Unearthed an old painting of mine in the attic that I love – I call it Big Bloody Copybook. A visual work that begs to have written work upon it.
This is the truth of being a writer. Writing is rewriting.
Many years ago I received the wonderful book The Haiku Year as a gift. It is a collection of non-traditional haikus from 7 friends (including Michael Stipe of REM) all of whom decided to write a haiku every day for a year. It is a beautiful and sometimes surprising collection of short poems that I return to often. I was really taken with it at the time and embarked on the same challenge. I recently stumbled across my efforts in my own haiku year notebooks, where I found these little short poems, many of which still hold up quite well. There’s a bit of silliness in there, and also some slightly more serious, melancholy ones, and even an unfinished imperfection to others – but overall I still feel that they manage to capture something quite nicely in their terse short few lines. Little poetic windows to a specific time and place.
was surpassed only by my
My life had finally
Reached the point
That it could be condensed into a haiku
with only enough money for chips and cans
we head off to Coney Island for the day
wide eyed and Irish
Just before I assumed the worst
I consumed the best
steak I’d ever had
I dreamt about
the night before
My cheeks redden
At the thought
Of what I just implied
Try to open your mind
The same way you expect
Me to open mine
we poured the night
into our pockets
a treasure this great
does not deserve
to be kept a secret
the conversation credits
to run out
but all of this
is nothing without everything
that came before
Many moons ago, my dad and I watched a beautiful film called Big Night, which has this remarkable food dish called Timpano as it’s centrepiece. Essentially a massive multi-layered baked pasta drum. We were so taken with it, we tried to make it together one night back then with my friend Jakob, and it was moderately successful. But the experience of making it has stuck with me ever since.
So I had wanted to make it again for decades and this birthday felt like the perfect moment to bring beloved family and friends together to make it , and share in this experience. Myself, Jim, Doug and David spent hours laughing and cooking, as we created exquisite bubbling sauces and ragus, boiled eggs, grilled meats, rolled “polpette” meatballs, sliced salami, made and rolled out huge sheets of pasta dough. We made several feasts that would have fed a large percentage of Ireland. And then we layered all those myriad of feasts into not one, but three Timpanos — one veggie and two meaty.
Into the oven they went, and once baked, there was still an element of doubt that they would come out of the dish in one piece, and when slicing into it, if it retains it’s structural integrity, and comes out in a solid perfect layered slice. As you can see from the photos and videos below, they came out absolutely perfect – a moment of true joy.
Then it was time to taste. I can tell you, they were absolutely delicious. All of them. And on top of that the joy of sharing them with friends old and new over a glass of wine was the real treat.
We then chatted and sang songs till deep in the night. All seated around the gorgeous tables so artfully decorated with care by my brilliant wife, Jessica. She brings people together and draws the best out of them, and today was no different
Inevitably my mind drifted to those who could not be with us and the fire they carried into my life. I thought of my mother who was the same age as I am today when she passed away. She would have loved this , especially the meatball Timpano. I thought of my father who would have been in his element in the kitchen and spinning jazz records on the turntable. He would have loved this, especially the veggie Timpano.
It was a great day. A perfect day. Fun, family, friends. And fabulous food. Most of all, it was an experience I will treasure forever.
Today, I will definitely be eating lots of leftovers and as evening falls, we are going to stick on Big Night and watch it with the kids. They have to carry the fire now and I’m counting on them to make Timpano with me in a couple of years too.
In 2013 I was asked by commissioning editor Dave Lordan to write a piece for a publication entitled New Planet Cabaret which was a cool, interesting anthology book published by New Island Press. Here’s how they described it on the book jacket:
In December 2012, New Island and RTÉ Radio One’s Arena launched the first on-air creative writing course. The course took place on the first week of each month until June 2013. Writer and creative writing teacher Dave Lordan led the course, each month offering a new writing prompt to listeners who would submit material based using that prompt as inspiration. This book contains the best of those submissions. To accompany them, Arena specially commissioned pieces by a host of emerging Irish writing talent producing a completely novel and enjoyable anthology that presents the best of up-and-coming Irish writing talent.
My piece was a cross between a surrealist story and stageplay, featuring two recurring characters (Freddie and Jam-Jam) from my writings down the years. They had begun as Friedrich Nietzsche and James Joyce as children on a quest in a mythological Icelandic world, and gradually evolved into these oddball variations of that idea.
In the end I think this piece was quite successful, and I do like the playful feel of it, and the way it jumps in and out of traditional forms, as well as how it comments on the written form itself. For the launch of the book, RTE Radio (our national broadcaster) did a live show from the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin and I performed an excerpt of the piece live on air with my friend Brian, which was really fun and very warmly received. I think this is one of those pieces that definitely pops more when read aloud, and I have very fond memories of the performance (far more than the lengthy process of writing it)
A short, wooden gangway extends out onto a lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam sit at the end, feet dangling, staring into the middle distance. A rowing boat, tied to a pole beside them, thuds rhythmically against the gangway.
FREDDIE: Right, I’m about to push off.
JAM-JAM: What’s the story with it?
FREDDIE: It’s that giant new cabaret place.
JAM-JAM: Oh deadly. We should probably get a load of cans!
FREDDIE: No. It’s not that kind of place.
JAM-JAM: Well what kind of place is it so?
FREDDIE: I believe it is being described as a new narrative arena.
JAM-JAM: Sounds like bollocks, let’s definitely get cans.
FREDDIE: We are not bringing cans.
JAM-JAM: Alright man. Whatever. Let’s push off.
The boat slices swiftly across the surface of the lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam are seated facing each other. A plastic bag full of cans sits between them. The moonlight gently illuminates their faces as they speak.
JAM-JAM: I was wondering if I could switch to another story?
JAM-JAM: This story is kinda pretentious. I was wondering if you’d mind if I went to a different one?
JAM-JAM: This story is kinda pretentious. I was wondering if you’d mind if I went to a different one?
FREDDIE: You mean leave the story we are in right now?
JAM-JAM: Yeah. It’s a bit shit.
FREDDIE: What? That’s not fair. It’s half yours.
JAM-JAM: I suppose, but I’m not mad about it.
JAM-JAM: To be honest, I’m not really sure what it’s trying to say.
FREDDIE: So what! And even if you could go, where would you go?
JAM-JAM: I’d say a Hemingway novel would be good craic. All that bravado and bulls. And balls!
FREDDIE: But those novels are already written
FREDDIE: So, you can’t go there, there is no room for you in the story.
JAM-JAM: Says who?
FREDDIE: Says Hemingway.
JAM-JAM: Fine. I’ll head off to a nice warm foreign book. Maybe something Middle Eastern.
FREDDIE: What about Outguard? I thought you wanted to come.
JAM-JAM: Yeah, I was thinking a bit more about that. Can you maybe jump ahead a few pages and see what it’s like, then let me know?
JAM-JAM: Yeah. Just have a sneaky little peek and see if I should bother my hole.
FREDDIE: (sighs) Very well.
JAM-JAM: Savage. I’ll be here, just text me or whatever.
FREDDIE: Wait a minute. This is stupid. I don’t even know what you want me to find out for you.
JAM-JAM: Ah sure, the usual. See if there are any good-looking women, bit of intrigue, sparse dialogue, hint of danger. That kind of thing.
FREDDIE: (wearily) I see. Alright. See you in a moment then.
JAM-JAM: (engrossed in his phone) Ok dude
Freddie steps out of the boat onto the shore. The coarse, damp sand crunches beneath his feet. He walks into the forest. In an instant, maybe longer, he reappears. He motions at Jam-Jam to come with him.
JAM-JAM: What’s this, man?
FREDDIE: This is Outguard.
JAM-JAM: Ah here, this is bullshit; you’re after tricking me.
FREDDIE: What do you mean?
JAM-JAM: This is just the same old story.
FREDDIE: Maybe so, but can you not just enjoy it for what it is?
JAM-JAM: No chance! I’m actually pissed off. You have me doing this heavy-handed dialogue now. This party’s definitely over. I’m heading back
FREDDIE: Go. You won’t find what you want.
JAM-JAM: How would you know man? We’re not even on the same page!
A breeze blows stiffly across the lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam sit at the end of the wooden gangway in silence.
JAM-JAM: Here, I’m sorry about earlier on, you know, over there.
FREDDIE: Forget about it. No harm done.
JAM-JAM: It was out of order all the same. C’mere though, what was the story with your man at the cabaret?
FREDDIE: Some character wasn’t he?
The wind picks up and waves start to splash against the base of the gangway. The boat begins to thud loudly as it strikes the gangway with force. Freddie and Jam-Jam pull their coats tighter around their frames.
FREDDIE: What do you think?
JAM-JAM: About what?
JAM-JAM: I dunno man.
FREDDIE: I always feel like I am missing something.
JAM-JAM: Story of my life.
Many moons ago, myself and my friend Loughlin formed a band called The Analog Revue and we made some amazing music by exchanging files transatlantically. The end result was an EP we called Urban Future Cowboy. The tracks on the EP were all originals (which I will upload in due course) with the exception of this one – a recording of the original German language composition Die Moritat von Mackie Messer by Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill (popularised in English as Mack the Knife). I love the recording and mix Loughlin did with this, especially the crazy guitar strumming pattern. I also have fond memories of doing my best Tom Waits auf Deutsch on vocals, with a towel over my head in my apartment in New York to record the vocals as cleanly as I could. Still sounds fresh to me.
Once a year or so I return to this incredible piece by David Foster Wallace, and take the gentle reminder – This Is Water
I remember seeing this silly YouTube series a few years ago where films were delightfully distilled into 5 seconds or so. Found em again, and they are a delight. Titanic one below is still the one that makes me laugh the loudest.
Back in the late 90s, myself and my friend Jakob made some arty little short films together. With a shared interest in German filmmaker Wim Wenders (specifically the film Himmel Uber Berlin) and U2, we set out with a camera to film in the abandoned power plant in Poolbeg in Dublin. I then recorded a slightly pretentious poem that acted as the cacophony of voices the angels could hear. All mixed together with a blast of Zooropa by U2. The end result is actually a pretty nice little film that still looks and sounds good to me.