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Tuesday, May 22 at 7:30/8pm at Springfield Hotel, Leixlip, Co. Kildare.

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From a review of Clearing The Tangled Wood in Books Ireland, May 2012

“In this wide-ranging book Lawless considers the work of many poets, including W. H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg and Mícheál Ó Siadhail, as he explores the relevance of poetry in ordinary and extraordinary people’s lives. It comes highly recommended.”

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A Review of The Avenue in Metro Eireann

The Avenue by James Lawless
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Franky, a thirty or forty-something shy librarian, has spent his entire life on The Avenue, somewhere presumably in the less affluent part of Dublin. Having devoted his younger years to caring for his depressed father, Franky married young to the older Myrtle to avoid the scandal of a child born out of wedlock, and has shuffled along ever since, engaged in retiring activities like gardening and reading. When a set of go-go dancers comes to the local pub and Franky discovers a wad of heroin stuffed inside a soccer ball things begin to change: he must defeat the evil local cider-drinkers terrorizing the neighbourhood, liberate the go-go dancers from their pimps, find out whatever happened to his and Myrtle’s miscarried child, help his assistant librarian find true love and free himself from Myrtle and her evil cohort Ida.

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Franky, a thirty or forty-something shy librarian, has spent his entire life on The Avenue, somewhere presumably in the less affluent part of Dublin. Having devoted his younger years to caring for his depressed father, Franky married young to the older Myrtle to avoid the scandal of a child born out of wedlock, and has shuffled along ever since, engaged in retiring activities like gardening and reading. When a set of go-go dancers comes to the local pub and Franky discovers a wad of heroin stuffed inside a soccer ball things begin to change: he must defeat the evil local cider-drinkers terrorizing the neighbourhood, liberate the go-go dancers from their pimps, find out whatever happened to his and Myrtle’s miscarried child, help his assistant librarian find true love and free himself from Myrtle and her evil cohort Ida.

This is an extremely localized book in which the miserable lives of The Avenue’s inhabitants are drearily exposed. I found the relationships between men and women most striking, with women near universally being portrayed as aggressive (man-hating lesbians Ida and Myrtle), deceitful (go-go dancer Judy and her drug-dealing mother), or cynical nymphomaniacs (terminally-ill Noreen). Men, on the other hand, tend to come across as the helpless victims of feminine wiles – Franky’s father and one of his neighbours completely unable to cope with the deaths of their wives; the assistant librarian Michael, naively caught in Judy’s toils; and Franky himself trapped in endless servitude to Myrtle. It is as if the men, unable to deal with life, have handed control to the women who either fail to take them into any further consideration, or ultimately abandon them through death. I have observed this underlying hostility between the genders in Ireland for many years, and it was interesting!
to see it come through in a novel.

Of course, Franky ultimately finds his backbone, turning a tale that was otherwise grim triumphal. The Avenue is a very well-written and well-produced book, steering clear of both misery memoir and nostalgic glorification, and the narrator Franky has an utterly credible voice. It was pretty page-turning and struck me as a much better portrayal of Irish life in transition from traditional to modern than many a more self-consciously reminiscent tale. If you want to see the world your Irish contemporaries are coming from, you really could do a lot worse than The Avenue. I’d be inclined to take it over many a celebrated bestseller.

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An anti-globalisation march: an extract from For Love of Anna

 

Thousands of people, mostly students, march carrying banners through the Friday rushhour streets of Potence. The rushhour streets! The phrase is redundant. It is the evening traffic jam equal in volume and every other aspect to the morning or lunchtime or nighttime traffic jam. There is no difference. There is no non-rushhour anymore. The same amount of road rage. The same side and front and back vehicle bumps. The same frenzy and seething and frothing at the mouth. And lives ticking by in tune with the stop-start engines.

The sound of hornblasting. ‘Look at them,’ says Guido, ‘prisoners.’ Anna in her jeans and anorak laughs as he returns the V sign to an irate taxidriver.

The treehuggers are marching alongside the anarchists, parading in grey blankets cut into the form of ponchos. The placards proclaiming: DOWN WITH CAPITALISTS. SAVE OUR TREES. THE WORLD IS NOT FOR SALE. KILL THE CAR. DON’T FUCK UP THE WORLD and the one Anna likes, DANCE TO THE RHYTHM OF NATURE.

They find themselves in step with an old man in a tweed cap and overcoat who marches along with surprising alacrity, carrying a walking stick and a plastic bag.

‘I hope it holds out,’ says the old man.

‘What?’ says Guido.

‘The weather. I never brought my brolly.’

‘You believe in anarchism?’ says Guido.

‘The anarchists are grand; grand polite people.’

‘Polite?’ whispers Anna into Guido’s ear. ‘Hardly polite’.

‘Would you like a sandwich?’ he says, taking a cut sandwich of white bread out of his bag.

‘If you can spare it,’ says Guido, afraid if he refuses he would offend the old man.

‘Corned beef,’ he says, ‘I have more. And one for your lady friend.’

He proffers one to Anna which she accepts with thanks.

‘Would you take a drop of tea?’ he says, ‘to wash that down? I never go on a protest without my flask.’

Guido accepts the tea which the old man pours into a screwoff cup.

‘I’m fine,’ says Anna, declining.

‘I like marching with the anarchists,’ he says, ‘better than the psychiatric nurses last week. Couldn’t get a word out of them. Glum people, just protesting for the usual?’

‘The usual?’ says Guido.

‘You know, more money. But the anarchists now,’ he says turning up his chin, ‘they talk about other things and they always share a word with me.’ He sighs. ‘All the stories are out of reach now. The motor car drowns them out. Can’t hear people talking on the street any more. That’s what I miss. That’s why I like the marches. It stops the cars and we can get the stories back.’

‘Are you going to tell us a story?’ says Anna, warming to the old man.

‘What me? Well now,’ he says (stymied, thinks Guido, as so many people are when poised by the specific), ‘I could tell you lots of stories.’

One of the treehuggers, a short, bald, middleaged woman is handing out grey blankets. She offers one to Anna and to Guido and the old man.

‘It will keep you dry,’ she says.

‘Dry?’ says Anna. ‘It’s not raining.’ There is a snowy look in the sky.

‘For the hoses.’

Anna looks at Guido. ‘You never told me about any hoses.’

‘It may never happen,’ says Guido.

‘See,’ says the old man, gratefully accepting a blanket, ‘didn’t I tell you they were grand people?’

Guido and Anna laughingly drape the blankets over their shoulders. The old man hums contentedly as he marches along beside them.

‘Don’t you think it’s dangerous for him?’ whispers Anna.

‘He’s all right,’ says Guido. ‘Just look at the city, Anna,’ he says proudly looking around. ‘We have it traumatised. Doesn’t it all prove my point?’

‘What point?’

‘That it’s all wrong. That way of living is all wrong.’

‘Maybe we’re just upstarts.’

‘What?’

She smiles. ‘Oh such a serious face. Only joking.’

The bald woman carries saplings and a little gardening trowel. She plants the saplings in crevices in the concrete footpaths wherever there are gaps in the glass buildings. Other treehuggers help her, putting in peat moss and flower seeds from buckets.

‘Reclaim the earth. Reclaim,’ she chants.

And soon the march cedes to the inevitable: as the marchers approach parliament buildings, the police are waiting, helmeted, shielded and batoned. And behind them (leaving nothing to chance) the army as backup, armed with tear gas and high-pressure hoses. A horse-mounted police officer shouts through a loudspeaker at the protesters to go back and to disperse quietly, and there will be no trouble. The infantry police raise their shields and, shuffling together, close ranks to form a human wall, forcing the protesters to come to a halt. The bald woman shoots forward. ‘We have a right to march,’ she shouts. Some of the protesters push forward which is a cue for the soldiers, who are positioned behind lorries and jeeps and even one tank, to open their hoses. Powerful jets of water cascade over the protesters, knocking some of them down. Anna and Guido are soaked, but as they are not part of the vanguard, they miss the full impact of the jets. ‘You knew all along,’ she says holding the blanket tightly around her.

‘I didn’t, Anna I swear.’

They continue to smile at each other (part of the bravado of courtship). Shivering, they pretend it is all good fun. But then the tear gas is released and they hear a booming voice. Anna looks in the direction of the voice. ‘That’s Philippe,’ says Guido, pointing him out.

‘Your friend?’ she says missing a breath through the water rolling down her face.

‘You seem surprised or something,’ says Guido.

‘No, it’s just with that voice I expected him to be…well taller.’

Philippe with his goatee and black beret coming down deep over his forehead to conceal  flaky scales of psoriasis, is cajoling, provoking, even pushing some of his marchers forward. ‘Stand your ground,’ he shouts when he sees the funnelled snouts of the gas masks wearers, alien creatures firing canisters. The tear gas gushes over them and the protest column collapses as people run for shelter, their hands shielding their eyes.

‘Look what’s happening to our protest,’ says Philippe despairingly coming up to Guido.

Eventually he and Anna and even Philippe are forced to yield.

Philippe looks disconsolately at his friend. ‘It’s like a military putsch.’

‘It’s okay, Philippe. We’ve made our point,’ says Guido. ‘We’ve shown them we can stop their wheel from turning.’ He puts his arm around the shivering Anna. ‘I’d like you to meet…’

‘Haven’t time now,’ says Philippe and he rushes off in a vain attempt to stabilise his marchers.

‘I’m sorry about this,’ says Guido. ‘Normally he’s not rude. It’s just… he gets a bit carried away.’

‘Forget about him.’ she says. ‘This blanket’s soaked through.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ He’s feeling awkward, reaching towards her. ‘My apartment,’ he says, ‘it’s not far away.’

 

He shows her a faulty mortar crevice in the outer wall of his apartment building for his door key, and Anna notices a list of instructions pinned on the back of the front door as Guido closes it: DONT AJUST (sic) THE LIGHT SWITCH. The missing D is replaced above the word with a red marker.

‘It’s the landlord,’ says Guido. ‘I go around correcting his spelling.’

‘You filled this in?’

‘Yes.’

She laughs through her shivers.

‘Mind the bicycle,’ he says as they go through a narrow hall with old cream embossed wallpaper. Anna squeezes past a blue silver mountain bike with gears and thick tyres, water dripping from her hair onto the saddle.

‘Can you get by?’ says Guido, straightening the handlebars.

‘I cycle too,’ she says. ‘We’re told to, to maintain the strength in our legs.’

The apartment, a first floor bedsit, contains one bed which is neither single or double in size but somewhere in between, covered with a wine-coloured duvet. The carpet is a threadbare brown with flecks of pink running through it. At the wall near the high rattling window which affords a commanding view of the old cobbled streetscape below is a teak bookcase pinpricked with woodworm and filled with books six shelves high. In the corner of the room near the door a rectangular wooden structure marks off a small space: the kitchen, containing a cooker and a small fridge and some presses.

Guido turns on the two bars of an electric fire and positions it in front of Anna who has seated herself on a brown dralon sofa with its gapped fringe hanging tellingly from its bottom. She looks around the room. ‘Have you no central heating?’

‘No,’ he says. ‘I’ll have a real fire going in a minute.’

He gives her a dry towel from his wardrobe with which she proceeds to rub her hair vigorously, bending her head forward to the reddening bars.

‘And now a drink to warm us.’ He goes to a press near the fridge and removes a quarter full bottle of schnapps.

She laughs as Guido pours the schnapps into two earthenware goblets. ‘Where did you get those?’

‘In an antique shop, where I bought the bookcase actually.’

‘You’re funny,’ she says raising the goblet.

‘Funny?’

‘Yeah, I mean this city, it’s famous for its glass and you… you buy earthenware.’

He smiles. ‘Cheers.’

Guido lights the fire with newspapers twisted into knots and a few sticks. When there is a crackling sound from the wood he heaps on coal from a small brass bucket.

‘You can change if you wish.’

She looks at him averting his eyes from her. She smiles, confident, superior almost. Safe.

Wrapped in the duvet she sits leaning forward warming her hands by the fire which is sparking now. She watches the steam rising from her wet jeans and jumper which are draped over a chair.

Guido is conscious of this moment, filled with a nervous excitement (will she have disappeared if he blinks?) having her here in his bedsit as the light of the fire illumines a cluster of small freckles on either side of her nose, her little pert nose, and she sits with his duvet, slipping a little from her shoulder. Her bare shoulder. He wants to embrace her, to say things, great poetic things. He thinks of the words he has written on his various bits of paper. He roots in his pockets but his action is perfunctory for he knows they are inadequate, those words. He knows they are his private thoughts that he would never have the courage to utter aloud. She would laugh at him with his boyish thoughts. The only words he can hear himself saying are: ‘When are you on again?’

‘Rehearsals tomorrow at nine.’

A moment of awkward silence follows until a piece of coal obligingly slips off the flame. He kneels down and lifts it back into position with a tongs.

Warm now, she rises from the floor holding the duvet and goes to explore the bookcase. ‘All philosophy I suppose?’

‘Not all,’ he says replacing the tongs on its hook. ‘Some literature and history. Feel free.’

Guido goes to the baywindow as Anna peruses a book. The street lights are lighting up the darkening evening with their orange glow before turning white. There’s an uncustomary stillness in the streets, no rattle from the window, the snowy look still in the sky.

‘I wonder where they’ve all gone,’ she says, choosing another book from the shelf.

‘Who?’ says Guido, turning around

‘The other protesters. Where do protesters go after they protest?’

‘They go back.’

‘Go back?’

‘Yes. To their lectures, their jobs, whatever they were doing beforehand.’

She flicks through the pages of the book ‘Yes, but I wonder I mean…..does it make any difference?’

‘Difference?’

‘Yes. What they’ve done.’

‘I don’t know.’ He sighs. ‘I really don’t know.’

‘This one,’ she says, picking another book.

‘Ah, Bakunin,’ he says, recognising the volume, “propaganda by the deed.” Why did you choose that one?’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps because it opened easily.’ She laughs. ‘Some of the corners of these pages are missing as well. My God, Guido, you really have a hunger for books.’

‘Funny.’ He smiles, goes towards her, puts an arm on her shoulder. ‘Read it,’ he says. ‘It might make you one of us yet.’

She looks at him, her face touching his. ‘So you are one of them.’

‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ He sighs. ‘I carry a lot of questions around with me Anna, in my head, you know.’

‘What sort of questions?’

‘It’s getting dark,’ he says, releasing himself gently from her, and going to draw musty brown curtains on the blackening window. ‘By reading philosophy,’ he says with his back to  her, ‘I figured I could work through these things you know to reach something, unlike those subjects which make presumptions.’

‘What did you want to reach?’

‘I don’t know really. Something impossible I suppose. The why of things. Why people do certain things; what makes them act in the ways they do.’

‘Circumstances,’ she says

‘Yes. But sometimes there may be more than that.’

‘Genes.’

‘Perhaps.’

He turns around to face her. ‘I was going to study literature or, more precisely, literary theory, at one stage.’

‘What made you change?’

‘It was when I looked at all the jargon of literary studies: the polarity of language, all the obfuscation of the bourgeoisie.’

‘Bourgeoisie?’ She laughs. ‘That’s just adolescent ranting.’

‘It’s not ranting and it’s not adolescent.’

‘Don’t be angry,’ she says noticing the change in his tone.

‘Sorry,’ he blurts, ‘but you see, philosophy… why I chose it I mean, it’s because it doesn’t carry baggage. What I’m trying to say…’

She shimmies up to him, places a slender finger with its nail, its white lunula, a perfect crescent on his lips, silencing him. And the duvet slides from her shoulders and she lets it fall and presses in against him. They embrace, clinging to each other. ‘What I mean….’ he says, and she silences him again, this time with a slow languorous kiss; and he feels her, all of her, and she feels him, and there is no shame on her face, no embarrassment, just that winsome smile.

 

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Anti-globalisation protests

These days of recession make me think of my novel For Love of Anna and its musing on the alternatives to corporate capitalism. With the collapse of Russia and the dilution of ideational politics, what alternatives do we have? Anna, as well as being a ballerina in a tragic love story, is also an acronym for anarchists of the new age. Does the protagonist Guido have to pursue such an extreme as he is torn between his love for Anna and the goadings of his anarchist friend Phillipe?

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Date set for poetry launch

The date has been set for the launch of my debut poetry collection, Rus in Urbe, generously supported by Kildare Arts Council. The launch will take place on Tuesday, 22nd May in the Sarsfield Room of the Springfield Hotel, Leixlip at 7.30/800pm. Refreshments will be supplied and admission is free. The publisher is Noel King of Doghouse and Monday and Wednesday he will also be launching two fine poets, Michael Farry in Trim and Barbara Smith in Dundalk. The reason for the title of my book, Rus in Urbe is that I’m an urban guy with a rustic interior. I was bred and buttered in Dublin which accounts for the in urbe half of the poems and spending a lot of my adult life in west Cork and Kildare accounts for the rus element in the collection. If you click on poetry on my website, you will be able to read sample poems.

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