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Gerry Murphy, Dave Lordan & Julijana Velichkovska by Lory Manrique-Hyland

Saturday evening, second to last event in the Cork Spring Literary festival was: electric, funny, revealing, intense and fun.

I’d been across McCurtain Street grabbing a bite between events with Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Chinese waiter told me they had no tofu, but both Nuala and her husband’s meals came with tofu – curious). Nuala was enjoying the literary festival, in town ahead of her reading at O’Bheal Monday night (21 Feb at the Long Valley, Cork).

I rushed into the festival venue at the last minute, after my tofu-free dinner, and grabbed the last seat in the corner. The Douglas Vance room at the Metropole was packed – its fullest night of all, I think. Pat Cotter (Poet and Director of both Festival and Munster Literature Centre) remarked on the turn out. It was fantastic to see a poetry even so well attended.

Gerry Murphy was already on stage when I ran in. He’s as hilarious and irreverent in person as you think he’d be from reading his material. In pauses during readings, most writers and poets sip on water; Gerry sipped on a long neck bottle of beer.  It was also my first time hearing the word “clitoris” used in a poem, but I don’t get out much.

I was seated behind Conal Creedon. I stared at the back of his head while Gerry read, noticing that his hair was perfectly coiffed. I’m a fidgeter by nature, and kept rustling the pages of my program, crossing and uncrossing my legs, knocking the back of Conal’s seat. Eventually, he got up and stood at the back of the room. As the Irish say, I was morto (that’s short for “mortified”, for you non-Irish.)

I was shocked into not fidgeting for several minutes when Gerry all of a sudden asked, “Is Lory Manrique-Hyland here?” I waved at him from way back in my corner (behind Conal Creedon’s empty chair).  He went on to tell the audience that I’d thrown a chicken leg at him, in some sort of Cuban Voodoo ritual. (Like there’s room for that sort of thing in the back of the Boqueria tapas bar.) I’d read the night before from my novel Revolutions, set mainly in Cuba, and I must’ve made him fearful. Fortunately, Gerry doesn’t hold a grudge, and dedicated this poem to me: Memories of ‘El Jefe’ and the Cuban Revolution (from his latest poetry collection My Flirtation with International Socialism, Dedalus Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2010).

For the record, the greasy chicken bone popped out from between my fingers and landed on his lap like a tiny harpoon.

Next up was Dave Lordan, who did not drink beer (on stage). He started with a popular poem, The Boy in the Ring. His reading, of this and all his poems, was powerful. His voice was clear and projection fantastic. His background in performance poetry showed. Though restrained in the setting and confines of a literary festival stage, he maintained a powerful presence.  Other poems which stood out for me were one about his alcoholic Uncle who’d stay up all night drinking tea when he was trying to kick the booze (unsuccessfully, by the way); and another delivered in the voice of a crazed, fascist town committee member. I also liked his reading of Da, the Melodeon, written for Pat Cotter. His poetry is both “pure Irish” and universal. It’s exciting to hear and watch.

Last up was Julijana Velichkovska, a Macedonian poet, writer, artist and translator. Julijana has a gorgeous voice, like the ringing of a bell. Wonderfully, she read poems in both her native tongue and in English. I don’t know what Macedonian looks like on the printed page (Slavic, I believe), but the sound of it is lovely. Her poetry was full of energy– both pent up sexual energy and the energy of resistance. She has a unique take on love. A highlights in her reading included Fuck Off, Disney. I agree, Julijana! She ended her last poem singing the words “Just Dance,” which left everyone laughing and clapping.

We broke for a 20 minute drinking and book buying frenzy before the last event of the festival started at 9. When I stood for the break, I noticed Conal Creedon still standing at the back of the room. He was pleasant to me that evening, but I bet he won’t sit near me again.

Lory Manrique-Hyland blogs at http://motherblogging.blogspot.com 
You can also follow her on twitter: @lorymanrique
or Facebook: facebook.com/ManriqueHyland

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My Shanghai Writer’s Residency by Leanne O’Sullivan

In September 2009, on the invitation of the Shanghai Writers’ Association, I was able to spend two extraordinary months in Shanghai on a writer’s residency.  I travelled there with Cork writer, Conal Creedon, who was also awarded the residency and who kept me entertained and laughing throughout the trip.  I think we both felt that we had travelled thousands of miles away from what was familiar and everyday, not just in a literal, geographical sense but in a host of ’felt’ ways as well. Certainly we realized that this was not the so-called People’s Republic of Cork!

What then was it? Shanghai is an incredible and vibrant city, and as Conal put it, a forests of skyscrapers, taxis, and Tangle Twister roads. However, despite the impact of the unfamiliar, the remarkable friendliness and welcoming nature of the Shanghai people made us feel very at home.  I remember one particular day, Conal and I wanted to buy flowers for Peihua, a wonderful woman from the SWA.  We found a florist nearby, but arrived without a clue about how to place our
order.  I looked around outside and approached a group of young people, telling them our problem.  Thankfully, they spoke English and were more than happy to help!  They spent about a half an hour
translating, correcting and helping us feel completely welcome.

Thank you, Shanghai, for such a warm and stimulating experience. I hope to come back some day!

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Dad – A Poem by Adam Wyeth

Dad

 

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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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 (ww.catherinesmithwriter.co.uk) 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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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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Sneak preview of a play by Ian Wild

Friends, Romans, Count…

or Et Tu Spearcarrier

The play is loosely based on episodes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The five acts of Shakespeare’s play are each represented by key events – ie the ghost, or the battle. The play can be performed by 12 actors if the roles of Octavius/Popilius are shared by Cassius and Flavius, and the ice-cream seller is taken on by Marullus.

Cast List

The Director

Writer

Stage Manager (Paula)

Spearcarrier

Caesar

Brutus

Mark Anthony

Cassius

Portia

Calphurnia

Marullus/Soothsayer/Lucius

Flavius

Octavius/Popilius

Ice-Cream Seller

Part One.

(Lights come up on a street scene in Ancient Rome. A few colonnades and a badly situated statue. A long pause. There’s obviously been a mistake. A man with a spear edges onto the stage somewhat apologetically.)

Spearcarrier: Hello. I’m in the play tonight. Not Julius Caesar. I don’t think. I hope not anyway. Though……It is eight O’clock and…Anyhow, just thought I’d come out front and see. Who’s. Here. I’m a bit worried about the play you’re all going to see because…..Well, I’ve just got this creepy feeling that one night, probably tonight, they’re going to ask me to do the whole play on my own. And it’s got 29 characters. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by just me. All five acts. You see, what worries me is that the director is barking. At the very beginning of rehearsals he started tearing pages from the book with his teeth and then spitting them out, saying Shakespeare was an illiterate quill molester. So he got a writer in. And the writer was even more deranged. Every evening there would be dozens of new pages to learn. Roman telephone directories. Bus Timetables for the Coliseum. They’d both sit there in rehearsals, with eyes flickering demonically like candlelight in a Halloween lantern. Rewriting Shakespeare. They’d suddenly start raving. Shouting. Leaping up at us like Alsatians on a chain, spraying the stage with spittle. The cast would all cower back against a wall. And that’s after just the first line: “Hence! Home you idle creatures!” Last night, the dress rehearsal, the writer and director arrive and stand there totally calm, but completely mad inside – then say: “We’ve decided you should all perform naked.” At the dress rehearsal. We do it undressed. “Learn these new lines.” He says, “We’re inserting them into the middle of the play.” “Where?” we all ask, panicking. “Anywhere,” they say, “It doesn’t matter.” We strip off. Then they say: “No. Revolting! Disgusting! Urgh! Your bodies don’t look Roman enough.” Then for two and a half hours, they talk together in animated whispers about chainsawing a few of our arms off to give us a more classical deportment.

I shouldn’t be telling you this. It’s because I’m unnerved. Where are they all? (Calls) Hello? You’re not really going to make me do the show on my own? I don’t think I’m quite up to the responsibility of it. I was just a Spear Carrier after all. You cannot expect me to play Caesar and Brutus. Stab myself in the back. (Looks back at the audience.) Oh God. This is terrible. Just me. The whole play. (After considering for a moment what this entails.) What if I just do my bits? Stand to attention. Don’t look left. Or right. Just straight ahead and don’t blink. Much. The director said if you stop blinking completely, your eyes start to bulge and upstage the main action. And he didn’t want me to overstate the carrying of the spear:

‘Don’t draw attention to yourself,’ he said, ‘Especially by ostentatiously not drawing attention to yourself’.

Anyhow I stood there like this. (Demonstrates the spear carrier’s art.) For two hours. I did it better than that in rehearsal. (Looks peeved.)  Of course I only got this particular role because the Director hates me. Why? (Thinks, then blurts out) I don’t know! (Suddenly cocks head to one side, listening intently.) Hey! What was that? (Listens again suspiciously, then turns to the back of the stage.) Come on! I know you’re in there. (Runs to the wings.) No hiding! It’s not funny! (To himself) It’s the director. He wants to humiliate me. He probably thinks – arrogant sod – Julius Caesar like this is somehow, Art! Yes! Of course. That’s it. They’re playing Brutus! A group Brutus! And this is the stabbing in the back! Leaving me, without support, script, direction, to act out the play alone. I play all the characters except one. And all of them play Brutus. All their hands on one knife. Stabbing me and they’re all whispering out there: backstage, Et Tu Bruti! Yes. I can feel it now. In each moment of their absence – the group gathering behind me, aiming between my shoulder blades. And if they don’t come by the end of the play – that will be the knife. Symbolically. I will have been murdered and left to die by the bastards. Well I won’t do it! (Throws down spear petulantly. Shouts.) Can you hear me in the dressing rooms? I won’t be your pawn! I will not perform all of Julius Caesar as a one man show! I will not be stabbed in the back. Come down all of you and act. That’s what the people out here want to see. Not me not carrying a spear………(Silence. The Spearcarrier looks very alone. To audience.) Say. Listen. Would you mind if I just checked the dressing rooms? Please. Please! I know you’ve paid your money and you’ll just be looking at an empty stage for a few minutes – but……It wouldn’t take long. And if they’re all there – even if there’s just Julius and Brutus, well, at least then we can do the stab. I’ve got to go through the doors, up the stairs, along the corridor, check the men’s and women’s dressing rooms. It should take…..I don’t know…(calculates in a low mumble)…..oh, about two and a half minutes. (Wrings hands) Okay? (Runs off. Empty stage for 2 and a half minutes. Then he bursts back on, gasping for breath.) Bastards! The Bastards! There’s nobody there! Not even a stage manager. I’m here all on my own. Bastards. (Up to the ceiling.) I hate you!

(Trying to control himself and retain some dignity.) Okay. (To audience.) Be reasonable. You can’t expect me to do all 29 characters. Not that I would have minded doing Julius Caesar though. If they’d cast me, (Confiding.) I could have done it better than the bollox they actually chose. I mean he always did the bit: “The Ides of March are come.” Like this: “The Ides of March are come.” Honest. I could’ve done it so much better. Was I saying the director hated me? Because he knew I knew more than he did. He didn’t give me Caesar to humiliate me. Vindictive bastard. He knew I was a better actor than the rest. They must have felt it was pointless acting out the play because everyone would just be continually staring at the spearcarrier and muttering: Wow! Look at the guy with the pointy stick. So they left me here in the Marie Celeste theatre, to do the whole play alone. Alone! I mean have you any idea how long the play is? (Furious pause.) I haven’t either. But one thing is for certain: I could have written, acted and directed it better than the whole lot of them. I could! That is not an idle boast. (Feels scepticism from the audience – even if it isn’t there.) It is not. I will prove it! (Impassioned.) I will prove it to them and I will prove it to you. Tonight, entirely on my own, I will perform Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare!

(Enter the entire cast of Julius Caesar in full Roman Costume. At the front of the group are a writer and a director. The Director wears a dark hat and scarf, rounded off with some sort of bohemian cape – he exudes total self-assurance. The writer is a starved-looking Rasputin, habitually wearing a sly expression.)

Ian Wild will be reading with Pat Boran & Alan Garvey tomorrow, Thursday 17th February at 7.15pm

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Four questions with William Wall

Explain a little about your Princess Grace Irish Library residency in 2010; what did it involve and what value do residencies such as this provide for writers and for the general public?

The PGIL residency is given to a different writer and a different academic every year. James Harpur, for example, did the gig the following year. The main benefits for the writer are the chance to work in peace in a beautiful location, the chance to meet new readers and sometimes other practitioners in the arts. And to spend some privileged time on one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The residency lasts four weeks and involves working in the Library which is in the old town and giving some readings. Other than the readings, what the value it has for the general public, I’m not sure.

People have always wanted to write – and most believe they have a book in them. What would you say to this?

A friend, a professional guitarist, tells the story of a person who came up to her after a concert and said, ‘I’d love to have your talent’. My friend replied, ‘You too can have my talent if you practise six hours a day’. The thing about writing is that while everybody may very well have a book in them, not everyone is driven to write six hours a day. That drive is what is distinctive about writers, the acceptance that in some way the act of writing is defining. The second part of the proposition is that those people may have one book in them, but do they have a second or a third? So, the answer to your question really is: it depends how badly they want to write that book. The writer is the one who does it.

How has Still’s disease affected your writing – what spurs you to continue in the face of adversity?

Still’s is a bastard of a disease. It comes and goes. When it comes it’s frequently too painful to work. It requires powerful painkillers (there are some positive benefits!) and other drugs that disturb your concentration. So when the disease goes into remission I go at the writing like a maniac. I try to use the downtime to the best advantage. But the other side of it is that I’ve had this since I was twelve. It’s normality for me now, I don’t remember any other normality. Plenty of other people suffer much worse diseases so I sometimes feel I’ve struck a kind of bargain with the Furies: Give me this and leave me alone! Also, I’m not sure if I’d be a writer if this hadn’t hit me as a kid. I have no way of knowing the answer to that now, but I suspect I might have turned into an auctioneer or failed hurler! As regards adversity, it’s just what every writer works against all the time. The page is the real adversary.

A lot of your work is deeply satirical – from your blog, The Ice Moon, to your poetry. Why did you start writing satire and do you think satire makes your writing more accessible?

For a long time I’ve been trying to find a way to write about politics. I feel it’s an ongoing journey and I’m a long way off as yet. I think political engagement is one of our most important functions as citizens, but like everyone else in the country I take a dim view of our establishment politics. I’ve been reading political philosophy for many years and it has taught me to see that what we call ‘politics’ is just the game of who’s in and who’s out. The important thing is to try to understand the forces underlying the whole thing. And I happen to think that’s what writers do anyway – they try to say something about our relationship with the world and in making that work they hope also to make something beautiful. In these times, when the world is a farce in itself, the system crumbling, the politicians’ corrupt and venial, satire sometimes seems like the only valid response – to me anyway.

William Wall will be reading with James Harpur and Tomas Lieske on Wednesday February 16th at 9pm

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