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Dark kosovo (Michael J. Whelan -2001)

BLACK BLOOD GROUND

(Kosovo)

 

Children huddled together on high ground,

barefoot in the freezing mud, no adults found.

 

The police had come like hunters

pictured victorious over their fathers.

 

Bodies hanged by distended knees

from branches of petrified trees.

 

Protecting arms reaching down

surrendering to the black blood ground.

 

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Published recently as part of a sequence  in ‘From the Cradle of Civilization: Contemporary Arabic Poetry”, the fifth edition of Life and Legends’ http://lifeandlegends.com/cradle-civilization/

 

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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

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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

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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.

 

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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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The Chicken Farm

(Camp Clarke – Irish Peacekeeping Forces Head Quarters – Kosovo 2000/01)

 

After reveille in Camp Clark

the ground raised itself up,

moved around the ‘Chicken Farm’ camp

of guano that nearly always stank

and bred flies brave enough to attack

our eyes and hovered as if we were

the walking dead.

 

They assaulted in force from a cesspit trench

dug in the cold dirt outside the wire

and we were unable to eat,

arms crossed over defending our plates

against their swarming dives

while others tried to snatch morsels

from our mouths.

 

That day the ground lifted towards us

with a million mice, like locusts,

eating all the earth.

 

 

Michael J Whelan

Published recently by Arthur Broomfield in OUTBURST Magazine No 16, April 2016.

Also included in the poetry Collection titled ‘PEACEKEEPER’ by Michael J. Whelan published by Doire Press 2016

 

Camp Clarke - Kosovo 2001

Camp Clarke – Kosovo 2001

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Something really cool happened on my way home from work today, my son phoned to say that my book had arrived in the post so getting in the door had a slightly different level of excitement and anxiety. So here it is my first copy of PEACEKEEPER, which I have to say I am very impressed with.

Doire Press have done a magnificent job with the design and production, I’m well impressed and I hope you will be too. Please join me for the launch on Wednesday 13th April in Tallaght Library.

Thank You John and Lisa!

 

My first copy of PEACEKEEPER

My first copy of PEACEKEEPER

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