - Kosovo 2001

Michael J. Whelan – Kosovo 2001

 

Michael Whelan will read at the Over The Edge Writers’ Gathering at The Kitchen, Galway City Museum, on Thursday June 30 at 8pm. The other readers are Niamh Boyce, Paul Duffy, Susan Millar DuMars, and William Wall. Admission is free.

 

over the edge - june 2016

 

Hi all, coming right on the tail of my reading at the Belfast Book Festival, I have been invited and I am really pleased to be taking part in The June Over The Edge Writers’ Gathering in Galway on June 30thwhich will present fiction writers and poets, Niamh Boyce, Paul Duffy, William Wall, Michael J. Whelan, & Susan Millar DuMars.

Paul Duffy is 2015 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year and will read his winning story.

Niamh Boyce is the judge for 2016 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year. The event will take place at The Kitchen @ The Museum, Spanish Arch, Galway on Thursday, June 30th, 8pm. All are welcome. There is no cover charge. If your are in the vicinity and free then you might consider coming along to what promises to be a wonderful literary event.

Thank you and hopefully see you there,

Michael

Niamh Boyce won the overall Hennessy XO New Irish Writer of the Year and the Emerging Poet Category for her poem ‘Kitty’. Her poetry has also been highly commended in The Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award 2013. Her first novel, The Herbalist (Penguin Ireland) won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2013, and was long listed for the IMPAC Award. Her stories have been adapted for stage, broadcast, published in literary magazines and anthologized, most recently in ‘The Long Gaze Back – Irish Women Writers’ and ‘The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction.’ Niamh was shortlisted for the Francis McManus Short Story Competition 2011, the Hennessy Literary Awards 2010, the Molly Keane Award 2010 and the WOW Award 2010, her stories can be found in magazines such as The Moth, Crannóg, Revival, Boyne Berries, Poetry Bus, The Stony Thursday Book and New Irish Writing Magazine. Originally from Athy, Co Kildare Niamh now lives with her family in Ballylinan, Co Laois. Niamh is the judge for 2016 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year, the deadline for which is August 3rd http://overtheedgeliteraryevents.blogspot.ie/ .

Paul Duffy is a former Galway City resident now living in Wicklow. Paul is currently working on a collection of short stories. He is 2015 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year and will be reading his winning story ‘Redolence’.

Salmon Poetry recently published Susan Millar DuMars’ fourth collection of poems Bone Fire.

William Wall is the author of four novels, including This is the Country (Sceptre), longlisted for the Man Booker Prize; three collections of poetry; and one volume of short stories. He has won the Virginia Faulkner Award, The Sean O’Faoláin Prize, several Writer’s Week prizes and The Patrick Kavanagh Award. He was shortlisted for the Young Minds Book Award, the Irish Book Awards, the Raymond Carver Award, the Hennessy Award and numerous others. His work has been translated into many languages, including Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Latvian, Serbian and Catalan. In 2014 William was part of the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange, organised through The Irish Writers’ Centre, which toured Italy with readings in Italian and English. In March 2010 he was Writer in Residence at The Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco. He was a 2009 Fellow of The Liguria Centre for the Arts & Humanities. He lives in Cork. His short story collection Hearing Voices, Seeing Things was published this year by Doire Press.

Michael J. Whelan joined the Irish Defence Forces in 1990, serving on tours of duty as a United Nations Peacekeeper. He has received the General Officer Commanding Irish Air Corps Award, the Paul Tissandier Diploma and the Tallaght Person of the Year Award (Arts & Culture section). Michael’s poetry has been widely published, including in The Hundred Years’ War: Anthology of Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe) and his work was the subject of a centenary of the Great War exhibition entitled Landscapes Of War & Peace 1914-2014: War Poetry & Peacekeeping. He won 2nd Place in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Awards, 3rd Place in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards and a commendation in the Carousel Creates Creative Writing Awards, as well as having received an Arts Bursary from South Dublin Arts Office. In 2012 he was selected to read at the Poetry Ireland Introductions series. Michael’s debut poetry collection Peacekeeper is recently published by Doire Press.

There is no entrance fee.
For further information contact 087-6431748.
Over The Edge acknowledges the ongoing generous financial support of the Arts Council, Poetry Ireland, and Galway City Council. http://overtheedgeliteraryevents.blogspot.com/

 

Information & poster above – via the Over The Edge Writers’ website/ facebook page

Hi everyone, this is Peter O’Neill’s fantastic introduction to my debut collection ‘Peacekeeper‘ (Doire Press) at the launch in the County Library Tallaght on the 13th of April 2016 .

It was recently published in this current issue (June) of Ireland’s Military Story & Reveille Magazine for which I would like to say a massive thanks to Wesley Bourke and his team and also to Peter O’ Neill.

 

 

 

Arma virumque cano!

Peacekeeper by Michael Whelan,

Doire Press, 2016.

 

 

War is the father and king of all (Heraclitus).

 

Every age has its wars.

Since the first existing literary text, believed to date from Babylon in 1300-1000

BC, The Epic of Gilgamesh and onto Homer in 750 BC, till the arrival of Virgil,

whose opening line to The Aenied forms the title of this text, in and around 40

BC, to our own Táin , or Cattle Raid of Cooley,  in the first century AD; war

and war poetry have been with us.

Look around at events going on in the world today… Syria, Georgia, Iraq,

Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine these are just some of the areas currently

Embroiled in Conflict.

Not very long ago, you only had to pick up a newspaper to read about the latest

victims  to terror of one kind or another up in Northern Ireland. We read the

headlines year after year, down in the south, and simply thought to ourselves

there, but for the grace of god go ‘WE’.

The poet whose work we are gathered to hear reading to us today was

involved in two major conflicts, those in the Lebanon and in Kosovo. Michael

served as a Peacekeeper with the United Nations Interim Force in the Lebanon (UNIFL ) and with the Peace Enforcement mission in Kosovo (K.FOR), and it

from his experiences of both these conflicts that the majority of Michael’s

poems in his debut collection of poetry Peacekeeper come.

It is a very great honour for me to be here, at Michael’s request, to help launch

the book with him today. I first became aware of Michael’s poetry while editing

an anthology of contemporary Irish poetry called And Agamemnon Dead for the

French writer and publisher Walter Ruhlmann for mgv2>publishing. Walter and

I were attempting to put together an anthology of Irish poets and writers who we

both felt were not getting a chance to present their work on a suitable platform,

and which we hoped to be able to offer them with the anthology.

When we hear the term ‘war poetry’, most of us would immediately think of

WW1, the names of poets like Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke,

Siegfried Sassoon and our own Francis Ledwidge. Why is this?

There are, I am sure, many reasons. One, surely, is as it was the first fully

mechanised and so modern war, in which millions of men were so

systematically massacred, and on an industrial scale. We are all familiar with

the horror of life for soldiers in the trenches, and it is mainly due to some of

the poets listed above. WWII is less associated with poets, perhaps, than the

‘Great War’, but from it also came a formidable body of work. Poets such a

Dylan Thomas, for example, described life during the Blitz, for war had a new

side to it now, as civilians as well as soldiers were also among the casualties.

There was Rene Char in France,  a voice from the resistance. Aresny

Tarkovsky, father of the famous film maker, who reported back from the

Russian front, and Karl Krolow writing from the German side. But the majority

of writing which came from WWII was written in prose; one thinks

immediately of the American writers Joseph Heller ( Catch 22 ), Norman

Mailer (The Naked and the Dead) and Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5 ),

which all recount the horrors and the absurdities that the soldiers had to endure.

Again, the impact of civilian literature is also considerable, considering the

apocalyptic and all encompassing nature of the war; Primo Levi’s Is This Is A

Man, and the Diaries of Anne Frank being two of the most known books to

come out of the war.

Yet, when I spoke to Michael about his influences, he spoke to me of the

American soldiers who had just returned from tours of Iraq and Afghanistan,

such as Brian Turner (Here, Bullet).

And this is the thing which struck me immediately about Michael, as an Irish

soldier- ‘poet’ he was alone. I couldn’t think of any other contemporary Irish

poet, at least, who were writing in the country with a similar kind of

background or experience, as Michael’s. To the best of my knowledge there are

none. So, in this, Michael is truly an original and authentic voice in

contemporary  Irish poetry, reaching back to a tradition that is as long as

memory itself. And Michael is very much part of that tradition, that poets like

Brian Turner too belong too. For Michael is writing as both a survivor, and as a

witness.

The first thing which strikes you, when reading the poems of Michael Whelan,

is the very natural poetic ability Michael has, particularly when treating highly

sensitive material, such as the impact of warfare upon children.

His poem Chocolate in which he describes an encounter with a couple of

children, sheltering in a bombed out house perfectly illustrates Michael’s

capacity, in the space of three short sentences, to completely encompass a

particular microcosm of the atrocious events which happened in Kosovo, in the

last decade of the previous century. Events, which we said in Europe, which

were “‘never to happen again!’”

Michael’s style of writing is unencumbered with artifice. It is minimal,

essential…. And yes, it is brutal.

In the Poetics, Aristotle famously speaks of the cathartic element when

he is attempting to analyse and define the nature of tragedy, which tragic

writing has; ‘ …effecting through pity and fear (what we call) the catharsis

of such emotions.[1]

Listening to the poet reading his own work, about his experiences in Lebanon

and Kosovo, makes us dearly realise the price that one pays for freedom.

 

Peter O’ Neill

22nd February, 2016.

 

Michael J. Whelan- Poet Peacekeeping South Lebanon 1994

Michael J. Whelan – Poet, Peacekeeping South Lebanon

 

Peter O’Neill is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Divertimento The Muse is a Dominatrix ( mgv2>publishing, France, 2016 ) and Sker ( Lapwing, Belfast, 2016 ). He edited And Agamemnon Dead, An Anthology of Early Twenty First Century with Walter Ruhlmann also for mgv2>publishing (2015). He is the founder of Donkey Shots, an avant garde poetry fest which takes place in his hometown of Skerries where he also hosts The Gladstone Readings.

A translator of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, he was awarded a first class honour in his final exams answering on Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. On completing his BA (2007), he went on to do a Masters in Comparative Literature (2013), also at Dublin City University.

 

 

 

    

 

[1]              Aristotle: Poetics, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by James Hutton, W.W. Norton, New York, 1982, p.50.

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