Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Form

Just bought a copy of On Form today. It's by Angela Leighton and I am wholly absorbed by it.

How I wish I'd had this book when I was studying the 20th C Texts and Debates course! It really brings together the development of thought about how form is one of those words/concepts/vitally important things that has continued to develop and morph from Kant's time, through Pater and the 'art for art's sake' debates, through aestheticism, utilitarianism through the bankruptcy of aesthetics into the thirties, equally through modernism, postmodernism... ack - I sound like I'm ranting now and that's only Chapter One! So lucid and easy to read... why had I not this book last year when I turned to form, seriously?

More later, when I've read and digested the book and written all the poems which are crowding around me like little vampirelets begging for life force.

Ah, my muse is back! Thank the muse.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Taking up the Review Cudgels

Emerging Writer has picked up on a New York Times article that highlights the seven most overused words that reviewers employ when writing reviews. I've seen a similar vein taken up on Poets On Fire forums recently too.

The problem, I guess, might lie with the time that you have between reading the book/journal/zine etc. and having to write and then deliver the finished article to whichever editor is taking it.

It's a topic fraught with its own rules and regulations and areas of writing negotiation that the reviewer must come through. Last year (at QUB), we had Ian Sansom (he of the Guardian reviews) come talk to us. Not so much about how to write a review, more how not to write a review. Some of it makes perfect sense.

There's no substitute for knowing what you're talking about. If it's the poet's third collection, you should, in all honesty, be familiar with their work. If not, go get familiar with the work. Perhaps this is what leads to reviews that employ such overused words as the ones listed in the NYT review of reviewing; the time constraint of having to make your deadlines as you whizz through the tenth book in that bursting jiffy bagful that you've agreed to review.

If you're going to diss a writer's work, at least make it humorous. Ian used Randall Jarrell's prolific output as a good example. But the thing about Jarrell's reviews is that they were good; in fact some would argue that they were far better than his poetry output. Which makes me wonder whether reviewing is such an art, in and of itself, that it impinges on the other work of the writer - whether they are involved in poetry or prose.

I am reminded of Rob MacKenzie's recent post, where he asked what people are looking for in reviews. I know that this pertains to poetry reviews in particular; prose reviews are more telling what the book is about and whether it is well written or not; poetry reviews have to look at the techniques involved and whether they contribute to the sense of the collection. Form informing content, and all that, which makes poetry reviewing far more specialised than the general all purpose reviews.

Reviewing is an art: I think that a reviewer should be aiming to convey their passion and knowledge about the book they have read to the reader. It's an act of persuasion as well as conveyance; a gentle balancing act of accessibility and refined language. It is, after all, only an opinion. But it should be the very best opinion for the reader to trust your words.

Having said all that, there's one book that I would really recommend for the would be reviewer: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, by Pierre Bayard. Read it and smile with amusement at how much we know about books that we've never opened... I am thinking of Joyce now, for some reason...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Review of Downside Up

Downside Up
Anne Connolly
Calder Wood Press

A curious thing happens when you read the poetry of someone who has lived in exile from their birth country for a while. You are forced to face the issues that you might have dodged in your own work; issues of religion or politics, as well as people and places that evoke strong connections to your own way of thinking.

Anne Connolly’s accomplished chapbook, Downside Up, faces these issues implacably; affording us a good hard stare at life as it has been lived in Ulster as well as in Ireland too. Poems such as ‘The Price of Petrol,’ take us back to the 70s, to a time of petrol shortages and sectarian preferential treatment. But this poem cannily reflects the present as well: ‘ “How’re ye Wullie?” / “Disappointed.” ’ It’s how little words like ‘Disappointed’ can wholly capture the resigned feeling of that time. All one could do was to quietly endure, when you were refused petrol at the station in favour of someone like ‘John Citizen,’ who

holds a banner in his hand
and on bonfire night
his boys laugh
as they burn
a well-stuffed pope.

Connolly leaves it as it is: the actions of the small (minded) community speak for themselves.

But her poems go far outside the hold of the near-polemic as well. There’s a strong lyrical touch about her work that reminds me of John Hewitt, in the use of townland names in a poem like ‘Sky Road;’ ‘Derrygimlagh bog,’ ‘the tail of Clifden bay. Connolly easily straddles the border in Ireland, drawing out the essentials of all myths and legends, whether it is a recent tale, such as the landing of a Vickers Bomber in a western Irish bog, in ‘Sky Road,’ or ‘the ancient tumulus of Newgrange…her belly pregnant with the dead,’ in ‘Solstice.’ In this latter poem, Connolly imagines ‘Kings lie at Newgrange waiting… long[ing] for luminescence, / the solar triumph.’ She catches completely the significant essence of Newgrange, without resorting to over worn clichés, bringing it shining into the modern era.

I admit that poems like ‘Aran’ lie close to my own interests and interpretations. In this poem Connolly uses the interwoven lines to underscore the intricacy of the stitches described, as well as their ascribed meanings. I remember my mother explaining the meaning of the stitches that go into making up an Aran pattern; each islander family had its own specific set of stitches used, and these explanations are deftly ‘knitted’ together in this poem.

I think one of the reasons why I’ve responded to Anne Connolly’s work so deeply, is because I find strong echoes of my own themes and meanings. In Anne’s ‘Reflections,’ I see Heaney’s ‘Peeling Potatoes,’ one of the Glanmore Sonnets he wrote in memory of his mother; which in turn sparked off my own ‘Roosters.’ In Anne’s ‘Reflection,’ her mother ‘peel[s] potatoes / elbows leaning on the sink edge.’ In that sparse economy we have a woman getting on with the everyday chores that must be done; her ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph’ the refrain of many a woman in pain. The life before is succinctly captured as, ‘Her dancing days lay / at the bottom of the drawer,’ inverting the old-fashioned trousseau drawer as something that holds memories of a former life, rather than a future.

Connolly’s work is deservedly garnering attention in Scotland, where she resides now, but I would hope for a wider audience for her pamphlet, Downside Up, in Northern Ireland, and indeed across the hazy border into the Republic. I hope to see more of her work soon. Visit Calder Wood Press for this and many more reasonably priced poetry pamphlets

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sharing the 'isms'

Yesterday's Irish Times carried this article: a very useful and humorous guide to the various 'isms' and other trivia that we take for granted.

A quick example: Socialism: You have two cows. You give one to your neighbour. Communisim: You have two cows. The state takes both and gives you some milk.

One of my favourites is this one: Surrealism: You have two giraffes. The state requires you to take harmonica lessons.

But my total favourite is this: A French Corporation: You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three.

Go check out Magpie's whole article.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cambridge Play Readings

In November, there is a drama reading festival in Cambridge, UK: the project is called Naked Stage, and various plays will be given readings in front of an audience, with an opportunity to give feedback afterwards. If you live in or near the area, you might want to go along.

I mention this because Jaki McCarrick, a Dundalk based writer is having a reading of her play The American Hotel, on Sunday 16th November.

Jaki's work is popping up all over the place lately: her play Leopoldville, (more details at the link) an edgy drama set in an Irish border town, recently received two readings; one in Virginia, Cavan, and the other in London. That play was received very well by intrigued audiences in both countries, so it will be interesting to hear how The American Hotel is received.

Tickets are £3, at the door: B Bar, Market Passage, Cambridge, UK. More here on the Write On website.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Radio Interview Recidivus

Here's the recording of the interview I promised a week or two back. It is a bit long, so it may take a while to load; I hope you think it's worth it!

The interview is conducted by Harry Lee, of Dundalk FM, at Dundalk Arts Office as an outside broadcast on October 2nd, as part of the Poetry Ireland 30th Anniversay All-Ireland Poetry Day celebrations.

The first interviewee is Patrick Chapman, who came down to Dundalk on the day from Dublin. The collections that he mentions are Breaking Hearts and Traffic Lights, from Salmon Press, and A Shopping Mall on Mars. The link I've given are for two of the poems that he reads in the interview.

The second interviewee is Paddy Dillon from Drogheda. An irregular regular in poetry events in and around Drogheda and Dublin as well as further afield, I am rather hoping that Paddy will have a collection published sometime soon. His poems are always unexpected in their trajectory.

And then there's me; I was blabbing so much that Harry hadn't time to ask me for a third poem. Who'd think that I could talk that much about poetry!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hectic Happenings 2

Lots to report back on from the trip to Cork. I went down on Sunday so that I didn't have to drive up and back in one day. Boy did I get a treat! I met up with Paul Casey of O Bheal and Eilish, a writer friend of his and we went to The Long Valley to hear the poems and life story of Mahmoud Darwish

October 5th was a designated day for everyone world-wide to celebrate his life and poetry, so that was what we were doing, sitting there listening to translations of his work, in Irish, in French and in Arabic. Darwish's work came from his own feeling of exile from his country of birth. He explored this feeling of alienation and exile many times in his poetry. You can explore his work and life all over the internet, but here's a small sample. from U tube.

As if that wasn't enough, we went off to sample Soul Driven at the Crane Lane. They're a jazz/soul outfit, with a very tight brass section of sax, trombone and trumpet, with a fantastic vocalist. A nice taster of what I'll miss at the jazz festival in Cork later this month.

On Monday, Paul Casey suggested visiting Kinsale to pay court to Desmond O Grady. If you don't know about this poet, you're in for a real treat. He is now in his eighties, but very sprightly, erudite and also tres, tres charmant! He is famous for his connection to the Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, and has known writers like Beckett, Joyce, Sartre personally. He taught widely on the continent as well as in the University of Cairo and the American University of Alexandria. He told us he has around 36 books published (and me there with me piffling little 1).

Known particularly for his translations, which include a Selected Poems of C. P. Cafavy, he proved very generous with his thoughts on poetry, translation and even seemed to enjoy a quick scan inside the covers of my own humble Kairos. Desmond even quizzed me on the origin of the 'quis custodies' quote titling the first poem inside; thankfully my hungover head was able to pull the quote from Virgil. I will be forever grateful to Paul for his inspired invitation; sheer magic.

As for the reading itself: that went very well indeed. I was sandwiched between the five word challenge and the open mic session. I really enjoyed the opportunity to have a longer length reading than I'm used to; I was able to try out that controversial 'boob' poem as a rousing close, and was also able to read from some of the Mallory sonnets, which indeed went down very well. Something for everyone in the mix and the reaction afterwards was positively heart-warming. I shall go back to Cork!

It almost wipes the memory of the four hour drive back that night, and falling into bed at 4am... & the rise again at 7am to wake the kids... ah, reality!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Hectic Happenings

Right. All Ireland Poetry Day went very well. I have a recording of the radio interview/reading, but just need to sort out hosting issues so I can post it here. The Lunchtime Recital went very well: we had a good crowd turn up and they seemed to enjoy the variety and the poems themselves. I read from 'Kairos' and also from the new manuscript.

Patrick Chapman's work was really interesting and also went down very well with the audience. Myself and himself did a swap and I've been reading from his collection, 'Breaking Hearts and Traffic Lights,' all weekend.

Paddy Dillon also read very well. I hope it's not too long before he gets a collection published; he has so many fine poems to choose from, and his poems are never conventional in expectation or outcome. There's always a surprise.

Today, I'm off to Cork for O Bheal on Monday evening. I've got to travel back Monday evening, as I've a class to teach the next morning in Newry. I'll be meeting up with the organiser Paul Casey for a Palestinian poet's reading this evening in Cork - really looking forward to that!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Poetry Day, Tomorrow!

Live broadcast from Dundalk FM (hai) at 11.30am, from Dundalk Town Hall: Patrick Chapman, Paddy Dillon and my good self will be on air discussing poetry with Harry Lee. Tune in here (you need Real Player/MS Windows Media Player) to listen live at 11.30am... from anywhere in the world (you do the time zones: if this is GMT here...)*

And all three of us will be "Louth and Proud" (say it in a Dundalk accent and substitute 'd' for 'th') at lunchtime in Dundalk Town Hall, for free, for anyone who cares to come in!

There are lots of other poetry events taking place in every county (yes, all 32 of them) in Ireland tomorrow to celebrate 30 years of Poetry Ireland, as well as establishing 2nd October as Ireland's Poetry Day - yay! Over 100 poets have answered the call to bring poetry to a venue near you!

Ask not what poetry can do for you, but what you can do for poetry... to misquote :)

*There is a repeat tonight (October 2nd) at 11.15pm, but I hope to have a recording up here soon!