Grá mo Chroí poetry contest

Since Ali Isaac and I started on this retelling lark, we have been immersed in the language and the images of the tragedies of ancient people. We have both come to the conclusion that the sentiments of Iron Age people did not really diverge too much from our own, hence the poetry these stories have inspired us to write.
Being naturally reasonably sociable people, we would like to encourage anyone who feels the urge, to join in, let that poem out, and send it to the twitter hashtag:

#Gramochroi

Look on it as a contest. Get your tweet poems in before your midnight February 11th. Nina Loard of #Fieryverse has agreed to judge the entries. The two (I think it’s two!) winners will each receive a copy of one of our books.

Be inspired by long-haired girls running off with their chosen one, knives out to fight off pursuers, by death in treacherous ambush, sleeping and love potions, women transformed into hinds, warriors into boars, jealous kings, vengeful widows, undersea realms, horses that fly over the waves, and lovers who refuse to be parted even in death.

Edward_Burne-Jones_The_tomb_of_Tristram_and_Isoude

Thank you Mr Burne-Jones for coming up trumps again with an illustration.

Here’s the kind of thing we’re looking for:

The yew tree bows
beneath the weight of tears
and on a far hill
an apple tree reaches out
to her lost love.

(Jane)

Wind blows
Branches stir
Apple falls like a tear
Heart and body broken
Lost love stabs
Like a spear.

(Ali)

Just visit #Gramochroi to see lots more examples. And don’t forget to leave your own offering.

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Caparison: decor of the past.

I thnk it was some time in November last year that Ali Isaac first suggested we each write a retelling of an Irish legend to give away in a booklet which we would then fill up with promotion for the books we have already published. The idea took root, and before we knew it, it had metamorphosed into a collection of love stories that we would publish for Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day, as everybody knows is half way through February. And before that there’s Christmas to get through and the assorted afflictions that health throws at us at this time of year. That didn’t give us much time.
I’m proud to announce that we have done it! Our collection of love stories from Irish myth is uploaded to Amazon and waiting in the wings for the big release day. For almost two months we have been living and breathing Irish myth, heroines and heroes from a very different time. People were different then, incomprehensible in many ways, even though the rawest of the emotions probably haven’t changed much at all over the centuries.
The picture below is one I downloaded because I liked the colour and the movement. But looking more closely, I see, or I think I see, some of those differences of sensibility that separate us from our distant past. The picture is entitled Caparison, and so is the poem.

Caparisson

Was life really so simple then?
Wars fought and won
With just a handful of rockinghorse men?
What were they defending,
Land, lord, families?
And did they ride out with these thoughts,
Vivid as the sun,
Carved on their hearts?
The turned, worried faces say it all.
Death approaches a spear’s length away,
Chain mailed and caparisoned.
Men’s tiny faces furrowed in anguish,
So clearly drawn,
And the faceless helmets,
Sinister in their repeated facelessness.
This we understand,
The fear, the grief, the shame.
But there is more,
Equally important to the artist’s eye,
Pretty ochres and shades of Sienna,
Terracotta,
The swirl of waves, fins or blue leaves,
But not a drop of blood,
Not yet,
Not until the end.
All is movement across a muddy field
And all the horses are smiling.

He follows the sea king’s daughter

I should be doing something completely different but my mind is on an Irish legend I’m working up into a retelling. This is a poem that has come out of my procrastinations.

Winslow_Homer_-_Rocky_Coast_and_Gulls

A snow white gull she made him,

And he followed where she led

Across the waves until she plunged,

Come after me, she said.

In the watery realm of the sea king,

He had wealth of every kind,

And he forgot the earthly love

That he had left behind.

In a green sea cave she laid him down

And whispered her honeyed words

That made him forget the sun and moon

And the spring song of the birds.

Until he raised his eyes to the shallows

Where the sun lit up the day

And sent to the deep green sea cave

A single golden ray.

Gold as his loved one’s flowing hair,

Cold silvered his heart with frost,

And all the tears in the ocean

Could not bring back what he had lost.

When editing means murdering beautiful words

When you revise a story you inevitably end up discarding sections to the greater good of the whole. Sometimes, often, these sections are dearly beloveds and it breaks our hearts to see them go.
This is a section I’ve snipped out of my WIP and I can’t resign myself to consigning it to the bin.

After_the_storm_-_blue

Finna dreams of the Rök

Many fathoms beneath the waves, the Beast roared and hurled itself against the rocky walls of its prison, sending gouts of steam high into the ink-black sky. On the coast road to Silverfoss, foot soldiers, mere farmboys and fishermen, cringed, fearing the weight of the sky, the towering seas and the soulless raging from the ocean’s depths. But their taskmasters urged them on, careless of the unfettered elements, the torrential rain slicking off their shagreen garments, no more aware of the cold than deep water fish.
“It’s those fuckin’ odd-eyed fiends doin’ this,” Jussi Bjornsson said, looking fearfully out across the heaving water. “’T’ain’t natural, the sea chuckin’ itself about like that!”
His lined fisherman’s face was pale beneath the weathering, and his worries were not so much about the sea, but about his children left behind and how his wife would feed them. Frodi Four-Fingers nodded sagely. They had never been friends, not when they were simple neighbours, but now, with their world rushing towards its end, they stuck together like brothers. Frodi clutched his pike tighter and spat in the direction of the ocean. The wind caught his spittle and flicked it back into his flying hair. His thoughts were for his sons hauling a siege engine, and the youngest who was already dead—an exhausted stumble and down he’d gone, under the wheels of the great wooden tower.
“You’d think they were stirring up the sea beasts against us—they’ve stirred up everything else! Crops die, beasts sicken, fish won’t shoal—even the bairns are born dead. What’s left to us, Jussi, lad?”
Jussi opened his mouth to reply as a whiplash caught him across the shoulders. His pack took the force of the blow and he cried out more in fear than in pain.
“Move,” the voice hissed from above. Mounted on a massive black horse, the Dyrbörn loomed over the men, his heavy cowl casting his face in deep shadow. Only the eyes reflected a dull light, flat and pale, like the eyes of a dead fish. “You want your land back? Then work for it, idlers!”
The two men scuttled to catch up with the rest of their troop, bowed beneath the weight of their weapons and their packs full of parts for the construction of a catapult. They dared a glance at one another, and each saw fear in the other’s eyes. Before them lay the splendid borg of Silverfoss, where the Svartur trollkarls plotted and feasted, and let the land go to rack and ruin. Behind them, driving them on, were the Dyrbörn, Guardians in the common tongue, shrouded in their garb of strange, rough-grained leather. Their faces, only dimly glimpsed within the shadows of deep cowls, left an impression of sea carrion, of fleshy gills and inhuman teeth.
Above the thunder of the waves and the roar of the storm, the men were aware of a third power, a dark, evil presence that the sea barely contained. They knew it for the Beast, though the word never left their lips, and only their hatred of the Svartur trollkarls who had beggared them was greater than their horror of the creatures from the sea, and the terror that lurked beneath it.
Frodi spat again in disgust and despair, and hoisted his lumpy pack higher on his shoulder. With Jussi at his side, he fixed his eyes on the tall spires and towers of Silverfoss and let hatred take command. Hatred of the trollkarls who lived surrounded by wealth and riches while his children lived on kelp and the slimy dead things the ocean tossed up. He let it boil in his blood, dark and hopeless, until even his dead boy was forgotten.

#

In their watchtowers and along their battlements, the Valdur looked on as the Dyrbörn and their army of Vænnlanders swarmed down on Silverfoss from the north. The city faced the ocean, and at its back, a broad plain rose to a high ridge lit by the dying light of day and the flickering lightning of the coming storm. Sigmarr watched, his scarred soldier’s face blank and unruffled as the darkness clotted along the ridge of the nearest hills. Soon Vænnland would be no more—the Valdur seerlore would hurl the sea from its bed, draw the fire from the deeps, and the very bones of the earth would shake. The sea would cover Vænnland’s broken back, and the crawling sea fiends would be washed away. And with them would die everything Sigmarr held dear—that was the price.
The forest was already gone. Thousand-year-old oaks and yews had been hacked down; the earth lay bleeding. Here and there, a solitary tree stood, stark and black, burnt to a charred post. On the spikes that had once borne green leaves and been called branches, pendulous fruits swayed in the wind from the sea. Traitors. Rebels. Fathers who wanted only to return to their families. All dead. Hanged. Examples for the rest. Even at such a distance the stench of death reached the city. Sigmarr’s heart went out to his people, mislead and enthralled by the Dyrbörn, the Children of the Beast.
“How long?” Sigmarr’s closest thegn, Ageirr lowered the spyglass and turned to his general.
Sigmarr’s face was lined with worry and compassion. “How long before they attack? Or how long before we end it all?”
Ageirr swallowed hard. “Is there really no other way?”
Sigmarr placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder. It was a hand roughened with calluses, strong and firm. It was a hand like his face, criss-crossed with white scars against the tan of his skin. A soldier’s hand. “We could kill them all, Vænnlanders and Dyrbörn. The sea fiends have iron and steel and an army thousands strong, but we have seerlore.”
“So—”
Sigmarr shook his head wearily. “Would you have us rule over a charnel house? A dead world of ash and bare rock? The Dyrbörn will not rest until they have freed the Beast. As long as there is Valdur seerlore in the world they will try to harness it to that purpose. That is why they were created.”
Ageirr worshiped Sigmarr, but the bitterness of the words dashed the last of his hopes. “Would that we had crushed the vermin as soon as they crawled ashore!”
Sigmarr grasped his thegn’s shoulder. “Whatever stayed the hand of the Council—pity or pride—makes no matter now. Ragnarök, the destruction of the world and the skapariar who made it, is the only way to put the Valdur seerlore out of their reach.”
“Will nothing survive the Rök?”
“A little. Enough.” Sigmarr smiled suddenly and his lined face was transformed. “One day a child will be born from the line of Valdur and all the craft, all the wisdom, all the seerlore of the Valdur will pass into his tiny fists. When he grows, he will crush the sea slugs of Dyrbörn and fetter the Beast forever. He will raise up from the ocean the world we are about to destroy, and it will live again.”
Ageirr forced a grin. “So, there is hope, in a baby not yet born.”
Sigmarr nodded. “Hope. For the world to come, yes.”
But he was thinking of the present world, of his own wife and his own children, and tears crept into the corners of his eyes, one blue as the sky, the other, brown as a bird’s wing.

Coursing the myth

Hans_Hoffmann_Hare_1582

The priest dressed in his mystic robes

Sprinkles the course with magic water

Calling down a benediction from on high

Not on the goaded beaten hounds

But to crush the memories of another time

Older by far than his god hanging on a bloody tree

Whispered in the pulse of the timid quivering hare.

The moon and the dawn, love and life,

Death and resurrection, is this gentle hare,

Carrying in her bones the secrets he abhors

Who would tear the heart from all the wonder and the magic in the world

And make it echo with his hollow words.

The priest is satisfied with his muttered rites

Presses his scapulars of destruction to his lips

When with a woman’s voice she cries, the hare

As her heart’s blood seeps back into our holy ground.

http://www.change.org/p/protect-the-irish-hare?tk=P1cmM8l-HQEFnya79ctZly8pxJV9m125L5CcclGPcVU&utm_source=petition_update&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=petition_update_email

Étain

She looked into the well water, smooth as a mirror, and a golden-haired man looked back at her. In his eyes were lost memories of fluttering butterfly wings, black waves, and horses running across a green plain. She remembered then the man she loved, and not all the seas, the curses and the desire of kings could keep them apart. She opened her arms to Midir’s embrace and let swan wings bear her home.