Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Guest Post from Maeve O'Sullivan - Poetry Now

It’s the end of March, it must be Dun Laoghaire. How do I love thee, Poetry Now? Let me count the ways: Your lovely location which happens to be my home town (not only does that give me a warm fuzz of pride at being a former Burger, but it also means that my B & B’s sorted); the eclectic programme which usually pairs Irish poets with their overseas colleagues; the talks, the workshops, the awards, the chance to meet other poets (emerging and established) and indulge in gossip…

I was asked to write about PN10’s Sunday events. The first of these was the Strong Reading and Award for Best First Collection which took place at noon. There were four short-listed collections for this award: Tolstoy in Love by Ray Givans (Dedalus Press), The Owl and the Pussycat and other poems by Tom Mathews (Dedalus Press), Laughter Heard from the Road by Maggie O’Dwyer (Templar Poetry) and Tír Tairngire by Peadar Ó hUallaigh (Coiscéim). The event was pretty well attended, given the day and the time of day, and it was ably introduced by Liam Carson, who I gather was the judge of the event, or one of them. He paid tribute to the festival organisers, and to independent booksellers such as Books Upstairs, who he urged us all to support.

All four poets read their work well to a responsive audience. Three things struck me about all of them: 1. They were all fifty or over (something Carson remarked on too) which gives us emerging writers some hope! 2. They had all established professions outside of poetry, three in other artforms: one is a former teacher, one a cartoonist, one an artist and the other a musician. 3. There was a relative lack of confessional poetry in the work that was read, which was quite refreshing in one way.

Tyrone-born Ray Givens read a number of poems inspired by the lives of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Akhmatova and others, some written from the point of view of others in their lives. I half-expected Paul Muldoon’s heckler from Thursday night (see Kate’s blog post) to reappear and hassle him as well, along the lines of “You’re a poet from NORTHERN IRELAND, why are you writing poems about dead RUSSIAN writers?” My favourite poem was the one in which the poet gets a haircut from a former student. The metaphors were handled beautifully.

Tom Mathews read work from his book, also a new poem about Humpty Dumpty (after Auden). Nothing and no-one is sacred here: he tackles Byron, Dylan Thomas, Gogarty, Yeats and Joyce, applying the wit that we’re used to seeing in visual form. While I welcome humour in Irish poetry – we need much more of it – I found many of these poems to be too gimmicky for my taste.

The third poet to read was artist Maggie O’Dwyer. Her work was more personal, but subtly so. “Good Driver” invoked her father, and the love of driving that she inherited from him. “Wallflowers” described the possible temptation by a snake, and had echoes of Carole Ann Duffy for me (and Paula Meehan for my companion). In her final poem, “House”, she uses the title as a metaphor for the body, a brave act.

The fourth and final poet was Peadar Ó hUallaigh, who hails from Clonmel but is now living in Dingle. He helpfully gave what he called a “detailed sketch” of each poem in English before reading it in Irish, but some of them sounded like polished poems in English to me. The work, in as much as I understood it, was lovely: the flow, the rhythms, the imagery and the beautiful vowel sounds. The main theme was one of heritage: the fossil footprints on Valentia Island, the Swiss Alps, the Water Course and the White Cow nature goddess, who is said to have created the Milky Way. The delivery was clear and melodic, as one would expect from a musician. It didn’t come as a great surprise after the readings to hear that Peadar had won the 2010 Strong Prize, or that Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill was the first to congratulate him.


Emerging Writer said...

Thanks for writing this. I've heard Maggie O'Dwyer before reading her House poem. It's great.

BarbaraS said...

Enjoyed this very much. Nice to get a flavour of the festival - which I will get to one of these years!