Review: Trevor Conway profiles "Swan Heron Ducks", a poem from Pete Mullineaux's collection Session for the Poems in Profile website, as well as interviewing Pete...
Perhaps the most prominent feature of the poem, for me, was its tone. It’s the only poem I’ve come across where the first word I’d use to describe it (and especially its tone) is “patient”. And that’s despite the use of run-on lines, which usually create a sense of urgency in a poem.
There’s an odd mix of the quiet and the melodramatic here. Odd in the sense that the combination works so well. It’s quite like a classical tune luring us into lulls, followed by crescendos such as “tuning feathers; then like a great winged / accordion at the heart of this session, flamboyant / flapping brings wind and sound to the picture”.
At heart, this is a nature poem which, in many ways, feels like a poem about people. Maybe we are so used to birds doing very bird-like things such as flying that the unusual descriptions here resonate on a deeper level. And it feels as though simple acts such as dipping and diving have extra meaning for the animals themselves. Conveying this is evidence of the poet’s skill, and such deeper meaning is, I think, something we associate with good poetry.
The surface on the canal tonight: black cellophane.
And music without volume – here in overlapping
rhythmic channels of water birds. On her island nest
a white goddess folds an angular neck, arranging
and tuning feathers; then like a great winged
accordion at the heart of this session, flamboyant
flapping brings wind and sound to the picture.
Across the weir, her partner raps with an old heron –
bird banter between tunes, before the grey one swoops
above the reeds towards a suitable platform for business;
no show, motionless now on spindly fiddle-bow legs –
content to sit this one out, waiting perhaps for a call
to sing an old heron song – and all this time, weaving
in their own patterns, the coming and going of ducks,
silver-grey in the moonlight, tracking their own
invisible melody, dipping and diving…
>>>>> Read Trevor Conway's interview with Pete Mullineaux HERE>>>>
Review: Session reviewed by Anne Marie Kennedy (May 2015)
A Poet Prepared: Pete Mullineaux looks insightfully at traditional Irish music
The Bristol born, Galway based poet, author and playwright Pete Mullineaux knows his way confidently around traditional Irish music. His poetry collection, Session, (Salmon Poetry), dedicated to his mother, with artwork by Fran McCann, is guaranteed to leave his readers wanting more.
The poetry, like the regional variations in the music, varies in style and tone, the common link being the poet’s voice as a silent observer. Mullineaux uses evocative images, insightful observation, humour, playfulness and nostalgia. He is a scrutiniser of intricacies, a watchful eye, someone who listens to the tunes and observes the people who play them. The reader sees the players’ eyes, fingers, their bodies, the body language and the resulting inter-personal and inter-musical relationships being formed. Mullineaux also explores the emotions and psychologies of his subjects with curiosity and admiration.
One of this writer’s favourites is ‘A Piper Prepares,’ where the speaker intimately describes the uileann piper’s preamble. It is a tantalisingly visual poem with so much anticipation in the opening lines that the reader hopes the preamble goes on. ‘It’s almost like shooting up; a captivating ritual / as the belt is looped around the forearm; the buckle/ notched, blowpipe joined to leather bag; a shard/ of cloth, folded between elbow and rib for comfort.’ Mullineaux has the speaker in this poem watch the piper assemble the instrument and describe it in slow motion detail. ‘Drones are attached like pistol silencers, regulators poised,’ and while acknowledging the tune of the same name, ‘the piper’s apron,’ he remarks on the leather patch across the lap which provides ‘protection from the crazed jabs of the chanter, / its manic hypodermic dance.’ As the tune begins, ‘a primal hum vibrates,’ and ‘a gasp/ for air as the bellows fill and suddenly there’s life/ in the lungs and wind in the reeds...’
‘The Five Mile Chase,’ is a tribute to Patrick Street. Andy Irvine, John Carty, Kevin Burke and Jed Foley have their individual stage movements noted and matched to rhythm, playing styles and character nuances. ‘A tilt of the chin for the pigeon on the gate/ a bend in the waist for the stack of wheat/ a wink in the eye for the blue eyed rascal/ a slip in the hip for a trip up the stairs.’ It’s a twelve line piece that could be sung in jig time. Hup!
Mullineaux uses a coupling motif throughout the collection. In ‘The Lads of Leitrim,’ an accordion and a flute player meet up regularly to play a session in a snug in Manorhamilton. The poet compares their ease and joy in the music to a long standing marriage. ‘Could there be a love closer to their hearts/ than this – something to cherish for a lifetime -/ never to part, for better or worse/ in sickness and in health.’ As they launch into the Fermoy Lasses, he declares ‘these fellas are wedded to the music.’
Another couple, Paddy Canny and Frankie Gavin, have their musical communion told with slow lyrical ease in ‘Cave Music II.’ Canny, ‘the elder statesman has eyelids drawn / tight like a mole,’ while the younger Frankie, ‘allows the older man the lead, follows the set tone/ finding his own empathetic touch.’ Mullineaux provides the snapshot, watching the young Gavin who could have closed his eyes, but chose not to. Gavin, who was ‘a generation apart’ at the time, kept watch of the older man, ‘aware how much this moment must be fixed, / treasured deep in his own vaults.’
Watching Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke's playing compelled the poet to write ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lámh.’ Byrne’s accordion sits ‘like a sleeping child in his lap,’ and Blancke ‘leans forward, the harp/against her cheek, listening/ for a heartbeat...’ The poem moves swiftly from the womb analogy, to a child one, when Byrne ‘tickles and squeezes’ the accordion, and like an infant, growing with the pace and momentum of the tune, together, the duo, ‘fast forward, to courtship, / dancing, making crazy love / through music.’
This aptly titled collection, Session
, by Pete Mullineaux is a gem. Encore, si’l vous plait? It is available from www.salmonpoetry.com, bookshops and music stores.
Article: "Irish Poetry soaked in waves of musical imagery and sound". Pete Mullineaux featured on Fusion: A Global Forum of Music, Words and Art
Interview: Pete Mullineaux interviewed by Denise McNamara for the City Lives column of The Galway City Tribune, Friday 19th October 2012
"Educator Pete is driven by creativity" - Denise McNamara meets writer and teacher, Pete Mullineaux
Pete Mullineaux is a man on a mission. That mission is to inspire as much creativity and imagination and across as many different forms as there are out there.
If ever there was a man to exude creativity, it is the amiable Bristol man.
A Jack of all trades in the arts world, he is a published poet, songwriter, musician, dramatist, actor, comedian, educationalist and lately, just for relax- ation, a fiddle player.
This week he turns his attention to two favourite themes that crop up often in his writing: fairness and equality.
As part of the Baboró children’s arts festival, Pete is holding workshops with national school children which encour- age them to write poetry which will tip the balance towards a more just and equal society.
Held in association with Poetry Ireland and Trócaire, this poetry encounter is designed to get kids to think creatively about the world and their place in it.
“There’s so much information out there. We know there are 250 million child labourers in the world for example, we know there are 25,000 who die every day from hunger. But our leaders seem to lack the imagination to do anything about it,” he insists.
“These kids are coming up with weird and wacky ideas to tip the scales but they’re no weirder or wackier than have been tried by governments which are not working. Imagination can change the world. Our imagination is the greatest gift we have.”
The workshops instill confidence in young people to express themselves and help them get over an innate fear of being wrong which can dampen cre- ativity, he believes.
“It’s about knowing the importance of having a voice. We have a voice to articulate the imagination, we can sing, write, draw – but a lot of people don’t have a voice. This is about instilling the confidence in themselves that what they feel and what they think matters."
Free workshops are also being held in the Galway City Museum for families on Saturday to allow parents to compose poetry with their kids, creating a rich memory for posterity.
Much of Pete's working life involves teaching, al to of it teaching poetry to school kids of alleges through his association with Poetry Ireland, which runs the Writers in Schools Scheme, one of the longest running arts-in-education programmes in the country, which is funded by the Arts Council.
He leads a regular creative writing course in Oughterard as well as other creative writing courses with older people throughout the city. He teaches act- ing classes in the Galway Arts Centre and works with the Galway Youth Theatre, training the young actors in the art of devising plays.
Outside of teaching, there is his own writing. He has published three collec- tions of poetry, the last one in 2011 entitled Session
, which is inspired by his love affair with the fiddle and the regular music sessions.
One of his favourite ways to relax is to get lost in the fiddle with the Dusty Banjos, a community session for beginners and improvers held weekly at the Western Hotel in Prospect Hill.
Pete’s previous poetry collection was A Father’s Day
, featuring stories about dads and dedicated to his own father, “an extraordinarily caring and kind and self-sacrificing person”. That came out in 2008. The first was called Zen Traffic Lights, which was published in 2005.
The very first poem he had published was when he was just 13.
His class was asked to write a poem inspired by the annual harvest festival and the poem, Harvest Festival, was featured in the school magazine. McMillan Publishers then wrote to him asking if they could include it in an anthology featuring such luminaries as Keats, Yeats and Shakespeare, called Poetry & Song.
It was his mother who nurtured that side of his talent. “She was always act- ing in school plays and embarrassing me. She always played the principal boy – Aladdin, Jack or Dick. I remem- ber from a very, very young age she was reading and telling us stories, mak- ing up poems. She gave me a sense of love of the language and words and story.”
But it was music rather than poetry that took over his life when he moved to London in the late 70s.
He played in a punk band called The Resisters before going solo as Pete Zero performing in two Glastonbury Festivals, once sharing the stage with the Pogues. Protest singers such as Bob Dylan and Woodie Gutherie were his biggest inspirations.
His top hit was Disposable Tissues, which the BBC chose as their crazy song of the week.
Making a living on the comedy and performance poetry circuit proved a bit difficult. He decided to instead study drama as a mature student in Middlesex University and went on to teach drama
It was in London while working for a campaigning group for the elderly that he met his wife-to-be, Moya Roddy from Dublin, who was also a writer.
When the couple’s only child Cass had turned two, they decided to move to Roscahill in Connemara where they had friends.
“I got fed up pushing her around parks in London when I could be pushing her around the countryside. We came in 1991 and have never left.”
Unsurprisingly his daughter, now 22, is big into the arts but has chosen to study law and German. Moya continues to write and has published a novel, short stories as well as plays for theatre and the radio.
The couple have frequently collaborated and in 2010 they wrote the radio play, Butterfly Wings, which aired on ￼RTÉ.
To wind down he plays the guitar and now the fiddle, which he believes is excellent training for him.
“Learning the fiddle reminds me what it’s like to be on the receiving end. I do a lot of courses with active retirement groups and many of them are afraid of writing, they might have had a bad experience with it. Learning the fiddle is so difficult. It helps me to keep in touch with how scary learning can be,” he explains.
“The fiddle is where I go into another place. You can only play it when you get into the zone. I like to play in the bathroom. I went to a Martin Hayes workshop and he said he loves my poetry – I have poems about the fiddle. He too likes to play in the bathroom,” he grins.
As well as the teaching, he runs the poetry “slam” at the Galway Arts Centre and MCs a “Grand Slam” poetry final at the Cúirt literary festival in the city in April.
He also hosts a Cúirt slam at the Electric Picnic festival mind field area in Stradbally every year. Pete is currently working on a sci-fi children’s book aimed at the 12 or 13 age group.
“This is my first novel and it’s a new venture. I do so many school visits, it would be great to have my own book to share with them. I really want to enjoy writing it.”
Review: Session reviewed by S.J. Holloway for Orbis, Spring 2012
CAUSE AND EFFECT: REVIEW BY S.J. HOLLOWAY
It is indicative of the content of Mullineaux’s third collection that many of the poems take as their source small town, small bar folk songs, and their performances. The unity of musicians, although perhaps strangers, found in the reconstruction of traditional Irish music underpins the book: communities and connections appear and fade; the renditions of these songs are themselves equally transient. That seems to be Mullineaux’s main lament as well as his joy. Poems such as ‘Loosening the Grip’ and ‘Dusty Windowsills’ both celebrate and mourn the music to which they refer. In ‘Concertina’, for example, there is
nothing strange then in a concertina sounding jolly
while the player’s expression
is so often grave, giving little away
The book’s other main preoccupation is water, specifically the otherness or confusion of being in its presence. ‘[A] compromise / with nature, to survive in water / you meet your nemesis half way’ (‘Boats Marinating’) and ‘Today we came upon two animated swans / with their fluffy young, taking the tarmac / away from the river / like refugees’ (‘Dry River Blues’) allow the poet to explore this displacement alongside that of the music. For he is an outsider, an immigrant to the rural rooms of Galway and Mayo, and in this sense he knows that to relay the music accurately is somehow to be on the inside looking out rather than the reverse, and this frustration is evident.
The problem with much of this collection, fine though it is, is that these pastoral, almost private readings thus often lack external relevance. It is possible to read a few pages at random without realising that you read those same pages some hours before. As the poet says in ‘Naming the Tunes: Swinging on the Gate/The Cup of Tea’: ‘Music or thought, which comes first? / What subliminal transaction occurs [...]?’ Yet this is not to say that the poems are not worth rereading, or do not contain levels of meaning which can only be discovered with time, but merely to suggest that in dwelling so often on the causes of music rather than its effects leads to repetition, if not in language or syntax then in tone.
For the music he speaks of is more than cultural, more than a fact of life. Perhaps this explains why lines as awkward as ‘For all the brightness is within’ from ‘Cave Music II’ can sit alongside such beautiful phrasing as ‘a CD inside is playing: / Cathal Hayden’s fiddle / soft as water’ from ‘Powell’s Doorway’. As many poets have discovered before Mullineaux it is extremely difficult to transpose the sounds of music into words. Here it is done most effectively in part III, when his attempts to describe or define the causes of music are transferred to its effects. These reflections and resonances are evocative and insightful, whether human as in ‘A Precarious Pint’, or related to the natural world as in ‘Fiddle Fox’, ‘Shags’ (‘Where are they going with such intent – these troubadours?’) or the marvellous ‘Requiem’, which talks of cows anticipating their calves being taken away:
we make recordings of whales and dolphins
but the cows are singing in their camp
That the poems about the performance of music are slightly esoteric is unsurprising, but in looking past the sounds themselves and concentrating on what they might represent Mullineaux crafts genuine and perceptive surprises. More, please.
Recently I attended the 2012 Over the Edge Poetry book Showcase in Galway with the hope of discovering some new poets I haven’t heard before and purchasing a few books for my collection. It was a successful night and luckily I found some excellent poets I wanted to read.
One such writer is Pete Mullineaux, a Galway based writer who captured my ear with his readings from his poetry book ‘Session’ that I found myself crying out in my head “Pete Mullieaux-where have you been all my life” and I sincerely mean this in context that Pete has been living in Galway a long time, yet I have never crossed his path, must be a large rock I’ve been slouching under.
Session, brought out by Salmon Poetry in 2011 is a beautiful magical book, soaked in waves of musical imagery and sound. In a time when a lot of contemporary writers are concentrating on letting us know how crap life really is, it is a pleasure and relief to read a poetry book that transports us to the beauty and magic of music, nature and every day life, written with impeccable craftsmanship, a delight on the ear and begs to be read out loud.
“All materials are alive” is the first line in the poem “A Slow Start To The Set” and Pete manages to bring this statement alive through his words throughout the book. The poems are full of images of Irish traditional music, of Pete himself, learning or playing the fiddle. Energy frantically shakes these poems off the page. Song and lyric engage the reader with humor, reminisce, narrative, the love of the natural world through dogs and spiders.
The poem “A Piper Prepares” is a roller coaster of words, racing down the page, describing the addiction of a musician, a piper, dazzling us with striking imagery. The first line of this poem totally entrapped me in the music
‘It’s almost like shooting up, a similar ritual
as he tightens the strap around the forearm
so the veins appear, familiar old scores. Next,
a shard of cloth at the elbow for comfort…’
Brilliant stuff and just a taste of the imaginative and intelligent poetry waiting to be discovered in ‘Session’. The title of this book “Session” is a word used to describe informal gatherings featuring traditional Irish music, and it certainly rings true right through this book.
I found reading these poems could easily change your mood, drag out all different types of emotions, tenderise the heart, put a smile on the face and make you laugh, a triumph for modern Irish poetry, a great find, now I must attend more book showcases like this as it really pays off.
Interview: "A session with Pete Mullineaux" - Pete Mullineaux interviewed by Charlie McBride for The Galway Advertiser Thursday November 3rd, 2011
SALMON POETRY has published a delightful new collection by Galway-based poet Pete Mullineaux entitled Session. The poems are all related to music and sound, and links both with human interaction and nature.
There is a strong presence of Irish trad as Mullineaux has been learning/playing fiddle for some time now and in many ways this is a celebration of the music and the musicians – some poems relate to actual musicians and performances.
There is also a strong presence of the Galway city and county landscape, and the western seaboard from Clare up to Donegal. Besides the lyrical element there’s also a voice of protest in several of the poems which perhaps derives from Mullineaux’s work in the creative writing and drama field where he is involved with many diverse groups – Travellers, asylum seekers, environmentalists, people with learning difficulties.
Writing in praise of the book, author Sean Crosson observes: “This collection of rare beauty and understanding takes us from the universal presence of sound in nature and everyday life, to its manifestation in traditional music.
“Here Mullineaux has captured the rituals and subtleties of the form, from the first, sometimes faltering, initiations of the musician through the extraordinary energies and relationships that emerge in performance.
“Traditional music is characterised by an awareness of the past, place, people, and occasionally protest while its greatest musicians reanimate the familiar tune with surprising additions, changes and often great humour. Mullineaux’s poetry exhibits all of these qualities giving the reader an extraordinary insight into this music and the places it inhabits, particularly the west of Ireland.”
Mullineaux has been living in Galway for 20 years but originally hails from Bristol. Today the city is one of Britain’s most vibrant cultural centres but that wasn’t the case when Pete was growing up, as he recalls over a morning phone call.
“Bristol is super trendy now but when I was growing up in the city there was nothing going on, there were just the docks and all these sailors,” he states. “The Salvation Army coffee shop was the only place that would be open where we could get together. As teenagers that’s where we would all meet and sit around talking about music, about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.”
Session is Mullineaux’s second poetry collection with Salmon, following A Father’s Day which appeared in 2008. The new volume is dedicated to his mother and it is to her Mullineaux attributes his lifelong passion for poetry and the arts.
“My mother was an actress,” he reveals. “When she was young she ran away to join ENSA [the organisation that provided entertainment for British armed services]. When I was young she used to tell me stories and introduced me to poetry and I am forever grateful to her for opening that world up to me and that’s why I dedicated the book to her.
“I remember one day I was doing my homework in the kitchen and she came in and said ‘quick, come and see this man on the telly’ and it was Bob Dylan singing ‘Blowing In The Wind’ and she was as excited by him as I was. She also introduced me into that world of social protest, she would be out protesting herself on a range of issues.”
Punk and poetry
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was another early influence on Mullineaux’s poetic sensibility; “One of the first poems I recall making an impact on me was Longfellow’s Hiawatha,” he reveals. “I loved the rhythm of it and the sound of the words and I think that merged with my early love of music so when I was writing poetry, rhythms and sounds were things I was strongly drawn to.”
Mullineaux was only 13 when his poem ‘Harvest Festival’ was published in two anthologies, Poetry & Song (Macmillan) and Man & His Senses (Harrap) as well as being recorded by Argo records alongside music and song from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger.
Some years later Mullineaux gravitated to the London punk rock scene and became a singer and writer with The Resisters under the name Pete Zero.
“The Resisters was a fantastic experience,” he recalls fondly. “I was working in a left-wing printing press at the time and we were all living in squats. We were basically a left wing garage-band protest group, a bit like Tom Robinson. So we would be playing all these anti-racism and anti-sexism songs and gigs. We recorded one album, just called The Resistors and it’s actually just been reissued by Retro Records.”
In 1991, Mullineaux and his family made the decision to leave London and relocate to Galway.
“We had been visiting Ireland for several years,” he explains. “My partner Moya Roddy is from Dublin. Then when our daughter Cassie was born it just seemed harder to continue living in the city. I remember I would be taking her to the local park for a walk and thinking ‘I could be having this all the time’ so one day we just upped sticks and came here to the west of Ireland.”
Settling in Ireland saw Mullineaux begin to engage with Irish music. “I only took up the fiddle three years ago but when I first came to Ireland I’d taken up the mandolin and I remember getting lessons from John Horgan on it,” he says. “I had always been into blues and country and so on, so it was different for me to get into the particular rhythms of Irish music.”
Those rhythms are apparent in many of the poems in Session which have an inherent lilt and musicality which echoes their subject matter. “That is something I was aiming at all right,” Mullineaux states. “With ‘The Old Triangle’ for example, I wanted that to have the same rhythm as a jig.”
Throughout the book there are also doffs of the hat to poems and poets that Mullineaux admires with the appearance of brief phrases from poems by the likes of Ted Hughes, Les Murray, and John Montague.
“As well as being a salute to the world of music I also wanted the book to pay tribute to the world of poetry,” Mullineaux notes, “So there is that seam of references to various poets running through the book.”
Mullineaux also makes a point of praising the cover artwork for Session. “I am thrilled with the cover. It’s an image by Fran McCann. I first came across his work in Kenny’s and I met with him afterward and picked out a picture to use for the book and it really suits it, I feel.”