amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, March 16, 2013

VERSeFest Day 4 brief notes

This is going to be a brief, or perhaps more apt to say, cursory blog entry because a) I had a pint of Guinness & more than a pint of convo with a dear friend yesterday before the reading & b) I was laughing too hard at the entertaining poetry of the two readers to intelligently process much. but here are a few wee remembrances for those that weren't able to attend.

first off, there was a variety of cheese gifted by the Irish Embassy. one had figs in it & was divine. the other was Irish Cheddar with Guinness, had a dark shell & nutty flavour. so glad that losing my colon eliminated my lactose intolerance. that's the best thing about it, frankly.

the host for the evening was the handsome green shirted & eloquent David O'Meara, pronounced by poet Matthew Sweeney as "O'Marra." what I like about David's introductions is they aren't long or overly fawning but he still gives us more than just the biographical details, providing a thoughtful & insightful overview of the poet's work. I'd actually like to see a book of essays that are made up solely of his introductions to writers. they're that good.

Rita Ann Higgins read first. She had to fly back to Ireland straight away after because she had to give a reading for the President of Ireland on Sunday. her poems were narrative, dead pan, at times funny & at times funny dark. one poem, "My Face Goes Scarlet"  from her retrospective "Throw in the Vowels" (Bloodaxe, 2005) began with a quote from a priest about blow jobs, which was surprising enough & then went in an entirely different direction by the end. Another one mentioned broken glass between the walls of houses to keep the kids off. Another talked about the young Irish men who left for England. Higgins presented a sharp portrait of Ireland or at least her part of it. She is a prolific poet who read from several works.

Peter Porter  had this to say about her collection "Sunny Side Plucked" & I reproduce it here because it is a more articulate way of saying what I'm thinking about the poems she read from last night:

"This is a refreshing collection of work from a quiet untameable poet. Higgins roams the provincial towns and countryside of Ireland fomenting rebellion and writing with unstaunchable energy of everything warm and unrespectable in Irish life. Her voice is like nobody else's, simple but not naive, raucous but sympathetic."

I did manage to find one of Higgins' poems on line, not one she read. but much of her work is not available there. Should have bought the books, dagnabbit.

The Did-You-Come-Yets of the Western World

When he says to you:
You look so beautiful
you smell so nice —
how I've missed you —
and did you come yet?
It means nothing,
and he is smaller,
than a mouse's fart.
Don't listen to him…
Go to Annaghdown Pier
with your father's rod.
Don't necessarily hold out
for the biggest one;
oftentimes the biggest ones
are the smallest in the end.
Bring them all home,
but not together.
One by one is the trick;
avoid red herrings and scandal.
Maybe you could take two
on the shortest day of the year.
Time is the cheater here
not you, so don't worry.
Many will bite the usual bait:
They will talk their slippery way
through fine clothes and expensive perfume,
fishing up your independence.
These are,
The did-you-come-yets of the western world,
the feather and fin rufflers.
Pity for them they have no wisdom.
Others will bite at any bait.
Maggot, suspender, or dead worm.
Throw them to the sharks.
In time one will crawl
out from under thigh-land.
Although drowning he will say,
"Woman I am terrified, why is the house shaking?"
And you'll know he's the one.

Rita Ann Higgins

Matthew Sweeney mesmerized with fanciful poems with lush & vivid imagery. Someone correct me if i'm wrong, but i think he said something, which was very similar to a quote I found from Higgins, or did she say it? "To get at the poetic truth it is not always necessary to tell the what-actually-happened truth; these times I lie." Words to live by for a poet. 

In an interview with Lidia Vianu in Desperado Literature, he described his poems as "imagistic narrative" & went on to say "As this suggests, I consider poetry – or at least this kind of poetry – to have a lot in common with film. I am not at all interested in confessional poetry, or indeed much in autobiographical poetry (although there are some poems which are autobiographical in nature, and many other poems have autobiographical details smuggled in). One early TLS review put it that I was more a poet of the world than the self, and it is true that I prefer on the whole to imagine myself into other people’s experiences than to write out of my own. Most of my poetry has a narrative element. Some of it strays beyond realism into the territory I call alternative realism (which is not to be confused with surrealism, although many people do this), and it often mixes humour and seriousness. Both these latter tendencies are common in the Irish literary tradition, also in the German literary tradition that I studied at university and had such a profound effect on me."

[A strange small world coincidence: Sweeney is the co-editor of an anthology entitled "Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times," along with Jo Shapcott (faber & faber, 1996). a lover brought it back for me in 2005 from London. it's a fine antho. you should give it a look.]

One  thing I particularly noticed about both Sweeney's & Higgins' poetry was its specificity. He didn't just talk about a ghost missing the food & drink he'd had while he was alive, he mentioned that the wine was Côtes du Rhône. Both he and Higgins had a way with language. One particular phrase I remember from one of his poems was "Nico's sepulchral singing" from a poem called "His  Crows." & a bunch of interesting portraits of men, "The Sad Man," "The Big Man." He apologized tht these poems were tragic. I get on well with those who combine the tragic with the whimsical. As he drank from his small plastic glass of red wine, he mentioned that Keats could never have written his odes if it wasn't for red wine. I would have liked to have sat down with Sweeney over a bottle & exchanged ghost stories myself. And Higgins too. At the end of the evening, I felt as if I had. I was drunk on their fine poetry. Here is a sample of two poems that he read last night & you can read a number of them in the Bow-Wow Shop, for starters.


A man egged another on to kill him,
then appeared as a vengeful ghost,
whispering to his killer that the cost
of his enjoyment of that final whim
would be nothing less than suicide.
No lifetime spent in prison's care,
not even a blast of the electric chair
would do. He'd need to have died
by the same hand as the other man,
on the same day, in the same place,
and if the killer should prefer to run,
the ghost would float before his face,
hissing that he was no one, no one,
and he would never win this race.

His Crows

Four crows flew in formation
above the train, and at Milton Keynes
they spread out into a wave
and veered towards Norfolk,
and the roof of that Old Church.

He was inside, dressed in black,
as always, meditating, and
drinking his dark red wine.
A glance at his black watch
sent him to the fridge, to take out

a long, marble plate, with four
dead mice on it, which he placed
on the altar he kept outside.
Each crow dived on a mouse,
till four skeletons lay on the plate.

He put on a CD of Nico's sepulchral
singing, and the crows sang along,
almost in tune, with him conducting.
Then he strode off to the back room
and his black, leather hammock.

Matthew Sweeney

Today is going to be a very full day, starting at 1:30 pm with the Factory Reading Series talks at the Mercury Lounge & finishing over at the Knox Church with the final event starting at 9pm. I'm going to do my best to attend the whole day, but something tells me I'll be knackered, so we'll see. Hope to see you there & there.

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