I’m really happy to once more be involved in putting together the Ó Bhéal Winter Warmer Festival, now in its second year. The festival line-up features not only 21 excellent poets, some accompanied by musicians, but also poetry-films, comedy improv, poetry theatre and a closed-mic. It’s all happening on November 21st and 22nd in the amphitheatre at Cork’s Sample Studios. Kudos to Paul Casey and the rest of the Ó Bhéal board for putting together this event aimed at uniting, for a weekend at least, the various strands and tendencies that constitute Ireland’s contemporary poetry scene.
in it’s short life to date Gorse has emerged as among the most vital and outward-looking of Irish literary journals. It manages to partake in a truly European artistic tradition while maintaining a distinctively Irish flavour. I’ve really been enjoying issue 2 which features fine essays by Susan Tomaselli and Catherine O’Sullivan, fiction by Rob Doyle and Jonathan Gibbs, extraordinarily ambitious poetry by Enemies-comrades Steven Fowler and Christodoulos Makris, as well as a host of other literary nutrients. A subscription is highly recommended
I owe more than a fair share of my best memories to Galway City so I’m delighted to see that I’m the subject of two reviews in that fine town. Kevin Higgins passes the rule over myself and Celeste Augé in The Galway Advertiser and finds that my book The Architect’s Dream of Winter is ‘full of big ideas brilliantly exexuted’. Celeste’s book Skip Diving meanwhile, is described by Kevin as ‘one of the best poetry collections I’ve read this year’. Happy days.
The fantastically named Skylight 47 is one of a scatter of new literary periodicals to emerge in Ireland over the past couple of years; along with Gorse, The Penny Dreadful, Colony and the revived Honest Ulsterman. Skylight 47 is produced newsprint style but is utterly not-disposable. It’s a great initiative to see. In the latest issue I’m reviews by Tom Lavelle who writes:
Command of the subject matter and wide use of its peculiar vocabulary and imagery are very much in evidence. I wondered, perhaps, like a software product, how many versions of each poem were written until the glitches were ironed out? The collection, in keeping with the individual poems, is meticulously stitched together. There is clever patterning and mirroring -like some kind of source code- that runs through the volume.
It does the heart good to see such a thoughtful and preceptive treatment of my book. I appreciate it deeply.
This is very much a book I’m looking forward to seeing fully-bound and ‘in the flesh’:
Over the past ten years Dave Lordan has emerged as a vital – in both senses of the word – presence in this country’s literary culture. The Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains sees the fury and exuberance of his earlier work refined and distilled but in no sense diminished. In these sixteen surprisingly tender and reflective poems he presents a honed and coherent vision of what it is to be human in this transitional century, one that’s unflinchingly honest about our species’ failings while clinging to the battered, beat up hope of what we might just become.
It’s being launched by the great Philip Coleman in Toner’s Pub on Baggot Street, Dublin, on the 14th of November; what’ll surely be remembered as a big day on this year’s Irish poetry calendar.
I was delighted to receive this morning a copy of Poetry Ireland Number 113m edited by Vona Groarke. It’s a Seamus Heaney special, featuring 46 poems by the master as well as 50 essays by a variety of Irish and international poets responding to those poems. i have little piece on ‘The Journey Back’ that begins as follows:
The site of this encounter between Heaney and the dead Philip Larkin remains technically unspecified. We can assume, however, that it transpires in some legend-engendered semi-porous underworld rather than on the Christmas-lit streets of Hull or Dublin referred to in line 8. For in Seeing Things ‘The Journey Back’ is preceded by a 51-line translation from Virgil’s Aeneid that centres on the Golden Bough; the talismanic MacGuffin Aeneas needed if he was to visit Hades’ fastness and walk safely among the dead. Larkin, the book’s running order suggests, is one of the souls Heaney encounters on his own journey into the kingdom of the departed. Indeed, the designation of the late librarian as ‘shade’ rather than, say, as ghost or revenant reinforces our sense of the poem’s trans-stygian setting.
Among the other contributors are David Wheatley, Anthony Madrid, Ailbhe Darcy, Tara Bergin, Peter Sirr, Conor O’Callaghan, Helen Mort and Alan Gillis. I reckon this is a must have for poetry lovers and one of the Heaney tributes that will really stand the test of time.
This has been very much a week of recovery and catch up after eleven days touring as part of the ‘Yes but are we enemies?’ The tour was an outgrowth of Steven Fowler’s extraordinary ‘Enemies’ initiative, which emphasises collaboration and experiment and has invited pairs of poets from all over the world to create and perform together. And by doing so step outside their artistic comfort zones and work toward new literary ground.
There were six ‘core’ poets involved: Ailbhe Darcy, Christodoulos Makris and myself representing Ireland, and Steven Fowler, Patrick Coyle, Sam Riviere representing the United Kingdom. In the lead up to the tour itself each Irish poet worked each of their UK counterparts to produce a collaborative text. I can safely say that working with Steven, Sam and Patrick pushed me down avenues I otherwise might have left unexplored. The three works produced were very different but united -at least I hope so- by the spirit of risk and engagement from which they arose.
The tour took in six cities and featured no less than 43 performances by 45 poets across six cities, the six ‘core’ performers being joined by pairs of locally-based poets at each stop along the way. It was a thrill to read in Belfast for the first time, to make the acquaintaince of Stephen Connolly, Stephen Sexton and others associated with the next generation of that city’s thriving and vibrant poetry community. As indeed it was to talk GAA in The Sunflower bar, home of the surely-soon-to-be legendary Lifeboat series of poetry readings.
It was my first time in Derry, a city that seemed to offer an edgy but definite welcome. I was left with the impression of a city doubtlessly still divided but very much on the up. It was fantastic to walk its walls on Saturday morning and feel their stones reverberate with a post-Culture-Night hangover. The work the tour brought to the Verbal Arts Centre was perhaps appropriately abrasive and left-of-centre, featuring performance-art-influened pieces by Aodán McCardle & Ailbhe Hines, by James King & Ellen Factor as well as Sophie Collins & Robert Maclean’s bizarre and demented take on the Iris Robinson scandal from a few years ago, a piece that for me was very much a crazy highlight.
Galway -coming in the wake of Derry- seemed mellow, breathable, chilled-out. A site of play and recreation. But also weightless somehow to the point of whimsicality. Our two days there featured the first of what would be several massively enjoyable communal meals: a sweetly searing curry at the Thai Garden. I enjoyed too the post reading drinks in the incomparable Blue Note with Elaine Cosgrove and Annamaria Crowe Serrano, who together produced an exhilarating piece around the theme of domestic violence.
My home town of Cork was next (though I nearly crashed the car several times en route due to an excess of laughter provoked by my passenger Steven J Fowler). Maybe it’s just because I was ‘playing at home’ but the atmosphere both in Triskel for the reading and afterwards in An Spailpín Fánach seemed really great; warm, supportive, celebratory. I was especially taken with Cal Doyle and Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s psyco-geographic probing of Cork’s long history and with the relentless immersive flow of Sarah Hayden and Rachel Warriner’s evisceration of the beauty industry.
It seemed oddly appropriate, too, that this stop should feature a mini Poetry Africa reunion, courtesy of Afric MacGlinchey, Paul Casey and the great Kobus Moolman, who’s visiting from Durban at the moment. And I have to mention how great it was to meet Sarah Hesketh: I felt that together with Sam we came close to solving several fairly major aesthetic conundrums.
The Dublin reading in the Irish Writer’s Centre featured another massive and appreciative crowd and was preceded by an debate / roundtable ably chaired by Susan Tomaselli. The work presented here was again more abrasive and experimental in nature, featuring visuals, music and performance art. Steven Fowler and I rewrote our collaboration completely, coming up with a piece for six voices that was a blast to compose and perform. It was great to see familiar faces like Dave Lordan, Michael Shanks, Dimitra Xidous and Alan Jude Moore, a man with whom I finally had the chance to sit down with and have a few pints.
London to finish: it was a treat to dine together for one last time, this time in a local family-owned fish restaurant, which struck me as a true slice of London and where Steven seemed quite the celebrity. The reading in the Rich Mix Centre brought everything to a fitting close, threading together strands and impulses that had arisen throughout the tour as a whole. I really enjoyed the piece by Kit Fryatt and Kimberly Campanello and Philip Terry and Martin Zet’s sound poetry take on Heaney’s ‘Anahorish’. Saying farewell wasn’t easy.
It will take me a few weeks, I think, to process this eleven day voyage and extravaganza. There was so much to take in: friendship, ideas, aesthetic possibility. There’s just so much happening in irish poetry right now, just so much barely hidden energy that’s waiting to explode. It was a privilege to travel around the country and take it all in first hand. My thanks go to Steve and Christodoulos for making it all happen. Definitely one of the absolute highlights of my poetry life so far.