Category Archives: Elizabeth Rose Murray

Cork Spring Literary Festival Wrap-Up

There were many sad faces as Cork Spring Literary Festival came to an end – but there were also a few relieved faces dotted in the crowd (organising and attending four days of poetry is no mean feat). But what I noticed most was that everyone walked away contented – sated with stunning poetry and prose and, in many cases, loaded up with a host of new friends.

The final day saw Catch The Moon collective, made up of four female poets (Tina Pisco, Cathy D’Arcy, Shirley McClure and guest Geraldine Mitchell) and one female harpist (Anya backer), take the stage. The format was brilliant – four themes, each clearly introduced, followed by a musical introduction and then two poems on that theme from each poet. The chosen themes on the last day of the festival (picked, says Tina Pisco, “in terms of where we’re reading, the time of year and how we feel that day”) were ‘spring, body, love and writing’. The combination of music and poetry worked magically and as each poet revealed their personal take on each theme, the audience gained an insight into the different voices and experiences of four very different women.

Gerry Murphy, Julijana Velickovska and Dave Lordan also gave a fabulous reading, which Lory Manrique-Hyland described as “electric, funny, revealing, intense and fun”. You can read Lory’s full account here. And we were also treated to four poetry-based films; Paul Casey’s adaptation of Ian Duhig’s The Lammas Hireling, a short film by Maram al-Masri, the BBC classic with John Betjeman interviewing Philip Larkin, and Liz O’Donoghue’s masterpiece which featured all of Cork’s finest poets in 1999/2000; In the Hands of Erato.

Three poets, Patrick Cotter, Leanne O’Sullivan (both from Ireland) and Maram al-Masri (Syria), wrapped up the proceedings. The man behind the event, it was the first time Patrick had included himself in the festival programme, despite the fact that he has been the organiser for the last ten years. So it was a real pleasure to hear some of his stunning new poems. Maram’s poetry was as beautiful, sensual and enticing as the poet herself; if you haven’t had chance to see Maram in action, she is one of the most alluring individuals I have ever met – no wonder all available copies of her book sold out immediately after the reading. Leanne provided the perfect close to the festival, with evocative, imaginative and touching poetry, steeped in Irish landscape, relationships and history. It’s been amazing to watch the changes in Leanne’s poetry over the years, and this was one of her most mature and enchanting readings to date.

Although it’s always a shame when something wonderful comes to an end, I leave the festival behind with a glad heart. From the organisation to the programme to the kindness and friendliness of all the writers, as well as the Munster Literature Centre staff, this has been a truly inspiring few days, the memories of which will last a lifetime.

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A Haiku Workshop with Gabriel Rosenstock

Having read lots of Gabriel’s work, I knew I’d be in for a treat at the two-hour long Haiku workshop – but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would actually learn. And from talking to the other attendees, I wasn’t alone.

Not only did Gabriel open our eyes to the essence of haiku, he also showed us how to spot a non-haiku within the first half hour of the workshop. Starting with an introduction explaining the idea behind haiku, the history of haiku and the fact that is separate to poetry (and not a form of poetry) Gabriel explained that “it doesn’t matter what you like to encounter – it’s what you encounter.”

One of the difficulties that I (and seemingly many others) have with haiku is that it’s a difficult genre to understand. It seems at once beautiful, poetic and deep – but I now know that this is the opposite of what haiku is really about…as Gabriel pointed out “there is no such thing as good or bad haiku, just haiku and non-haiku.”

Haiku should happen when you open your senses to the world around you and should be expressed in simplistic, plain language, displaying a flash in time, a moment. There should be no poetry, no frills and, as Gabriel repeatedly drummed into us, no thinking. The haiku should be as pure as the moment experienced.

By the time it got to work-shopping our own haiku, we could identify what did and did not conform to the rules. Having spent time dabbling in this genre, I thought I had turned a corner, writing some decent haiku. However, it turns out that most of my haiku were actually Senryu (“haiku is too small to have you in it – you and your ego”) and some weren’t anything like haiku at all. For example, I’d mistakenly ended (what I thought was) a haiku with “summer skies”. But as Gabriel pointed out – how can one moment have several skies?

As we went through everyone’s work, it became apparent that we’d all misunderstood the idea behind haiku – we’d been trying to create beautiful and thought-provoking concepts instead of opening ourselves up to the world. But despite the gentle tearing apart of their work, every attendee was put at their ease and felt comfortable with their mistakes thanks to Gabriel’s patient and professional approach. And, importantly, every one of us left smiling, delighted with how much we had improved.

If you really want to understand haiku, Gabriel is the man to talk to. He exudes haiku, wears it like a piece of old clothing and I couldn’t possibly convey the meaning as effectively. And if you really want to get to grip with haiku, read the masters; e.g. Basho, J. W. Hackett, Isa and Santoka, Rosenstock.

But, if you’re interested, it doesn’t hurt to give you a bit of head start. Here are some of the basic rules to get you started…

Haiku should:

  • reflect nature and the seasons, giving a strong feel for time and place
  • be no more than 17 syllables and be written in lower case (except for proper names) without a title
  • encapsulate a moment, with no contradictions
  • be spontaneous, not “thought about” (although haiku can be revisited for improvements)
  • focus on one idea, using plain – not poetic – language

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What’s the theme? – Day 3 of Cork Spring Literary Festival

It is said that every possible theme has already been covered in the arts, so whether it’s a love poem, a still life painting or a war film you’re working on – it’s all been done before. Yet, throughout history, literature and storytelling has thrived, and they continue to thrive. So if it’s all been done before, how can writers create fresh, exciting pieces of work that can attract and thrill an audience?

Day three of the Cork Spring Literary Festival demonstrated the answer to this question as another six talented writers took to the stage to share their work with us, each taking inspiration from different areas to create a colourful evening of literary goodness.

Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh gave us evocative poems in Irish, accompanied by their English translation. Alibhe explored unexpected themes, such as a whistling language in the Pyrenees which as now disappeared, payments received for hunted wolves, and a Basque-country shouting language which ends with the stunning line, “we’d be frog voiced and full of love.” As a talented linguist and poet, Ailbhe provided an original platform from which the audience could learn about antiquated, extinct languages and historical events.

Matthew Sweeney took a different approach, reinventing the ordinary, making everyday occurrences come alive before turning them into something magical or bizarre. I loved the poem Fish and Chips which switched from a person enjoying this simple meal to the viewpoint of a gull, dreaming about setting up his own fish and chip shop on a remote island, complete with a bird poetry radio station. Sweeney also gave insight into how writers find their inspiration after reading The Glass Chess Set, saying; “I read that poem to my brother, he said, ‘Dad didn’t play chess’ – I said, ‘poets have to lie their way to the truth’.”

With incredible stage presence, Catherine Smith read several poems which used her own experiences as a youth as their focus, creating a personal, “confessional” touch. With comical and familiar themes such as skiving school to watch bad TV programmes (How it All Started), underage drinking (Snakebite) and lack of confidence (Smoking and Reading Nietzsche in the Cardoma), Smith included her audience, drawing them in by asking questions. Smith revealed, with much hilarity, that one of her students told her that during an MA in the US, grandparents were highlighted as a banned topic – before launching into a poem about grandparents. In addition she had a few poems that used dreams as inspiration, saying “dreams have their own truth, their own force.” Another idea that Smith raised was that when writing; “you can explore experiences you haven’t had in real life.

The series of poems by Valerie Rouzeau were even more personal, taking the “write about what you know, what moves you” route. An incredibly emotive poet, Rouzeau’s poems were laden with anguish and loss but filled with stunning ideas and beautiful images such as; “the snow has dreams she doesn’t know about.” Rouzeau brought the audience on a journey, carrying them along beside her in the train carriage as she hurries to see her dying father, drawing the audience in further still as she experiences waves of regret, anger and hurt after his death. Rejecting black as colour of mourning, “I can spend whole days thinking of you in blue”, Rouzeau’s deeply touching theme and passionate approach guaranteed the audience was enthralled, right up to the final line uttered; “I wanted to see you but you shut your eyes too tight.

When Ian Duhig took the stage, it was clear that many of his poems were centred on the joy of language and joy of verbal dexterity. Covering a variety of themes, each with a strong sense of place, Duhig mixed social consciousness and politics with humour. His first poem was what he referred to as “the most unsuccessful love poem ever – in fact, the person it was written for two decades ago still hates it.” Like Ailbhe, Duhig also had a historical element to his poems, where “masked gods walk among us as a test”, looking towards examples from the past for modern solutions. Particularly potent were the series of ‘navvies’ poems, including Jericho Shanty and Ornithology, where “the Navvies cry is the pick-bird song.”

Closing the evening with the first chapter of her novel, Lory Manrique-Hyland’s reading contained a delicate yet colourful mixture of an American childhood and displaced Cuban roots (which received a dedication the following evening from Gerry Murphy). Filled with superstition, pace, punchy dialogue and vibrancy, the characters leapt into the audience with a vigour that only such a personal understanding of a situation could enable.

I guess the answer to the question I posed earlier – how can writers create fresh, exciting pieces of work that can attract and thrill an audience? – is that there isn’t a single source of inspiration. There are ideas to be found in all areas of life – whether personal or imaginary, truth or lies, rooted in politics, history or the every day. But the key is writing about it so skilfully, so passionately and so convincingly that it can move an audience, taking them outside (or inside) their own lives, and come out feeling informed, entertained and renewed.

 

 

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Cork Spring Literary Festival comes to an end…more blog posts to come

After a thoroughly enjoyable four days of literature, the Cork Spring Literary Festival ended on a high note with a reading from three outstanding poets; Patrick Cotter, Maram al-Massri and Leanne O’Sullivan.

But even though the festival won’t be back for another year, the blog doesn’t end quite yet…

Over the coming week, I’ll be giving you an overview of the events I’ve not yet covered and I’ll also be adding more work from the fabulous writers who attended this year’s festival.

While I’m working on the write-ups, I’ll leave you with a lovely, honest piece from Leanne O’Sullivan, talking about her writer’s residency in Shanghai.

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The Art of Performance – Day 2 of Cork Spring Literary Festival

A reading is only as good as its delivery – but this is no easy task. At any reading, it can be difficult for the audience to zoom into the poet or author’s words and grasp the full meaning; after all, poems would be read several times over and let to digest and prose is read at your own speed. At a reading, poem after poem is unveiled, or else you’re thrown into snatches of events from a novel, so for the audience, it can be a bit disjointed or overwhelming.

And from the writer’s perspective, you have no idea how large the audience will be, of what they’ll expect or how the other writers you’re working with will perform – and don’t forget, writing is a solitary activity so facing an audience can be a daunting task. So how do writers keep audiences captivated and entertained at readings?

The second night of the festival was an excellent example of performance, as six different writers read their work, each with completely different reading and performance styles – but each as effective as the last.

Ian Wild delivered some dramatic, animated scenes from his work-in-progress novel The Golden Oldies. Wild gave enough background for the audience to know what to expect, without giving the whole story away, and then launched into a strongly vocal performance which easily differentiated the characters. This proved very helpful for an audience listening to reasonably long pieces of prose. Using voice, accent and pitch, Wild had the audience rolling with laughter with pyrotechnic precision. Mind you, it’s not often you get to enjoy a novel about a group of pensioners starting a punk band, singing legendry lyrics like “Young people are crap”.

Alan Garvey followed with a beautifully melodic, rhythmic approach, with the order so carefully planned that each poem led on from the last seamlessly. Setting the context with a mention of a line from yesterday’s reader, James Harpur, “what is history but a roll call of exclusion?” Garvey launched into his history-based reading using visual aids; photographs of the people that inspired his poems. With the background of each person explained, it was easy for the audience to immerse themselves in the cadenced – almost chanted – poetry that followed.  To help move the audience along, Garvey also guided with cues such as “We’re going to stay in Hungary now and meet this person…” It’s the first time I’ve seen such a smoothly manoeuvred reading.

Pat Boran immediately set the audience expectation; “After such significant vocal performances, I’m coming in at a lower altitude.” He discussed how when you’re in an event alongside other writers, you don’t know what to expect, you’re “in the lap of the gods” but the readings of the others will inevitably “have a domino effect” and affect your own performance. He demonstrated this by reading “Machines,” saying that an earlier mention of car alarms from Wild triggered the idea. Treading the opposite path to Garvey, Boran preferred to have “no plan at all.” However, as he flicked through the book, looking for the next poem, he kept the audience close with discussion and details about the poem he was next to read. Boran’s reading style was gentle, personal and warm, making each poem sound like a familiar friend.

The second event saw three writers working in languages other than English take the floor. Kristiina Ehin started with a beautiful rendition of a poem in Estonian (without warning), immediately mesmerising the audience with the rhythm and music of the words. Ehin continued with poetry and a short story read in English, but maintained the magical and beguiling quality through her graceful approach. Her voice mirrored the beautiful language and images, as though weaving a spell over the audience – a perfect technique for the unexpected and bizarre twists in her story “The Spy and the Kitten.” It was clear in every word that Ehin has a respect and love for the traditional folklore and mysticism of Estonia which is rooted as deeply in her soul as it is in her work.

Gabriel Rosenstock was the perfect poet to follow Ehin; whether reading in Irish or English, his words and rhythm recounted something ancient, tribal. Using a voice which he likes to describe as “neo-bachti”, (I’m trying to locate the correct spelling of that) his performance resonated with a depth that matches the most spiritual of incantations and chants. His transition from poem to poem was as rhythmic as the poems themselves, and he assisted the audience with cues such as “these poems follow a seasonal order, which is the very essence of haiku”. The Irish language performances were particularly awe-inspiring, making the hairs on your arm stand on end.

The evening finished with Silke Scheuermann reading from her novel. Like Wild, Scheuermann gave the audience the background to her work, but then she adopted a different approach; reading the whole first chapter in short bursts, first in German, then in English. Scheuermann broke up the chapter in a way that left the audience wanting more – stopping at cliff hanger moments. Using a method I’ve not seen before, Scheuermann employed an actress to read the English translation – explaining that it was so that “my strong German accent won’t distract”. Accent or no accent, it was a useful technique for a translated novel written in the first person; the audience had chance to step back from the fact that the piece was in translation, taking visual cues from Scheuermann to pre-empt what was to come and easily immersing themselves into the shoes of the narrator when read in English.

Although each writer adopted a different technique and approach for their reading, it was clear that to perform a successful reading, the writer needs to engage and mesmerise the audience, providing enough context to give a starting point and maintaining a rhythmic flow which lets the listener stay in that zone, soaking up as much as possible. But the evening also clearly showed that there is no right or wrong approach; so long as the writer reads in a way that reflects both their work and their personality.

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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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Opening night – prize giving and Zhao Lihong book launch

The Cork Spring Literary festival opened in style, with a stunning setting in the Douglas Vance room of the Metropole hotel.

To start the evening, congratulations went out to Sandra Ann Winters, winner of the Gregory O’Donoghue prize, for her poem “Death of Alaska”. Selected and awarded by Leanne O’Sullivan, Sandra’s elegant poem resonated with loss and longing – a truly beautiful poem that lingers, one that you’d want to return to time and again. Hopefully I’ll be able to link you up to a copy within the next few days.

The award was followed by the launch of Zhao Lihong’s poetry collection A Boat to Heaven. This is the first time that Zhao Lihong has been published in English – which is pretty astounding seeing as he occupies a place in China analogous to Seamus Heaney. In fact, I have it on good authority that the majority of Chinese school children would be able to recite his works by heart (especially Street Lamp, which you can read on p33 of his collection).

So I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a real treat to be able to listen to Zhao Lihong read his poetry in the original language, followed by English translations read by Tom McCarthy. In his address to the audience, Zhao Lihong stated that he used to have the opinion that poetry could not be translated; that it could only be enjoyed properly in its original language. However, his experience working with the Munster Literature Centre and attending the festival has shown him that his poetry could be understood by speakers of other languages.

After listening to the passionate battle against fear in The Flame (p22), the torturous loneliness of Lotus Seed (p34) and the beautiful solemnity of The Pledge (p35), I thoroughly agree.  Subtle insights into the politics of ages, untamed landscapes and vulnerable passions fill every poem. But to best describe Zhao Lihong’s poetry, I shall use his own words:

At my back, is the history and splendid culture, and at my feet, the splendid landscape; I have lots to say about my motherland…My poems are flowers from my soul. My poems have made me special. My poems mean I am not lonely during difficult times. I hope you will be able to appreciate the little flowers from my soul.”

To finish the event, Zhao Lihong discussed how even though Ireland is a small country, it has a vast literary heritage which has now been widely translated and made available in China. However, Chinese writers remain unknown in Ireland, and he hopes that this is the beginning of a change in approach. I hope also that we see more works from other countries appearing in translation in Ireland – Munster Literature Centre has certainly given us a glimpse of the quality that is out there.

Luckily, I got to meet with Zhao Lihong afterwards and he recommended some of his contemporaries…so if you’d like to read more Chinese poetry, look out for Beidao, Yang Lian, Gu Cheng and Shu Ting.

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