James Harpur, Tomas Lieske and William Wall

The next event saw three excellent poets come together to deliver two hours of literary joy.

First to read was James Harpur, a poet with four collections of poetry published by Anvil Press, who has won a number of awards, including the 2009 Michael Hartnett Award and the British National Poetry Competition. George Szirtes described one of Harpur’s readings as ‘beautiful … melancholy, monastic, mystical, like prayers shaped out of despair with the hearsay of some small light just over the horizon’. This certainly describes the effect of his poetry as his poetry spilled out into the crowd.

From the hypnotic use of repetition (“unless it was the swish of scythes/ the swish of scythes”) to the mastery of closing lines (“So I might rise like Adam, ribs intact” – Ode to an Osteopath), Harpur’s poetry tantalised, beguiled and unnerved (“There’s one night that awaits us all/ And only one road that leads there/ It won’t take long to say a prayer /And then you can hurry on your way”) the audience. My particular favourite was The Leper’s Squint – a poem based on a type of letterbox built into a cathedral wall so that lepers could reach through to receive blessings: “On the North wall, a wide dark slit/ I picture fingers poking in like shoots.”

You can read samples of Harpur’s poems on his website, here.

Next to read was Tomas Lieske, a poet who describes himself as a late starter, having debuted at the age of 38 with poetry published in the literary journals Tirade and De Revisor. Since then, he has written several novels, receiving the Libris Literature Prize for Franklin (2001) and the VSB Poetry Award for his collection of poetry Hoe je geliefde te herkennen (How to Recognize Your Lover, 2006).

From the outset, it was clear that magic, myth, and chance play a central role in Lieske’s universe. From the celestial images in A Caravan of Salt, where a train of camels disappeared and “emerged into swaying starships”, to the “wordless dream-balloon speech” of The Eggshell, every word in Lieske’s poetry contains a wealth of possibilities. We were also treated to the fabulously titled “The Blushing Beast” and a reading of the poem that Tomas donated to the blog earlier in the month, How to Recognise your Lover.

To finish the evening, William Wall regaled us with an array of poems and the fabulously witty story I Bought a Heart which had the audience roaring with laughter.

The author of four novels, two collections of poetry and a volume of short fiction, William’s 2005 novel This Is The Country was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. A collection of poetry entitled Black Ice is scheduled for publication by Salmon in Summer 2011 and his next collection “The Ghost estate” will be launched on April 21st in the Farmgate Cafe, Cork (a date for your diaries).

Starting his reading with the claim that “it turns out that they lied to us…as a kid I was told that Ireland was defined by its language and landscape – but it turned out its the property market”, Wall set the scene for the darkly comic delights to follow.

From the hilarious to the haunting, Wall brought the audience through a journey of realism; half-finished housing estates, where “if you lived there, you’d be home by now,” nightmarish supermarkets, pulling us through the “police state of mind” and “fruit psychosis”. We were treated to love poems (“if you can call them Valentine’s poems, my wife Liz is doubtful”) which interspersed the mundane with beautifully touching lines such as “I am crazy with you/ after thirty years of the same” and “I love your sleepy head.” The end goal? To make us laugh and marvel at our own foibles.

And laugh we most certainly did as Wall launched into I bought a heart which proved to be the perfect end to a fabulous evening – I  spoil it for you, but I do recommend you get hold of a copy and read it for yourself.

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Filed under Cork Spring Literary Festival, Elizabeth Rose Murray

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