The Black and Tans at a House in County Cork, 1920

In these times of oppression and suffering, particularly for my friends of color, this offering. Be well.

THE BLACK AND TANS AT A HOUSE IN COUNTY CORK, 1920
Kathleen McCoy

In this moving picture a slender young woman,
navel exposed, wears a sweater rumpled

across her breasts. She’s been pushed or pressed
herself against the wall, resisting roving

hands, her eyes cut glass. Another pale
milk-bloused woman bristles when a Black-

and-Tan thrusts his rifle in her face.
The eldest woman, brimful, frail, hustles

into the house where family nudges her.
A muscular young man beside the sweatered

girl moves in front of the rifle, nose
to barrel, eyes afire, their heat felt

despite the black-and-white. It’s my great-
great grandparents’ evergreen homeland

when they were grown to see this occupation
in one of the most Christian lands on earth,

when the island was still one for all
whether king or cow was your cup of tea.

My mind fills with Padraig Pearse, Black
Elk, Chas Jewett, Sandra Blaine, George Floyd,

Breonna Taylor, on either side of the pond,
I imagine how their mothers and lovers caressed

the broken knobs in their necks, stared, un-
believing, at their lifeless hands, gray lips,

these our sisters and brothers, some of the myriad
others we never treated as sisters, as brothers.

Poem refers to the film The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Actual footage of the Black and Tans can be found on several YouTube postings.

Identity/-ies in Poetry and Art

We’re all adding brushstrokes to a much larger mural than any one of us can hold

Poems and Photos by Kathleen McCoy, Painting by John Hampshire, SUNY Adirondack
October 23, 2019

How might poets and painters explore and reinterpret the complexities of identity/-ies? These days, not only are borders in flux, but the often-fraught term “identity” is nearly always complicated by multiplicity and intersectionality. We define ourselves partly by inheritance and partly by choice, often while standing at those often foggy bog-borders of ethnicity, geography, gender, religion, or any of a number of other foci of identification. We need the arts to help us navigate our way toward and across the borders of our lives in hopes of approaching self-understanding and, eventually, mutual understanding. Audre Lorde said it best at Harvard in 1982: “I learned that if I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” At the very least, the arts help us ask the questions and meet the people we need to encounter to discover where and to what extent we can really see at all.

These boglands of identity are deep and sometimes treacherous. I would never want to idolize, demonize, patronize, tokenize, or any other -ize anyone. At the same time, we can’t pretend our differences wholly define us any more than we can pretend they don’t exist. Ultimately, I want to see and to bear witness to how I see, just as I want to hear and read and watch how others see. In crafting art, in interpreting and reinterpreting selves and worlds, we’re all adding brushstrokes to a much larger mural than any one of us can hold.

Yesterday artist John Hampshire painted live on stage while I read poems-in-process on the theme of identity/-ies (here is the video link). He started with one portrait and plans in coming days or weeks to add more until he has created a canvas montage on identities. During our presentation I explored my roots in America and Ireland, sharing some of my travels and interests in indigenous Americans, the ancient Irish, and the bog bodies of Ireland that Eamonn “Ned” Kelly has studied and interpreted for the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibit at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Seamus Heaney portraits kept appearing over my shoulder in Ireland, and Medbh McGuckian, Leontia Flynn, and Scott Cairns were my travel-muses.

Whoever you have been, whoever you are, whoever you’re becoming, I’d like to offer a friendly challenge to write an identity poem of your own, or paint a portrait. Or both. As Joy Harjo writes, “We pray that it will be done / In beauty. / In beauty.”

Irish and ‘Other’

The arts validate those who question and help close the chasms between us.

The Old Mill Ruin at Anam Cara Writers’ and Artists’ Retreat, Eyeries, County Cork

Last year I had a student who struggled with conflicting feelings about belonging and otherness in college. I could write that sentence about any semester, any class I’ve taught, particularly any writing class. Since each of us humans comprises a nexus of cultural, genetic, and chosen identities, I’ve shared students’ ambivalence about identity, despite the pallor of my complexion. As a result, I’ve been exploring how poetry in particular and the arts in general help us to confront our self-conceptions, choose our identity/-ies, and empower ourselves as writers and citizens. Theories abound; studies are few but extant. But the arts vivify the questions. The arts validate those who question and help close the chasms between us.

In the first eight months of 2019 I used sabbatical time to ponder issues of identity and poetry as I wrote, read, and presented at conferences in Ireland, Northern Ireland, my native southern Ohio, and Santa Fe, and worked with local high school students who were new to poetry.

Questions about relativity in identity and language, in the sciences and poetry, in art and teaching swirl. My mind now braids themes of identity in teaching, in poetry, in art, and in ethnicity.

On October 23rd at 12:40, I will be joined by the legendary artist John Hampshire in the Visual Arts Gallery of Dearlove Hall at SUNY Adirondack. I will discuss my sabbatical and read poems while John paints in-the-moment. If you come, you may find a bit of yourself in the words or on the canvas.

Book Fair Season

 

22nd-Chronicle-Book-FairTo smell damp leaves, feel the crisp cheek-brush of November breeze and enter a grand old hotel full of books–poetry, novels, children’s books, travel books, regional books, genre fiction and more–well, it’s difficult to think of a better way to spend a weekend day. Especially in a small town. This Sunday, November 5, join award-winning poets and novelists like Barbara Ungar and Mary Sanders Shartle between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at the Queensbury Hotel (did I mention I’ll be there too?). We’re reading 12:30-1:00 in the Saratoga Room, talking with folks and selling books all day, and your presence will make our day. It just might brighten yours as well. #Chronicle Book Fair on Twitter; Glens Falls Chronicle Book Fair on Facebook. Click here: Chronicle Book Fair.

Green&BurningCover     More Water Than Words     Lily Martindale.jpg Barbara Ungar Immortal Medusa.jpg

When To Say No[t]

IMG_7984Angela Nardin sings “The Nearness of You” by Ned Washington and Hoagey Carmichael at Hudson River Music Hall on September 17, 2017

It’s not always the evanescent wonder of words that entices readers. It’s just knowing when to say “no[t].”

It wasn’t just Hoagey Carmichael’s ear for a tune that made “The Nearness of You” a hit in pre-WWII America; it was lyricist Ned Washington’s use of litotes, the figure of speech that turns a negative into a positive: “It’s not the pale moon that excites me, / that thrills and delights me, / oh, no. It’s just the nearness of you.” The negation of beauty is paradoxically enhanced by the understatement of a positive. This technique is useful for poets–actually, for sane and savvy folks of all stripes these days.

Paradox makes for fine poetry, particularly when prose falls prey to prevarication.

When current events fuel your ire, or when you just want to praise someone you love, take a stab at litotes. And enjoy this short clip of SUNY Adirondack music student Angela Nardin at vimeo.com/240616709.

100 Thousand Poets for Change: Global, Grassroots Arts and Social Advocacy

100tpc2017_PawprintRev-page-001
This is regional event I organize and host every year. It is part of a global grassroots movement to call attention to the arts and social justice: 100tpc.org.

Trailer for More Water Than Words

Keening from Kathleen McCoy on Vimeo. Chapbook More Water Than Words by Kathleen McCoy, Finishing Line Press, 2017. Thanks to Marilyn McCabe for the tutorial on using iMovie.

 

 

“Green and Burning” Poetry Reading Video, Kathleen McCoy, January 4, 2017, Saratoga Springs, Caffe Lena

“So real it sears my hands, this / drawing, Celtic oak of two minds . . . .”

Kathleen McCoy – Poetry – “Green and Burning (Dar Glas Agus a Dho)” from Kathleen McCoy on Vimeo.

Black Holes, White Holes, and Rainbows

Poets know black holes. Our heads are full of them at times. As are our houses. And our calendars. Or is it just me?

I’m focusing on white holes at the moment. True, to discuss them “we may have to go out on an astronomical limb” (PBS Nova, “Are White Holes Real?”); nevertheless, the concept of an inverse to the life/time/sanity/existence-sucking power of a black hole–something that emits Hawkian radiation, a kind of poetic, albeit theoretical, brilliance–entices. It offers hope. Yes, there are holes you can’t get out of, cosmic joy-sappers, but there just may also be voids of creation, or at least light-emission zones. And if they’re out there in the cosmos, the writer speculates, maybe, just maybe, they’re also in here (the hapless poet taps her temple for emphasis).

My point is that I’m back to blogging and writing, after a hiatus for life-coping, job-learning reasons of little interest to fellow poets and writers. You all have them: times when illness, death, surgery, family needs, learning curves, job challenges (yours or your mate’s), pets, political tension, finances, and general entropy seem to conspire against the odds of your pumping extra creative juices through your cerebrum. Your black-hole times.

That’s precisely when it’s time to declare a White Hole Time.

During July, I’m participating in the 30/30 Project of Tupelo Press, committed to writing 30 poems in 30 days. This will mean a number of things, including but not limited to the following. (1) No excuse short of personal coma will keep me from writing daily this month. (2)  No procrastinating. Writing comes first. (3) Perfectionism has been given the boot. While aiming for quality, 30/30 poets have to press on, trusting their guts and knowing the revision will continue after the poems are posted. (4) My family, assured repeatedly of my enduring love, will have to deal with wife/mom who lives in her home office and lets the dishes pile up until bedtime. Occasional muttering must be tolerated.

I would be delighted if you would consider donating toward my fundraising goal. Be sure to name “Kathleen McCoy” in the “Honor” box to credit my goal for the 30/30 Project. If you would have a subject you’d like me to write about, leave a comment. It’s an exciting endeavor, gathering poets from across the country who write in a variety of styles and support one another throughout the month–all to help out an award-winning independent press that publishes high-quality poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

This week, the SCOTUS surprised and delighted us with its vote for marriage equality. There are rainbows everywhere. And in undertaking 30/30, I realize there are real benefits for the “marathon poets” who participate. We are creating a virtual space where we can focus on white holes, rainbows, sparrows–anything that engages, enrages, delights, or endures our attention.

Suddenly, my teenage daughter is focusing on her summer homework! When I took a moment to praise her, she shrugged it off with, “Well, it’s easier when you’re out of the way.” Permission to retreat can be bittersweet.

Art should be for all of us. It’s an expression of love, passion, curiosity, longing, faith, doubt, unity, dissent–all the thoughts and emotions that help us embrace our humanity. Take a moment to check out the 30/30 Project. It’s art for all of us.

For Love of Poetry

I’ll be writing 30 poems in 30 days for the 30/30 Project throughout the month of July.  I’m quite excited about this opportunity because it’s a win-win-win: you can get a tax-deductible charitable deduction on 2015 taxes if you wish; I get my poems published on the Tupelo Press 30/30 blog page throughout July, and we all help Tupelo Press, a leading independent publisher of new and established American poets that publishes books, a literary journal, and chapbooks. Donations go not to me (at all!) but to Tupelo Press.The link to donate and read the poems of the day is below.
I have been asked to participate and have set a goal of $400. Anything you can spare will help–but there are incentives for giving a little more. If you give $30 and email me with a poem request, I will write a poem for you (or your occasion, friend, or family member; give me some information to work with, please). If you give $50, I will travel (within the Capital District of New York State) to your venue to do a poetry reading as my schedule allows or will write you a review of your original poetry (up to 20 pages of poems) for your use. For any donor who wishes, I would be happy to mail you an oversized poem postcard (glossy and suitable for mailing or for framing).
If you can give, please do. Go to https://tupelopress.wordpress.com/3030-project/ , select “DONATE” and be sure to name “Kathleen McCoy” in the “honor” area to credit your gift toward my fundraising pledge. You will have my eternal gratitude, as well as the pleasure of knowing that you are contributing to a meaningful and innovative literary endeavor.