Tag Archives: advice for writers

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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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 upstart.ie 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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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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Roll Up Your Sleeves and Write by Lory Manrique-Hyland

In the Paris Review I read this quote from Julio Cortazar: “My subconscious is in the process of working through a story – when I am dreaming, it’s being written inside there.”

Eh, no, Julio, it isn’t. The subconscious is a valuable tool in helping you to figure out what steps you want to take next with your story or poem. You can dream about what your characters will do, what to cut, what to expand–but it won’t actually sit down and write the frickin’ thing for you. It won’t check your word count, and spot continuity errors, making sure characters don’t get on a train in Paris and get off in Toronto.  If your subconscious had its way, characters would get on in Dublin, drink a cup of tea and a live octopus sandwich, then get off at the next stop – Kinshasa.

Works by Dadaists aside, what I’m getting at is that while the subconscious is clearly an important contributor to the process of creation, it’s you in your conscious state that has to put in the hard graft. Wide awake and desperately fighting the urge to check Facebook, you must sit there for really long periods of time and fill in all the detail your subconscious has ignored. The subconscious can help with epiphanies, realisations, revelations and unique approaches. It’ll rip the mask of people and reveal your mother. But, it won’t write 60,000 words for you. It won’t even write one.

I like these writer quotes, often cleverly excerpted by the editors of The Paris Review in order to instigate discussion. I understand that they’re taken out of context and pasted as a headline. But they irk me because I don’t like the image of writer as mysterious, as soothsayer, as evangelist, as aloof, as genius. Though in the end he or she may be these things, in the first instance, the writer is you and me; and for people like you and me to write something good, it takes hard work. You become the evangelist and the soothsayer when you work at it, over and over and over again. When you put in the graft and come out the other side having done it. The work – the effort to be put in – is accessible to all. You just have to do it.


Lory Manrique-Hyland will be reading at the Cork Spring Literary Festival with Ian Duhig & Valérie Rouzeau on Friday 18th February 9.00pm, Metropole Hotel, Cork

Follow Lory on Twitter: @lorymanrique

Follow Lory on Facebook: facebook.com/ManriqueHyland

Lory Blogs at http://motherblogging.blogspot.com


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How does an author get invited to a literary festival? by Pat Cotter

In programming a literary festival I have  varying aims in mind; competing aims which must complement one another, all while keeping to a shoestring budget.  The 2011 Cork Spring Literary Festival is the  24th or 25th literary festival I’ve programmed beginning with a festival of Irish writing I put together as an undergraduate in UCC in 1985 featuring the likes of Dermot Healy, Aidan Higgins, Derek Mahon, Tom McIntyre and others. I  programmed the Force 12 festival in Belmullet one year, a number of Cork Children’s Literature Festivals, Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festivals, the Irish poetry programme for Shanghai Expo and this will be my ninth Cork Spring Literary Festival formerly known as Eigse.

Chief aim must be to gather together an exciting, varied selection of authors which must not only aim to entertain the audience we have built up in the past fourteen or so years, but to extend their experience and knowledge of what constitutes good literature. This aim must go hand in hand with nurturing Cork and Munster writers, by providing them with an opportunity to showcase their new work, to mix with exciting writers from other parts of Ireland and abroad and engage critically and imaginatively with work which can be very different from their own.

To attract an audience I know I need to bring in names that are well known and familiar such as Richard Ford and Louis De Bernieres, who have each enjoyed their gigs in Cork enough to want to return. But a very special pleasure for me is to see an audience wowed by an author they’ve never heard of before. As a case study: I was the first to bring American poet Brian Turner to read in Europe. He not only hugely impressed the audience in Cork, but acquired a British publisher when Neil Astley of Bloodaxe read the festival brochure we sent him and learnt about Brian for the first time. Brian is not the only guest author who has developed a relationship with a publisher through attending our festival, it has happened again and again. But Munster and Irish authors have also benefited from this engagement; Brian returned last year to record poets for a special Irish supplement he is preparing for an American poetry website. He has blogged about his Irish encounters on the Poetry Foundation website and drawn attention to the work of Irish poets we’ve published in our anthology Best Irish Poetry.

I encounter new writers like Brian in a number of ways. I read about them, often first on the web, then by acquiring their books. I have visited many foreign literary festivals not only to read my own work but to observe how others do things in the hope of improving the festival experience for both writers and audiences here. I often encounter writers at these festivals I would like to invite to Cork.

I had read about Martin Espada many years ago and encountered some of his poems online but only acquired his books and saw him read when I attended the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in 2009. Martin’s performance is one I’ll never forget and I knew there and then I had to introduce him to our audience in Cork, where he was a complete unknown.  Some people were on the verge of getting up from their seats and leaving when Martin’s great voice started to boom and they sat back down again awed.

There have been many times when an audience has been awed by an unknown name, I think of the time Ilya Kaminsky read here and am astonished to think no other Irish festival has had him back since. Often the impression a new author makes is less dramatic but no less deep.  Our own Leanne O’Sullivan and Billy Ramsell have impressed in this way and also Kristiina Ehin whom I brought to Ireland for the first time in 2005. Since then her work has been translated into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock, published here by Coisceim and by three other British publishers and won prizes for a sort of poetry nobody here would write and get published. I first encountered Kristiina when I chose her father Andres Ehin to translate for the Cork 2005 Translation project, little did I know I was getting three poets for the price of one – Kristiina’s mother is the distinguished Estonian poet Ly Seppel who made her debut in the early 60’s at the same time as Jaan Kaplinski in a boxed set of books .

The web of interconnections runs wide. Dutch poet Tomas Lieske is coming this year because both myself and Thomas McCarthy became intimately knowledgeable of his poetry when we translated it at a workshop in Rotterdam last year. Ian Duhig is coming this year because a poem of his is the subject for a film by Cork-based Paul Casey who in turn was inspired to make the film after I brought him to the Zebra Film Festival in Berlin. Maram Al Massri is coming because Dennis O’Driscoll sent me a copy of her book which is published by the same house which publishes Dennis in America. Catherine Smith is coming because I saw her read at the Cuisle poetry festival in Limerick. Silke Scheuermann first visited Cork at the invitation of the German department in UCC. I had also been aware of her work through a trip I made to German literary houses and publishers in Munich, Leipzig and Berlin at the invitation of the Goethe Institute in 2003. Zhao Lihong is coming due to the deep and longlasting relationship we have built up with the Shanghai Writers’ Association, a relationship which will lead to us exchanging writers between Cork and Shanghai annually for a two month residency. Valerie Rouzeau is coming because I witnessed her read at the Rotterdam poetry festival last year and because her book was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize.

And of course we have a line-up of Irish and Cork writers as well, since what good is a literary festival if it can’t bring local audiences together with local authors? And by local I don’t mean second rate, I mean writers we are lucky enough to have living amongst us like Booker nominated William Wall and TS Eliot Prize nominated Matthew Sweeney.

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