Monday, December 15, 2008
Meh-rry Crassmush! That's not me in the photo, but it sort of catches my mood of the moment. It's actually actor Patrick O'Donnell, demonstrating elvish ennui in The Santaland Diaries, based on David Sedaris' essay of the same name - playing every lunchtime at Bewley's Cafe Theatre until December 20th. If, like me, you find yourself underwhelmed by the meteorological, socioeconomic and psychological chills of this year's particularly fraught festive season, then Get Thee To A Clattery on Grafton Street for an hour of soup, sass and cynicism at all things sacharine. (i.e., it's a good laugh in a grim climate! My review is here. Gesundheit!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Laid up with a feckin' annoying sinus infection (and my trusty laptop) I was struck by the vast amount of resources for poets and other writers out there in deepest cyberspace. The growth of personal blogging alone has opened possibilities for research, networking, debate and promotion that would have been unimaginable to previous generations. As you know, if you're kind enough to be reading this.
YouTube, and internet video in general is coming of age, of course. But there's a wonderful virtual library of audio out there too - much of which is writing-related. The fact that most radio shows are now archived online makes it possible to catch programmes that clash with other activities, but there's lots of other sources of online audio too. Listening at the computer is one option, but I find these podcasts ideal for downloading to listen to on commutes and other journeys. Here's a few of my own regular haunts.
I've previously mentioned the exceptional archive of interviews at Don Swaim's Wired for Books. Mostly dating from the 80s and 90s, you can listen to Ray Carver, Tobias Wolff, Atwood, Asimov - allsorts, in fact! Other recent additions include readings of Whitman's poems, Thomas Lynch, Macbeth and other Shakespeare plays and, topically, A Christmas Carol, as well as a growing section of children's writing.
The Guardian Book Club is another good source of interviews with writers - one highlight is an interview with Jeanette Winterson from 2007. You can subscribe to this series via iTunes.
Another treasure chest is the Lannan Foundation podcast series. You can subscribe to these via iTunes too, but there seems to be something astray in the cataloguing there - browse their homepage instead. A pretty strong Irish flavour in this series; John McGahern, Eavan Boland and Eamon Grennan all feature - the latter interviewed by Denis O'Driscoll, who also interviews Seamus Heaney. A tempting taster in advance of reading Stepping Stones, perhaps. Unfortunately, some of these files suffer from digital artefacting due to audio compression. But there's plenty of gems in there - well worth a rummage.
Poetry, the US magazine, has a whole range of podcast material, including a 'poem of the day' and an inside look at each issue of Poetry magazine, hosted by the editors. Good Stuff.
There's also the Association of Poetry Podcasting - a veritable jumble sale of links to a wide range of podcasts from many, many sources. You'll have to do your own rummaging here, as I've barely broken the surface.
Check out iTunes for many, many, many more, including RTE's own Sunday Miscellany, The Penguin Podcast, and The New York Times Book Review. Lots of miscellaneous quirky stuff there too!
So, plenty of food for.... eh, your ears, I guess. Enjoy.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Gawd - sorry about that dingy headline - couldn't resist. :->
Went along to review The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui at the Abbey Theatre for the Evening Herald last week. Review is online now over here. Its a great production, directed by Jimmy Fay and well worth a look. Curious how many of the issues that seep through the play bear relevance in today's troubled times. Of course its only our own recent insecurities that bring the focus of the developed world to bear on nastier aspects of economic politics. Outside of our whitebread enclave, the fallout from economic monsterism is a daily burden. The old 'virus-in-shoes' effect at play again. Anyway, get thee to the Abbey for some brainfood and you'll be treated to a virtuoso performance by Tom Vaughan Lawlor in the title role - shading Hitler, Mussolini, Richard III, Chaplin, Marx (Groucho, not Karl) into a remarkable, athletic meld. Sounds funny - and it is - in part. But things can dark very, very quickly.
I've seen TVL once before, playing Solyony in Brian Friels's version of Three Sisters, also at the Abbey. His performance then, as the histrionic army officer guest, was also a tumbling, skidding physical treat. There's a short interview with the actor over on Trinity News about his career to date and the challenge of playing Arturo Ui.
Friday, November 14, 2008
There's no shortage of reading events these days. Next Tuesday, November 18th, sees an unfortunate clash of three very interesting readings in the Dublin area.
Poetry Ireland presents a reading by Caitríona O'Reilly and Robin Robertson at the Unitarian Church, 112 St Stephen's Green West, D2 at 6.30pm. I've seen O'Reilly read on a number of occasions and like the taut, gothic tinge of her collections The Nowhere Birds and The Sea Cabinet a lot. Robertson is a fine Scottish poet and a good reader of his work, so I'll be sorry to miss this one.
The Hour Glass Readings present John Boyne, writer of The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, at the Irish Writers' Centre, 19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1 at 7pm (Admission: 7 euro). I've never hear Boyne read, but he's a very interesting storyteller whose star is very much in the ascendant at the mo. A good one for aspiring novelists, I'd guess.
Finally, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown presents a public reading by their two writers in residence, Sean O'Reilly (IADT) and Paul Perry (libraries). That's the one I hope to attend. Admission is free, all welcome. Venue is The Purty Loft, Dun Laoghaire at 8 pm. Sean O'Reilly comes highly praised as a skilful stylist who believes in testing language, pushing it in unfamiliar directions. His book Watermark, was (I think) the first title from the Stinging Fly Press, a vote of confidence from a quality publisher.
Perry is predominently a poet, although formerly a recipient of the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award for his short story The Judge. According to his blog, the readers will be introduced on the night by poet Katie Donovan who will also launch an anthology called 'Fishing for Change', featuring new writing from students at IADT. Some of my colleagues from the Deansgrange Writers group will be in attendance too, so it should be a fun evening all round!
Monday, November 10, 2008
The IGI blog, Scamp, celebrated the remarkable events in the US by asking for scamps responding to Obama's victory - and there's some great stuff to be seen. I was more than happy to contribute to this one with my piece above. The quote is from Lincoln's Gettysburg address. Here's to Hope!
“What America has succeeded in doing, against all the odds, and why we cried when it happened, is to elect the most intelligent, canny and imaginative candidate to the presidential office in modern times - someone who'll bring to the White House an extraordinary clarity of thought and temperate judgment.”
Poet Desmond Swords caught some of my own optimism about Obama the individual, in his blog comment about his exceptional communication abilities;
"... which (I think) appears to be the forthright human honesty of a seemingly normal person who has plucked the day by harnessing new medias and making them the vehicle for a message of hope and change by inclusion."
George Szirtes, initially welcomed Obama's victory as predominently symbolic - a cautionary stance we must accept, given the vast intricacies of US and geopolitical systems;
"Consider me symbolically delighted, over the proverbial moon. It is, as the moon-lander said, a pretty terrific leap for man. Therefore I rejoice. Party time. Work later.
Forgive me. I have never trusted elation, not in the long run. Wind blows one way: I tend to lean the other. Can't help it. Just instinct."
As for myself, I was quite overwhelmed - symbolism or no. In recent days I've been surprised to shed some of my cynicism - for the better - and find myself embracing possibilities of new measures of hope and change in my own life. And that's the most surprising and inspirational aspect of recent events. Would that there were some way of allowing the bitterest of hearts to allow room for one small change, or room for new hope in themselves. Perhaps then, growing hope could build new engines of change for all of us. If nothing else, Obama represents a remarkable example of the power of poetry in our lives, for without poetry, where might we find those abstract aspirations that allow change become manifest in our lives?
And yet, the same weekend newspaper that showed one family of four on the way to the White House, carried pictures of another family of four mown down, bodies touching, in their home in Kiwanja. So many steps, in so many journeys yet to be travelled. One. Step. At. A. Time.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
if it's Tuesday, this must be the Internet?
Harsh Expletive! It’s been a Hell of a few weeks. Good Hell mostly, I guess. But some suspicously tart, gritty bits that may have been Bad Hell mixed in there too. Hence lack of posts. Hello. Good to be back!
Highlight of my absence was a trip to London with herself and the eldest offspring. Taking in Rothko, Meireles (soooo good!), Frieze Art Fair, Bacon and the Turner Prize exhibits was an uncommon treat, as we spend most of our days rooted (routed?) to the various local grooves of work, school, family in this here parish of the auld sod. No Celtic Tiger pondhoppers we. Bizarrely, we’ve travelled more since the poor creature started sneezing and looking decidedly dizzy than at any time while the nation soared on the hot air of its carnivore breath. Good! I like a slice of contrary every now and then. Here’s a toast to all the financial guano that’s been sprayed fanwards over the last while – may it nourish the roots of a whole new perspective. As if! But we can live in hope, can’t we? Yes we can.
A few things then, just to catch up;
Boyne Berries 4 was launched in Trim, Co Meath recently. A fine selection of work includes one of my own poems, Evening Recital. Personal favourites include Accident, by Mary Rose Callan, Bayardelle, Scent of the Faculty, by Landa Wo, and Good Friday Planting by Shirley McClure (which you can read here).
Brian Friel's version of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, continues its run at The Gate. Check out my review (of sorts) over at the Evening Herald’s HQ magazine.
Also, the second annual Poem-a-Day challenge is in full swing over on the forum at Poetry Ireland’s website throughout November. Why not pop over and join the outpouring of poesy? Last year, the challenge of writing and posting a poem every 24 hours did wonders for beating the crap out of my inner censor/slash/editor, who has since moved to Alaska in search of a new client, who needs the ermmm....restraint..
Finally, it’s wintertime (or daylight savings time, depending where you’re reading this). That came quickly! So here’s a poem to mark the glooming;
Grey days are here again
I dress in the half-light
Discovering at lunch
That I’m wearing odd socks
Still, the day’s half gone
And no harm done
I’ll relish each further step
Secretly out of kilter
© PJ Nolan 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Soooo - there's no way tonight will be any scarier than the last few weeks. (If you're a certain Big Ignorant F*cker From Offaly, anyway). So let's rack it up - embrace the fear and screw it anyway! Drag that moth-eaten celtic tigerskin out from under the stairs and fling it on top of the bonfire - smack it, hack it - armagnac it! Feck the doom, just neck the shrooms - and maybe when we all wake up, the hangover will be better than the current reality. After all, its nearly Nov 4th! Maybe we're about to see the first glimmer of some kind of hope for a lonnnnnnnnnng time. If you squint, you just might might make it out, just maybe, just possibly......can you see it? Can you? Yes, yes we can.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Synth Eastwood are currently gearing up for their next show, on the theme 'cycles'. Nice open theme, which should make for an interesting mix of perspectives - looking forward to seeing it all on Friday 24th October at a few venues in Temple Bar, Dublin ; Filmbase, The Button Factory & Meeting House Square. Here's a sneakpeek at my submission (here's hoping it makes the cut).
This guy is The Right Honorable Lord Gustaf Lesley 'Les' Augtrom 1799 - 1864. Leading ethnopharmacologist of his time and last recorded Cyclops of the modern era. Members of the Swedish royal family are believed to carry his monocular gene to this day. Or something.
Wayhay! I've finally got round to sorting out my website. I've kept it simple, but with plenty of new work to look at and I've also taken a solemn vow over the body of a dismembered lego star wars character (not saying which one) to keep it updated more regularly from now on. Why not pop over for a look around - unless of course you've actually come to this blog directly from the site - in which case ....Hi! :-)
Friday, October 10, 2008
I was at the United Arts Club last night for Irish Pen's Writing for Children event - a panel discussion featuring Mags Doyle from Childrens Books Ireland, Helen Carr, Editor at O'Brien Press and Oisin McGann, author and illustrator. Irish Pen's own Sarah Webb was the moderator, and the event concluded with Q&A from the audience.
It was a very interesting and informative evening. While there was the familiar territory of classic dos and don'ts re manuscript submission, all panellists contributed further points of interest. McGann's overview of lessons learnt as he moved from novice to successful author were a highlight. A very pleasant guy, I had a nice chat with him in the bar afterwards. Among the audience of aspiring and published writers were Poetry Ireland's Dave Maybury and a few members of the Illustrators Guild of Ireland. Good company led to pints - so this post is being written with slightly fuzzy recall.
Luckily, Sarah has a bit more detail about the event over on her blog, here - phew!
Thursday, October 09, 2008
As mentioned previously - I went along to review theatre O's production of Enda Walsh's Delerium at the Peacock Theatre last week, for those nice people at the Evening Herald HQ magazine. The review is now online and can be read here. The play runs until October 25th and I thought it was great craic! So do get along if you have a chance.
Also, if you fancy adding your voice to the critical mass, Irish Theatre magazine are running a Critic's Forum tomorrow (Oct 10th) at Project Arts Centre. A panel of critics, moderated by poet, playwright and presenter of RTE's Arts Show Vincent Woods, will be discussing some of the major productions from this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. Contributions from the floor will be welcome too. Kick-off is 4pm.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Byrne and Eno : Its-a Happening (again)
Well whadyaknow - those erstwhile mavericks of the New Wave are now quite middle-aged. Hasn't stopped them getting back together to do the collaboration hustle. Good thing? Bad thing? Thing Thing!
I've quite a soft spot for their 1981 album 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts'. Along wih whale sounds, The Cramps and The Goon Show, it brings me back to the hazy basement rooms of my studenthood. A hugely influential album, this new one (with its Miranda July-ish title) isn't really along those lines, but these two particularly crispy heads are always going to bring some sonic sparks to the equation - so check it, Brethren (Sisters too!) There's a free download of the warmly funky track Strange Overtones waiting for you!
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Well, the Heavily Sponsored Dublin Theatre Festival is in full swing. We went along to the RDS last night for National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch. This is a heavily hyped production, widely acclaimed since first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2006. We were lucky - it seems the previous night’s performance was cancelled due to structural concerns about the specially erected banked seating. Didn’t know that until today.
The play draws directly on the experiences of soldiers from the Black Watch regiment tours in Iraq, specifically their controversial redeployment to more dangerous combat zones, in order to relieve US troops. Further themes are the war’s questionable legitimacy and the amalgamation of the Black Watch with five other Scottish regiments, in the context of the regimental history (referred to as The Golden Thread).
There’s no doubt this is a highly impressive production, with critical accolades a-plenty. Performances are consistently strong and there are a number of highly inventive set pieces in the staging, incorporating a pool table, projections, strobe lighting, bagpipes, TV screens, military drill and exceptional choreography. The blurb claims universal critical praise, but I overheard a few doubters as the audience filed out. I may have been one myself.
There seems to be a lack of clarity in the aims of the piece. Are we getting the soldiers story? If so, why is so much obscured? We see the squaddies serving together, chilling out in the pub, interviewed by a writer - yet they remain two dimensional. OK, we have the sarge, the cheeky one, the ladies man, the toffee-nosed officer, the new boys – all sound familiar? Obviously these tropes don’t arrive out of thin air – but they’re not particularly unique to the Black Watch either. I remember similar character sketches in Spike Milligan’s war memoirs. At no point do we get a sincere sense of any personality bar the cliché.
Now, I know this is drama and concessions must be made – but I left feeling that the ‘BigBangBoom’ factor, while providing a raucous evening’s entertainment, actually served to obscure what truths might be mined here. A bit like Riverdance being presented as an insight to Irish sectarianism? Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh. But there was a definite emphasis on spectacle, and I felt the pacing at times seemed more suited to TV than theatre. This, coupled with martial piping and some superfluous drilling near the end, seemed to drag into mawkishness. The dangerous glamour of fatigues and guns is embraced, so that the military tattoo references seemed overplayed – tilting the balance towards gung ho, and away from the human aspects of the story.
On the plus side, there’s excellent exposition of the regimental history, in one of those inspired set pieces, involving the evolution of the distinctive uniform. There are few punches pulled where the legality of the invasion is concerned. There’s excellent use of symbolic language throughout; ‘bullying’, ‘porn’ and ‘petrol’ recur. I also learned what ‘toby-tag’ is (although I’m not sure I really needed to).
Anyway, bang-for-buck-wise, I shouldn’t be complaining. One hour and fifty minutes, (without an interval) passed with little discomfort or boredom. The audience mostly loved it and who says good art needs to hit all the buttons anyway?
Funnily enough, I found myself thinking of Tropic Thunder and wondering which of these two productions was the more disturbing. Ben Stiller’s movie – glibly playing war for laughs (and hilarious in parts) had me seething at times for a society in the grip of ‘the biggest Western Foreign policy mistake ever’ (to quote one of the Black Watch characters) packing out cineplexes for their explosive fix. Here, where the wounds are exposed with more intentional gravitas, I wondered why I wasn’t more moved.
(BTW we also went to Delerium, Enda Walsh's collaboration with theatre O at the Peacock, the previous night. The Evening Herald has first dibs on that review - I'll link to it when it's published. Suffice to say it's well worth a look!)
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Nice article by Fiona McCann in today's Irish Times marking the 30th Anniversary of Poetry Ireland. It's a good overview of a great organisation, and raises again the embarrassing and illogical oversight that sees the representative organisation for the most internationally recognised Irish artform still without a dedicated building to call home! Anybody who's visited their cramped office, just off Stephen's Green, knows full well the limitations of the (lack of) space and is given cause to reflect on just how much is achieved from such a humble hub. I particularly like Denis O'Driscoll's description of the organisation as "a guild, a guide and a gateway". Indeed it is.
To mark the anniversary, Poetry Ireland has announced the inaugural All-Ireland Poetry Day - tomorrow Thurs Oct 2nd - and is supporting readings in all 32 counties. The Dublin reading takes place in that reliable venue, the Unitarian Church.
However, I'll be attending a suburban satellite event; Deansgrange Writers Group and Dalkey Writers Group are coming together to mark the day with a reading upstairs in the Graduate Pub (beside Killiney Shopping Centre) on Rochestown Ave, from 7-11pm. There's no intention to detract from PI's activities, we just thought it might be nice to do something out Dun Laoghaire direction. Trekking into town all the time can be demanding on the Burrough dwellers.
I'll be among those reading, and there'll be an open mic (well, I don't know that we'll need, or have, an actual mic - should be pretty intimate and informal). If you're interested in reading, get there early and make yourself known on arrival. Or just drop in for a drink and support your local poets!
Happy Anniversary Poetry Ireland!
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Yes, I know the photo's just a bit out of date, and yes, I know it features Ray Carver as well as Tess Gallagher (some commentators take issue with Gallagher being consistently referred to in the context of her relationship with Carver). Of course Gallagher herself has no qualms about her role as executor / protector of Carver's legacy to the point where she's probably more well known for this role in Europe. The fact remains, however, that she is a fine writer on her own terms and is very highly regarded in US poetry circles. I've been mixed in my reaction to her work in the past and was genuinely curious as I headed along to the Unitarian Church last week for her Poetry Ireland reading.
Gallagher has a remarkable voice. Very youthful, a lilting mix of the Pacific Northwest and our own Atlantic Northwest (Sligo - where she spends several months each year). She spoke fondly of Ballindoon, the area she visits there and where she met her new partner, the painter Josie Grey. Her latest book is a collaboration with Grey. Barnacle Soup : And other stories from the West of Ireland, sees Gallagher trascribe stories from the oral tradition, as told to her by Grey. After an introduction by Joe Woods, she began her reading with two of these: 'A Genius of a Dog" and one other 'Tommy Flynn and his Bealding' about an unfortunate courting incident involving said 'bealding (an infected boil on a finger). Both were charming, light and read with panache.
Then we were into a selection of poetry from her back catalogue. Among those featured were One Kiss, Sah Sin (Hummingbird) , Talking with (to?) Children and she finished with Lie Down With The Lamb, to a warm response from the audience.
Gallagher is well represented online - you can listen to recordings of her reading some of these same poems at the Seamus Heaney Centre in 2007 here, and a couple of interesting older interviews with Don Swaim on the wonderful archive of his Wired for Books radio show here. Enjoy.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Let's be alone together... at Crawdaddy
Went along to Crawdaddy last night for the Dublin launch of the new Stinging Fly short story anthology 'Let's be alone together'. And a very well attended occasion it was, too - more writers than you could shake an empty biro at. Over the course of a few hours (and bevvies) we heard nine(!) of the featured writers read their stories, or extracts in some cases. Judging by this not-so-small selection from the book's twenty stories, the anthology is fizzing with quality! Can't wait for my commute to explore a few more! There's an Ingo Schulze story in there that I'll be heading straight for, I think.
Of the readers on the night, Emer Martin's story 'Thieves of the Dream', about a mixed-nationality californian family coming under the post 9/11 glare, was a highlight for me. Helena Nolan's a busy woman these days. She introduced her story 'A Hares' Nest' as being born from a dream - while admitting 'we're not supposed to write about those' - why? To do so is 'a cliche' apparently. If only every cliche was written this elegantly! Mia Gallagher gave a dramatic reading from her story 'Pollyfilla', where an architect stumbles into confrontation, despite himself. Evelyn Conlon, Colm Liddy, Rosemary Jenkinson, Dónal O'Sullivan, James Lawless and Gina Moxley also read excellently - each adding further to the enjoyment of the enthusiastic crowd.
This is the first Stinging Fly event I've made it too - to date they've always clashed with some prior commitment. Kudos to Declan Meade & colleagues for putting on a great evening - very inspirational for anybody working on their own short fiction. Yes, that's me.
Got my copy of the latest Dublin Review in the post the other day. As usual, an interesting mix of essays, fiction etc. between the covers - including poet Vona Groarke's considerations on links between John McCormack and her family history and (woohoo!) - a new short story by Philip Ó'Ceallaigh! Nice one. Here's an earlier story from Ó'Ceallaigh, online at the Stinging Fly archive. Enjoy!
Monday, September 22, 2008
Culture Night seems to have gone very well in Dublin, judging from my brief wander around Dublin 2 and Temple Bar after work. Lots of people about – particularly many young families. A couple of popular highlights seemed to be the Artbots exhibit at the Science Gallery and the printmaking workshops at the Original Print Gallery. There was so much on it was impossible to take in everything – still didn’t see that Art of Chess exhibition at the Sebastian Guinness Gallery.
One thing I couldn’t miss was the Poetry Ireland Open Mic at the Unitarian Church on St. Stephens Green (partly because I’d promised to turned up and read). I got there just after 8pm - it had been going strong since 6. Not sure what I missed, but I think some of the IMRAM Irish language poets featured earlier in the evening.
It was a great event, with a wide variety of poets, ranging from grand-old-man-of-letters, Ulick O’Connor, to slam poet ‘Chippy’ from Austin Texas, including members of the Valentines Writers Group, Valerie Bowe, Helena Nolan (who features in the new Stinging Fly anthology) an Israeli poet named Ari (i think), Strong Award winner Dave Lordan and some of the regulars from the Poetry Ireland forum - Windhover and Desmond Swords. All sorts of poems and reading styles were on display. There was even a brief spot of heckling for a solemn, verbatim reading of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (offered up as a found poem, I guess?). The fact that it was also International-talk-like-a-pirate-day was celebrated repeatedly and I won a nice bottle of wine as a spot prize (Result!) before things eventually wound down at 11pm.
I read three of my poems (timeslots were tight!); By The Connigar (below), Dispatches (which you can read here) and Tiding - all of which seemed to go down well;
By The Connigar
In town, inland above the banks
Below the spire, the frozen hand of
Father Murphy points to sites for sale
To the seal at Knocknasillogue
Which is there and then gone
Slipping into memory like the vision
That a son has of the father
Head back, canines on display
Under sifting cliffs one lost dog day.
Thanks to the good folk at Poetry Ireland for organising a really memorable and enjoyable evening. Now, what to do for All-Ireland Poetry Day?
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Issue 5 of Analogue music magazine is out now - free to pick up somewhere near you. I did this cover illustration for them, along with a few spot illustrations for the article itself, on the subject of mental illness among rock musicians. A little different than my usual approach, but it's not a subject you can be too flippant about.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Byrne and Eno : Its-a Happening (again)
Well whadyaknow - those erstwhile mavericks of the New Wave are now quite middle-aged. Hasn't stopped them getting back together to do the collaboration hustle. Good thing? Bad thing? Thing Thing!
I've quite a soft spot for their 1980 album 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts'. Along wih whale sounds, The Cramps and The Goon Show, it brings me back to the hazy basement rooms of georgian houses, back when I first to entered studenthood. A hugely influential album, this new one (with its Miranda July-ish title) can't really be anything along those lines, but these two particularly crispy heads are always going to have some sonic sparks to bring to the equation, so check it! Here! The whole album is streaming for your listening pleasure and there's one track available as a free download (once you submit yopur email address to the cybermephisto).
Tropic Thunder Preview Screening
Stiller Inc. - back with a bang!!!
I went along to an advance screening of Tropic Thunder last night - thanks again to those enlightened, generous people at the wonderful Movies.ie - and had some of the best belly laughs of recent times. Anybody who’s familiar with the Stiller package will have a good idea what to expect and judging by the enthusiastic (and somewhat blokey) audience profile, there’s a whole posse well hungry for this particular brand.
I won’t get into spoiler territory, but I think this one will have you you spitting popcorn out your nose on at least a couple of occasions, whether you’re a fan or not. It may not be quite the ‘Nam Zoolander’ that it has been touted as, but it’s damn near! While it looks like it was a lot of fun to make, its worth remembering that this is the movie Owen Wilson had to skip due to his hospitalisation - so maybe not quite so light a mood on set after all.
The plot sees a bunch of preening hollywood types bogged down, way behind schedule and over budget, in an expensive jungle shoot for a ‘nam memoir’ movie. In a desperate attempt to redeem himself and motivate his charges, the inexperienced brit director (a manic Steve Coogan) attempts to go ‘off the grid’, shooting guerilla stylee in the interior – with disasterous results. Trouble is, the actors are so self-immersed, it takes a while for the facts to catch up it with them in the form of some pretty real adversaries. Along the way, cliches are mined, dialogue is peppered and (of bloody course) truths are dispensed. With explosions, heroin and dentures.
As in the very, very funny ‘trailers’, Robert Downey Jr. is the best thing here. Much has been made of his character (think Russell Crowe meets Brad) going deep blackface, and much of the ‘plot’ hangs on (Stiller’s character) Tugg Speedman’s previous performance ‘going full retard’ – so there’s lots of pointy excrement-smeared sticks to poke any political correctness the audience might smuggle in. Jack Black is the most wonderfully-named ‘Jeff Portnoy’. Love it!
Along the way there’s great cameos, set-pieces, homage/pastiches and great, great oneliners. So all good then? Yeeeeeeeeeayyyyy-ish.
I was bugged by that increasingly common feeling that this really could have been an out-and-out classic. Given the premise and the cast, there was so much further these guys could have been taken. Downey Jr. is outstanding, Stiller does his ‘bambi with a brain of cheese’ bit again and Black goes through the motions – although he does get a couple of the great gags. Drop in Nick Nolte doing the ‘generic vet number 1’ gig, Matthew McConaughey doing Owen Wilson and a baldy Tom Cruise donning prosthetic hamhands to do the production’s ‘bigdick playa’ and you get much sending up of the hollywood machine. Problem is, Stiller Inc. now ARE the Hollywood machine. I was left with a distinct feeling that some of the best gags mightn’t have surved the ‘notes’ process, ending up on the floor. (Although some seem to have made it into the ‘making-of-making-of….’ documentary on youtube).
Unfortunately, scientologists don’t do humour – this one at least. Cruise’s wigga tyrant is initially a genuine treat, but overexposure turns him into the guy with the lampshade on his head at this particular party. A muddled third act, the ‘warm’ ending (complete with cutaway to clarify that ‘no kiddies were flung in the making of this movie) just seem to cop out from what could have been downright nasty fun.
But maybe I’m just picky. It’s still a whole bunch o’laffs – so check it, playa!
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The Therapeutic Community (Cuckoo!)
Washington DC company Keegan Theatre are back in Ireland for their annual tour of the country. This year they bring their production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest to Galway, Kilkenny, Roscommon, Longford and Thurles. I was at the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire last night to catch the tour kick-off.
Keegan specialise in staging Irish theatre in the US and I've been lucky enough to see them reciprocate with shows like Death of A Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire and Glengarry Glen Ross on several of their previous visits to Ireland. It's always a treat to experience these American classics voiced by an American troupe. Staging is usually restrained, but the performances make up for this by embracing the characters and flinging them around the text with gusto. There's nothing particularly avante garde going on here - just solid, professional interpretations of classic texts, treated with respect and enthusiasm - just what the doctor ordered!
With a cast of fourteen, this is one of the larger productions to date. Possibly because of this, it felt a little slow to get going. Like many of the Keegan shows, audiences here may be more familiar with this play's cinematic incarnation (and that delerious Jack Nicholson performance is hard to forget!). However, the play was written in 1963 by Dale Wasserman, adapted from Ken Kesey's bestselling 1962 novel - and it retains the novel's narration by Chief Bromden, which the movie dispensed with. A lot depends on the shimmering intensity and pathos of that character on stage. Here, Kevin Adams gives a rumbling, resonant performance as the visionary (fake) catatonic – but the required gravitas was elusive to start with.
However, once Keegan stalwarth Mark A. Rhea scraps his way onstage, things kick off with aplomb. Rhea has taken centre stage on recent tours and his McMurphy is a wiley thug with a heart of, if not gold, at least solid brass. Sheri S. Herren is Nurse Ratchet with a restrained performance that gradually blooms into glacial cruelty.
The ensemble playing might fluctuate, but the central performances anchor the core of this countercultural polemic. Kesey’s writing is sometimes swamped by the appeal of his Merry Prankster persona and it’s a welcome reminder of his ability to see these characters fleshed out here. (I’m sure Wasserman played his part too – as does the show’s director Susan M Rhea).
Nowadays, we’re dangerously close to apathy about the issues Kesey was addressing; the power of the ‘Combine’, alienation, selling nobility down the river, abuse of power, the nature of insanity - they all get an airing in this work – and can still trigger modern relevances as well as wistful retrospection. I was reminded of Hunter S Thompson’s comment about California's Summer of Love;
"We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
Less appealing, and yet very interesting, is the somewhat misogynistic subtext of the work. Almost all the female characters - on or offstage - with the exception of “Candy & Sandy” (the light, lewd relief) and one repressed, Catholic nurse are harridans of the highest order. ‘Ratshit’ herself, Patient Harding’s coquette wife, The Chief’s white mother, and Billy Bibbit’s tragically controlling mother are all apportioned their share of blame for the emasculation of the noble urges of the (male) individual... whereas, Doctor Spivey, and even the bullying ward orderlies, are reprieved by a backslapping camaraderie and fondness for the odd toke, or whatever. This theme had previously bypassed me somewhat, and it’s a strength of the work that the often overlooked patriarchal baggage of the 'counterculture' is overt here.
These aspects, coupled with the central theme of the Chief’s physical loss of aboriginal nobility - via his father’s malleability and weakness - brought the shadow of Hemingway looming over proceedings for this punter. There’s no doubt that Hemingway was an influence on Kesey (along with Burroughs, Steinbeck and Faulkner) - but whether this patriarchal inheritance is consciously written, I can’t say.
Keegan Theatre are touring Ireland until October 4th – full schedule here - and I’d guess this production will get better and better as it tours!
Friday, September 05, 2008
Boy In The Striped Pyjamas Premiere
The World Premiere of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas took place in Dublin last night. The movie is based on the book by Dublin writer John Boyne, itself nothing short of a publishing phenomenon - this side of the water at least. The book has attracted a readership which runs from 10 year olds to grandparents and strikes me as one of those stories that's so simple in it's premise that it's hard to believe it isn't (a) true, or (b) hasn't been told before. And I mean that as nothing other than the highest compliment to the writer!
Boyne has been writing for many years, with 6 novels to his credit, but this book has really been his breakthrough, selling over 3 million copies to date. His newest book is a retelling of The Mutiny on The Bounty from the perspective of the cabin boy. This is a writer with a real gift for a good idea, and it's great see his back catalogue also getting plenty of attention on the back of his recent success.
I had the good fortune to win 2 tickets to the premier courtesy of movies.ie, an excellent new irish website for all things movie-related (thanks guys). Unfortunately, another commitment unexpectedly got in the way, so herself and her mum (a big Boyne fan) had the treat of attending instead. They gave it a big thumbs up - especially for Asa Butterfield's performance as Bruno, the young protaganist, whose relationship with the boy of the title is the core of the story. I won't go into too much plot detail - you either know by now it or you don't. I've a date with my daughter to see it and am looking forward to it very much!
The movie goes on general release on 12th September over here and November (I think) in the US.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Some interesting browses of recent days;
Over on the Guardian Arts blog, Billy Mills welcomed the arrival of Lughnasa in particular and Autumn in general with a call for posts of Autumn poems - which quickly led to the usual syndrome of blog commentators picking a tangent and engaging in hostilities thereon. This time its about obscenity or violence of language and imagery in Art, no less. Some tasty poems scattered in there though - and the thread is still growing!
Expat Hungarian poet & translator George Szirtes' blog is consistently thought-provoking, always worth a visit and a couple of recent posts, springing from his recent trip to his birthplace, Budapest, stood out. But there's no shortage of great stuff here, from his trademark dry humour to more sombre commentary. Just excellent!
Meanwhile, over on Polyolbion, Matt Merritt has a good review of Happenstance stablemate James W Wood's recent collection, Inextinguishable. It's a cracking collection, which I hope to review here myself soon. One distinguishing feature is the fact that it's illustrated - students of Edinburgh College of Art interpreted his work, to mixed effect. This is an area that interests me - but it's rare to see a really successful collaboration of this kind. In that regard, I feel this book isn't quite there. However, the poems themselves are fine! Some of the artwork is fine too, but together - I'm not so sure?
Finally, over at the Irish Times, I see Aidan Dunne had also previously reviewed the I Can / Can I ? exhibition which features on the post below. He's a bit more emphatic in his take, where I found myself a little less moved - more bemused really. To be fair, I think that's part of this particular exhibit's intention. Anyhoo, who cares what the feckin' critics think - get in there yourself!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
I Can / Can I? on painting and potentiality
The current exhibition at Temple Bar Galleries sees three artists explore their relationship with painting. Sonia Shiel and Michael Coleman from Ireland and Hanneline Visnes, a Norwegian artist based in Scotland, ask questions of the medium that move from formal interrogation to downright cheeky.
Each artist examines their work in the context of Potentiality – a concept originally framed by Aristotle – which concerns itself with the potency of possibilities – ‘What if?’, ‘Where does this lead?’ and ‘Why / Why not?’. The exhibition is not an answer to these questions, but a process of investigating what it means to be a painter working in visual arts practice in 2008.
Coleman shows a calm, fixed installation of related canvases in juicy hues – a restrained progression from his body of compulsive, stylised painting. Visnes shows the most ‘traditional’ work here. A surreal motif involving raptors and jewellery is riffed out at various sizes, on unprimed MDF or paper, with an emphasis on controlled rendering. One larger piece is a very satisfactory resolution of deftly brushed filigree.
Shiel appears to have grasped the bull by the horns and wrestled it into a kind of submission. One of Ireland’s finest young painters (winning the Hennessy Craig award in 2004), she has long exhibited technical fluency. Recent years have seen her practice absorb increasingly experimental contexts. This is certainly true of her work here, to the point where paint is subverted, as in the case of Sal-on (shown above). As well as incorporating small canvases, paint also skins this assemblage, creating an almost theatrical construct.
There is risk here, in subverting the reverence which conventionally applies to gallery paintings. But this show is about risk – and questions. The biggest one of all? Are these the right questions?
I Can / Can I? on painting and potentiality,
continues at Temple Bar Galleries until 20th September
This review originally appeared in the August 28th issue of Evening Herald HQ Magazine.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Patrick Chapman's latest collection of poetry displays the characteristics which have earned him praise and recognition as one of the more interesting voices of his generation of Irish poets.
The poems in this volume - ranging as they do over broad periods of time and experience – can sometimes appear to be ‘quare bedfellows’. However, this is far from negative - if anything it emphasises the diversity and range of thought and expression in Chapman's poetry. Heated relationships, cold wars, inner and outer space all combine here to provide a backdrop for stories of the heart, mind and body in a collection that exhibits distinctly cinematic qualities. There's a touch of the Noir here - not unrelenting darkness - more highlighted angles and delineations of a gamut of memorable characters. We meet a Queen of her own private Gethsemane, a vampire-priest-ringmaster, as well as certain politicians and ‘vast and cool intelligences' opening church and shopping malls in virgin territories. Musicians and other cultural icons create a sinewy linkage between the poet and his environment.
Throughout, there's a healthy dose of surreal humour. However, one of the strengths of this collection is Chapman's ability to present humour without resorting to glibness. Here it is part of the full tableaux of human experience, woven into love, fear, bewilderment and hope. There's a fair deal of sex too.
Overall the writing is underpinned with a deceptively casual sense of craft (this is Chapman's fourth collection, following on from a recent book of stories. He's also written films and audio plays). Towards the end, the collection heads into (literally) darker waters. Immersion recurs as a theme along with various extinctions, such as the young fisherman in the poem What You Leave Behind, lost at sea while providing for his his family;
“In dying he has lumbered them with boat-wreck
And some lately settled fear an tí –
Squatting in the drowned man’s chair.”
At first, this collection charms with its immediate vibrancy - then merits re-reading to tap into some of the deeper currents at work below the surface of this skillful, considered writing.
More info here.
Myself and other IGI illustrators currently have an exhibition running at Ormeau Baths Galleries, Belfast. You can read all about it over on Scamp. SLANT is all about putting your own stamp on a favoured painting. The tagline is 'imitation : flattery or battery" and there's everything from straight homage to wholesale re-invention. My own painting (above) is based on Dali's Premonition of Civil War. It's ALL good - but some of my favourites are paintings by PJ Lynch, Kevin McSherry and Jonathon McHugh. Also at the same venue is The AOI's Images 31 exhibition, featuring the cream of UK illustration. So, well worth a visit! >>>>>>> UPDATE!!! You can now check out a step-by-step of the above image over here on the IGI blog SCAMP! Make sure and leave a comment!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Myself and a bunch of IGI illustrators have marked the recent passing of Ireland's most distinctive singing voice, Ronnie Drew, by putting pen to paper and coming up with a few nice scamps of the great man himself. Check em out here.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Written back in late 2007, but seems appropriate to the current Irish climates;
This morning, the patio is a chessboard
Drained of fight, a low contrast
Truce of gritty concrete squares
Slick under furniture pieces disarrayed;
Mouldering victims of a thuggish midnight squall.
Brick red when first assembled, inclemency
Has shrunk their ersatz teak to oldbone grey.
I know they've reached the rotting stage.
The last time they were used, not one
But two seats rent that sunny afternoon,
Their rundles detonating under laden
Celtic tiger arses, ambushed.
This poem featured, along with a few others, in issue 2 of Polluto - the 'Apocalypses and Garden Furniture' issue. Now there's a theme and a half - and how bizarre that I actually had a poem which fit nicely!
Monday, August 11, 2008
Those damnable best intentions went a-wanderin' again; insulting ladyboys, got beaten up on the tube and had luggage redirected to reykjavik; ended up drinking in shoreditch with japanese kylie fans - hence the infrequency of posts of late. Didn't bother me though - stuck here at home ripvanwinklin' through the biblical deluge that is the Irish summer. Thank goodness for stumped fowl, I say!
Thursday, August 07, 2008
The good people at the Evening Herald's HQ magazine (Hi Sue!) asked me to review Meridien Theatre Company's production 'Raccoon' which is currently running at Bewleys Café Theatre, during lunchtimes, until August 23rd. You can read that review here
This really is a very good show, so if you're in the Grafton Street area for lunch before the run ends, I'd recommend it highly. The writer is an American named Tom Hall and, based on this play, I'd think his short stories (I'm guessing he's written a few) should be well worth a read. That's if anybody knows where I might find them / him? According to the bumph, he's lived in Mexico, Cork & Wexford but is now based in Dublin. 'Raccoon' also features in a double bill 'The Lost Field' from Meridien - which will be touring nationwide this November - so keep your eyes peeled.
Meridien are a lively and innovative company, with some interesting work in their archive. Their forthcoming production is 'There Are Little Kingdoms' - a play based on the short story collection of the same name by Kevin Barry. Barry was a worthy winner of the 2007 Rooney Prize for this cracking collection of tales from small-town Ireland - one of the best debut collections of recent years. The author himself is adapting the work for stage, so make a note folks, this should be a pretty hot ticket, IMHO.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
It’s been a hectic couple of weeks since getting back from hols. Any headway I made in my summer reading has bottlenecked somewhat. However, before what passes for summer these days has flown, here are a few journals whose summer issues I've been stuck into;
The Stinging Fly
The Summer 2008 issue of The Stinging Fly lives up to its now well-established reputation. The regular 'First Passions' feature, where writers discuss their early reading influences, features Vona Groarke, whose recollections range from the first book she ever owned, aged five (or six) to the 'full force gale' of individual poems. There's the usual rigorous selection of innovative new prose - a Stinging Fly trademark by now - alongside a very healthy mix of original poetry. Featured poet Grace Wells exhibits an artful whimsy over seven poems. Reviews include Tom Mathews investigating Wendy Cope's newest collection and Yvonne Cullen absorbing Harry Clifton’s extremely well-received Secular Eden: Paris Notebooks 1994 -2004, among others. The highlight for me is an astonishing story by Desmond Hogan, a writer who has been in the news for less salubrious achievements of late. To simply call 'Old Swords' a story seems understated. This writing is a congealed amalgamation of reference and insight, with innocuous detail and character reminiscence layering and shifting to eventually conflagrate a human life, in all its tawdry hopes and limitations. Fascinating technique!
The Dublin Review
Another journal with impeccable editorial credentials here, the only bum note for this reader being a rather dry essay referencing Henry James - 'On Style and Freedom'. Worthy, no doubt - but perhaps a shade too academic for this slight intellect. Much more satisfactory were two (very) short stories by Kevin Casey, Maurice Walsh's squint into Salvadoran street gangs and a wonderfully evocative trip to Inishbofin in the company of Tim Robinson. Brian Dillon also provides a fascinating perusal of the various manifestations of Marcel Duchamp's 'ready-mades' - somewhat of a misnomer, as Duchamp, cute hoor that he was, held a 'flexible' approach to his own manifestos on what constituted an 'objet d'art'.
Bookending the covers with striking images by Jaber Lufti, the summer 2008 issue of Crannóg is crammed full of fine poems and some pretty good prose too! Standouts for me include poems by Fred Johnston, Deborah Moffat, Nicholas Messenger and Maureen Gallagher. My own poem 'A Piece' features here too, bringing the issue to a close on page 57. Thanks for the selection, people!
Pen Pusher 10
I've mentioned before that Pen Pusher is one of the more handsomely produced journals, and this issue is well up to the usual standard in all areas, with a cover illustration by Richard Short - who also contributes a story inside! It's hard to define the editorial policy at work here - but the result is a very classy selection of clean, crisp writing - to match the design perhaps? ;-) Peter Higgins writes on Elmore Leonard, that crime writer beloved by Hollywood. Elsewhere there's striking story 'My Stalker' from Pia Chatterjee, a little madness from Sir Charles Maxwell-House and a couple of somewhat surreal poems from Leah Armstead and Heather Phillipson. Still have to finish reading this one! BTW Pen Pusher have come up with an inspired way for supporters to sponsor their production costs by donating 2p per page - so for a quid you can sponsor a whole issue and get mentioned by name ....unlike us poor loyal subscribers then ;-)
I had the pleasure of attending the opening event of TRADITION:DL (Dun Laoghaire festival of traditional music) last friday. We were treated to a rare solo performance by fiddle virtuoso Paddy Glackin. Glackin is the real deal - a dyed-in-the-wool virtuoso, whose range and deftness were given an airing on the full gamut of jigs, reels and slower airs. On the slower passages, the full range of the instrument's expression was brought to bear in the hands of an obvious master of his art. Some of the other 'tunes' brought out my inner contrarion. (Please bear with me here). Not having been brought up in one of those classic trad-filled environments, I sometimes find the emphasis on 'tunes' in trad a bit chafing. To my (admittedly untutored) ears - the difference between one 'tune' and another can often seem minimal. I must own up to a bit of a knee-jerk rebeliousness when po-faced tradsters talk reverently of newly composed 'tunes'. More often, the composition in question seems to to comprise of inverting a triplet here or transposition of a couple of notes there, when compared to the another 'tune'. Unlike Rhapsody in Blue, for example, much trad stuff is more of a repetitive motif for leppin' around to, no? OK, I'll put my hands up - my name is PJ and I'm a trad dullard! Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed Glackin - just found myself mulling those aspects of 'trad' that irk me during the interval.
After that came the highlight of the evening for me. Spiers & Boden are a couple of young men who are to the forefront of a New Folk revival that seems to be sweeping along nicely in the UK. Also members of Bellowhead and previously part of Eliza Carthy's entourage, these guys know their stuff, have the credentials to prove it, but also display an irreverant attitude and willingness to entertain that often seems lacking in our homegrown folkies. I know, I know - English Folk isn't 'pure' (like ours?). It's all based on dodgy 'revivalism' and nostalgia innit? F*ck that. This was a vibrant and energetic performance of new music that knows (and feeds) its roots. Admittedly, in embracing experimental influences, Carthy et al can sometimes verge on pop music with a folk tinge - but that's no bad thing. Why shouldn't folk music also be popular music? These guys deliver - buy the album - or better still catch them live!
Anyway - a great double bill to kick off this wee festival, more power to its elbow. I'd have loved to make it along to 'The Frost is All Over' on the Saturday night - Dermot Bolger's collaboration with Tony Mac Mahon - but didn't make it back from Belfast in time. Anybody who was there care to fill me in?
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I made it over to the National Gallery of Ireland yesterday for the third in their series of lunchtime poetry readings during July, in association with Poetry Ireland. I was disappointed to miss the first two due to being abroad - featuring Vona Groarke and Eavan Boland, whose reading kicked off the series.
Yesterday's event featured Catherine Phil MacCarthy, a steadfast presence on the Irish scene; poet, novelist, editor and teacher of creative writing. True to form, her reading, like her work overall, was confident, understated and elegant - occasionally breaching consistently high levels of quality to achieve some remarkably moving passages, as in the chilling poem 'Ultrasound'. Personal highlights were a poem called 'The Deluge', which paired the whimsy of a barrage of Beanie Babies (neighbouring children breaching garden defences) against more biblical considerations. MacCarthy finished up with another fine piece, The Opal, available to read on the poet's website, along with other works from her recent collection 'Suntrap'.
Next up in the series is Gerald Smyth, reading on Weds 23rd July and Harry Clifton brings the series to a close on Weds 30th July. The readings are advertised as being in Room 21 (The Portrait Gallery) but yesterday's took place in the lecture theatre (in the basement). I'd guess they'll remain there. Also some mention of a poetry evening at the NGI this autumn - sounds interesting! Meanwhile, this series is a pleasant lunchtime interlude for anybody in the Dublin 2 area during July.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
As mentioned earlier, I’m just back from a couple of weeks in Spain. Usually not big fans of the sun holiday scenario, this year the offspring deemed sunshine and a pool to be mandatory elements, so off we flew. And guess what? It was fuppin’ great! Lucky timing too - as borne out by our alarm monitor phoning to say the house alarm was going off back home but not to worry - we weren’t alone - it was probably set off by the torrential rain and hailstones!!!
Between narrowing down the iPod options for best poolside basking music (Air … by a drowsy mile!), glugging ice-cold rosado and experiencing 135kmph rollercoasters, I had plenty of languid reading time. I’d brought a selection of journals, one poetry collection and one novel, but pride of place HAS to go to JG Ballard : The Complete Stories: Volume 1.
Reading Ballard’s dystopian gems under the hot Spanish sun brought on unexpected and eerie synchronicities between his stories and the surreal and artificial landscape of the mass tourist experience. All that packaged recreation, intensive leisure, modular accommodation, shifting sands, glaring skies and polished dereliction. The contrast between the well-watered, palm-shaded apartment enclaves and the dusty, halfshod streets outside seemed spookily similar to some of the environments from the Vermillion Sands stories. The ever-present swimming pools, whether fully functioning or leering from the gaptooth building sites of the stalled Spanish economy, were an obvious Ballard trope. The heaving, oily beaches emphasised references to the Gadarene swine in The Reptile Enclosure. While our apartment may not have had the Thousand Dreams of Stella Vista, humidity-broken sleep produced its own myriad shattered tableaux. The psychotropic correlation of environmental guilt and the slight drainy whiff as the aircon kicked in wasn’t lost on me either!
Considering most of these stories dated from the late 50’s and early 60’s, I was struck once again by Ballard’s uncanny prescience. Admittedly the clunky poetry-tape-producing Verse-Transcriber machines of Studio 5, The Stars seem quaint in the context of today’s digital environment, but - as Ballard states in his introduction – these stories aren’t set in any future, but a ‘visionary present’. The cumulative effect of reading these stories in relative succession led to a vaguely ominous, but not altogether unpleasant, disorientation – peaking in Barcelona. After Ballardian immersion, both the Zoo and the Metro felt bizarrely virtual. But the icing on the cake had to be an offhand mention in a phone conversation that “the Radar had died in Dublin airport”, a few days before we were due to return. Yikes!
All ended well though - an excellent break, to which these stories added a spice of head-swimming, delerious pleasure!
Monday, July 14, 2008
I only made it to one event during this year's Dublin Writers Festival. The festival coincided with a pretty hectic pre-holiday period for me plus I was a bit word-weary for a while there. However, I did manage to make it along to this event. Couldn't have missed it really, as I admire and enjoy Wolff's writing in a big way. To have him double-heading with the bould Enright was just too good a ticket to pass on.
It was a pretty full house on the night (and very muggy inside - what's the story Project?). First up with the introductions was Niall McMonagle, who then welcomed both writers to the stand. Enright read her story Honey from her recent collection Taking Pictures. This story was originally the worthwhile winner of the inaugural Davy Byrnes Award (for which Wolff had been one of the judges). It's a typical Enright story - as much as such a thing exists? A crackling, vernacular and bleakly humourous narrative of a protaganist whorled up in guilt, grief and gumption, spitting and fidgeting towards some kind of release. Enright is adept at traversing her characters across passages of brittle, iced language compacted into suspended, breathless near-hysteria, only to skid on a word or two into pools of warmth and emotion. So it was here. As Wolff followed her to the podium, he exclaimed that he'd be pleased to hand over the award cheque again - so good was this story. It was a wonderful reading of a classic modern story, IMHO. The good news is that Honey is available to read online over on the Irish Times website. The bad news is that only available by subscription! Here's the link.
Wolff followed up with two of his own classics: Say Yes (which you'll find here) and Bullet in the Brain, (read by T. Coraghessan Boyle in a podcast here). Both are cracking stories - not neccessarily what I would consider his most representative work, so an interesting choice.
After that, we needed a pause to breathe and let the words settle. Then we were off into a somewhat fractured discussion on the short story which, in truth, contained cliche as well as insight. But there were tasty moments too. Considering the merits of the story versus the novel, Wolff opined that Randall Jarrell's (?) somewhat glib definition of the novel as "a work in prose of a certain length that has something wrong with it" could equally be applied to the short story. I also seem to recollect that he commented on the story form having more in common with poetry than with the novel, but my memory might just be channelling Wolff's close friend, Ray Carver on this recollection - I know I've heard him say this.
Discussing the start of a story, Enright said she 'doesn't do' beginnings. Also, she doesn't have much time for those writers who claim not to know whether a piece will become a story or a novel. For her it's one or the other, from the off. She also said something interesting on endings. For her, it's not so much about the endline as the silence that follows it - and how that differs from the silence before the story began. A bit precious maybe, but a compelling consideration.
Also discussing endlines, Wolff commented on Carver's skill in this area, turning the most open and inconclusive lines into a kind of revery. He referenced the endline of Carver's story 'Gazebo' for this. I don't have this to hand just now. Crack a book :-) (I'll add it here later). One area that wasn't discussed was the role of the editor. With so much referencing of Carver, I'd hoped to maybe raise the contentious issue of Gordon Lish's role in paring back Carver's original drafts. But time was limited and I didn't make the cut.
Enright mentioned some significant influences on her as a younger writer, citing Alice Munro in particular as well as a seventies anthology of experimental work, "The Naked I", which brought subjective narrative to the fore. She also spoke of those many, many stories still to be told from the point of view of women, particulary Irish women. A curious moment occured when a female audience member asked both writers for their thoughts on the differences in the short stories of male and female writers. Wolff demurred to Enright, as she had lead the timbre of the discussion in this direction, but the Booker winner was somewhat gobsmacked and flustered by the question. Strangely unsure, I thought, considering how much of her writing drags a raggedy fingernail along the frayed seams of gender politics. For his part, Wolff suggested that there seemed to be more violence in men's writing. To his chagrin, he's had it pointed out that the mortality rate of dogs in his stories is quite high.
Finally, appropriately enough, an anecdote that Wolff shared with us;
The discussion came round to those questions which writers face at events like this, one in particular being "When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?" Where many writers might refer to vague, intuitive urges, Wolff remembered an exact moment from his schooldays, when he would often write exercises on behalf of his classmates (for reward, no doubt). On one such occasion, the recipient of said 'hokey homework' told him 'you know you're good at this.... you should be a writer'. This specific incident planted the idea. On subsequent occasions, having entirely lost contact with this guy, he would refer to the incident in public readings and offer his thanks to the individual. At one such event, a lady stayed behind, quietly made her way over to him and explained that she was the individual's daughter. She explained how her father, like Wolff, had served in Vietnam. Unlike Wolff, however, he returned a scarred and deeply troubled man who moved his family to remotest Alaska, where he sought a precise kind of solitude. If any other settler moved to within four miles of their home, he would up stakes and move even further into the wilderness. Eventually (of course) his wife had had more than enough privation, took the kids and left him to it! Recounting all this to Wolff, the daughter finished with the meek observation, "I guess somebody must've told him he should be a hermit."
Knowing the young Wolff's propensity for 'creative truth', I'd be inclined to take this with a pinch of salt - but a fitting yarn nonetheless, from a master storyteller on a wonderfully interesting and entertaining night.