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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.

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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

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