Monday, November 29, 2010

Cork Spring Literary Festival 2011 Preview

Click on the poster to read the pdf of the festival brochure (2.5mb), finished just today. Photos, bio notes, poems and more.
Two Novelists
Two Workshops
Two Book Launches
Three Films
Eight Participating Countries
Eight Readings
Twenty-Five Poets
Featuring: Pat Boran, Catch the Moon, Patrick Cotter, Ian Duhig, Kristiina Ehin, Alan Garvey, James Harpur, Tomas Lieske, Dave Lordan, Lory Manrique-Hyland, Maram al-Massri, Gerry Murphy, Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh, Leanne O'Sullivan, Gabriel Rosenstock, Valerie Rouzeau, Silke Scheuermann, Catherine Smith, Matthew Sweeney, Julijana Velichkovska, William Wall, Ian Wild, Adam Wyeth, Zhao Lihong

Friday, November 12, 2010

Too School For Cool

The recent sales success of Soundings is actually a reminder of its total failure as an educational instrument.

Walk into any bricks & mortar bookshop in the country this close to Christmas and among the tottering piles of volumes ready to collapse on top of you (besides the latest Katey Price biography or Scandanavian schlock crime yarn masquerading as edgy continental literature) is the reprint of Soundings - the 1960s "interim" syllabus anthology which lazily endured for over a quarter of a century ensuring that a couple of generations of Irish school children never heard of Seamus Heaney before he won the Nobel prize or knew that poems were written by Irish women. The anthology's selection ended with two early poems by Thomas Kinsella written in the 1950s. Except for these rather daring (compared with the rest of the book) short lyrics one could be forgiven for thinking modern Ireland was all about stony grey soils and the spraying of potatoes.

In fairness to Gus Martin, it wasn't his fault that the syllabus was not updated over the course of a quarter of a century. Eavan Boland was just getting started as the anthology was published and GM possibly thought he was being revolutionary including one living poet in the entire book.

This year as the publisher of the "Best of Irish Poetry" anthology series I have had to make the painful decision to cease its publication. The anthology had very low sales and received only one review in its four year history despite being the only attempt at establishing an annual publication of record for contemporary Irish poetry. Its American and British equivalents sell in the tens of thousands. This Irish series sold in the tens. Unsupported by the country's library system, never reviewed even in Poetry Ireland's quarterly or even its newsletter, the true interest and support for contemporary poetry in Ireland is rawly exposed.

The low sales figures of Best of Irish Poetry bewray how the frenzy surrounding Soundings has more to do with nostalgia than love of poetry, snapped up as it is by thousands of individuals who have never been motivated to seek out a poem by Eavan Boland or Matthew Sweeney, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain or Thomas McCarthy.

The broadsheets and broadcasters trumpet how the sales triumph of Soundings signals what a cultured poetry-loving mob our middle-brow, middle-class bookshop-frequenting bourgeois are. Actually they're more like the fool who calls himself a cineaste or movie-buff when he refuses to watch anything made after 1967 - that's putting it in language even they should understand.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm sorry, actually, I can't tell you that or how poems can get stolen

I was having lunch today with Matthew Sweeney and Gerry Murphy in the Farmgate Cafe under their fabulous poetry wall (the great poetry wall of Cork). Last week as one of my dayjob duties I hosted a joint launch of their new books. The boys were so busy signing books for other people (over 90 books sold on the night) that they hadn't got around to exchanging books with each other, so today they finally did just that. Matthew has developed a taste for writing all his book inscriptions in German lately, a language Gerry cannot understand. I was there to assure Gerry that it was complimentary ("to a great friend and an excellent poet"). Gerry wrote "hugs and kisses" for Matthew. Yes, yes, gay in all senses of the word.

As is usual, the topics of conversation strayed far: gossip concerning an editor none of us likes; Neil Prendeville's miraculous discovery that Neurofen Plus works better than Viagra; good and bad literary festivals abroad etc. I can't remember how we got onto the subject of blindness - in spite of the old housewife's connection between that affliction and Prendeville's public past-times. Matthew suddenly said "They've discovered how to make blind people see".

So I asked, do you mean by attaching a piece of technology to the optic nerve?

He said yes. I then proceeded to tell him how there were all different causes of blindness, some where the eyes are perfect but the connection to the brain or within the brain is at fault.

"I read about all different kinds of blindness in a particular neurology book. For instance....." Fortunately my brain was working faster than my mouth and the schema for an entire new poem comparing and contrasting different types of blindness unveiled itself to my mind's inner eye before I continued with the sentence.

"Jeesuz, what am I doing, I'm not going to tell you pair. I'm writing that poem meself."