The Wandering Bard- Essay by Frances Browner.

Biography: Frances Browner grew up in Dublin, spent twenty years in New York and now resides in County Wicklow. She has been writing fiction for over twenty years and has had short stories shortlisted for competitions and one took 2nd prize at the Dromineer Festival in 2010. Others have been published in Ireland’s Own and Woman’s Way magazines, anthologies, and in Sixteen and the HSE online journals. Memory pieces have also been published in Ireland’s Own, in the East Hampton Star and Montauk Pioneer newspapers on Long Island, and broadcast on Irish radio for Sunday Miscellany and Living Word. She self-published a collection of her work – You Could’ve Been Someone, in 2015, and compiled two volumes of memoirs – While Mem’ry Takes us Back Again – stories from Irish people who immigrated to the US, 1929-1964; and Coming Home about people who returned home after many years abroad. Her poems have been published in the Ogham Stone and Skylight 47 and online for Ink, Sweat and Tears, Tales from the Forest, the Ulster Voice and Poems on the Edge. A graduate of UCD, Dublin and City College, New York, she tutors creative writing and history with a community education board.

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I have found a new hobby – reading my poems aloud in front of an audience. After writing my first poem five years ago at the Cork Short Story Festival, I enrolled for Colm Keegan’s poetry workshop in Dun Laoghaire Lexicon. A subsequent online course facilitated by Kevin Higgins has resulted in me now writing more poems than stories.

On a rainy morning in July 2016, seven members of our Facebook group, Poets Abroad, met for the first time in Books Upstairs, Dublin. Instead of coffee and a bun, we enjoyed coffee and a poem. Audrey travelled from Australia, Leslie from Minnesota and Dick from Barcelona; the remaining four from Wicklow, Sligo, Galway and Cork. We asked Alvy Carragher to start proceedings and then, in front of family and friends and strays off the street, we bared our souls. The result was ecstatic, the reward, euphoria. Afterwards, we couldn’t be parted, but stayed in the bookshop café for hours, chatting. D’Olier Street is an Aircoach drive from Dublin Airport, and a DART or train ride from other parts of Ireland. Books Upstairs will rent you a room and they hold regular events. www.booksirish.com

A month later, I qualified for ‘Bring your Limericks to Limerick’ in the Savoy Hotel. Every year, a shortlist of twenty contestants are invited to recite their entry in front of an audience and a panel of judges. Although I didn’t win, I was thrilled to be competing in my father’s city.

In September 2016, I attended ‘Readings from the Pallet’ in Corrigan’s bar, Banagher, County Offaly. At this annual soiree, poets perform on a pallet. In my mother’s county, I read verse and my memoir, The Carnival Girls. Watch out for posts on That Beats Banagher and Corrigan’s Corner House Facebook pages. A bus will bring you there or a boat along the river Shannon.

The following February, I participated in ‘Over the Edge’ in Galway City library on Augustine Street. One Thursday a month, from 6.30-8.00 p.m., local poet and teacher, Kevin Higgins, presents well-known writers, followed by an Open Mic. Arrive before 6.30  to sign up. That night in 2017, Skylight 47 was launched and I read Mussels, which appeared in the publication. Galway has a train and bus station and is close to Shannon and Knock airports. www.overtheedgeliteraryevents.blogspot.com

One Monday night, I popped into ‘Ó Bhéal’ in Cork city. Every week, at 9.30 p.m., in the Hayloft of the Long Valley Pub, Winthrop Street, a featured poet is followed by Open Mic and a Five-Word challenge. Punters call out random words; choose five and get twenty minutes to produce a poem, which they then recite. The audience pick a winner and the prize is a pint. Cork boasts a busy train and bus station and an airport. www.obheal.ie/blog

In January 2018, I was back in Limerick, this time reading An Exile’s Return at Nelly’s Corner café. ‘On the Nail’ takes place on the first Thursday of the month at CBI, 51 O’Connell Street, 8.00 – 10.00 p.m. Guest poets are followed by an Open Mic – musicians and storytellers are also welcome. Limerick has bus and train services and is close to Shannon and Cork airports. www.limerickwriterscentre.com.

In September 2018, I returned to Banagher for the 25th Anniversary of the Pallet. An anthology was launched and a candle engraved to commemorate the occasion. A Dutch contingent read poems about the town they love to visit. Mine was The Lock House, also in the book.

In October, my friend Chic, who lives in Holland, suggested we check out the Poets of Haarlemtown Underground Reading in the Wolfhound Irish Bar & Kitchen. Haarlem is half-an hour’s train journey from Amsterdam and accommodation there is cheaper than in the city. The event is organized by the Irrational Library headquarters and each participant receives three free drinks. There is no guest poet, just an Open Mic for “novices, veterans, preachers, deceivers, spoken word artists and propaganda visionaries.” Despite photographs of my face concealed behind a page, I enjoyed reading, and listening to poets from all over the world perform in English and Dutch, while I chomped on bitterballen. www.irrationallibrary.nl.

On December 8, I crossed the country to Ennis to attend the Poetry Art Exposition at the Record Break vinyl store, art shop and coffee dock. Twelve pictures had been created in response to twelve poems and all were showcased side-by-side. The expo was initiated by café owner and poet, Sinéad NicSíoda, and the Poetry Collective. I read Seven, which had inspired artist, Jim Orr, to create a portrait of an evil nun, based on Durer’s ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.’ This was the second year of the exhibition and Sinéad intends making it an annual Christmas celebration. Check the Record Break Facebook page and www.thepoetrycollective.com

The following week, I joined Poets Abroad fellows, Dick Edelstein and José Luis Regojo, in Barcelona for their ‘II Recital Poémame en el Raval Recital’ in Café de les Delícies, Rambla del Raval 47. Three guest poets performed in Spanish, Catalan and English, followed by Poets Abroad and an Open Mic. A medley of colourful characters took part. We dined on escalivada and tortillas, and sipped Cava. Only one glass for me in case I forgot my words. Haunted by the Dutch photographs, for the first time I was reciting from memory. José and Dick hosted a second recital in February. A third will take place in April. https://revista.poemame.com/2018/12/16/ii-recital-poetico-trilingue-poemame-en-el-raval-de-barcelona/

On holiday in Florida in January, I googled ‘poetry in Tampa.’ Up popped ShamC in Safety Harbor. On the 3rd Wednesday of every month, Ed Derkevics welcomes ‘poets, spoken word artists, musicians, storytellers and anyone who has an original work to share in less than seven minutes.’ Sign-up starts at 6.30 p.m. and Open Mic is from 7.00 – 9.30. Beer, wine and soda can be purchased. Donations are accepted and appreciated. My friend, Hilary, and I enjoyed a wonderful night in this colourful venue, full of talent and fun. Comment cards were passed to poets after their presentation. One of mine remarked: ‘Your voice is like a warm blanket on a cold night.’ How’s that for encouragement! Domestic and international flights to Tampa airport. www.safetyharborartandmusiccenter.com

Meanwhile, our Poets Abroad has become an annual affair. Books Upstairs was followed by a morning in the Model Arts Centre, Sligo, June 2017, with Kevin Higgins, and an afternoon at the Hot Spot Music Club, Greystones, June 2018, with Colm Keegan. This year, we are planning Essex in June and Minnesota in September. In between, I have read for the Bray Arts Journal in the Martello Hotel, and in Bray and Pearse libraries on Culture Night.

At Christmas, I gathered students from four of my creative writing classes around the fire in the Hot Spot. We sipped mulled wine, munched mince pies, and shared Remembrances of Christmas Past. They too caught the bug and we will meet again in March, in Dun Laoghaire. My next plan is an Open Mic for Greystones.

So, that’s it, I’m on a roll. Rolling around the world reading my poetry. This hobby brings new friends, new acquaintances, new teachers and new students, as well as new places to visit. All are free of charge and within walking distance of hotels and B&Bs – check booking websites. I’m hooked now, addicted.

Take a smattering of words, stir into sentences. Blend in the senses. Count syllables. Pepper with images. Add a simile or two, a metaphor. Toss in a memory, a pinch of pathos, a spoonful of fun. Decide on form, rhyming scheme, stanza. Marinate. Knead. Measure. Proof. Edit. Simmer. Stew. Sigh. Print. Practice aloud. Stand up and serve to an audience. Travel the world.

About the contributor

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