Tag Archives: cork spring literary festival opening night

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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