Saturday, March 07, 2009

Babbling Bookfest : Words of Thanks

Attended Medbh McGuckian’s poetry workshop at the Dublin Book Festival yesterday. A very interesting and useful experience it was too, despite the fact we had to grab our belongings and move en masse to the coffee shop downstairs in the hope of actually hearing one another.

Whoever had the notion that an open-plan workshop in the Rotunda of City Hall would add to the ‘voice chorus’ ambience of the venue, has either no notion of what a poetry workshop entails or doesn’t actually care. So, while thanks are due to the festival organisers - for the opportunity to workshop with one of Ireland’s premier poets – no thanks for plonking us right next to the children’s reading, replete with mandatory high-energy call-and-response. They had the numbers – and amplification – we hadn’t a chance. Even the coffee shop was a stop-gap measure – with plenty of visitor traffic, loud conversation and assorted clatterings – but the commitment of the group was high and things worked out OK.

Unqualified thanks to Medbh, for her steady hand on the tiller, steering us back into our work, pointing out curiousities, resemblances, weaknesses, strengths, resonances and considerations. Superfluous conjunctions and descriptors seemed to be a recurring issue. Also the voicing within the poems – clarity of perspective for the reader wasn’t being pointed up in several cases, including my own - with the attendant danger of confusion, rather than the intended opening of interpretative possibilities.

Thanks to the other participants too, for a stimulating mix of high quality drafts. Inishcrone, Carrantuohill, Kabul, an extinct chapel on D’Olier Street and the dusky tomb of a Mughal emperor were among the places we visited. Along the way we met Corncrakes, snow women, victims of the Taliban, a disillusioned fairytale heroine and a hot nun!

Nice to meet Andrew (currently writing his PhD on Thomas Kinsella), Kate (from round these environs), Chris (hope to see you at Poetry Now) and all the others, including one very quiet, very young woman who said little but blew us away with her elegant and sophisticated love poem, in which ‘white pillars of light’ spotlit silent lovers under ‘bloodied beaks’ of timeless parakeets and a New Delhi dusk.

That reverie was soon dismissed, however, as we spilled onto cool, freshly rain-slicked streets to join the lunchtime crowds returning to work. Having exercised excellent fiscal restraint at the tempting tables of the festival bookshop, I fell at the final hurdle; Books Upstairs on College Green. Their SALE sign tempted me in, some extremely good discounts serving to lighten my whimpering wallet.

Today I’m feeling a bit guilty. Firstly, for criticising the organisers of that rare treat - a free workshop - and then for not even making my impulse buys at their venue! I’ll make a deal - a quiet room for next year’s workshop, please. Then, even if I’m not a participant, I promise to spend my allowance at City Hall.

The festival continues today and tomorrow. Poet and namesake Helena Nolan is reading later today, which I’ll be sorry to miss – but Daddytaxi services are required elsewhere. Full festival listings here.