Aspiring Writer?

Aspiring Writer?

How Does a Poet Sneeze?



Yes it is time again to submit your wildly metaphorical verses about that strange tree in a bog…the Doolin poetry and short story competition has opened. Budding and established poets and writers are being invited to submit entries to the third annual Doolin Poetry & Short Story Competition 2015. The prize fund for First Place in each both competitions is €1000 (enough to fly to Lanzarote and come back with a tan), while the winner will also receive a publishing consultation with Tramp Press and Salmon Poetry. The competition entry fee is €10 and the closing date is Friday, 20 February, 2015 at 5pm. Shortlisted authors will be announced on Friday, 13 March, 2015 and the winners announced during the Doolin Writer’s Weekend in Doolin, County Clare from March 27-29, 2015.

For further details on the Doolin Writer’s Weekend and to download an entry form for the Doolin Poetry & Short Story Competition.

So you can get a feel for a winning entry, here is the winner of the 2014 short story.


Fat Acrobat

By James Martin Joyce


Gary, the venue manager, was name checking the band as I pushed through the entrance, my eyes fixed on the stage. Peter was already behind the drumkit, his sticks up and twitching, Frankie clutching the bass guitar, looking like heart failure might be on the cards as I struggled through the crowd, the punters parting. I wiped my hands on my black jeans, blood and hair and bits of brain sticking to the weave. I rubbed at the watery streaks, my dark shirt stuck to my shoulders, my hair ringletted in rain.

We were coming down from Mayo earlier that day, the Galaxy packed with all our gear, when Peter started on again about the song. Frankie was driving and I was in the front seat, with Peter and the girls in the back. Peter’s girlfriend, Tess was hanging on to the cymbals because Peter worried about them so much. Every so often I would try to catch Clodagh’s eye, but she was having none of it and she’d look away. I’d already explained to her about the chipper and the bunch of fans. How I’d ended up back at some rented house on the outskirts of Castlebar, talking music and drinking cans and not in the B’n’B with the rest of band, and not in her bed, where I’d been for well over a year anyway. But she didn’t own me, even if the Galaxy was her father’s. Without it we wouldn’t even be on this ‘West Coast Tour of the World’ as Frankie had called it that night in Whelan’s back in March when things had gone so well.

“Ronan? What’s with Fat Acrobat anyway? It’s just not working somehow?” That was how Peter put it and I knew he was right, but I was the singer, even if they were Peter’s lyrics and I loved the song. The band had grown out of school, we’d been together for about five years, good and bad, and this tour was some sort of tipping-point. We could feel it, all of us, make or break. We’d been asked back to the Castlebar venue the night before, they loved our stuff, which was good, but things were far from right. It’s not easy all that living stuff, we were young men, mixing women and music, lyrics and lust. But even if the lyrics were Peter’s we’d all helped to write the tune about the fat man in love, his story about trying to hold on to a beautiful woman. We all felt his cries, his pain pushing out into the world. We could see him struggling against the grain of it, until the day when this woman looks at him as he is, really sees him, and, for her, his beautiful woman, their love ends there.


Peter had battered in an amazing solo, the drums nailing it, Frankie’s bass driving it forward and I was on lead, twisting pain out of six strings, stretching up into the microphone, my face a fixed rictus, the lyrics forced out from between my clenched teeth. I knew how I looked; I’d seen it on the internet so many times, little clips put there by our fans. I’d worked on the look too, because when you were singing about a fat man craving love and losing it, losing everything, you had to force it out. You had to show the pain, the burning urge of it and the crippling need.

“I’m trying, okay? I’m trying!” Was all that I could come up with and I was, even if Clodagh was breaking my balls, tightening her grip and tossing her long hair, looking out the window at the windswept sheep with their arses fleeced from the pelting rain, the cattle hunched and the mountains little more than a grey rumour. Peter had the lyrics page out again, waving it about, but I already knew them, after all I’d been singing Fat Acrobat for over a year and the crowds seemed to love it. But the band was on my back to make the punters really feel it; Peter and Frankie argued that the song should hit them harder. I was a little pudgy as well, so they thought that, somehow , it should be easy for me. “Yer a fat fecker anyway, just get on with it” Frankie had muttered one night after a gig in Dublin when our whole set had gone well, except for the Acrobat song.

“How hard can it be for feck’s sake?” And I’d gone for him, the tangle of us falling over bar stools, Peter finally tearing us a part. I’d worked on it too, doing everything I could to make it better. Something in the way my eyes fluttered shut on the painful twist of “Why me, tell me yeah, why me?” Yes, that bit made the girls look, made the lads sing it with me, their eyes almost closing too, rising up at the tenderness of it. Young lads, used to acting hard, knowing they were free to reveal themselves because it was only a song. And at the end of the gig there would always be one or two of the hottest girls ‘there or there abouts’ as Peter had put it, Clodagh standing stage left, and me more or less happy to see her.

“And whose idea was it to take the scenic route?” Frankie was muttering, poking at the windscreen with a wadded cloth , fiddling with the heater controls , struggling through the horizontal sleet of it, with the demisters on full, the wipers slapping . “Letterbox rain lads, she comes in from the side, ” the manager in Castlebar had joked earlier while we were loading the gear, as he thanked us for a great gig and we hit the road south, sliced off hills hanging in the downpour, topless mountains all around us, oblique rain lashing the Galaxy. We’d phoned the Galway venue to make sure we’d have time for a sound check to be told that The Lillies had already arrived and were setting up. “They must have gone through Headford, the sneaky bitches, skipped the scenery,” Peter muttered. “And they were class last night too.”

I caught his eye but there was nothing there. The Lillies were an all-girl group from Wicklow, Peter had found them playing in a little pub in Arklow and this was their first chance anywhere. Four young ones still singing from some base where fear didn’t register, hungry for everything and keen to make it all happen. “Yeah, they’re really grabbing it. Super.” This from Frankie, “I thought Marcie was amazing, how she sucked that bunch of young guys in at the front. God she’s hot! The tall lad in the striped T-shirt was really going for it. Gaggin!”

“I saw that.” I went, bored-like, picking out another tousled sheep, which looked like it had been trapped on a slippery outcrop, unsteady feet, wind-lashed and bedraggled; its mouth open like it was wondering how it got there, a silent bleat of innocence and terror.

When we got to the venue the B’n’B suggested by the management was only around the corner so we tipped our gear there and came back. Then we hauled everything from the Galaxy to the small stage and Gary, the venue manager, told us The Lillies had already sound-checked, finished up and were out getting food. Clodagh and Tess disappeared as well, so Frankie suggested we set up, sort the sound first and get something to eat later.

“You okay Ronan?” Peter had put it to me as we sorted his kit.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Eeemm,” He looked a bit unsure, thought about it, and rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Ya know, with Clodagh? I’d hate to see us lose the Galaxy with Ennis and Limerick still to come,” and he smiled, making a big deal of slotting the cymbals into place.

“Oh? What’s Clodagh been saying to Tess then?”

“I don’t know if she’s swallowing the whole ‘fans with the cans’ routine,” he smiled and winked. I spread my arms wide and went off to sort the mike stands and we left it at that. We spent some time adjusting levels, waving to the engineer in the tiny booth at the back, getting the balance right, the ‘one, two’ of it, feeling it come together, until we were more or less happy.

“Right,” Frankie went, “that’s things sorted, let’s run through the Fat song again, Okay?” And I gave it my best, feeling every word, tearing out every painful twinge, seeing myself there, crying to be real, to be understood, pleading for something easeful and full and given. “It’ll have to do.” Was how Peter welcomed my effort and I’d shrugged and muttered ‘bollocks’ under my breath and we found a pizza place opposite the Christian bookshop , ordered slices and tried to forget about everything except the gig.

It was still raining as we made our way back to the venue. We settled at the bar with three pints, watching the punters checking in. It was a good mix, ticket slips and print offs, gig details on mobile phones and androids, even one nerdy guy with an iPad flashing it about, everyone having their wrists stamped and trying to decide if we’d have a wild crowd or not. The place filled up fast and when we finally ventured into the gig space Clodagh and Tess were already settled at one of the few tables dotted around the edges of the large room, close to the stage.

Then Gary welcomed the punters and The Lillies kicked off their set with Thundertron. Frankie leaned across and whispered that he was going to move the Galaxy to a car park, something about a blocked fire exit and health and safety and I nodded. I needed a little time on my own anyway and I headed back to the cramped dressing room.

Marcie’s vocals pouted from the tiny speaker in the ceiling, telling me how it was, how it should be, how our love was hot and I slipped into my lucky shirt, the waist a little tight, the sleeves unbuttoned, the collar slightly frayed. When I got back Peter and Frankie were settled at the table too and the floor was heaving nicely but Clodagh still wasn’t meeting my eye. Marcie was starting that ‘temptation’ thing again, but maybe a few songs early. The other members of her band were going with it too, all grunge chords and dirty bass, tightening it. Marcie’s vocals were like rag nails on goose flesh, my gut knotting to it, low down, and I turned to face the stage and she was pointing straight at me, the young guys down the front ignored, her black hair whipping, her lips full of rage, pouting. She mouthed into the microphone, her kohl-eyes burning, hot, her fingers enticing me and Clodagh started to pull her stuff together, swearing, and dragging her coat from under Frankie. Peter leant close to me and whispered, “There goes the Galaxy,” his eyes skyward and I just muttered “Feck,” and I knew I needed a cigarette.

The bouncers gave me a funny look when I squeezed through the exit, a trickle of latecomers still in the line. I eased down the street to a disused shopfront, layers of peeling posters, dirty glass, the rain still pelting, soaking through my thin shirt. I kept an eye on the door, hoping I’d catch Clodagh as she left. I didn’t need a screaming match right now but maybe I could explain or bullshit a little. Maybe I could at least try. The cars hissed by on the black sheen, their spray soaking me as I cupped the cigarette. Then a taxi slowed as the traffic backed up and I saw Clodagh staring straight at me from the back seat as I focussed, the keys of the Galaxy dangling from the index finger of her left hand, her right extended towards me, the middle finger rigid, delivering her obvious message.

I eased away from the dripping wall, turning to go when a scrawny , marmalade cat squeezed through a hole in the old shop door and flitted across my feet . It darted over the wet road, melted behind a builders’ skip, exited again and shied, stood stock still for another second, then skipped again, tiger-like, motion in every sinew, tendon and muscle , back into the road and the next taxi hit it full on with a rumbled thump, barely braking, as the traffic cleared. I stepped out then, flicked my cigarette away and held my dripping arm out to the following cars.

The cat’s fur was matted; its features caught in an almost surprised smile and I bent and stroked it. Its flanks were still quivering, a choking sound lodging in its throat . I could hear the wipers pumping, the hurried slap, slap of them, but I refused to look. I slipped my wet hands under the warm carcass of the cat and inhaled its feral smell. A mixture of watery blood and brain oozed from its nostrils, running down over my wrists. The drivers revved their engine s impatiently , but I still took my time, the animal deserved that at least . Lifting it, I crossed the wet road again to the skip, the sagging body still trembling , a light shimmer of steam rising off it. I laid it gently on a sheet of wet cardboard, folding it over the warm corpse, sheltering it from the streaming eaves. Then I turned and went inside.

I eased the microphone up into Motorhead mode, as we jokingly called it and turned to Frankie, nodded to Peter, giving it: “HELLO GALWAY! We’re starting tonight with something out of the ordinary, and totally out of position too, because, sometimes, you just have to. So here it is and here it is NOW! FAT ACROBAT!”

And I turned to the other band members, the look of shock on their faces, Peter open-mouthed, Frankie bug-eyed as usual. Their look said this had better work. Peter led off with the sticks, Frankie kicking in with the bass guitar and I played the opening riff, my hands still bloody, my fingers shaking, leaning up into the mesh of the microphone like I loved it, like I was kissing it. I could feel the words dragged out of me, a long, thin blade, the pain of it cutting me, and then I saw him clearly for the first time, shimmering, the acrobat, sagging there, fat, crumpled and alone. At the end of the first verse Frankie came in on the chorus, our voices rasping together and Peter doing the slow solo, his arms melting into the tune, stroking the skins and every so often the heavy punch of the bass drum as he racked it up, tightening it and tightening it until it broke and I came in again with the second verse and the gripping riff, Frankie’s long fingers flashing over the strings too and the crowd jumping, couples locked together burning with it, and it came to the killer call, “Why me, tell me yeah, why me?” And the whole room seemed to scream it out together, like we were all feeling it, pulling it up out of our guts, cutting away the pall of failure, slewing off the slime of work, burning through the shit-mist of the also-rans, running with it, running with it, and I led them again, my voice cracking where they all knew it should, where their own voices would crack, “Why me, tell me yeah, why me?”

The drums drowned in their own crumbling glory, the rhythm leaving my hands too, as wrapping my blood-stained fingers around the mike stand, my face contorted, I called again, out into the black silence which was everyone’s, “Why me, tell me yeah, why me?” The crowd went wild as the last note died and I bent forward from the waist, bowing, my face dripping rain and sweat , my arms spread wide and the waves burst over me as I straightened, faces pushing towards me, mouths open to my name, fingers pointing in respect, arms raised in silent surrender to that moment. I saw Marcie standing below me, still wearing her stage make- up, her face paler than I’d ever seen it, her eyes wet, her lips parted just for me, like she’d seen me for the very first time, a lightness all around her, her arms raised too, and I didn’t care. I just didn’t care.

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A Short Story Quickie

The third annual Doolin Poetry & Short Story Competition 2015 has opened. The prize fund for First Place in each both competitions is €1000. The competition entry fee is €10


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