Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sez Toibin to Cronin...

Photo: ranelagh arts festival

Tony meets Toby! Beside the Saoi! Scalder Central! Or, in the words of one Father Jack Hackett, "Feck!"

Due to a prior commitment, last night I missed out on the chance to hear these two literary worthies and fellow Enniscorthy natives, Anthony Cronin and Colm Toibin, going at it in a conversational stylee for Ranelagh Arts Festival. I'm kicking myself just a tad - but then, should I be? I'd welcome comment from anybody who attended? Were they in the zone or was it just a drone?

As well as shared upbringings in the shadow of Vinegar Hill, both writers have unique prespectives on the Soldiers of Destiny which might have delivered some interesting insights on Bertie's current difficulties, were they so inclined.

However, I'm guessing the meat and spuds of the evening must surely have been the relative viewpoints of two writers who between them have pretty much witnessed firsthand the remarkable development of Irish writing in the international context.

Cronin, as the elder, has been there, done that and written well about it in Dead as Doornails - a must-read for anybody interested in the long-disappeared Dublin of quarehawks like Behan, Kavanagh, Donleavy, na gCopaleen etc. It was one of those books that was the perfect match for a scalding coffee in the 'lofty clattery cafe' back when I was trying my best to be a bohemian student, i.e wearing secondhand clothes a lot.

A while back I came across a copy of his Personal Anthology, a book of poems selected by Cronin for the Irish Independent newspaper column of the same name that he contributed over several years. It's an interesting touchstone of poems selected 'on the simple basis of personal liking' in Cronin's own words.

As well as writing prolifically, including poetry, non-fiction, biography, plays and criticism, he was also a founder member of Aosdana. Not to mention, his role as arts advisor to Charles Haughey, who introduced the tax-free status which artists can still acquire in Ireland. So, not too shabby for a boy from Slaney Street!

Not much needs to be said about Colm Toibin. The IMPAC winner has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice and has had a prolific and successful career as a journalist, editor and critic as well as serving up a fine, pared back prose from a well of emotional intensity. My current favourite of his books is The South, a skilfully drawn portrait of one artist's life, from Wexford to Spain and back again. His website, while currently a little out of date, features a good selection of interviews and essays.


Earlier in the same evening (Sep 26th) Toibin was also to be found launching a new publication, The Dublin Review Reader, featuring essays, travel writing, memoir, reportage and criticism from the past pages of The Dublin Review and edited by Brendan Barrington. Coincidentally, the latest edition of this fine journal features Toibin writing 'en memoir' on his "Brush With The Law', detailing various assignations relating to the workings of the courts while in his role as editor of Magill magazine (in a Dublin where certain civil liberties were still woefully inadequate). For me, the interesting aspect of his article is the relationship and effect of his journalistic findings on the development of his fictional characters. So that's how you do it then ;-)

Anyway, an opportunity to witness the combination of a couple of writers, each well worth a listen on their own. Were you there? If so, please let me know what you thought.

For my part, I promise my next entry will be about something I actually managed to experience. Or even a poem!