Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Poetry and Politics - Szirtes View

Last night I attended one of the talks in a series that has been running in Trinity College Dublin. The series investigates with the help of a number of poets, how different poets deal with and relate to politics in their work. George Szirtes was the speaker last night and gave the audience a good insight into how his work is informed by politics.

Beforehand, I had scrutinized his last publication, Reel, for signs of his 'politics.' Some references and exploration of his personal background as an emigre from Hungary, but little of the rabble rousing calls that some poets may make. There was a very good reason for this as we learned during the course of the talk.

George Szirtes began by giving an overview of the upheavals of Hungary. Hungary is a land-locked country, and it's size has swollen and shrunk with each passing revolution. He began by telling us about the poet Sandor Petofi, whose statue has been used as a rallying point both in 1956 and again in 1989. A quote from a poem that Petofi wrote, NEMZETI DAL, asks

Shall we live as slaves or free men?
That's the question

This became a rallying call for Hungarians in the year of revolutions in 1848. Szirtes focused on this quote, looking at the binary connections: either/or, for/against and described how his poetical outlook questions that simplicity. For him it is much more complex than that, because human beings are more complex and the nature of our political struggles is always more complex too. Szirtes believes that for most 20th century poets, it is not enough to think in those on/off connections either.

Szirtes went on to talk about his personal family history, and the discoveries made about his family, in the mid 70s about a Jewish connection, and the history of how names changed in Hungary with the changes in country borders. Germanic names became Hungaricised - people tried to fit into their new territories, and by extension, the Szirtes family became Anglicised when they moved to England in 1956. This was by way of showing how complicated the idea of identity can become. And by extension, when you are an emigre, it is more difficult to go with that binary idea of black/white, yes/no.

So in effect what Szirtes explored in his writing was that type of politics - the exploration of discovery within the family unit could inform a wider point of view. As he prefers to think of it, poetry may not just be a statement of affiliation, but more a commentary on the discovery. There is a telling quote at the beginning of Reel, from Martin Bell's 'Ode to Himself':

To watch is possible: therefore you must watch.

From here then it was an easy jump to one of Szirtes' favourite muses, Clio, or history. He explained how Clio watches from afar, not concerned with the meaning of the individual story, but where it fits into the greater scheme of History itself. Clio is interpreted by Szirtes as someone involved in movies, recording things but remaining aloof: editing the film, or on the judging panel at the film festival, maybe. By way of background to the first poem he read, he described how he discovered that his mother had been detained in a concentration camp during WWII, at Ravensbruck - never mentioned until after his mother's death.

Szirtes' research showed that Ravensbruck had been liberated by the Russians. But it turns out that by this stage his mother had been moved to another camp, Penig which was liberated by the Americans, and which liberation was also captured on film! The poem itself used the flickering grey images and used the idea of Clio, the watcher, the recorder, to keep a distance from this emotive subject, as does the actual form, which I think was terza rima. Still very moving.

His next piece came from a poem commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. This poem used the idea of North, cold and truth and borrowed from John Mandeville's travels, the idea of sounds being frozen. Szirtes has incorporated this into the poem as a strong look at how we can't view History the way it happened at the time, at a later date - how we revise the past, as though it were frozen and then reassembled later on. He read two sequences from this long piece, Nova Zemble.

Afterwards, there was a Q&A session which allowed the audience to learn more about Szirtes' method and poetics. We learned that Szirtes fascination with form came after 1975, and that he considered it took it him about six or seven years to get into this craft (!). He became a more formal poet, using form to contain the meaning of the formlessness of existence (my words, not his!). Szirtes also views the relationship between poet and language rather like that of two dancers: language usually does the leading. Language when used in form always offers resistance, that resistance leads to new discoveries. On 'truth' he believes that a fidelity to the apprehension of things, will allow truth to speak - a very delicate concept. By his own admission, his use of, and view of politics in poetry is oblique, but that is because his method is more to discover through the exploration of watching and recording.

Postscript: of course, you could simply just visit George Szirtes' Blog and see how he frames the evening - much better than I did- he knew what he was trying to say: I am but one interpreter.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Recipe: Organizing to see George Szirtes

... tomorrow, if everything falls according to my plans...

Here's how it goes - collect smallest child from school, feed, homework, park in front of telly.

Collect four older brothers and sisters later, homework them, feed them, park in front of telly also.

Rush round to secondary school, collect eldest son, feed, admonish to do homework and park in front of second telly. Warning: teenager + smaller children = big bust-up.

Pray that WWIII does not break out as smaller children come to the boil in the sitting room/cauldron.

Drive to train station. Get on train. Text hubby, to see that he has made it home...

and relax. Go and enjoy evening of poetry and politics as discussed by George Szirtes

Return home on train, get in car, drive to house, guzzle glass of beer/wine - and collapse in heap!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Do Not...

...look at this site if you suffer with epilepsy, or are sensitive to flashing lights.

The Pig after the Wolf blew down the house

Rob's Tip for the Day

Submit your poetry book or chapbook, pamphlet to the Great Poetry Book exchange!


How could it hurt...?

Courtesy of Rob MacKenzie over there in Scotia!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Surviving Half-Term

Just when you think you've got to the end of week without maiming either yourself or the children, along come a set of circumstances fit to try the best goodwill of anyone.

I'm sitting here freezing in my little corner of the dining room, which is sandwiched between two doors. I'm freezing because the job allocated to my husband, checking the oil level, wasn't done. No oil delivery until later on, so this morning's activites are reduced to me telling said children not to leave the internal doors open, to try and conserve the heat generated by the breathing of six children.

I'm also waiting to see what the garage have to say about my car. I called into them on Tuesday to book it in for today to get it's emissions sorted out. We have a test for cars over a certain age here: the NCT - like the MOT only Irish. It's done every two years. This time, not wanting to get stung like the last time (where they ruined a perfectly good set of back brakes!), I didn't bother with all the pre-testing business, opting for my little 1999 Peugeot 106 to fail for whatever reasons.

Guess what? It failed. Rust under the bonnet, non-matching tyres on the back axle, and a wee problem with emissions at high revs - and they did rev the hell out of it in the test centre. I was there in the waiting room with all the men who knew how their cars would perform, pretending it wasn't mine.

So, a new bonnet was procured, resprayed the right colour and fitted, and the right tyre put back on the back wheel, by yours truly. When they were giving out useful husbands, I seem to have been out the back having a fag. I'm now just waiting to see what the emissions end of things throws up. When I called the other day to the garage, the mechanic nearly choked on his teeth, so deep was the sucking in sound. I thought I might have to administer mouth-to-mouth on him!

Fingers crossed - stressing calamities tend to come in threes, so they say, so I'm not holding me breath to see what the last one is... maybe I can count Half-term itself???

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

That Lowe Thang - Mortal Ghost

Every week, or possibly every two weeks, if I've been a bit remiss, I go to see the latest installment in Mortal Ghost.

I've never read anything quite like it, for the combination of writing craft, the portrayal of emotion and its sheer beauty.

And it seems like months ago, which indeed it was, that I began reading this, thinking that I could not sustain the supense over forty weeks, which was the time-frame set out for this method of bringing a new novel to an audience in an unusual manner. As it is, it almost coming to a close - there are only a few short weeks left to the conclusion!!!

I would love to see this novel become published and read by those (like the teenage son I have) who devour stories about protagonists a little like them but with powers outside the normal range of teenagers (thank goodness!).

Put this one on your blog-roll, blab about it to your friends - but do go and read it, if you've not already. It's jaw-droppingly gorgeously written - I am so envious!

Of course, it would help if I linked it properly - duh!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Galway Slam Night

Just back and feeling relatively normal (well as normal as a hangover will allow!). I had a heck of a night last night in BK's Wine Bar - just listening to the sheer talent of the readers that slammed at North Beach Nights, before the main event of guest reader Kevin Higgins. It was a difficult call for the judges in the audience for those picked to make the final three, and the overall winner was picked by a hair's breadth. The night was ably emceed by Gary King, who kept things moving along in an organised manner.

Here's how their slam works. Whoever signs up for reading gets their name put into a hat and then the readers read in that order. Ten slammers took up the challenge last night and three were picked for the second round: Denise Heneghan, Brendan Murphy and Steve Murray, which took place after the guest reader.

The original lineup included Mary Madec, Denise Heneghan, Leonor Silvestri, John Walsh, Susan Millar DuMars, Miceál Kearney, Steve Murray, Dave Rock, Brendan Murphy and Carolyn Kimbel. Oh, and me too. I hope I've not forgotten anyone - there was so much to take in.

Denise, Steve, Brendan and Miceál

The range of poetry was quite wide, from formal poems like sestinas to freewheeling free verse and the subjects ranged from marriage proposals through computers to the changes in Croke Park (allowing rugby to be played on the hallowed turf of GAA, for those outside of Ireland) and the state of humanity and beyond. So, quite a diverse range of writing and styles!

Kevin's set itself made for interesting hearing. His loose easy style of reading and humoured delivery belies the actual work that must go into his writing and these poems from his future collection, Time Gentlemen, Please! went down very well with the appreciative audience, which itself reflected the rich diversity of Galway, from students to those involved in all aspects of the arts. It's great to see poetry so warmly supported in Galway in this way.

Kevin and his Mum, Mary

While there I also got a chance to speak with the three of the four Galway poets whose work has been selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions series: Mary Madec, Aoife Casby & Susan Millar DuMars, two of whom slammed on the night. They were looking forward to their Poetry Ireland Masterclass at the end of February and their actual readings which will be in Aprilish (another date for my culture vulture diary).

Aoife , Mary and Susan

I also spoke briefly to the slam winner Denise Heneghan, about the sources that we draw on for writing and how to fit writing into the demands of family life.

And lastly a quick wave to Miceál Kearney without whom I wouldn't have known about North Beach Nights, which as it happens derives its name from the inspiration of the original sessions organised by the beat poets in San Francisco back in the 50s.

Finally - my apologies if I've anyone's name spelled wrong or incorrectly given - leave a comment and I'll come back and fix it! And yes, I know the formatting isn't what it should be - Blogger seems to have a mind of its own lately! Grrr!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

North Beach Nights

I'm off to Galway today again to see North Beach Nights monthly Slam, with featured poet Kevin Higgins. Kevin has a fine collection called The Boy With No Face available from Salmon Poetry. There are sample poems on the page featuring his book.

Here's a snippet from a review:
"Upfront, delivered in an informal, conversational manner which delights in its own wry black humour, it is the poetry of the urban twenty-first century, casting a sharply critical eye over the condition of contemporary society." Metre

Kevin has a new collection due out next year called Time Gentlemen, Please! from which tonight's poems will be read. I believe he's off to the US in a week or so to read in the Annual Irish Cultural Festival at Loyola Marymount University on February 21st.

Nice work if you can get it!

There's also a slam feature at North Beach Nights too, and I hope to get in there and get a poem in and hear a few from others. The gig is at BK's Wine Bar, Spanish Parade, Galway City, Adm: €4.00. Full report when I get back, hopefully with pictures this time!

Monday, February 12, 2007

You'll Never Guess!!!

I sent a poem to the RTE Radio 1 programme, The Poetry Programme two weeks ago in response to a request for poems on the subject of Valentine's Day. RTE Radio 1 would be sort of the Irish national equivalent to BBC Radio 4, except without the plummy voices ;)

I received an email back from producer Aoife Nic Cormaic, thanking me for my contribution and telling me that I had been shortlisted for reading during the programme.

I didn't get my hopes up too much and we tuned in on Saturday evening, as myself and hubby were eating our weekly sit-down-and-catch-up-meal, but we missed the opening minutes of the programme, due to the potatoes needing mashing.

We listened to Sally Emerson and Michael O'Loughlin discussing love poetry with the presenter well-known poet Irish poet Pat Boran, citing and quoting some great examples from old and contemporary poets. This was interspersed with readings by Catherine Brennan of reader's contributions.

As the programme progressed hubby said reassuringly, 'I'm sure they'll read yours out.'

I said, no, surely there would be stiff competition and I'd be lucky to get mine read, especially as the short half-hour programme might not fit in the advertised quota of ten. By the close, I wasn't too disappointed and the great poem 'Atlas' by U.A. Fanthorpe was picked out as a particular favourite and read out by Sally Emerson, which made up for it.

Imagine my surprise when I checked the website and clicked on the link for Saturday's programme. The first poem read out was the one I had sent in. Missing the first few minutes of the programme had been crucial, after all!!!

You can listen here if you have Real Player (which I think is still free to DL, if you've not got it) - just fast forward past the news and weather to about 2:50 mins. It's called 'Cupidity'.

The Atlas poem is later, around about 26:00 mins. or so, but the whole programme is interesting in its own right.

You can also catch up with previous Poetry Programmes, and listen to them if you like what you see on the RTE menu!

Your help, Again..?!?

Being a bit slow, I didn't realise the Irish Blog Awards are now open to voting!

Only for Jason Roe's Blog, I'd never have known.

So, I'm asking very nicely once again, if you wouldn't mind popping in and voting on their Voting Form. I've got nominations under Best Irish Blog and Best Personal Blog - I'll leave it up to you to decide before February 16th passes.

And Jason - you have my vote and thanks :)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Who are We?

We are
you and me
more than one,
less than our whole.
These bubbles of love
circumnavigate us,
leave rainbows behind.

Skint's challenge - he is alive and well!!!

Not what you'd expect...?!?

You May Be a Bit Schizotypal...
A bit odd and socially isolated.You couldn't care less of what others think.And some of your beliefs are a little weird.Like that time you thought you were Jesus.
Nicked from Jude's Blog
Actually the more I think about it... nah!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Balancing on the High Wire, Again!

Back to the coal face once again, when I rejoin the legions of employed people. This time, it's back to book-cooking at a local small firm, from the hours of 9 until 1pm, for a more reasonable wage than the last job.

Hopefully that's going to give me still enough energy and time left to write (and hang around on the internet) as well as mind the kids (smallest she-fecker finishes at 1pm) and cook meals, wash clothes etc., etc.

Now I'm just off to rummage through the wardrobe to see if I've anything suitable to (a) fend off sub-zero temperatures, and (b) look the business.

No suits!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Finding Out Shantih, or, how to get from A to W

There is a post on George Szirtes blog where he mentions a novel that has been written about the Byzantine world of collegiate bureacracy (at least that's what I thought). He mentions a spoof of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, by Edward Pygge, with the line "shantih, shantih, shantih / it's only a shantih in old shantih town"

So this sends me off looking on the internet, because I love spoof poems and I like mysteries too. First I find Waste Paper - A Poem of Profound Insignificence by H. P. Lovecraft, which presses a few of the right buttons, but not the line I'm looking for. Interesting p-take of Eliot though. Don't get me wrong, I do like Eliot in small doses, but I also like what came afterwards too, even if it is irreverent.

Then I search under Edward Pygge, and find this is connected to Ian Hamilton, John Fuller, Clive James, Russell Davies and Julian Barnes. They used Edward Pygge as a cover all pseudonym for publishing spoofs and Ian Hamilton was involved with The Review, and later The New Review, poetry journals that looked to extend and push against the prescribed poetics of the times (sound familiar?).

Further research shows that the poem The Wasted Land, the Eliot spoof, is contained in Clive James collection, The Book of My Enemy. Naturally there is a website for Clive James, and a little poking has revealed that there are some poems contained there like The Australian Suicide Bomber's Heavenly Reward and this too, Statement from the Secretary of Defense .

I've been threatening to go round to Amazon and pick up that list of books I keep adding to. Now seems like a really good time to get The Book of My Enemy as well.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wow, wow, wow!

One of my favourite poets is poet of the week over at Poetry SuperHighway this week. I just found out via Books Inq.

The first link will take you to a piece, Getting Lucky, which is such a cool take on the moon, by the poet Howard Miller, aka Hedgie.

I wonder what he taught in college? I bet his classes were always interesting. And, I've just found this ten questions post which gives an insight into how Howard thinks about poetry - a personal ars poetica.

Brigid's Day

Today is the first day of Imbolg and Brigid, having being welcomed in and glossed out of recognition by the celtic christian church eons ago, is the patron saint of today.

When we were kids there was the annual scramble on the way home from school to collect armfuls of rushes so that we could make Brigid's crosses the following day in school - anything to get out of lessons. Rushes usually grow in marshy, swampy land, they are a lustrous dark green when healthy and new, but they dry out to a fragile weather-beaten straw brown, once you incorporate them into a cross.

Once made, tradition has it that they were hung over the front door of a dwelling to protect the occupants. Another tradition has it that they were put into the thatch of a house to protect it from fire!

If you fancy making one yourself here are instructions I'll be making one later for my kids when I get one of them to hop over the back fence and collect some rushes from the swamp out the back.

Big Fanfare!

Moon Topple's wondrous fiction contest - 500 words on the topic of 'Vision' before the 7th of Feb
Go here for full rules and details. Get writing!