Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Poem, A Plaque

A few weeks ago, Dundalk Town Council's Arts Office invited me to come over and launch the poem they commissioned me to write, celebrating 15 years of the Arts Office existing in Dundalk, at their annual music bursary awards. They had the poem cast in bronze, which is wonderful although a tad daunting, because it's permanent - so I just hope I got it right.

The poem grew from a recording I was invited to be part of back in August 2009. Dundalk Arts Office was leaving its then premises and moving back into the Town Hall, in the Basement Gallery. Many prominent figures in Dundalk's arts life were asked to come and talk to Harry Lee, of Dundalk FM about how the arts had developed over the past fifteen years.

There were musicians, artists, writers and people involved in drama who spoke of the importance of the arts office and how it enabled people to become more involved in the artistic development of different areas in Dundalk. I enjoyed being a part of that programme, as well as listening to all the figures talking about their experiences. Whether politicians or people on the ground, each person's perspective was interesting and I tried to encapsulate that into the poem.

I know it has especial resonance for those in Dundalk, but perhaps it may not make sense to those outside the town - but that's okay. That's the thing about a commission - you can't please (fool) all the people, all of the time.

Feel free to click on the picture - you should be able to read the poem :)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Being Silent is Good for you

Photo credit: The Sunday Tribune - the name of the photographer isn't given, alas.

On Saturday I took part in 'Chris Doris: 10 Poets Observe in Silence,' in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. There was a piece about it in the Sunday Tribune yesterday and a photo of us all in the round. This is the most challenging, and yet most rewarding, piece of art I have contributed to in a long time.

What we were asked to do was simply to remain in the present, be silent and observe across the day, for just under six hours. We took breaks every hour and had a lunch break. And so the hours passed, with each of us trying to remain in the now, not wander off in our own thoughts, but let the day pass. And it did pass, serenely, quietly - the Hugh Lane has the sort of acoustics you get in a church or cathedral, which I thought lent a sort of 'holy' quality to the day.

You can call me barmy, if you wish, but I got a lot from it. Maybe you had to be there :)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Drivin' in a straight line...

Picture thanks to Ireland Genealogy Projects and Roots Web Ancestry

... in a poem is not as easy as it looks on TFE's 'oul bus. I think it might be one of them 'oul-fashioned wans dat dey used ta droive in da 70s & 80s (okay, meybe da 60s) in Dublin - see above.

I gave you all this line: 'I got down on my knees and smelled the brand new linoleum,' from a story by Edna O'Brien (another class act) in her short story collection The Pagan Place.

What you did with it was another matter entirely. Well fair play to you all, you got into it. I'm very impressed with the response - you all engaged with the line and took it your own varied and many ways - and the round up begins here:

Niamh has her Ear To The Ground

Rachel Fox is Flat Down

Emerging Writer is on the bus too

NanU's The Ineffable Scent of Linoleum

JoAnne's in The Kitchen

Don't Feed the Pixies has a quirky take in Out of Gas

TFE's has a Pilgrims Progress sort of moment amongst others

Peter Goulding's pulled out all the rhyming stops for ium

Bill gets technical Close to the Ground

DanaBug dishes the dirt on Willow ware and linoleum

Jeanne Iris is a Mom Interrupted

Poetikat uses her olfactory muscles

Enchanted Oak has a strongly coloured lino: The Red Floor

Pure Fiction breaks Virgin Territory

Padhraig lays it on us in Trackstopper

Colin looks at the roots of it all in Flax

and Watercats with a right kitchen sink drama,

Jessica Maybury talks straight about what you find on the lino

and Linoleum's Fresh Dreams from Chiccoreal

Swiss is better late than never with the process and scents of a Lino cut

I hope that's everyone now! As for the driver well...

The Mechanics of Movement

I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum,
adopted the cat stance, then threaded the needle
hand under each arm, slowly in turn, shoulder to floor.
Back to the cat stance, spine arched up and back to rest
and folded my legs with my bum in the bow crook
of my calves. All the while breathin, deeper and deeper.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Drivin' The Poetry Bus

Next Monday, the 17th of May, I get to grip the wheel of TFE's poetry bus for the day. So I thought I'd better leave what I'm thinking of, out for ye to think of.

"I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum..."

Start with that line and see where you go with a poem - this line should give you somewhere to go using longer lines, and that's what I'm interested in seeing you develop, nice long lines: think Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Sinead Morrissey... the Bible

Simples. (I can't make that sucky/squeaky sound those meerkats make...)

You know the drill - leave a comment below if you're contributing and I'll come and look and post your link in my post next Monday - ding, ding, ding!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Krapp's Last Tape

Last night, I went to see Krapp's Last Tape in the Gate Theatre, Dublin, with Michael Gambon in the title role. Woah.

From the opening, when Krapp's hand comes slowly up from underneath the desk to rub his head and scratch his hair (and I was sitting there thinking about how to convey the 'handness of hands' as he did so well), to the closing scene with Krapp sitting there, aghast, resigned, displaying all the gamut of emotion and none, simultaneously - I was truly spellbound in the second row. The one hour one-hander felt like fifteen minutes in the presence of someone very, very good at what they do.

Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times must have been at it last night too - his review is far more eloquent than I ever could be, describing Gambon as 'an alchemist of the soul'. I know one thing he doesn't though: last night was really, really special - I saw tears in Michael Gambon's eyes as he took three curtain calls. That's what you get for sitting in the second row..

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Irish Pages Annual Lecture

If you're in Belfast this Friday, here's a thing you might be interested in:

The Fifth Annual Irish Pages Lecture
Friday, 7 May 2010 at 7.30pm
Belfast Exposed, 23 Donegall Street, Belfast

Free Entry & Refreshments

To Scullabogue Backwards from Belfast
Against Sectarian Preconceptions
by Patricia Craig
Introduced by Glenn Patterson

A critic, essayist and anthologist, Patricia Craig was born and grew up in Belfast and
lived for many years in London before returning to Northern Ireland in 1999. She
has written biographies of Elizabeth Bowen and Brian Moore, and edited many
anthologies, including The Oxford Books of Ireland, English Detective Stories and Modern
Women’s Stories, The Belfast Anthology and The Ulster Anthology. Her memoir Asking for
Trouble was published in 2007. She is a regular contributor to The Irish Times, The
Independent and the Times Literary Supplement.

In case anyone's wondering, Scullabogue is the name of a townland in County Wexford (VInegar Hill and all that), at which a certain barn was used as a staging post for the rebels in the Irish 1798 Rebellion. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it (the end part rhymes with vogue, if you're not sure how we pronounce it here)?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Solving Sylvia?

I almost regret getting stuck into Ariel's Gift last week, as it ended up with me re-reading Birthday Letters, Ariel (the facsimile of her original ms), reading Her Husband, by Diane Middlebrook, and then turning to the internet to order Plath's Collected Poems (I did have this, but don't know where it's gone), as well as her Journals, Letters Home (you need these both, apparently, to balance each other out), and Johnny Panic & her collected Prose. I stopped myself just as the bill came to the 100 mark, at the children's stories - but only just.

I've also ordered some Anne Sexton, and Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame, oh and AS's Collected too, I read her work at AMK and decided I really should have my own copy. But that's by the by.

Anyhoo, what do I think of the whole thing? I find S&T's whole story appallingly fascinating. Their sad story reminds me of my own parents: miserable together, miserable without each other. My mother felt trapped by the whole marriage versus a creative life. Like SP, my mother had an American upbringing and education (her parents fled France when WWII broke out). In Dublin at the end of the 60s, at the age of twenty-one, she met my dad, at uni, and got pregnant, married and ended up living in the back-of-beyond in a border-town-land just as the Troubles were starting away from the city lights, trying to raise children and have a creative life. The strain of trying, coupled with the loss of a baby, I think, caused her mental unravelling, and contributed to the subsequent demise of the marriage. He too had his own mental and personal issues - there are always two sides, and then ten more, to any story.

Weirdly (or perhaps not, if you're a psychologist), I've found myself in slightly similar circumstances to my mother: six children and all the concomitant responsibilities that go with those different personalities; as well as my own wants, wishes and desires for a working creative life. I guess you could say that I'm looking at my options; weighing my life and wondering, Have I got the balance right? Am I doing what I want to be doing? I'm beginning to think that the answer may not be what I want it to be; so I'm going to have to think strongly about what's important to me: the writing I should be doing, instead of the energy I give to others in the teaching process (Plath & Hughes taught in the US for a year; they didn't do much writing).

But back to the original spark of this journal-post: Ariel's Gift is designed as a sort of primer; like a literary York notes to Hughes' Birthday Letters. Erica Wagner takes each part of the couple's life together and matches the poems of that period. It begins with the infamous meeting of Plath & Hughes (she reciting his recently published poem back to him; he being snarling and manly - and all the rest) and goes on from there.

After a certain point, I couldn't escape feeling that Birthday Letters is more than an apologia gleaned from a lifetime of mourning and regret. Hughes would always write from the vantage point of selectively looking in his rear-view mirror; how he sees things and how he has to re-read her work in cataloguing it for posterity (and sale to Smith College) -memory being a trickster too. BL is in some aspects a synthesis of both of their work; the working relationship they had once shared was almost symbiotic: they re-used each other's mss to write on, they seized on each other's images and metaphors from poem to poem. In Hughes re-reading of her work, re-working of this material personal to them both, perhaps he came more to terms with the psychic rift that occured between them - but this is to trivialise the whole matter, and to re-hash what a whole pile of other people have written as well; I do realise.

Our fascination as a reader is with the what-ifs: what if she had lived and gone on to develop her writing talent; what could her riposte have been. That is why their story is enduringly fascinating to me - almost fifty years later; that and the personal similarities that I identify with.