A GATHER OF SHADOW WINS TOP AWARD
The Michael Hartnett Poetry Award 2014
The winners of one of Ireland’s most respected poetry prizes have been announced. Poets Mark Roper and Jo Slade are joint winners of the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award 2014. This year’s judges, Theo Dorgan and Moya Cannon, chose Roper’s collection A Gather of Shadow (Dedalus Press) and Slade’s A Painter’s House (Salmon Poetry) from a large volume of submissions, finding them to be “poets whose vision and technique have been honed over a considerable period of time and whose work merits particular recognition. In both cases the voice is absolutely distinctive. In both cases there are poems which resonate in the reader’s consciousness and which invite revisiting long after the volume has been closed. ”
FULL JUDGES’ STATEMENT
“Mark Roper’s A GATHER OF SHADOW is a beautifully-integrated collection of lyrical meditations on the natural world, incisive and finely-observed, twinned with a poignant and moving series of poems on the death of his mother. His empathy with the world and its creatures, including its human creatures, is of a rare order — acute in its vision, profound in its awareness that ours is a shared place in which every living thing has weight and value. His instinct for rhythm and cadence is as finely-developed as his perceptive, intuitive feeling for a world in which death and beauty must necessarily shadow and illuminate each other”.
The Michael Hartnett Poetry Award was established in 2000 and has grown to become one of the most prestigious awards in the Irish-poetry calendar. It is funded by Limerick City & County Council and The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon to mark Hartnett’s contribution to literature in both English and Irish. The award is made on the basis of a third, or subsequent collection of poetry, published in the previous two years. Awarded in alternate years to books of poetry in the Irish and English language, it uniquely targets poets at midcareer in their writing life with the specific aims of encouraging and supporting their writing endeavour. Previous winners of the award include Maurice Riordan, Stiofán Ó Cadhla and Sinéad Morrissey. Co-ordinator of the Éigse Michael Hartnett Festival, Bríd Quinn stated, ‘The Award is an integral part of the festival, it honours Michael Hartnett but it also honours the work of contemporary poets; Jo Slade and Mark Roper are deserving winners and join a distinguished list of previous recipients.’ Theo Dorgan and Moya Cannon describe Roper’s collection as “a beautifully-integrated collection of lyrical meditations on the natural world, incisive and finely-observed, twinned with a poignant and moving series of poems on the death of his mother.” In Joe Slade’s “The Painters House” , they see, “a densely-worked meditation on art and artists, on the artist (and poet) as mortal witness to a world where meaning is both conferred and interrogated by means of art.” Mark Roper and Jo Slade will formally accept the award and read from their winning collections at the Official Opening of Éigse Michael Hartnett Literary & Arts Festival, at 8pm on Thursday 10th April in Newcastle West Library, County Limerick.
2014 EVENTS COMING UP
Tuesday 8th April, 11 pm, Stillorgan Park Hotel, Stillorgan Park Hotel, Dublin.
Let’s Make An Opera. Mark Roper and Eric Sweeney will discuss the development of The Invader with Joan Dalton. Extracts will be performed.
Tickets for the performances of The Invader in Waterford in May are now on sale. They will cost E30 until April 1st, when their price will go up to E45.
This is the link to purchase them:
The Invader will be performed on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th May 2014 at the Theatre Royal, Waterford. There will also be a full dress rehearsal on Thursday 22nd May. Ticket prices for the performance at Wexford Opera House on Friday 30th May are also available now.
THE BACKSTRAND: TRAMORE’S OPEN SECRET
The Backstrand: Tramore’s Open Secret, has now been launched and is available from: email@example.com
The Backstrand is the follow-up to Paddy Dwan and Mark Roper’s The River Book.
THE INVADER, the opera by Eric Sweeney for which I wrote the libretto, will be performed in May 2014, in Waterford and Wexford, directed by Ben Barnes. It will form part of the celebrations of the 1100th anniversary of Waterford as a city. Full details below.
An RTE Television news clip about the opera can be seen at
The libretto is based on The Bacchae, a play by the Greek dramatist Euripides. It’s a visceral, elemental story, in which the God Dionysus returns to the city of Thebes to take his revenge on King Pentheus, who has failed to pay due respect to the God’s shrine. Dionysus charms the women of Thebes out of the city into the forest and turns them into the Bacchae, wild creatures who will eventually tear Pentheus to pieces.
The play has fascinated the imagination from the start. There have been at least 3 operas based on it, including one with a libretto by W.H. Auden. The poets Derek Mahon and C.K. Williams have made translations, and Ted Hughes worked on one. My libretto is not a translation, it is best described perhaps as a version of the story. My aim was to create a vehicle for the music of course, but also to create a vehicle for dramatic spectacle. It is intended that the production will utilize movement, dance, costume, lighting and set in as dramatic way as possible.
THE INVADER A New Irish Opera
Performance Dates & Venues:
Theatre Royal Waterford, 23rd (Premiere) & 24th May 2014
Wexford Opera House 30th May 2014
Available for touring from 2015
Composer & Musical Director: Eric Sweeney
Libretto by: Mark Roper
Director: Ben Barnes
Designer: Monica Frawley
Lighting: John Comiskey
Movement: Libby Seward
Cast (12 singers) Including:
Telman Guzevsky, Julian Tovey, Natasha Jouhl & Alison Browner
Orchestra (10 piece)
Including ConTempo Quartet
T: +353 (0)87 280 4849
Media & Press
T: +353 (0)86 171 9467
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A GATHER OF SHADOW SHORTLISTED FOR MAJOR AWARD
A Gather Of Shadow was shortlisted for The Irish Times Poetry Now Award. The Award recognises the best collection of poems published by an Irish poet in 2012. It is the only award of its kind which recognises and rewards work by Irish poets, and has previously been awarded to Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Dorothy Molloy, Harry Clifton, Sinéad Morrissey and Michael Longley. This year’s judges are Peter Sirr, Mary O’Donnell and Ruth Webster. A Gather Of Shadow was shortlisted alongside Harry Clifton’s The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass, James Harpur’s Angels and Harvesters, Catherine Phil MacCarthy’s The Invisible Threshold and Dennis O’Driscoll’s Dear Life. Dennis O’Driscoll deservedly won the prize.
In 2012 Waterford City Council funded a Creative Arts Programme for Music and Poetry in Secondary Schools for composer Eric Sweeney and poet Mark Roper. The programme was delivered to each participating class over two workshops. The programme culminated in a performance of the completed student works during New Music Week on 7th February 2013 at the WIT College Street Chapel.
A short film of the whole project,, made by John Loftus, can be viewed at http://youtu.be/6L05GP8JXWk
In March 2013 Eric and Mark received a further award from Waterford City Council to fund a major schools’ project Viking Voices to celebrate Waterford’s 1100th anniversary in 2014
We will be working with Kay Sinnott Brown, from Fado, and together we aim to base the work this time on the Viking occupation of Waterford.
We hope to work with at least 6 schools this time, with the aim of a final concert in March 2014.
A GATHER OF SHADOW
Myra Schneider’s review of this collection below appears in Acumen Magazine:
A Gather of Shadow, Mark Roper. The Dedalus Press, 13 Moyclare Road, Baldoyle, Dublin 13, Ireland; 57 pp. £8.50
In Even So: New & Selected Poems, Mark Roper an English poet who lives in Ireland, reveals that nature is as central to him as it was to Gerard Manley-Hopkins. His relationship with it, however, is totally different. Closely observed detail is linked with human experience and the writing apparently low-key. I say ‘apparently’ because his work carries an extraordinary emotional and spiritual undertow. Key to this book is a sense of acceptance. In his new collection, A Gather of Shadow, written after his mother died, acceptance is still there but the focus is on the inseparability of life and death, the neediness of human and animal existence.
The first section opens with begins with River at Night. The river is personified with its ‘mucky olive, soaked khaki coat.’ Beside it is ‘a wicker of twigs/the slightest touch/could scatter’. It’s ‘a snuffling creature trickling/spittle, a ghost soak/slurring its words…’ The poem establishes the book’s theme and introduces river as an image which has significance later. Other poems also explore the inextricability of life and death. This faces raw pain. The poet sees an old terrier ‘ramming itself down burrows…as if the only thing it knew to do/was hurt itself again and again.’ The hostile dog corners him but instead of biting it ‘only looked.’ The final verses are poignant, spiritual and almost biblically simple:
‘And in that look such longing.
Such open unguarded need.
This world, which cares for nothing,
which teaches such lessons of loss,
which finds in the wounds of our eyes
such gratitude, such love for itself –
this world our only home.’
In Black Bull the animal is metaphorical. It seems to be winter the attacker and also the victim who endures. The bull’s physicality is potent both as animal and weather but the creature is mysterious too and there is uplift at the end of this death/life myth.
By spring ‘he’s gone
though there he is,
dancing down the fence
by the cattle,
flicking up his dainty feet,
bellowing his raw joy…
The second section begins with Fields. At dusk a new foal ‘floats and folds/around its mother, a giddiness, an armful/of air barely touching the ground.’ By the end the two animals ‘have wandered away/and are lost in ‘a gather of shadow’. With breathtaking delicacy the poet suggests that birth and death are within touching distance of each other. Fields is a prelude to a series of poems about Roper’s mother. Her love of swimming, especially in rivers, is the source of potent allusions to crossing the Lethe. When he knew she wouldn’t live much longer he took her to Lough Mora where she ‘stripped and waded straight in/and began to swim away’, telling her son he couldn’t come with her this time (Lough Mora). Last Breath, a seamlessly sustained image, describes the weeks after she was no longer able to swallow food:
As if that breathing
had become a pair of oars,
rowing of their own accord.
Each breath rowing you
further away from us,
deeper into the distance
until, with the slightest click,
those oars were docked.
In Cold Roper feels a cold in her form ‘so intense/it had to be living’ and he imagines her hands relaxing to receive the winter sprigs which are placed in them. The poem, itself intense, ritualistic, has a classical purity.
Although the poems are inspired by grief and loss there is considerable focus on incidents and memories which bring to life this quiet, determined person, her love of swimming and nature. Once she almost drowned swimming in the sea but she came home, made breakfast and told no one for years. She was a woman who admitted there were feelings ‘but they were not to be spoken of’ though she once broke her own rule. The tenderness between mother and son and the acuteness of bereavement are expressed in detail and imagery.
Although A Gather of Shadow reflects tenderness and loss so powerfully it’s not a heavy read. This isn’t only because several of the poems have light moments. Throughout there is a sense of how much life’s small and large events matter. Mark Roper’s writing sends that shiver down my spine which is the sign of true poetry. His images have become part of my consciousness. What greater praise could I give to this book?