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Yes, I know the photo's just a bit out of date, and yes, I know it features Ray Carver as well as Tess Gallagher (some commentators take issue with Gallagher being consistently referred to in the context of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.