Monday, February 25, 2008
The Oul' Howl
Here's one for fans of UberBeat Allen Ginsberg - an online release for an early (1956) recording of a youthful Ginsberg reading a draft of Howl at Reed College, Portland, Oregon. He runs out of steam a bit near the end - but, be the hokey, its an amazing archive piece of this definitive poem of the modern era in all its protopsychedelic glory. Enjoy! With thanks to Barry Miles over at the Guardian Arts blog.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
'A way with words and a gift for illustration rarely inhabit same brain.' Is the theme of an article by John Keenan over on the Guardian Arts Blog. Do you agree? I don't think so. The fact is that many writers, visual artists and indeed, musicians display talent to a high level across a number of these creative roles.
Dr. Seuss, Hunter S Thompson, Miranda July and Dorothy Molloy come to mind.
The initial surge of creative expression, however, traditionally needs to be focussed in order to achieve outstanding results in any given discipline. This may result from the closely academic principles applied in 'linear' career development of artistic 'job descriptions' to date.
It is quite possible that we may yet see a new generation of 'renaissance artists' emerge from the cross-fertilisation of disciplines resulting from convergence technologies.
Remember, until relatively recently, many lauded creators weren't always fulltime, professional artists. Many lived a professional life that required energies, skills and commitments separate to their artistic pursuits. One benefit of new technologies is that these could now be brought to bear to make progress more efficiently in a number of disciplines?
Monday, February 11, 2008
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Zadie a picky Lady?
Still looking towards the UK, there's been quite a bit of a furore over the decision by the judging panel of this year's Willesden Herald International Short Story competition not to present any prize this year. According to a blog post by judge Zadie Smith "We could not find the greatness we'd hoped for," and which goes on to say "It's for this reason that we have decided not to give out the prize this year."
The announcement has led to mixed reactions - plenty of disappointed entrants and other critics of the decision. But there's also some degree of support for the perceived upholding of literary standards.
It does seem odd that out of 800 entries, none was deemed of sufficient quality to win - especially when a shortlist of 10 had been compiled - but I guess it can happen.
I didn't enter, and may not have the chance now, seeing as the organisers have decided to donate this years prize to comic relief and wind up the competition! A bit of a shame what with the 'no such thing as bad publicity' factor at work.
Ah well, It's a funny old world. (Funny peculiar, that is).
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
2007 Plough Prize Winners
Over in the UK the results of the 2007 Plough Prize were announced earlier this week. You can see the winning poems and some comments by the judge, UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, over on the website. The quality seems very high and this may reflect the fact that the competition offers a high level of respect to all poets who enter.
EVERY poem entered got a tickbox critique, and for a small extra fee, a full critique is also available. I like this! Most poetry competitions have a stated aim to support and encourage poets – but the offer of even limited critique is rarely on offer. Sending work (along with the usual ‘entry’ fee) only to have it disappear into a limbo, unless one of a handful of prizewinners, can at times be more dispiriting than encouraging!
I can understand the administrative issues involved in providing a critique service – but even offering the option for a small additional cost would be a welcome development in many cases. I hope to see this becoming more the norm over time.
Meantime enjoy the poems – I particularly enjoyed Still Life by Alex Porter. Thanks to Matt at Polyolbion for bringing this to my attention.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
The Poetry Programme
There’s a new voice at the helm over on RTE Radio’s poetry programme.
Gerald Dawe, a fine poet in his own right, has taken over from Pat Boran and I had the chance to hear him in action for the first time at the weekend (The show goes out Saturday evenings at 7.30 pm on RTE Radio 1). His guest this week was Frank McGuinness, who has a new collection of poetry out at the moment. Dulse is published by the Gallery Press and is, I believe, McGuiness’ fourth collection of poetry.
Of course, McGuinness is much more well known as a playright than a poet, with plays such as The Factory Girls and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme to his credit. So it was interesting to learn that his published writing began with a number of poems back in the seventies, which lead in time to his first collection Booterstown being published in 1994. By his own admission, writing plays took over from poetry pretty early in his career and published poems have been more sporadic up until more recently. You can hear that show here, and there’s an archive of past shows available too.
Next week’s programme features Professor of Poetry for Ireland, Michael Longley, one of this island’s outstanding living poets and should be well worth a listen to hear the two Belfast boys chew the fat. Best of luck on the airwaves, Mr. Dawe!
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Happenstance – well happening!
I came across the poetry chapbook publisher Happenstance Press a little while back, through the unlikely channels of ...yes, it's true... another blog!
Matt Merritt is a fine UK poet, based near Leicester. A keen birder (twitcher, avian maven, what-have-you) his work is a real find. He writes with a naturalist’s eye on the beauty of rural environments, peopled with dignified species (including our own!). His painterly landscapes resonate with earthed rhythms in poems such as The Creek and Walking The Horseshoe. But the real pay-off, for me, is the keen regard he brings to human relationships, in precisely crafted pieces like Directors Cut, To Be Honest and Twitch. He keeps an excellent blog and is well published at this stage, with a collection due out this year. His chapbook Making the Most of The Light is published by and available from Happenstance Press.
Primarily a poetry publisher, Happenstance also runs a short story competition and you can order their pamphlet containing the first, second and third place stories along with one commended story, from their online shop. The stand-out piece for me was the story Going Out by Katy Darby. I won’t say where it came in the placings, but for a measly £3 + p&p you can find out yourself – money well spent! In the light of the apparently haphazard cuts in Arts Council England funding, small UK publishers like this need the support of punters more than ever. Why not do your bit and buy a title or two. Better still, take out a subscription to their regular journal Sphinx, which generally contains a variety of insightful articles on the vagaries of publishing poetry by folks at the coalface.
Of the titles I’ve bought so far, the standard of both content and design make spending a few quid well worth while. Check it out (and order Matt’s chapbook while you’re at it).
There are plenty of Irish poetry publishers who produce the goods in difficult and far-from-wealth-generating circumstances too – so don’t forget Lapwing Poetry, Salmon Poetry and Daedelus to name but a few. For the price of a mediocre bottle of wine you could give your spirit a kick that may still be intoxicating and inspiring many years from now!
Enright on the night!
Back to the Pavilion Theatre again earlier this week for a reading by our local Booker winner Anne Enright. (After this no posts about either Enright OR the Pavilion for a while - promise!) The event was held as a fundraiser for the ‘Out-Back’ project run by the Pavilion, where Enright’s husband Martin Murphy is Artistic Director, and it proved to be a very interesting and enjoyable evening, with Enright’s good friend Gerry Stembridge doing the introduction and interview duties.
If you're not Irish (and of a certain age) Stembridge may not be the most familiar name – but round these parts, he's probably most well known for his role in writing the infamous radio programme Scrap Saturday, which ruthlessly pilloried the most heinous and ridiculous excesses of the regime of a certain Charles J Haughey, formerly of these parishes. The show was notable for skillfully skewering topical political idiocy, and featured prominently the wit and mimicry of the late Dermot Morgan (sadly gone from this world almost 10 years now!) and the not-in-the-least-late Pauline McGlynn, both of whom went on to great things on Craggy Island. (While I think of it, Father Ted co-creator Graham Linehan has an excellent new blog over here - well worth a visit for choice fillets of the festering corpulence that is internet video - check it!)
But I digress; Stembridge began the evening with a few vignettes and memories of his friendship with Enright down the years. He recalled, on Booker night itself, emerging from the shower in the mens locker room of his local gym and being confronted by a grandee in a tux mouthing the result on a silent TV as Enright was announced winner of the prize. As he put it, a one-off life experience, i.e. hearing your friend has won the booker while standing naked, dripping wet. Another memory recalled the time he saw a spotlit Enright, performing onstage in Dublin's Players Theatre several decades past, then rushing to Burgh Quay to submit his meagrely-paid review of the production to a certain desk editor by the name of Banville. Caught between booker-ends, as it were. He also spoke warmly of Enright’s generous and spontaneous support at a difficult period in his life – painting a picture of a warm, caring individual whose friendship was obviously highly treasured.
After these mellifluous introductions, The Author Herself took to the stage, receiving a prolonged and hearty welcome. Perhaps a little nervous initially, she soon settled into reading the opening chapter of The Gathering in fine style, followed by an even more compelling reading of her short story 'The Girl Died' from her forthcoming collection (available in March). It was immediately apparent how important the concept of ‘voice’ is to the success of Enright’s work. In this context, Enright’s own voice walks her characters right into the theatre and straight up to centre stage. I look forward to the new collection – it should be a treat!
Following another warm reception for her readings, Enright settled into her seat for some insightful quizzing by an obviously enthusiastic Stembridge. Both writers seemed to relish the occasion and the opportunity it presented. It could be that Enright was glad of a chance to address some of the misconceptions written about her in various wayward articles since her Booker win.
Much of the questioning centred on structural aspects of The Gathering itself, the Booker Prize awards night (apparently she didn’t bet on herself!) and more generally, Enright's working methodologies. Responding to a question about the size of the family in The Gathering, she recalled a comment of another friend, journalist Ann-Marie Hourihane, likening aspects of 1980s Ireland to an orphanage – where many siblings from these large families were left somewhat bereft, following the death of parents whose harried life’s work could, by material necessity, verge on emotional absence from their (too?) many offspring.
Interesting to hear too, how visual artists were to the fore as inspirations in the absence of a canon of pre-eminent women writers in the Irish literary tradition as her own writing developed. Artists such as Dorothy Cross, Alice Maher and Kathy Prendergast were mentioned as influences and it seems apt that such interrogative artists should be referenced by a writer whose own acts of creation are equally charged with robust questioning of their environs by her characters.
Finally, still another Banville-related comment which sticks in the memory is how, on meeting that writer following his own Booker win with The Sea, he told Enright how he originally didn’t believe that book was any good – not just to win awards, but that he was convinced his publishers would reject it for publication! Perhaps it was just that most Irish trait of false modesty, but I really can’t see Banville being self-deprecating purely for the sake of it. That meeting, of one past winner and one who would, took place aptly enough in an airport. Banville commented to Enright that post-Booker, life was lived in airports. It is to Enright’s credit, and the enjoyment of the Pavilion audience, that she spent last Tuesday in closer proximity to the ferry terminus in Dun Laoghaire – with presumably only a short trip back home to Bray!