Yes but are we enemies?

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 Belfast contingent

The Belfast contingent

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.

The Bogside viewed from Derry's famous walls

The Bogside viewed from Derry’s famous walls

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.

Steven Fowler and Ailbhe Darcy at Yeats's grave

Steven Fowler and Ailbhe Darcy at Yeats’s grave en route to Galway

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.

Rachel Warriner and Sarah Hayden

Rachel Warriner and Sarah Hayden reading in Triskel, Cork

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.

Sam and Chrsitodolous in Cork's Cafe Mexicana

Sam and Christodoulos in Cork’s Cafe Mexicana

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.

Patrick and Christodolous reading in the Irish Writer's Centre

Patrick and Christodolous reading in the Irish Writer’s Centre

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.

Definitely not Enemies

Definitely not Enemies

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.