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Posts Tagged ‘United Nations Peacekeeper in Lebanon and Kosovo’

Michael J. Whelan. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

 

HAUNTING FLIGHT

(Irish U.N. post coming under attack,

South Lebanon, c. 1990s)

 

 

Vibrating rings expand to edge of cup,

if I close my eyes it will be gone.

The one o fives and one five fives are curving through the night,

my ears pick out the distant crump, crump, crump.

 

A tank-round bursts the silence,

transforming blast-walls in a multitude of sparkles,

lit up by a million flechettes puncturing concrete slabs.

The dancing shrapnel illuminates our billets to the violent night,

the echoes search, as red flares pop into haunting flight.

 

Then our radios whine up, their fans belch out a constant drone

of shoot reps and a firing close in response to RPGs,

panicked non-human voices fill the sweating room,

the carnival is back again but much too soon.

 

My chest rotates in anxious sickening trip,

it’s nights like this I feel that I could quit

the arc of noise and traffic through my sleep.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

 

RPG = Rocket Propelled Grenade

Flechette = Isreali anti-personnel shell filled with long shards of metal

One o fives and one five fives = Artillery shells

Published by Mark Ulyseas in L.E. Poetry Magazine, January 2018 issue under the sequence title TRUTH

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Damaged house Kosovo, 2001. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

Damaged house Kosovo, 2001. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

 

KOSOVO

 

Green shoots

why do you grow

in the rubble of this house,

while hearts are breaking,

does God not see

our tears falling on the ground

near the stony road

that ceases at one side of the river

and commences on the other,

where great armies once crossed

to be forgotten,

in this land that forged a village

and civilised it;

then forged the swords

that killed it,

where the blackbird died slowly

in the eagle’s grip,

screaming as the beak

pierced the flesh of its breast.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Published in A NEW ULSTER magazine, issue 34, July 2015, edited by Amos Greig

 

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LANDSCAPES OF WAR AND PEACE - Michael J. Whelan

LANDSCAPES OF WAR AND PEACE 1914-2014: WAR POETRY & PEACEKEEPING – Michael J. Whelan (Design – David Power )

LANDSCAPES OF WAR AND PEACE 1914-2014: WAR POETRY & PEACEKEEPING 

Poetry Exhibition – Michael J. Whelan

at the Red Line Book Festival 2014

01 – 20 October

‘The Great War’ it was said, ‘was the war to end all wars,’ it wasn’t and Ireland’s soldiers and peacekeepers have found themselves caught up in the many conflicts spawned in its wake. This exhibition  LANDSCAPES OF WAR AND PEACE 1914-2014: WAR POETRY & PEACEKEEPING by poet Michael J. Whelan includes poems inspired by his experiences as a United Nations peacekeeper with the Irish Defence Forces and five poems from poets writing during the period of World War One.

Venue:                           Red Line Book Festival 2014 (South Dublin Libraries) – County Library Tallaght 1st – 20thOctober

Launch:                        6th October

Information:            Further information will be available on the Red Line Book Festival website

All welcome

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Bunker S. Lebanon, 1994. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

Bunker S. Lebanon, 1994. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

PORTAL

 

It is the quiet time.

We have disturbed a hornet’s nest.

Sandbags give shape to the sand.

We fill them in pairs,

one holding the mouth open

the other bending into a bridge over the Earth,

the spade lifting grains of time as they pour away,

escaping like blood from an open wound.

The rest is just history

shovelled down the neck of a hungry war feeding

on souls, a monster that’s never satisfied.

 

We rest now and then,

catch our breaths, switch tasks,

wipe silver beads from our foreheads with burnt forearms,

stretch our backs, curse the gods and warmed bottled water.

 

We fill sandbags with the erosion of time.

Pile them, shape them and square them off

around the bunker.

Life is shorter for the hornet.

 

I think of its shiny green body,

remembering how it dug into the sand, pushing with its legs,

as we are digging now with shoulders arching in the sun.

The hornet is dead.

 

The bunker has a doorway in the shade,

a portal to the underworld

when the sky is filled with lead

and we become creatures of the dark.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

 

The new issue of the excellent Burning Bush II (issue #6) which includes my poem PORTAL is now currently available on ISSUU and features poetry, fiction, reviews and interviews from as far away as Mexico, USA, UK and Ireland from writers and poets including Peadar O’Donoghue – editor of the Poetry Bus Magazine, Nessa O’ Mahony, Doireann Ni Grioffa, John W. Sexton, Doreen Duffy, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Donna Sorenson amongst many others that I admire.

I am really happy to have my poem PORTAL (above) included in this issue of The Burning Bush II by Editors David Gardiner and Alan Jude Moore, who I think are doing a really wonderful job on the magazine …please check it out, there is some really great material and writers inside. Thanks for including me here guys!

See link to The Burning Bush II literary Magazine, issue#6 here; http://issuu.com/burningbush2/docs/burning_bush_2__issue_6

 

 

 

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Michael J. Whelan - Lebanon

Michael J. Whelan – Lebanon

My poem FUNERAL was inspired a memory of my time as a United Nations Peacekeeper in Southern Lebanon during the early 1990s and I am really happy that it has been selected by Ciaran Carty (Editor) at the ‘Hennessy New Irish Writing’ and published today 17 July 2013 in their supplement of the Irish Independent newspaper. All poems and stories published in ‘New Irish Writing’ are eligible for the annual Hennessy Literary Awards. This is great encouragement for me, the fact that my poems about Irish soldiers peacekeeping around the world in hostile and sometimes very dangerous situations are being noticed! Thank you to everyone for the support and encouragement.

I hope you like the poem.

 

 

FUNERAL

 

Lebanon

 

It’s thirty-five degrees – boots off,

too hot to work outside, too tired to move.

I’m watching the recording of a World Cup

soccer clash.

 

Giant black flies begin to attack

crawling on my feet,

the more of them I kill

the less peace they give.

I have an arsenal of names for them,

they treat me like the dead.

 

On the road above my billet

the resistance is marching.

I see them through the window,

all dressed in funeral black,

hear them yelling and chanting,

slapping their chests.

 

They swarm around pick-up trucks

and Mercedes cars,

sporting RPGs and automatic weapons,

bursting the heavens with gunfire,

another martyr is on his way.

 

Piles of bodies hold the floor at my feet,

the newspaper is blood smeared

but still they come,

the weapon no good against the tide.

 

The funeral is louder, more intense,

all commentary lost in emotions,

I reach for my helmet and gun,

in a moment the shells will start falling.

 

Michael J. Whelan

Published in ‘Hennessy New Irish Writing’ – Irish Independent Newspaper, 27 July 2013

Photo: Michael J. Whelan – Lebanon

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The Next Big Thing

Recently I was approached by my friend, award winning writer and last years recipient of the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Award, Susan Condon as she wanted to tag me in an on-line blogging chain – The Next Big Thing – a way for writers to promote their work-in-progress through a series of questions.  Susan is a soon to be famous crime novelist and is already well known in short story and poetry circles and if you haven’t already read any of her work then you are in for a special treat.  I was honoured to be asked to follow such writers as Valerie Sirr, Brian Kirk and Susan among others and to be honest more than a little aprehensive but then these are the events that make you sit up.

So here goes!

My Next Big Thing:

Well, as Susan will tell you, I’ve been working on two projects really. The first is my debut novel – a historical based fiction narrative – which I have  been researching and writing for most of the last five years. As a historian I am used to writing historical books and articles – fact based theories etc- but I also enjoy the portrayal of peoples lives on screen and in books, the hidden people of the past – the hidden stories. There are plenty of facts on social histories but only the rich, famous and the victorious were really ever written about in any great detail, which leaves the multitudes of ordinary people, who experienced sizemic events of the past, out in the darkness as regards modernities view of their existences.  I like to pin major events in the past to the impact they had on ordinary people, even if the people are fictitious in the telling of the story, sometimes the creation of character brings out what’s lost in facts. I find that I now want to tell stories that thread human emotion through our evolution, that’s why fiction can be so very compelling. Joining the Virginia House Creative Writers and Platform 1 Writers in Tallaght a few years ago has helped me in many ways to this, especially having other writer friends to read my work honestly.

My second and currently most prominent project that I am working on is the culmination, (I think I’m getting there), of a poetry collection, which I have been writing for the last three or so years about my experiences and memories as a United Nations Peacekeeper with the Irish Defence Forces in South Lebanon and Kosovo during the conflicts in those countries. I was delighted to have had a number of these poems published in literary magazines such as The Moth & Cyphers and also to have been placed as ‘Joint 2nd Winner’ in the Patrick Kavanagh International Poetry Award 2011 with a collection titled Against The Black Sky, We Listen: An Irish Peacekeepers Poems (also short-listed 2012).

In between, I’ve managed to produce a few short stories, a couple of which have been published, I’ve been selected as a reader in the Eigse Eireann/Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2012 and won 3rd Prize in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards 2012 in the poetry section (short-listed  2011).  I was also listed in the recent Inaugural Doire Press International Poetry Competition and the Cork Literary Review Poetry Manuscript Competition , so I think my work is resonating with some people.

What is the working title of your book?

My title, for the novel, I want to keep to myself for now as I think it’s unique and a lot of the process in my thinking and creating is still very much hinged to it and I don’t want too move too fast to soon, just yet…. so sorry about that!

As for the poetry I have sent off some drafts to publishers to see how they react as this is a newish type of poetry subject in Ireland or so I have been told, ‘modern Irish soldiers are not really known for writing about their experiences in poems’ so I hope the poems get a good response.. I may go with the title of the collection that won the Kavanagh prize ‘Against The Black Sky, We Listen: An Irish Peacekeepers Poems,’ they are not strictly war poems (I haven’t been at war though I have been in some warzones during conflicts ) but they are very much about war.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had no idea when I was serving with the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces that one day I would be writing about it. The idea for the poetry book came from my writing of the poems, something that seems to have been a long time in the creating, fermenting so to speak. I started writing poetry when my mother passed away, she had always told me to write these things down and once I began it seemed to keep coming.   The title comes from a line from one of my poems titled HILL 880, which was prominant Irish UN position in South Lebanon and at times could be a very dangerous and volatile place. The poem itself describes a night of heavy shelling in the Irish Battalion area where the peacekeepers are caught in the middle and coming under hostile fire. (Some poems and stories are available to read on my Blog)

The idea for the book is pinned to historical events and characters but the antagonist and main protagonist are purely fictitious. The main thread of an idea I suppose came after I had written a history book about Ex-British soldiers who had served in the Irish Volunteers, IRA and Irish National Army during the period of the Irish Revolution and Civil War 1913-1924. I was fascinated by the perceptions of loyalty and the divided loyalties of friends and families against the backdrop of the Great War and the Revolution in Ireland. Many Irishmen fought in the British Army during the Great War for the promise of Ireland only to return home to join the Volunteers and fight for Irish Independence from Britain and then in the National Army against the IRA. Their allegiances changed regularly and as events dictated but always they were serving their country though little of this is understood or even remembered now. But one can imagine all the possible threads and narratives that could be conjoured up when examining those situations…well whatever can be imagined believe me it all happened it’s just been forgotten to a great extent. Guilt can be a major factor in the human psyche and the conditioning of individuals and in my story the protagonist is carrying family secrets, a promise  he is destined not to keep and a remorse that slowly destroys him and all set in a very parochial Catholic Ireland.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction.

Poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My main characters in the novel are followed from early childhood into adulthood, through family tragedies, wars, political upheaval and perceived disloyalty and the loss of friendships so if there was to be actors involved in a movie rendition I think I would like Michael Fassbender to play the protagonist, …..maybe… but please do get back to me when we are doing the script, he he!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

For the novel: The Call to Arms leads to the stifling of the promise of love, the breaking of the bonds of friendships and the destruction of a family with demanded loyalties and the burden of a haunting past.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

For the novel…well…I’m still writing the first Draft. I’m still in the defence forces, running a military museum and I have a young family so with this and the poetry and other other projects it’s taken  about five years to get this far but I am getting there. Recently I visited some of the locations, which are portrayed in the book and which are almost as equal in character to the main characters in many ways ie the landscapes of Gallipoli, Flanders and the Somme battlefields so a little re-writing is occurring! To be honest I’m always listening to the characters conversing in my head, the plot-lines etc playing out in regard to my own understanding of history. Now that I have walked the famous ground I understand my story much better. This is my strength, always has been when writing historical pieces so I want to get it right the same way with the fiction.

Same with the poetry collection though I feel I’m nearly there. In a way I’m telling a story with the poems too!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

For the novel I think ‘Regeneration‘ by Pat Barker would have similarities with the psychological effects of violence on the characters in my story also but other than that I’m hoping that my book will be different in a lot of ways to others especially as I’m telling the story of Irishmen in the wars of the early 20th Century both abroad and at home, which is something not greatly examined. The landscapes of war are in the mind and on the ground too and so…

for the poetry: I have been drawn lately to two collections Here, Bullet & Phantom Noise by poet Brian Turner who writes about his experiences as a US soldier in the recent Iraq Wars. I have also read the Great War poetry of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Francis Ledwidge and although the conflicts that these poets wrote about occurred along time before and after the ones that I was involved in they still resonate with me and helped me to transfer images into words on paper. I hope that my poems will still be able to do that in a hundred years time!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

For the novel I think being annoyed sometimes at the portrayal of history by the media and film industry or lack of it and then other times my sampling of transcripts and reading them to other writers and friends who showed interest etc as for the poetry: it’s the memories, faces and stories of a part of my life that are only now trying to get out….I think!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The novel is based in the rural and city scapes of Dublin, Cork, France, Belgium, Gallipoli and Britain between the 1890s and the 1920s against the backdrop and carnage of the trenches of war and the political emergence of Irish identity and bloody idealism. It’s a whole lot of Strumpet City meets Birdsong meets a more modern version of the Braveheart type nationalism story that collides with The Wind That Shakes The Barley, all the stories I grew up with or I have read that shaped my view of history because of how it was portrayed on the screen or on the page and led me to where I am now. I want to show people the real story of Ireland in this period and maybe they will understand a little better how it came to be what it is now and who we are….maybe!

The poetry collection will be an insight I suppose into the work of Irish soldiers on peacekeeping duty abroad. Many have died on that service and a lot of good work has been done but sometimes it takes years to feel that you have had a positive impact. Mostly I’m rediscovering and talking to that younger version of myself, in a way I’m coming home, in a way some part of me will always stay over there!

When and how will it be published?

Well, first I need to finish the poetry collection because that is having more of an effect on my emotions and my thinking at present, which means that I will complete that and commit myself fully to the novel all within the next couple of months. I would really like to have a poetry collection published this year and a first draft of the novel written by the end of 2013 as there is a lot of state commemorations coming up over the next ten years that all of my books will have relevance to as will the new ones. So by the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and Ireland’s commemorations of Irish troops going off to fight, 1914 (2014), I will have my novel published……a promise!

And now it’s time to tag two very busy and quite different writers and creators in their own fields, who I believe are part of Ireland’s great cultural export to the literary and academic worlds – Stephen James Smith and Damien Shiels who will hopefully be telling us about their ‘Next Big Thing’ on Wednesday 16th January, so make sure to keep an eye open and an ear out for them in the future.

Stephen James Smith is a poet, playwright from Dublin. He won the Cúirt International Literary Festival Poetry Grand Slam and his ABSOLUTE Fringe play ‘Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About’ (co-written with Colm Keegan & Kalle Ryan) was shortlisted for the Bewley’s ‘Little Gem Award 2011.’ In 2009 he represented Ireland at the Vilenica Literary Festival Slovenia and in 2010 at Wiersze w Metrze Poland. Stephen is a founder of The Glór Sessions – a weekly event of poetry and music. In April 2011 he was invited by Culture Ireland to recite in the iconicNuyorican Poetry Café New York. ‘Arise and Go!’ his debut album with musician Enda Reilly was selected by Hot Press as one of the best albums of 2011. In 2012 he performed his poetry inFrankfurt, Paris and in London where he was invited by The Irish Olympic House to perform for the Irish Olympians. He work has been translated into six languages and published all over the globe. He is a regular contributor to RTÉ Radio 1’s Arts Show Arena, and has featured on RTÉ’s The Works. He can be found at http://twitter.com/StephenJSPoet, on his webpage http://www.stephenjamessmith.com and also on www.facebook.com/TheGlórSessions

Damian Shiels is a professional archaeologist who specialises in ‘conflict archaeology’, particularly where it relates to Ireland. He currently works with a commercial archaeology company, Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd, but has also spent time as one of the curatorial staff at the National Museum of Ireland where he worked with the military collections and in the preparation of the Soldiers and Chiefs military history exhibition and spent much of his career around historical documents interpreting them from an archaeological and museum standpoint.

He has had a long standing interest in the Irish experience of conflict regardless of period or location, and the American Civil War is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating topics in this sphere. The sheer scale of the Irish involvement in the conflict and its affects not only on the soldiers at the front but the Irish civilians at home has captivated his attention. Although the Irish experience of the Civil War is a relatively popular topic in the United States, there remains little understanding in Ireland of either the event itself or how it impacted on the Irish in America or indeed the Irish in Ireland.

Damians blog has been set-up to fulfill a number of aims. He hopes to tell the stories of Irish men and women caught up in the Civil War in an engaging and informative manner, along the way providing information on different people, units and places. It is also intended that resources for those interested in the Irish experience will be built up over time, to act as an aid for those who wish to find out more and to raise awareness in Ireland of the Irish experience of the American Civil War, particularly in light of the 150th anniversary. You can find Damian at irishamericancivilwar.com and on Twitter at @irishacw.

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