American Wanderer

Whew. Catching my breath in Dublin. Monday I arrived bright and early and quickly got lost wandering around the streets. This tends to happen when you don’t carry a map and I was happier to stumble upon than stalk. Had a pint at the Poet’s Corner bar when I couldn’t find my hostel. The barkeep politely told me I was within four hundred steps. I dropped my bags and continued wandering. This side of the River Liffey, that side. No rhyme or reason. Found some interesting scenes. Really I was just wasting time before I could check in, shower, sleep. Check, check, check.

Tonight I met Deonne and her mother for dinner and the Ireland Italy match. Italy 2-0. The Irish figured it was going to happen, so no big deal. Dinner was great. The Temple Bar area is the touristy part of Dublin. Expensive. Irish Stew for 17 Euro! Great to spend time with someone I knew.

I went back to the hostel after the game and found a bar across the street featuring traditional music and dancing. Great craic, as they say. Met a fine lad named Dwayne. He was steering clear the shakes from his night before with his boys in Temple Bar. Apparently sobering up in Dublin means drinking 6-7 the next night. He was a great guy. Our conversation ran the gauntlet. The Troubles, the hard nature of growing up a Dubliner. Cuba, and he’s been. Football. The quintessential Irish man. Friendly. Generous. Genuine. Endless liver.

Good times. Ready for rest.

A Final Post in the US

My trip is starting to take shape nicely. I have made hostel reservations for the next two nights in Dublin as I adjust to the time change and two days of flying. I will be lucky enough to share a night with Deonne Kahler and her mother. Deonne is a wonderful writing coach and woman from Taos, New Mexico as well. After checking into the Liffey, just a block away from the River of the same name and the Ha’ Penny Bridge, we’ll meet up for a bite and take in the Ireland Italy EuroCup tilt. It may not be a victory for the boys in green, but you can be sure of the celebration. Dublin will provide me with the chance to see Trinity College, the Ireland Writers House and find a hole-in-the-wall bookshop to purchase some poetry.

I have been researching and reading some modern Irish poets to gauge their take on the Troubles and begin to immerse myself in the artistic representation of this time in Irish history. Seamus Heaney is a poet of global renown. He is Derry born and selections from his first four books, especially Death of a Naturalist and North, have been with me for months. He captures the rural quiet of Ireland’s past in his early work and delicately grapples with the growing turbulence in Northern Ireland as the timeline of his work and the 70s intertwines. Another star of this time, though a bit younger, emerged from Belfast in 1948. Ciaran Carson’s work has been a revelation for me. I will be buying his books Belfast Confetti and The Irish for No if possible (use the link to hear the poet recite Belfast Confetti). Just as in our country, there are hundreds more poets more than worthy of mention, but that’ll do for now.

After my time in Dublin it will be time to really engage in the ethnographic study of my fellowship. I will take a train headed for Londonderry or Derry, depending on who you ask. I will be staying in a quaint spot within the Bogside and minutes from the world famous Mural Walk on Rossville Street. Waiting to hear a confirmation from the Bogside artists, but I hope to use these artists to dive into how legacy of the Troubles for Derry youth. Two days in Derry for now. But that’s as far as I’ll commit. Otherwise I’d like to allow for an organic experience and allow for opportunities to present themselves as I travel. I have no idea the wealth of expertise for my classroom I will meet until I meet them. So why build it up too much.

As I experience Dublin, I will look into a firm itinerary beyond Derry and into the weekend. I plan on arriving in Belfast Sunday night to extend the fellowship into the most war ravished city of the Troubles. Exciting stuff!

The Empty Seat

I wrote this piece on the plane from Houston to Philadelphia before I spent the evening with my parents. Traveling alone presents an opportunity for adventure and courageous daring (thanks, Josan), but is a reminder of how I live the majority of my life as a single chap in a small mountain town. Props to the grand slam poet from Derry, Seamus Heaney, as reading his work before I fell asleep most certainly influenced the cadence of my thoughts upon waking.

I woke from a nap
impossible to measure in minutes
or rest so high up
hoping I was surrounded
by something familiar, to be with
these stories I am
carrying in the messenger
bag and head, the stowaways
in my heart.

But waking in this hull of strangeness
the faces are just out of reach
like the drinkers on round two down
the row already loose on cabin pressure
and Absolute, the girl rising from the exit
seats fashionably emaciated and pierced lipped
like my students’ metal mouths and gaunt
exposed angles, that easy rapport between
attendants dancing up and down the aisle
always hovering. Next to me
the empty seat
I’ve always wanted to be an invitation
for someone to shatter the distance
and take them with me.

Introduction to the Ireland Fellowship

The weather can remind one of place and memories.  Today I am reminded of what I’ll be missing while I am in Ireland for the next three weeks. The skies are rumbling and rowdy this afternoon above northern New Mexico. The rain is loud on my steel roof. The stallion statue above my kitchen frozen in deluge. South of here, hundreds of miles, forests in the Land of Enchantment are burning at historic rates. Hot and swift. Among the Rio Grande, the music teeming in our plaza and slow burn of increasingly hot summer days, I will be missing the wild rain and fire of the high desert summer.

Perhaps I can bring some precipitation from the Irish jet stream home with me. I don’t think cloud seeds and cool weather need to be declared at customs. The thermometer may not reach 70˚ while visiting. I cannot imagine fire on an island so green. Unless it involves peat.

Here are the bookends of my trip which I will miss on both ends.

On Saturday 16 June, in Dublin, I will miss Bloomsday. Dubliners and revelers of James Joyce recount the steps of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist from the authors Irish epic Ulysses. The entire novel takes place on one day in Dublin, 16 June 1904. Presumably the acolytes of the Irish novelist start from Dun Laoghaire (dun LEERY, ½ hour away) in a tower where Joyce once lived and his novel begins. From there the all day adventure follows the path of Bloom as he traversed the regular streets and day of Dublin.

On 12 July, I will be missing the Orangeboys marching in towns across Northern Ireland to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. As English kings struggled for the crown at the twilight of the 17th century, Catholic James II and Protestant William III clashed at this decisive battle north of Dublin. William of Orange (hence the Orangeboys) won the battle and secured the throne for Protestant rule in England. This was a final rebellion as it were for the English kings and what followed soured English-Irish relations for the next three hundred years. The Penal Laws were passed to strip the rights of Irish Catholics and outlawed Gaelic culture. So when the Protestant-Unionist-Northern Irish march to commemorate this battle one can imagine the emotional consequences each summer. One group marches. The Catholic-Republican-Northern Irish protest. It is not just a show.

Fund For Teachers has been gracious enough to award me my second Fellowship this summer to travel Ireland from 17 June through 6 July. I will be studying more the tensions on the island than the literary tromps through a day in Dublin’s past. I will be investigating the legacy of the Troubles for Irish youth. As I learn and expand my perspective on local borders, I hope to return to my students and help them build bridges in their own community across our own centuries old divides and differences.

I hope to tour Belfast, Derry, Strabane and rural Northern Ireland to discover the legacy of Peace Walls, murals and neighborhood divides; collaborate with researchers and gather their materials/readings/experts to use in my classroom; interview members of young community, students and teachers if possible, to share their voices with my own students concerning violence, drugs, awareness of Irish history and outlook for their future; and finally to meet with poets and visual artists to learn how the legacy of the Troubles, identity issues and border concerns influence their work.

My touring will be packed with experiences. I will be wandering rough sectarian neighborhoods where I’ll stick out like a sore thumb. I politely seat myself in seedy pubs presenting myself as a poet immersing himself in modern Irish verse and maybe buy a round (not on the dole of FFT, of course). I wish to meet students at the Hazlewood Integrated College. I hope to reconnect with a family friend in Strabane, an isolated border town near County Donegal. I relish the opporunity to hang with poet Colin Dardis and his performance mates in Belfast. I am thankful for the outreach of the Institute for Conflict Research and the Northern Ireland Foundation. We’ll see happens.

At this point all I know is that I’ll land in Dublin on Monday 7:45AM, watch football’s Boys in Green take on Italy at the EuroCup that night, and spend the next day getting my bearings in Ireland’s capital bustling with gray. Itinerary to come.

If you have an opinion, suggestion or comment please feel free to post on anything I may be brash enough to write. This blog will be a chronicle of my trip, but will also serve as a curricular tool in my classroom. The more voices the better.