Friday, February 27, 2009

Irish Theatre Awards : Making a Mark

Sunday night saw Ireland's luvvies flock to The Burlo for the presentation of this year's Irish Times Theatre Awards. Seems to have been a swell occasion, with a special tribute award for Lynne Parker, artistic director of Rough Magic Theatre Company.

The Best Actress award was presented to Deirbhle Crotty, for her role as Masha in the Friel version of Chekhov's Three Sisters. You can read my review of that production here. I've seen Crotty a few times now, and she's (ahem) a class act. Depending on the material, she can bring an old-school showbiz sass to bear, while mining the emotional centre of her character. And she entertains; a great, expressive dry humour to her - even in darker outposts (think Rosaleen Linehan channeling Dorothy Parker). Crotty is currently appearing in Marble at the Abbey (see below). So, git yerself along to that lovely venue and catch the award-winner herself in full effect.

Best Actor went to Tom Vaughan Lawler, for his remarkable turn in The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, also at the Abbey. You can read my thoughts on that absolutely rivetting performance here.

Now, here's a little bit of trivia for you. You see that nice logo up there - emoting actor centre stage, elated shadow on the backdrop? Guess who designed that particular item, over twelve (if not more!) years ago? Yes, I'm happy to reveal that it was me! Not long after I'd plunged into my career as freelance graphic designer, I was briefed by (now-defunct?) marketing agency Dimension to create a 'figurative logo' for a newly planned theatre awards ceremony. It needed to be figurative so that a statuette could be developed. I did concept visuals for those too - but the final stauette design went a different way. At that time, the awards were to be sponsored by both The Irish Times and the ESB - meaning my beautifully conceived concept ended up with both those logos plonked on it - as well as a durrty great keyline box all round. Thankfully, a single sponsor now means some of the cleanliness has returned to the identity.

Having designed it on classic principles, with a long life in mind, I've enjoyed seeing the thing become a bit of an icon down the years. I hope it continues on as such - yet realise that one of these days it may well end up sacrificed, for a 'trendy' upgrade.

The illustration itself was created in brush and ink, then treated to a rigorous bout of 'moving-it-about-on-the-photocopier' - an earlier form of 'digital manipulation' - to create that pulled, distressed effect. I made oodles of these distorted copies, then cut and pasted the best bits back into a cohesive whole, scanning it into my trusty Power Mac 7500 for clean-up. Looking back now, I can see how influenced I was by the sculpture of Edward Delaney - particularly his famine piece in Stephen's Green.

The typography is a tweaked version of capitalis monumentalis letterforms, or Roman square capitals, as used for the inscription at the base of Trajan's Column from which the typeface - Trajan - takes its name.

Anyway, congratulation to all the winners - full list here - and best of luck to those who weren't successful this time. Hopefully, twelve months from now you'll be standing up there, along with my design work.

Marbelous Visions

Marble, a new play by Marina Carr, is currently having its World Premiere run at the Abbey Theatre. I went along last week to review it for the Evening Herald’s HQ magazine. You can read that review here. The themes, and the play itself, were running through my mind for quite a while after my tight deadline with the Herald. The result is a slightly more indulgent take on the play and its themes, which is now over here on Poetry Ireland's guest blog. Happy weekend all!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Whittle, Fettle, Trim, Buff ; Poetry Workshops

Thanks to Emerging Writer for pointing up a poetry workshop opportunity during the upcoming Dublin Book Festival.

'Be Inspired' is a poetry workshop for adults with Medbh McGuckian taking place at 10.30 am on Friday March 6th. 10 places are available, free of charge, to participate in a workshop with one of Ireland’s best known poets. Please submit an application to with a paragraph describing your background in poetry and your successes to date, along with a sample of 5 poems. Selected participants will have some of these poems workshopped at the event.

It reminded me that I forgot to flag a couple of workshop opportunities at DLR Poetry Now 09 in my earlier post, so here's the detail on those;

DLR Poetry Now workshops take place this year on Saturday 28th March. They will be facilitated by contemporary poets and teachers Colette Bryce and Frank Bidart. Both workshops are aimed at poets who are building towards a first collection. As places are limited, applicants are asked to apply by e-mailing 3 poems and a list of publications before Wednesday 10th March @ 5pm, marking clearly your preferred workshop.

To apply or for additional information please contact or telephone 01 271 9532

So get those emails flying!

In it for the Long Haul!

The Spring 2009 issue of The Stinging Fly is out, and it's a big un!

Decan Meade’s Editorial points out that they've bucked the trend by having their Arts Council grant increased (!) in recognition of achievements to date. So, they've stepped up and have increased their page count to include 16 more pages of the very best in new Irish writing.

I had the rare luxury of an hour to myself yesterday, between work and meeting my good friend AT - down from Drogheda for the day - for a chat and a couple of jars. Settling at the burnished counter of The Long Hall, I cracked the cover for a leisurely porter-accompanied browse.

As always, there's a great roster of talent in this issue. I particularly liked a new feature (making use of those extra pages, I guess) where some familiar names give us their thoughts '...On First Drafts.' These include the venerable Dermot Healy, Colette Bryce (shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award 2009), Mia Gallagher (gave a great reading at the launch of Let's Be Alone Together back in September) , Nuala Ní Chonchúir (regular visitor to this parish), (distinguished and industrious) poet and translator Peter Sirr, and Philip O Ceallaigh, whose 'Notes From A Turkish Whorehouse' was one of my favourite short story collections of recent years. His second collection 'The Pleasant Light of Day' is due for release in March. Looking forward to that!

All shared their particular view of the merits, dangers, processes and even outright jettisoning of the first draft. This is good stuff – straight from the horse’s mouth (…sorry folks – but then, horses are cool beasts too!). Very interesting to those of us whose first drafts still have training wheels!

First impressions were of the usual high standard in prose and reviews, and I found myself well impressed with the poetry I browsed too. Sometimes I find this the weaker leg of the stool with the Fly. Understandable, in a way, seeing as publications such as Cyphers, The SHOp, Poetry Ireland Review and many others cater for the breadth of Irish poetry. Also, the Fly has quite a specific perspective and character, reflected in the editorial choices. I’m not saying poetry selections are in any way weak – quite the opposite. But in some previous issues, I’ve felt the verse overwhelmed a bit by the sheer zest of the short fiction. On first read, that’s not the case here – Paula Meehan’s poem dedicated to Tony Gregory, and Brian McNeil's translation of work by Knut Ødegård both came off the page on first view.

The regular First Passions feature has Joseph O’Connor writing about his relationship with The Catcher In The Rye. How he goes back to it every few years - almost as pilgrimage - only to find a new novel waiting. There’s shades of Holden Caulfield elsewhere too, in the light-fingered and internally mouthy protaganist of one of the new stories here. I think it was the story by Michéal Donnellan, but must admit my reading was a bit curtailed - the issue looked so good, I gave it to AT, for his bus trip home! Not to worry - I've ordered another and look forward to completing my peruse. You should too – order here - at seven euro this issue, in particular, seems exceptional value!

It’s all about the Fly at the mo! Scottish writer James Kelman also has a new story int his issue and will be giving a public reading TONIGHT! In IADT, Baker Corner, Room A019 at 7pm sharp. All welcome. He’s hosted by Writer in Residence with Dun Laoghaire County Council and IADT Sean O' Reilly.

Also, Orlaith O'Sullivan has just been announced the winner of the 2008 Stinging Fly Prize. Orlaith's story 'A Tall Tale' appeared in the Summer 2008 issue. I read it while on holiday in Spain and, despite glorious Iberian aridity, this evocative story I was immersed deep in the story's green, watery chill factor. You can read the judges report here and the story itself here.

Finally, The Stinging Fly also also organises the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award 2009. (You can see why the Arts Council were so impressed!) The competition is now closed, entries are in and the shortlist is due late May / early June. Considering the winner of the first Davy Byrnes Award back in 2004 went on to win the Booker Prize, and the runners up on that occasion included (once again) Philip O Ceallaigh, who won the 2006 Rooney Prize, and Kevin Barry, who won the Rooney Prize in 2007, this year’s list should make for (ahem) interesting reading. Phew! Now, I really must fly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DLR Poetry Now 09

Earlier this evening, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of DLR Poetry Now 09 by poet and DLR Libraries writer-in-residence Paul Perry. This year, the event will be curated by Belinda McKeon for the second time, following a cracking festival in 2008 - high points of which included readings by CD Wright, Henri Cole, George Szirtes and Brian Turner. Seamus Heaney, a longtime friend of the festival, also read last year - this years festival will feature a special event to celebrate his 70th birthday.

This acclaimed international poetry festival runs from Thursday 26th to Sunday 29th March at the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire and features;

Paul Batchelor
Sujata Bhatt
Frank Bidart
Colette Bryce
Paddy Bushe

Harry Clifton
Carol Ann Duffy
Ian Duhig
Adam Foulds

Ellen Hinsey
Valzhyna Mort

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Robert Pinsky
Tomaž Šalamun
John Sampson

Tomas Venclova 

The Irish Times Poetry Now Award 2009 will be awarded during the festival, the recipient chosen from a shortlist of;

Colette Bryce : Self-Portrait in the Dark (Picador Poetry)
Ciaran Carson : For All We Know (Gallery Books)
Leontia Flynn : Drives (Cape Poetry)
Pearse Hutchinson : At Least For A While (Gallery Books)
Derek Mahon : Life on Earth (Gallery Books)

Judges for this year’s award are Kit Fryatt, Sean O’Brien and Joseph Woods.

Poetry Now 09 also features readings by poets shortlisted for The Rupert & Eithne Strong Award 2009, which recognises first collections published in English or Irish by Irish presses or by Irish writers in 2008, and the award announcement itself. The shortlist here consists of;

Áine Moynihan : Canals of Memory (Doghouse)
Simon Ó Faoláin : Anam Mhadra (Coiscéim)
Patrick Cotter : Perplexed Skin (Arlen House)
Ciaran Berry : The Sphere of Birds (Gallery Books

Soooooooo….. lots to look forward to in Dún Laoghaire this March!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Abe

Isn't that a beaut! In keeping with my previous celebration of 200th birthdays of prominent Americans, I thought I'd note that today is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The image above is by Irish Illustrator PJ Lynch, from "Lincoln and His Boys," written by Rosemary Wells. (in bookshops now). PJ was on the Tubridy show on RTE radio 1 earlier today talking about the book and Lincoln in general. I believe its one of the first books PJ has illustrated using oils rather than his usual watercolours - looks like its all the richer for it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Longley at the NGI : Birth, Death & Botany

Just back from a very enjoyable lunchtime reading by Michael Longley at the National Gallery. Introduced by Joe Woods of Poetry Ireland, Longley read some new poems from his upcoming collection One Hundred Doors (?), dedicated to his first grandson and another to the latest arrival, a granddaughter. Both very much welcoming the newborns to the family homestead. The second containing a spooky image of the cottage ‘folded’ - cloistered - by sheep. He also read a couple never performed before, as well as a Longley favourite of mine, ‘The Lifeboat’. In this poem, the poet wryly envisions his own death at the counter of Charlie Gaffneys bar in Mayo, having earlier received the ‘pluperfect pint’.
‘He doesn’t notice that I am dead until closing time / And he sweeps around my feet.’
The poem turns on the revelation that it is Charlie who has died, bringing poignancy to the snug descriptions of that fabled hostelry.

He finished with a slightly longer poem (four stanzas of eleven lines each), which recalled his deceased friend, the painter and botanist Raymond Piper. The verse is strewn with reminiscence from their friendship and specific encounters with native flowers, including a hilarious image of poet and painter taking turns extending their coat-tails as windbreaks – like ‘Antique Flashers’ - while attempting to photograph a rare Dropwort on a gusty coastline. Charming and deceptively well-crafted.

I’ve been to a few of these readings in the Lecture Theatre at the National Gallery now and one thing that bugs me is the sound system. Considering the purpose and status of this space, it’s weird that the PA tends towards distortion, even given the relatively restrained volume of a speaker like Longley. Not particularly a distraction today, but I’m surprised this is allowed to persist.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Doherty Does Dublin

So the Babyshambler himself turned up (whatever about on) and delighted his Dublin Liberteenies with a display of detached dissolution. Pete Doherty was in town last Friday, to visit TCD's Philosophical Society and made an appearance on the Late Late Show. Much discussion online about the resulting shenanigans (or lack thereof). Whatever about Doherty, Pat Kenny seems to have come off as wooden and misguided as ever - without the aid of any chemical handicaps whatsoever?

But there's an interesting article by Peter Murtagh in today's Irish Times which relates how his teenage son was enthralled by Doherty, to the point of digging (out) some Yeats, and even a bit of Wilde. It brought to mind those comments that Seamus Heaney made about Eminem a few years back.

Now, I share a reasonably common view that Doherty is a mediocre talent 'bigged up' by the UK celeb machine. He's obviously got charisma and ability - as well as a serious dependency problem. I just can't see him as some kind of cross between Bowie and Baudelaire for our hollow age.

Yet it seems he's capable of firing genuine enthusiasm and inspiration in his youthful admirers - hopefully encouraging literate curiousity rather than narcotic. Is this a good thing, I wonder? Or does it simply re-affirm certain (misconceptions?) and stereotypes of the poetic personality - and not just in teenagers?

EDIT: There's an edited transcript of Doherty's interview at TCD now online at the Irish Times. Not particularly inspirational or anything - but quite 'funny old rock'n'roll' in parts, whether intentional or otherwise, e.g;

"I’ve bought a book about the psychology of cats, trying to get inside their heads, but they just piss on the duvet. They don’t care."