An interview with Dave Lordan

How do you see the current economic and political climate affecting modern writers?

For myself it means I am eating a lot more turnips and jam sandwiches and that I am ever more inclined towards assassination, or some other rash act of political vengeance against the ruling elite. I have also considered burglary. I’m not rich enough to be a real thief. Obviously the depression will affect writers in general differently according to what class they belong to. There is the small percentage of privileged writers, the likes of Cecelia Ahern say, who won’t be the slightest bit affected except that it will give them the opportunity to pontificate and philanthropise. Most writers, and potential writers, will struggle through this period and be preoccupied with keeping a roof over their heads like everybody else. On the other hand there is a growing DIY feel to literature and to other artforms with a proliferation of small venues and live events, and a connected willingness to ignore and even uproot traditional ways of doing things. I took part in a poetry/wrestling night in Smithfield organised by the people at the other night which was a huge success, attracting hundreds of people to their first every poetry event. I think if we are opened minded, and willing to work together to maintain and  expand the vibrant artistic subculture now emerging we will survive and we may even add something new to what it means to be a writer.

What would you say was the most defining moment of your writing career?

I think I have made my mother and father happy a few times because of the positive attention my work has attracted. There’s no greater prize than making your loved ones happy. I also escaped from the back of a squad car once, in Cork City, right in front of Sir Henry’s. Which is one of the things I always celebrate when I go back there. I think I figured out pretty early if I stayed being a writer I’d be able to get up to  all sorts of mullarkey, and then write about it when I burnt out. I suppose a writer is a kind of burnt out vagabond, or a failed petty-criminal, a recidivist dreamer. A writer is a silhouette always, at any rate.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

There is far too much practical advice about these days. Writers need to be impractical too and to do the things we’re not supposed to do. I think Baudelaire put it best in the poem Get Drunk, so follow his advice, not mine. He was a true original. I’m only a langer.

How does writing poetry compare to script writing?

My poems are all really scripts in disguise and my plays are poems wearing costumes. They compare in the sense that they are both pretending to be something they are not.

Do you have a favourite poem that you have written – and what makes it so significant?

When I was a teenager, after intense dreams forgotten in the act of surfacing from sleep, I woke up a couple of times with fully formed poems in my head. These poems seemed, in some vivid but incomprehensible way, to be connected with the world of dreams, which is connected to everything that exists and does not exist. These are the poems that enchanted me, addicting me to poetry, showing me that a poem could be a gleaming shard, pointing towards the inaccessible.

What cultural and social advantages do you think literary festivals provide and do you think they receive enough support in Ireland?

I always come away from festivals with more friends and lovers than I had before. So their social advantage is inestimable, of course. I’m not sure what a cultural advantage is. Festivals sometimes attract junketeering politicians and that annoys me. I think it would be great if we could finish off each festival with a crucifixion of a county councillor, one who had fixed their expenses. Better still would be the guillotining of a town planner. But we’d never get funding for that, would we? I suppose we could do a collection.

Dave Lordan will be reading with Gerry Murphy and Julijana Velichkovska tonight, Saturday, 19th February at 7.15pm


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Dad – A Poem by Adam Wyeth



I’ll always remember those Sunday drives home.

How a blackening silence came over us

with the night. I’d look back at the road

we set out on when our weekend had begun:


singing songs, stopping at petrol stations

in the back of beyond, turning off the beaten

track and finding a pub for lunch –

with swings and climbing frames to play on.


But all that was fading fast, as signs marked

the dwindling miles, oncoming headlights

dazzled us, the final catseyes blinked past

and the road emptied – losing its nerve


as we curved off the motorway. Then the real

darkness set in – and the chill of parting

made me numb. I’d run upstairs to my room

without a word spoken, and out the corner


of my window watch your silver Citroen slip

into the night; a final sliver of light then total eclipse.

Another week of staring into space in classrooms,

waiting for our next outing all together. Save mum.


From Adam Wyeth’s forthcoming poetry collection, Silent Music.


Adam Wyeth will be launching his book with a wine reception tomorrow, Saturday 19th February, at 2pm FREE event, all welcome.

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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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Five questions with Catherine Smith

What different skills does a poet need to adopt when writing poetry for children?

None. Good poetry is clear and succinct and doesn’t patronise its audience. This should be as true for children as for adults. I don’t like poems for children which ‘dumb down’ and rely on the boring old ‘pants and aliens’ cliches.

On your Poetry Archive profile, your favourite poetry quote is listed as: “A poem is a novel without the waffle.” – Ian Duhig. Can you expand a little on this choice?

I like compression and precision, so this quote really appeals!

What significant changes have you seen in the world of publishing during your career – and how have these affected you as a writer?

The internet is a much bigger force; all sorts of things can be learned about writers through Google, because everyone has an opinion! And writers generally – both of poetry and prose (I write both) – are expected to promote themselves more vigorously. I have a website ( but I don’t blog – I can see the appeal for writers, but it’s not for me – and I don’t do Facebook or twitter, although people keep telling me I should.

In ways, positive and negative, do you think the internet has affected writing and writing careers?

See above! It’s not too hard to get published on internet sites, but new poets should be wary, because the quality is very variable. Internet savvy writers are in a good position to let the world know about their work, which is great, but I don’t like some of the vitriol and nastiness that goes on with ‘anonymous’ reviewing, posts, comments, etc. If someone has an opinion and wants to post it, good for them, but they should have the courage to say who they are, and not hide behind some silly cyber-identity. But it’s good that books can be found – and bought! – more easily.

Is there a poem that you have written that holds a special meaning for you – and why?

The Father (published in Lip), which I wrote for my very good friend, poet Ros Barber. We were having lunch on her birthday a few years ago and talking about how, even as adults, relationships with parents can be emotional minefields – there are still expectations and disappointments on both sides, and sometimes regression to old roles, however unhelpful! I wrote the first draft that afternoon and, bless her, she helped me edit it. Ros is my best editor, she’s absolutely spot-on with her comments. She’s a fantastic poet, too. When I read The Fathers at readings people sometimes tell me they feel it has personal resonance for them, too, especially if they have lost a parent, or have a complex relationship with one.

Catherine Smith will be reading with Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh & Matthew Sweeney on Friday February 18th at 7.15pm

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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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Chamber Music – a poem by Adam Wyeth

Chamber Music


The one piece of music that churns my stomach

is Schubert’s Quintet in C.


Since my grandmother told me

this is what Nazi officers played full volume


to drown out the moans of millions of Jews

as they were led into those rooms.


No matter how stirring a pitch the violins reach,

or how plangently the rasping cellos sigh –


I see their gaunt naked forms fall like flies

in a poisonous fog, reduced to cow pat


lining the floors, then shit-shovelled into pits –

while the whole movement plays over and again


never reaching the end, like a scratched record

that keeps jumping back.


From Adam Wyeth’s forthcoming poetry collection, Silent Music.

Adam Wyeth will be launching his book with a wine reception on Saturday 19th February 2pm FREE event, all welcome.

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