Margaret T. Pender: Irish Woman Poet

Margaret T. Pender (1865-1920), was born Margaret O’Doherty in Ballytweedy, County Antrim. She was a novelist and short story writer as well as poet. An Active Irish nationalist, she was a regular contributor to the FreemanUnited Ireland and Ireland’s Own. ‘Ignoring the Irish’ was published in the Sligo Nationalist on 4 October 1916

Ignoring the Irish
Oh, many a star-bright tale is told
Of deeds of glory and of gold,
Since this dread war has first begun
Its deathly strafe against the Hun;
And yet, the listening world has heard
From England’s Generals—not one word
Of the Irish at Gallipoli!
New Zealand’s hearts of fire were there
With Erin’s sons the fight to share;
And from Newfoundland’s misty shore
Came gallant lads, a handful more;
And not one soldier failed to play
A hero’s part that dreadful day
With the Irish at Gallipoli!
To take the railway and the height,
Where the fierce Turk had massed his might,
Ordered to land at Suvla Bay
Into the stress of hell went they—
Right through the utmost fires of hell,
By sea and shore in swathes they fell—
The Irish at Gallipoli!
But through they bust and on they tore;
Such valour ne’er was seen before!
On, foot by foot, and hour by hour,
They fought with superhuman power
For eight and forty hours–until
They took the railway and the hill,
The road to Stamboul opened fair
For Britain’s troops had they been there
With the Irish at Gallipoli!
Oh, few and red, the victors stood,
Grimy and glorious in their blood,
Gasping and faint, but holding still
The road to Stamboul and the hill.
Then dost a great shout near and far—
“The East is ours! We’ve won the war!”
Cried the Irish at Gallipoli!
But where were their supporters!–oh where?
We only know–they were not there!
Somewhere inert, aback they lay,
Nor ever faced that bloody fray.
By dullard generals thus was lost
The gorgeous East, won at such cost
By the Irish at Gallipoli!
And this is why, when tales are told
Of deeds of glory and of gold,
Since this dread war has first begun
Its deathly strafe against the Hun!
The listening world has never heard
From England’s generals EVEN ONE WORD
Of the Irish at Gallipoli!

Three Shearsman Books by Mark Weiss, Robert Sheppard and Peter Philpott: A Review

Mark Weiss, As Luck Would Have It, 116pp, 9x6ins, £9.95 / $18, 978184861413-0 
Robert Sheppard, A Translated Man, 130pp. 9x6ins, £9.95, 978-1848612846 88 
Peter Philpott, Ianthe Poems, 72pp, 8.5×5.5ins, £8.95, ISBN 9781848614178

Mark Weiss is a US native and As Luck Would Have It is his fourth full-length collection. Weiss sits clearly in the line of 20th Weisscentury American poetry, with influences as varied as the Beats, Spanish-American verse and Language poetry all in evidence. His work, consequently, shifts between multiple formal/technical approaches, albeit with a solidly identifiable voice throughout. His poetic philosophy is neatly summed up in two lines from the book:

Poetry first and foremost

a tool for knowing

As Luck Would Have It is a book in five sections. The first two, California Girls and Glass Palace: 17 Poems are, in tone and matter, distinctly American, exhibiting a characteristic blend of the folksy and the urban, expressed through both expansiveness and haiku-like concision. The poem ‘A Simile’, for instance, reads in its entirety

Tastes like rabbit, the fox thinks,

slinking from the henhouse.

The third section, Riffs, begins with a set of variations on WC Williams’ red wheelbarrow and then moves through a number of other poems that play with the idea of riffing, the language and technique are looser than in the earlier sections, frequently running with the sound of the language as source of pleasure:

John Handcock. Hand

cock? half




as real as grass

or glass.

The fourth part, Different Birds, is the longest section of the book. A journal-poem in prose and verse, it charts a visit (presumably real) to Australia. The poem reads as an odd hybrid of Allen Ginsberg’s travelogue poems, minus the oracular imperative, and some of the more deadpan bits of Language writing.

A road through a desert almost devoid of vegetation

pinker than the burnt land around it. One billabong

visible. Must be the bed of an ancient lake. On its edge,

just into a greener place, a square of farmland, different

colors, green to rust, and all right-angled, like a set of

tiles. Down the road the messiness of a small settlement,

twenty buildings and an air strip.

The poem contains some very fine passages, but is, I think, just too long to sustain interest.

The fifth section, Dark Season, circles back around some of this Australian matter, but in a tauter, more lyric style and contains the most interesting writing in the book. In particular, the longish ‘Dark Season’, is, amongst other things, a wonderful reimagining of medieval romance as fractured post-modern verse.

Here is a pearl of great price

clasped in your palm

emergent urge urgent tangent demiurge


This poem is as good as anything Weiss has written, and is worth the price of the book by itself.


Robert Shepherd’s A Translated Man purports to be the selected poems in Flemish and Walloon of an imaginary Belgian Sheppardpoet, René Van Valckenborch, as rendered into English by two equally fictitious translators, all three of whom vanished mysteriously among accusations that the translators invented their subject. The blurb says that by heaping fiction upon fiction, Sheppard ‘is exploring the limits of the author-function’.

I mean no disrespect when I say that he’s doing no such thing. If A Translated Man were a novel, nobody would think of making such a claim, and by virtue of putting his own name on the title page, neither is Sheppard. What he is doing is something much more interesting; he is exploring the possibility of writing poetry from a place and tradition that is not, properly speaking, one’s own.

The tradition is which Sheppard places these poems is, at its core, an interesting blend of Francis Ponge’s poetry of the thing and the Dutch avant-garde De Vijftigersbeweging (‘The Fiftiers’), a group of experimental writers who grew up through the Nazi occupation and began publishing in the 1950s. Ponge’s focus on the thingness of things is evident in the opening section of ‘Walloon’ poems, which are formally conservative, mainly written in tercets, and acknowledging the Pongian influence is fore-fronted from the beginning with a set of poems excerpted from a series called thingly:


closed they’ve a single

point and purpose perfected

cool blades left sleeping

open a dancer –

limbs of flexing steel leap in

frozen cuts of light

The second half of the book is devoted to more experimental ‘Flemish’ poems in a significantly more experimental mode, with nods to such Fiftiers poets as Remco Campert and the (Belgian) Hugo Claus. Ponge’s things still feature, as in these lines from ‘The Word’:


Sky the hue of a sick egg unbroken.

A half-formed beak. Talons clawing at fog. Mottled rug

flung over the furniture of day.

But what really serves to bring the twin influences into focus is a shared suspicion of poetry and the ‘poetic’. Ponge became a poet in spite of himself, constantly declaring an outright hostility to poems, while the Fiftiers were united in their desire to abandon the Dutch poetic tradition and write a kind of anti-poetry.

This restlessness comes more to the fore as we move towards the end of A Translated Man in a series of odes and songs that push the limits of readerly engagement to its limits. the final ‘Twitterodes’ section (a poem comprising putative tweets by Van Valckenborch in 100 numbered sections)  carries this to a kind of logical conclusion as the triteness of Twitter is subsumed into an opaque linguistic surface that both repels and draws in.

▪ 99 piggybacking girls round the monument/NEPTUNE stamping his

horses (a café steal his water thunder)/black tooth windows/ladies sipping


This is a fascinating, if uneven book. On the whole, Sheppard succeeds in his attempt at a kind of cultural ventriloquism, creating works that expand his range as a poet not just through the exploitation of technique but also by allowing him to inhabit a different, borrowed voice. It’s a book I will be returning to.


Peter Philpott has been writing, performing and publishing poetry since the late 1960s. He studied under Andrew Crozier atPhilpott Keele and wrote an MA thesis on Gertrude Stein and co-founded Great Works, one of the key magazines of the 1970s British Poetry Revival scene and became involved with what has come to be known as the Cambridge scene. He then somewhat dropped off the radar (or my radar, at least) for a couple of decades, although he continued writing.

Around the beginning of the new century, Great Works re-emerged as a website and Philpott began publishing again. Ianthe Poems, his most recent book, reflects his experiences as a new grandfather, with many of the poems that make up its three sections having been written in coffee shops on his daily outings with his granddaughter Ianthe.

There’s something about an engagement with a young child’s earliest attempts at pre-verbal and verbal communication that seems to take us to the very roots of language, and this, it seems to me, is the underlying drift of this book. Philpott enters into the language of childhood in as unpatronising a manner as is imaginable. Although it only appears once, and then at the very end of the book, the name Ianthe is, I think, a driving impetus behind this linguistic exploration: Ianthe, I and the, I and thee, I am thee.

I see daddy

at work I see


see pictures

pictures of words


I feed

I admonish

I put in order

I, I, I

There is a risk of making this sound like an exercise in theory, but nothing could be further from the truth. While Philpott is aware of what he is at, the poetry is sharply lyrical, and a pleasure in the mind and on the ear:

How joyful to write on this English

spring that muddy slide out of death

How perfect

like a Radio 3 soundtrack

to write so defiantly non-avant-garde

look! the bluebells are little tiny dots

swirling into a numinous haze

The poems were written in the shadow of the 2010 UK General Election, and politics form part of their patchwork, as are the casual prejudices of other childminding adults encountered on the daily round, but these take their place in the natural process of birth, growth and change that a child exemplifies. And central to the celebration of this process is the unacknowledged importance of poetry:

be careful of the poetry

it lies

in lines and verses

a sort of unprogressive dialectic

nothing at its centre

but an influx suddenly of meaning

sometimes of its lack

a great shadow

turns off the light

In this book, Philpott has been careful not to let the shadow fall, and the light shines out strongly from his lines. Ianthe Poems is one of the most purely enjoyable collections I’ve read for some time.


Shearsman are, without a doubt, the most interesting, active and prolific medium-sized poetry press in the UK right now, and have been for some years. Editor Tony Frazer has adopted print-on-demand technology to build a list that is varied, adventurous and growing all the time, with the result that these three titles represent a fraction of the press’s 2015 output. Long may they thrive. [As full disclosure, I should point out that Shearsman has published my work in the past.]


Moireen Fox: Irish Woman Poet

Moireen Fox (1183 – 1972) was born Olive Agnes Fox and published under a range of pseudonyms, including her married name, de Cheavassa. She shared a home with Ella Young for a time and through her met the leading figure of the Revival. The Fairy Lover was anthologised by Padraic Colum in his 1922 Anthology of Irish Verse.

The Fairy Lover
IT was by yonder thorn I saw the fairy host
(O low night wind, O wind of the west!)
My love rode by, there was gold upon his brow,
And since that day I can neither eat nor rest.
I dare not pray lest I should forget his face
(O black north wind blowing cold beneath the sky!)
His face and his eyes shine between me and the sun:
If I may not be with him I would rather die.
They tell me I am cursed and I will lose my soul,
(O red wind shrieking o’er the thorn-grown dún!)
But he is my love and I go to him to-night,
Who rides when the thorn glistens white beneath the moon.
He will call my name and lift me to his breast,
(Blow soft O wind ’neath the stars of the south!)
I care not for heaven and I fear not hell
If I have but the kisses of his proud red mouth.

My review of How Far From Daybreak by Brian Coffey in the Dublin Review of Books

My review of this new selected Coffey is live on the Dublin Review of Books site today.

There is a widespread narrative of twentieth century Irish poetry that hinges on how the writers who followed Yeats dealt with life in his shadow. In this story, Austin Clarke (to take one example) struggled with both the influence of, and neglect by, the older poet; Patrick Kavanagh (to take another) reacted against Yeats’s aristocratic idealisation of peasant life to forge a poetry of the authentically local. This narrative is, in effect, the normative framework in which critical discussion of modern Irish poetry has taken place for most of the last one hundred years. –

Read more.