Donkey Shots 2: poetry comes to Skerries

Peter O’Neill on his latest poetry collections and the poetry festival that launches tonight in north Co Dublin

Well, Donkey Shots 2 is almost upon us, and I feel as if some kind of explanation is required.

Living on an island, as we do, we Irish tend to forget that we belong to a much greater picture, one which involves world literature, not just Irish. That is why I use the image of the old windmill in Skerries as a mascot, in order to signal the great Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616) and of course his masterpiece, Don Quixote, or Donkey Shots, depending on where you’re coming from!

It is one of the wonders of creation, the metaphor. How, in just one simple image, such as a windmill, a whole universe of thought and conception can be evoked. This is the fundamental power of all great literature, and it is this very spirit which I wish to celebrate here.

This year, I will be launching two of my own books. The first, Divertimento – The Muse is a Dominatrix (mgv2>publishing, France) is a collection of poems culled from over a period of 30 years, 1986-2016. So, this year is a very special year for me. A thirtieth anniversary. The idea is at once wonderful to me, and at the same time very strange. As I never wanted to be a writer. I always wanted to become a painter. But, I realised, thank God, very quickly that it was not to be. And upon leaving school in 1985, after spending a year in a very confused state, one day, while walking in Fitzgerald’s Park in my home town of Cork, I wrote my first real poem, called simply Fitzgerald’s Park. In a mere 10 or so lines this poem is a microcosm of my entire poetic output, evoking as it does such eternal themes as sex, death, myth and the mystery of creation.


My writing took me onto Paris. I lived in the suburbs of the city from 1989 until 1995. After returning briefly to Ireland, I returned again to France in 1997, this time to Bordeaux, where I stayed for a couple of years. This whole period informs the first cycle of poems, Antiope, which make up the book. My experience in France was, of course, absolutely crucial in my development as a writer. Although I had no idea that I would eventually go on, many years later, to translate/transverse the poetry of Charles Baudelaire (The Enemy, Transversions from Charles Baudelaire, Lapwing, 2015) and Arthur Rimbaud, I was reading their work and other French writers of the same period. It was Beckett, of course, who was the predominant influence on me during these times.

The second book which I shall be launching during the festival is Sker. The title comes from the old Norse, meaning an outcrop of rock appearing on the shore of the sea. This is how Skerries got its name originally. There are many skerries in the world, but I happen to be living in this particular one on the north coast of Co Dublin. I don’t know what it is about this particular part of the world, but since I moved here with my family in 2009 I have been writing like a fool.

Sker is the second instalment of what I have called The Fingal Trilogy. It is a response, in a sense, to my first, The Dublin Trilogy, which is made up of The Dark Pool (recently reviewed by the poet Michael S Begnal in Poetry Ireland’s Trumpet, see issue 5), Dublin Gothic (published last year in only 40 limited bespoke editions by Kilmog Press in New Zealand) and The Enemy, Transversions from Charles Baudelaire (Lapwing, Belfast, 2015). Whereas in The Dublin Trilogy Baudelaire is very much the driving force behind the whole enterprise, I basically try, reasonably successfully the critics all seem to be in agreement, to transpose the great French poet’s 19th-century aesthetic to 21st-century Dublin, in The Fingal Trilogy, and particularly concerning Sker, it is the pre-platonic philosopher Heraclitus from Ephesus who is the underlying motif behind all three books. Sker is divided into four parts, for example, each one given over to one of the four Heraclitean elements of earth, water, fire and air.

As the windmill would suggest, it is perhaps all a fool’s game!

Donkey Shots 2, Skerries Second Avant Garde Poetry Fest kicks off in The Gladstone Inn on May 18th at 8pm, when I will launch Divertimento – The Muse is a Dominatrix alongside the poet and historian Michael J Whelan, who will be reading from his recently published debut collection Peacekeeper (Doire Press). We will be joined by the novelist, poet and social commentator extraordinaire Rosita Sweetman, who will also be reading some of her poems.

The next day, May 19th, I will be facilitating a daylong workshop with the writers Helena Mulkerns, Michael J Whelan, Eithne Lannon and Frances Macken at the Boathouse in the adjacent Loughshinny harbour, where I am writer in residence, a post bestowed upon me by Fingal Arts.

On May 20th, First Class students from local school Educate Together, including my daughter Rebecca, will be coming out to spend the morning with me in Loughshinny. There I will talk to them about the ancient Roman settlement which existed about the time of Juvenal in the first century AD, which is the subject of my latest collection.

Finally, Donkey Shots 2 will celebrate its final day on May 21st, with two events. Firstly, I will be joined by the wonderfully talented local poet Eithne Lannon, who is working on her first collection, who will give a short open air reading, at the boathouse in Loughshinny, where I too will read some poems from my recently completed Roman epic, Mare Nostrum.

The second event of the day will take place in the town park of Floraville in Skerries, where again pupils of the Educate Together creative writing class will read at 3pm. I will then read a few poems from Sker before retiring, very quickly, to The Gladstone Inn.