BICYCLES WITH Umbrellas, is a new professionally produced anthology showcasing poetry, fiction, and memoir by students who completed the MA in writing at NUI Galway in 2010.
The book was edited by the students themselves and they also had to raise the money to publish it and then organise a programme of launches around the country to promote the publication - no small task.
Fledgling writers are often good at coming up with grand ideas over pints and wine on Quay Street, often not so good at making such ideas amount to anything anyone remembers the following morning. This group of writers are to be congratulated on putting this fine book together, where so many others would just have talked about it until the curried chips came.
Jimi McDonnell contributes a prose piece, Awake, which is full of a very recognisable Galway. Crucially, it has an arresting opening sentence: “The smell of the McDonald’s, familiar, perfected in laboratories to tempt the masses, drifts out onto the street.”
McDonnell also contributes some poems; one of which, ‘Ireland’, is clearly his reworking of Allen Ginsberg’s 1950s classic America. In it one of the many questions McDonnell asks is: “Ireland when will you stop voting Fianna Fáil?” Since the poem was written in 2010, that particular question has been answered decisively. Enda Kenny and, what Joe Higgins last week described as, “The Labour Party elves” are now in the process of making everything OK again. Happy days.
Of the prose pieces here those that impressed most me were Boats Passing by Ciara O’Dowd, The Animal by Bríd Buckley, Nativity by Jennifer McCarrick, The Perfect Cup of Tea by Trevor Conway, and, especially, The Date by Joe Jennings.
Importantly, each of these pieces gets straight into the story with a striking opening sentence. Ciara O’Dowd’s piece starts thus: “The last couple agreed to come inside when the rain got so heavy, the parasol over their table gave way.” A perfect scene setter, without a word of padding or waffle; the reader is immediately wondering what happened next.
Joe Jennings’s The Date has one of the best openers I’ve read in a while: “She was having a glass of wine in the shower when I arrived.” The story jerks forward with a succession of short sentences and by the end of the first brief paragraph Jennings has transported the reader to a strange place indeed.
Trevor Conway will very soon cross the Rubicon that separates emerging writers from the already emerged: Trevor’s debut collection of poetry will be published next year by Salmon Poetry.
The poems he contributes to Bicycles With Umbrellas include ‘On the Wing’, a perfect poem about playing football. I also loved the closing stanza of his ‘Out of Fashion’: “It’s been some time/Since I’ve heard the phrase/ ‘Having it off’.” Bríd Buckley’s two fine poems ‘A Failure of Recognition’ and the starkly honest: ‘I Am Dressing’ mark her out as a poet to be watched.
Bicycles With Umbrellas is an anthology full of names I know I will hear again.