Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blogspotting!

A quick runaround some of my current online haunts reveals:

A NICE OVERVIEW OF CÚIRT on Nuala Ní Chonchúir's blog.

A RUNDOWN OF THE WINNERS of the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards ( including links to shortlisted work) over on the Emerging Writer blog.

A NICE MIX OF POETRY AND PHOTOGRAPHY on Mark Granier's Lightbox blog.

Patrick Chapman's fourth poetry collection A SHOPPING MALL ON MARS is out now!

UK poet Matt Merritt blogging about his new collection TROY TOWN.

All well worth a gander!

Penpusher 9 - The Bees' Nibs!



















Whoooop! Just received my copy of Penpusher magazine, issue 9 in the post, and it's a thing of beauty! Beautiful layout & typography throughout, crisp black text and snappy two colour cover on high white uncoated stock with a nice bit of weight - all perfectbound into the definitive 'slim volume'. Full credit for immaculate design to Hape Mueller. In Googling for the designer's website (which I couldn't find!) I came across this bizarrely interesting tidbit, crediting Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson for the magazine's distinctive logo! What a small, funky world it can be.

Anyways, on first skim, the editorial control and overall content well merits the very high production standards and I'm chuffed indeed that my poem 'Salthill, Monkstown' features alongside some quality material in this issue. Thanks Penpushers, you've made me week!!!

Hearmerooarrrrrrrrrrr!



BMW are running a promo campaign at the mo for the highly desirable Mini around the theme of 'Hear Me Roar!' you can check out some of my work for the campaign here along with work by BrenB, Chris Judge, Joven Kerekes and a bunch of other spiffing diddlers. Grrrrowwwwsa!

Thisisnotashop


This bizarre exploding chickenguy is a mashup by artist and designer Robert Carr of one of my doodles with a photo by Jessamyne Fiore. It featured as the cover graphic on the recent programme for Thisisnotashop gallery in Benburb Street, Dublin 7 - a real sweet artspace. They've been invited to participate in ART 08 over at the RDS this May. Based on last year's show there it should be areal hot ticket and well worth a visit. Git! Go! Getalong little Dawgies!

And check out the newest Thisisnotashop programme too - featuring a tres chilly graphic by designer John Lambert, aka electronica plucker Chequerboard. Tastic!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gillian Lawler at The Cross Gallery

















Gillian Lawler is one of a new generation of young Irish painters who manage to bridge tradition and the demands of an art audience for whom working in paint is verging on anachronism – a falsehood, of course. It is to the credit of the Cross Gallery that quite a number of these painters have been associates of the gallery since it opened its doors in 1999.

I’m thinking specifically here of Sonia Shiel and David Begley, as well as Lawler. Each of these artists can be seen to have re-assessed traditional, if not classical, inspirations in recent years by bringing their own slants; Begley to the human figure, Shiel to the natural landscape, and now Lawler to the urban. All share a love of surface and the materials of the painted medium.

Gillian Lawler’s work first caught my attention with compositions redolent of drumlins or magmatic bulges, seemingly landscape based, but very stylised. However, the decisively appeal for me was not so much the organic geometry of the compositions as the wonderfully worked patina in which they were rendered. There was no hint of that ethereal clouding into abstraction that so many landscape-based abstracts choose to wrap themselves in. Here was a determined and interesting, regimented deterioration of composition and painted surface – allowing the underpinning drafts to become something worked intensely into existence.

Then, last summer, Lawler was awarded the prestigious Hennessy Craig Scholarship and The Whyte’s Award at the 2007 RHA Annual exhibition for work which had moved on from the organic curves of previous sources to embrace grid elements and areas of carefully underplayed brighter pigments, bringing a fresh momentum to her destructed grounds.

The current exhibition develops these elements further. While some organic curves reappear, they are as ambients to those grid-based elements which have now moved assuredly to a dimensional centre stage in all of the compositions on show.

The most striking piece, to my eyes, is a large canvas named ‘City on Stilts II’. Here, cuboid forms merge to a distressed, melded plane – calling to mind medieval cities, antique cabinets as well as some possible future tribal habitat. Dominent colours here are the eroded complementaries of Indigo and Apricot (also reminiscent of Shiel’s pallet) but with an aging influence of pale verdigris. A ground of parallels suggest municipality, tillage and the corrugation of machine processes. All is quiet however, the stillness of early morning in the city, or rather of the city viewed from outside.

Herein lies a key strength of the work on show. Each canvas presents a sense of an environment observed, as if by a cultural outsider – but which also realises itself as a contemplative inner vision. Where are these places – within or without? Who resides in their viewing?

Other standout works are a large ‘Untitled’ canvas, which calls to mind a timeworn apartment or office block, but also resembles some metaphysically chainsawed woodblock in its iteration of negative grid spaces. Of the medium sized canvases, ‘Tower II’ encapsulates that sense of ‘inner habitat’ as it’s subject suspends between ‘ground’ and ‘sky’ of questionable logic. All are rendered with love of surface that fuses deterioration and destruction with wonder and beauty.

Overall this is an excellent show by a painter who seems to have found her own ‘third place’ between tradition and the new. Larger pieces are fulfilled with no loss of craft compared with the medium sized canvases more familiar to me from past work. Despite the emphasis on ‘modern building developments’ in the artist’s statement and the description of ‘primarily abstract meditations on the possible long-term rise and fall of cities’ – I find these works resonate with deeper instincts. In perusing the common planes and surfaces of the urban human habitat, it seems that Lawler is triggering the locks of inner rooms and perspectives.

The exhibition runs until 3rd May. An edited version of this review appeared in the Evening Herald HQ magazine of April 24.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Heaney Wright Review on Poetry Ireland




Those good people over at Poetry Ireland have seen fit to pop my review of the recent CD Wright & Seamus Heaney reading from DLR Poetry Now 08 up on their guest blog. Thanks PI people! I'm in good company over there - and the guest blog is just one of the nice features of www.poetryireland.ie, along with the forum, irish poetry news etc. Well worth a wander!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

God of Shopping


Hey - checking out the upcoming festival line-ups reminded me of this - an artwork I painted for the SPOKEN WORD exhibition at last year's Electric Picnic. Based on that old chestnut about how 'We went Shopping for God, and found the God of Shopping'- I think its originally attributed to a certain Leonard Alfred Schneider? If memory serves, a sample of same features in a track by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy? Oh, the fuzziness. Anyways, this here piece of art now rests in the private collection of goodbuddy Joven. Enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Poetry Now - The Strong Award





The Rupert and Eithne Strong Award is presented annually to recognise first collections published in Irish or English by Irish presses or poets. The presentation, and accompanying reading by shortlisted poets, has become a fixture of the Poetry Now festival and provides a valuable opportunity for emerging poets to give voice to their work in a supportive and knowledgable environment. Many speak of the affirmation this offers along with the opportunity to reach a new audience, as well as mingle with audience, peers and influences during the festival itself. Nerves were undoubtedly fluttering backstage as this year’s judge Louis de Paor took to the stage to begin proceedings.


As one of Ireland’s leading Irish language poets and Director of Irish Studies at NUI Galway, it was little surprise that de Paor announced himself ‘dismayed’ at the fact that only one Irish language collection featured on this year’s list. Another concern was the rigour, or lack thereof, of editorial input by the publishers of this year’s crop of emerging writers – whether referring to the quality and choice of content or the fundamentals of proofing wasn’t made clear. His final concern was with the nature of poetry predominently featured, with a perceived emphasis on the shorter, mostly lyric form to the exclusion of other approaches, including that type of poem which ‘brings you for a walk in the woods’ before revealing its intent. It was refreshing to hear constructive criticism where one might have expected platitudes. Then it was time for the first reader.


Nell Regan’s collection ‘Preparing for Spring’ has previously been shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh and Glen Dimplex New Writing awards. Her work has been praised for its precision, sophistication and tact. On the basis of this reading, that praise seems at least partially correct, with a definite sense of precision and craft on display. However, treatment of certain subjects, such as the Blaschkas (a family of skilled zoological glass model makers) and the muslim call to prayer, seemed a little lacking in that other area of tact. The subjects at times felt observed, rather than identified with – that old colonial sense of the exotic ‘other’ shadowing proceedings just a little. Work with its basis in personal history, seemed more considered. No doubt the obligation of reading first, in this context, was testing and it is possible that nerves played a part in leaving me a little cold on some of the poems. However, there’s no doubting the skill of construction in these pieces and I’m sure to warm to her work on further reading.


Next up was Nuala Ní Chonchúir, reading from ‘Tattoo ; Tatú’, her bilingual collection from the same publisher (Arlen House) as Regan. Here too was craft and precision aplenty - but this work, I felt, was backed up with a deeper investigation of self, with the investment of that self in the crevices of skillfully constructed poems. This poet has been praised as having a ‘Chekhovian eye for detail’ by Cathal Ó Searcaigh - an assessment I’d be inclined to agree with (even if the source has been dogged by controversy of late). Stand-out works for me were ‘Our Lady of Dublin’, a somewhat gothic rumination, with nice prior context given for its striking line ‘even this crown is not my own,’ as well as the title poem, with its imaging of the body as a palimpsest of prior lovers. So far, so graceful.


Our next poet’s collection won the Patrick Kavanagh Award 2005 in manuscript. Reading from ‘The Boy in the Ring’, (Salmon Poetry) Dave Lordan displayed feisty, vernacular language and gave it socks, wellys and Doc Martins in his delivery. Lordan’s obviously no shrinking violet. Small town tales were vented with foam, fleck and fecklessness by “fuckin’ fearless” protagonists. Yet again there was doubt on my part in the rendering down of those mucksmeared characterizations of life in small rural towns to something approaching caricature. Invoking staples of rebellious adolescence - haircuts, hash and happy hooliganism - combined to deliver… nothing really startling, actually. The subjects of his poems are chewed out with a vigour which sometimes felt a bit like barrelfish-shooting to me – e.g. the pillorying of the flatbed concelebrants of "Entente Florale" – perhaps at the expense of the poems’ own insights?


Next, Billy Ramsell gave a reading which exhibited certain of the same characteristics as Lordan’s despite very different voicing and the fact that here, much work seemed recited from memory. Presenting work from ‘Complicated Pleasures’, (Dedalus) Ramsell too seemed in danger of subverting the impact of his texts with a performance style which drew freely on audience interaction, asides, anecdotes and the like, going somewhat beyond the usual realm of establishing intimacy, calming nerves and setting contexts. (I’d estimate the ratio of poet to raconteur in the region of 1:2?). Indeed he revealed that, when faced with a microphone, his first tendency is to sing – at one point proposing a rendition of The Lakes of Pontchartrain! (…which clearly would have been well received by the Festival Curator, who proclaimed it her favourite song in wrapping up this event). Perhaps thats no bad thing in itself – we’ve all been at those readings of slumber-inducing, buttock-numbing monotonal bardery. But, while fresh voices need fresh approaches, I can’t help but feel there’s sometimes a cost to the work.

So then, on to the denouement. Reiterating his earlier comments about the high calibre of these four collections, de Paor announced, with the minimum of fuss, that this year’s winner of the Strong Award was (somewhat strangely ) that which had ‘made me me forget I was reading a book of poetry.’ Dave Lordan returned to stage to accept his award. Rightly pleased, he proceeded to invoke the I Ching, allowing the audience to choose the page number for a final poem. ‘64’ it was - then off to the wings (of glory) for him and the chill streets of Dun Laoghaire for the rest of us.


I don’t intend to belittle anybody’s work with my wholly subjective review of this once-off reading. Subjective impressions are the foundations of poetry itself as well as the orchectomic art of criticism. I did find myself wondering if the demonstrative aspects of certain readings during this festival might reflect the rise of a certain poetry ‘performance’ - given the influence of slams, open mics, etc. Or perhaps an increasing need to ‘brand’ oneself in a cluttered poetry environment. Other commentators point to a categorization of ‘read poetry’ as opposed to ‘spoken poetry’, and this relates to the nature of the impressions I have formed. I definitely look forward to re-reading all of these poets in the cool context of the printed page.

A final tangent - from which I can draw no specific conclusion - relates to poetry and publishing undergoing dramatic (!) transformations in this era of rapidly changing information technology. Of the collections featured in this year’s Strong Reading, the one I will soon buy (my festival book budget was blown on US poets) is, coincidentally, the title from the poet who maintains the most comprehensive online presence - Nuala Ní Chonchúir. ‘Tatoo : Tatú’ is my own Strong choice this year - purely my personal taste, of course, but with the added incentive of finally daring to consider the possibility of writing in my native tongue. After all, if I can coach Henri Cole in the pronunciation of ‘a dhaoine uisle’, perhaps there’s still hope for my inner gaeiligóir. Slán!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Revival 7 Launched


















The launch of issue 7 of Revival takes place today, Wed 9th April 2008 at 9.00pm at the White House, Limerick. Unfortunately I'm stuck in Dublin due to work, but I'm willing good wishes all the way to Limerick, where those good people, the WhiteHouse Poets, make good things happen on a regular basis. I'm delighted to have my poem 'The Cormorant' included in this issue of Revival and my good buddy Stephen Farren from the Poetry Ireland forums has a piece in there too, I believe. looking forward to getting my hands on this! Copies are now available at €7.00 and you can purchase or subscribe HERE.

DLR Poetry Now 08 Highlights



Well now, what an excellent few days! A hearty well done to all concerned.

Standouts for me were:

Ruth Padel’s keynote address


Comparing and contrasting structures in Tennyson, Dickinson and Harsent, Padel took us to the building blocks of the poem – vowels. Vowels as the basis of syllables, thmselves in turn the basis of words and rhythms. She spoke eloquently on the role of vowels in unlocking our emotions – creating a syllabic sensuality of sounds – pointing out that we tend to sing in vowels – consonents being largely percussive.

Henri Cole Workshop

Despite limited time (we inevitably ran over) the twelve participants and Cole engaged very thoroughly over readings of a poem each, some of which were truely remarkable. Henri proved a pleasant and knowledgeable facilitator and shared his thoughts on personal language (…would you use that particular phrase over cocktails?) , the dangers of the demotic ( …wheelie bins, anybody?) , Epigraphs (…you want to start your poem at 20,000 feet) as well as some thoughts on Anaphora, Modifiers (as an exercise, delete them all from your draft!) and Enjambments. Particular poets were recommended as reading in the context of certain of these and other points (Hopkins, Stevie Smith and AR Ammons came up). A key theme was the balancing of ‘sonic technique’ so as not to clutter up the emotional intent of the poem.

Overall a wonderful opportunity to bend the ear of a “master poet, with few peers” to quote Harold Bloom.


CD Wright / Seamus Heaney Reading

I must admit I wasn’t very aware of Wright’s work prior to the festival. That’s all changed now. Described by some as an Elliptical Poet, the clarity, experiment and refined audacity of her work blossomed in her vocalising. Language Poetry is another term that has been applied to her work – and language here is certainly approached with vigour. A wonderful, bracing reading which had the hairs up on my neck. And then came Heaney! Peter Sirr made reference in his introduction to ‘Seamus Heaney, pursued by Seamus Heaney’. When the Man Himself entered, stage left, he was always going to be chased by the ‘bear’ of his persona and reputation to some extent. However, Heaney is a longtime friend of this festival and intimacy was quickly established with a puckish grin. Referring briefly to his recent ill health (and full recovery) he then proceeded to give a masterclass with a thematic and considered reading of select recent work. With poems from 'District and Circle' to the fore, he finished his reading with ‘The Blackbird of Glanmore’, a favourite of his own and, I’d guess, many of the audience – who gave our 'Chieftain’ (Wright’s introductory word) a warm and emotional ovation. A startling, yet moving event – a tribute to the power of poetry and to this valued poet in particular.

So, just a few of the highlights from a truely special few days. And I haven’t even mentioned the roundtable discussion on current trends in the publishing and reading of poetry, the visceral charge that was Brian Turner reading from his collection ‘Here, Bullet’ and the varied delights of the Strong Reading, with the Strong Award won by Dave Lordan, for his collection The Boy in The Ring. Yet.