Tag Archives: poetry

Books my mother gave me

It was a chance remark overheard on a train, someone recalling a book given to them by their mother, not one I recognised.

Mine were The Hound of Heaven and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The first has a blue cover and the other a soft leather cover, smooth to the touch. I can feel it now. But wait – they have long since disappeared, shoved into battered cases and pushed under the bed. Or stowed in black plastic sacks and carried from one Earls Court bedsit to another and then lost on the momentous journey that led to married life.

Lost but not gone for they were treasured gifts from my mother to my teenage self in the days before teenagers were invented, categorised as YA, isolated in bookshops  a month and cut off from the chequerboard of poetry.

And so, some years,  I give myself a treat by swearing faithfully to read  a book of poetry a month.

Last time I did this, about ten years ago, I kept my New Year’s Resolution for three or four months and then forgot….

I may do better this year though then again I may not.

I can’t recall how I heard about Portadown poet Sam  Gardiner. Perhaps it was his marvellous witty poem  Protestant Windows for it was this one that made me buy the book – published by Lagan Press in 2000.

Here’s the poem:

Protestant Windows

They come at sunset peddling daylight, two

Salesmen wearing glasses through which they view

His shabby sliding sashes with disdain.

“Wood?” they suppose and feign

Dismay. “Yes, comes from trees.”

And he raises the drawbridge ten degrees,

a hurdle to reservists

but child’s play to frontline evangelists

with news of paradise

in earth ( at this address to be precise)

in whitest white PVC.

“Think of all

the blessings. And if economical

heavenly comfort isn’t what you need,

think of our Earth,” they plead

and their plastic-rimmed, double-glazed eyes glow

with love for generations of window

salesmen as yet unborn.“If I were you,

I’d save  my CO2

For atheists and papists. I doubt

They even know about King Billy.” “Who?” “William lll to you,

Brought sliding sashes to

Britain. Fetched in pure air and sanity.

Without him we’d still be in the dark.

“Sorry, we must go. It’s late,” they say

And beat a retreat to the gate,

And pause. Quick as a flash

He raises an effortlessly sliding sash

For a parting shot. “Plastic heretics!”

He shouts. The window sticks.

He lugs, a sash cord snaps. The window  drops

On his head, where it stops.

Latimer and Ridley know how he feels

As bloodied, martyred for his faith, he reels

Towards eternity,

Where planets, the  latest novelty,

Are looking less and less

Like being a success

If you liked this blog, maybe have a look at my website: http://www.maryrussell.info  – and keep in touch.

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No one leaves home: a poem for refugees

No one leaves home….

I’ve just been to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet in London’s National Theatre production. It’s currently being beamed round the world as part of the NTLive series of plays.
Cumberbatch gives everything he’s got. And then a little more. If you haven’t seen any of these stage to cinema productions, check out your local cinema to see what’s on offer and if Hamlet is there, try to see it.
The play ends with the main characters lying dead on the stage and Fortinbrass ordering a military salute for Hamlet.
“Let the soldiers shoot,” he says as the drums roll.
When it all ended,  I sat silent and stunned by the horror, thinking of war generally and especially of the country now being torn apart, its citizens decimated by war: Syria.

But this was only a play and so the actors came back on stage, holding hands, smiling, bowing as we, the audience, applauded. It had all happened a long time ago, after all.

And then something unexpected happened. Benedict Cumberbatch stepped forward and began to speak asking us to think of the children of Syria left dead and injured by the war there. Or drowned as they tried to escape.
I have to say I was very close to tears that, having played this demanding role and being on record as saying that after each performance he always felt exhausted and very hungry, Cumberbatch should step out of his role and speak up for the children of Syria.
Further, he went on to quote a short poem by Warsan Shire, a British/Somali woman writing about refugees fleeing across perilously dangerous waters to what they hope will be a safe place.

Here’s the poem. It’s called No One Leaves Home.

No one leaves home unless
Home is the mouth of a shark.
You have to understand
No one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

Cumberbatch asked the NTLive audience – the film is being shown worldwide – to contribute financially to helping the children of Syria. This can be done by contacting Save The Children or via UNICEF.
In Dublin, Hamlet will be shown again on October 27, January 6 and June 8.
You can Google NTLIve to find out where the film is being shown near you.

By June, many countries will have welcomed some of the Syrian refugees they have undertaken to help – as well as refugees fleeing other dangers.
So, if you go to see the NTLive production of Hamlet in the next week or months, why not contact your local Save the Children or UNICEF office and offer to support Cumberbatch by rattling a few tins. Oh and, enjoy the play as well….

Mary Russell’s latest book is “My Home is Your Home. A Journey Round Syria.”

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Create – and destroy: the lot of the poet.

“What is the life if, full of care,

We have no time to stop and stare.”


Poet WH Davies (1871 – 1940) was a man of the road, a wandering poet who  tried to sell his poetry door to door in order to raise the cash to have it published. He offered  his poetry at 3d a sheet but chose to do so in an area where people didn’t  have much money and certainly not to squander on poetry.

When no one bought any – not one single  sheet – he returned to his doss house and, in disgust, burned the lot.

I feel for him.

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Read any good bags lately? Check out your book shop bag….

I’ve occasionally bought books and found the bags they come in have something  witty to say. Below are a few – from bookshops in Dublin, Oxford, Johannesburg and New York. They’ve been stuck up on my kitchen  wall for quite a while – which will explain some of the crinkles.


bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 001


And  from Waterstones:                                                             bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 002

And again….                                                                                bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 003

Next up: bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 004  This reads: Some books are deservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.

Next up                                                                  bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 013

A heartfelt one: “Poetry is living proof that rhyme doesn’t pay.” This was from a bookshop in Johannesburg.


bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 014

and this is the back of that bookshop bag from JoBurg – Exclusive Books.


And then there’s  this bookshop in New York – with  its baseball cap message:

bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 006 Yep, that’s 8 miles of books.

And finally, my favourite:

bookshop bags mantlepiece AIRBB 005  Happy reading

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Update about Remembrance, October 23rd at Pearse St Library

 A reminder about Remembrance at Dublin’s Pearse Street Library on Thursday October 23 at 5.30.

We’ll have four students from Mount Carmel Secondary School for Girls, Kings Inn Street Dublin 1: Shannon who will tell the story of the Last Post and its nightly connection to Menem Bridge. Paula will read some letters from the front, taken from the file of Monica Roberts and recently digitised by Dublin City Libraries. Mildred will read a poem by Seamus Heaney while Aneta will read a poem by a Nobel prize-winning Polish poet.

2014 ww1 2nd poster 006

Don’t forget booking is adviseable on 01  6744888. Watch this space when I’ll be writing about the music we’ll have on the night.

Till then…

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Remembrance: a little music, some poetry and the Last Post…

Here’s what happening in Dublin on Thursday October 23rd. Would you like to join us to remember people in Ireland affected by the First World War?

2014 ww1 2nd poster 006

Paula Meehan is reading some of her poems and trumpeter Dominic Nolan will play the Last Post….

Tom Burke will talk about a private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, four school students will tell us what they think of war, a ukulele band will play some music of the period and the Ringsend Singers will get us to pack up our troubles….

Dublin’s Pearse Street Library. Thursday October 23rd  from 5:30  to 7:30.

Admission is free but booking is adviseable on 01 6744888

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Men and Poetry


   Fine piece in the Observer last Sunday  about a collection of poetry chosen by men. Co-edited by  poker supremo Tony Holden – described by the paper more decorously as journalist and biographer – and his film producer son, Ben, the poems have been chosen by people like John le Carre, Nicholas Cave and Daniel Radcliffe. Auden tops the poll with his Lullaby: ” Lay your sleeping head, my love, Human on my faithless arm.” After Auden comes Hardy, AE Housman and Philip Larkin.

 Holden pere expresses surprise that his own favourite, John Donne, wasn’t chosen  by anyone. What? No one went for Donne’s passionate Newfoundland? But maybe that’s just me.

 The anthology, Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, will be launched on April 29 at the National Theatre with people like Simon Russell Beale reading his selected poem.

       The feature is an excellent literary piece written by the paper’s Arts and Media correspondent, Vanessa Thorpe, but somewhat marred by the dead hand of balance in the final para in which writer Maggie Gee  is brought on board to tell us what she thinks women might choose.

   This is strong, stand-alone writing about men and poetry and I’ll buy the book without any need to go into playground mode with boys in one corner and girls in the other.

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