Sunday, 27 April 2008
Cúirt – A Small Review
Living in East Galway, a good distance from the city, plus limited funds and limited babysitters, means I rarely spend more than three days at Cúirt each year. Which of course also means I get to a limited number of events. This year I heard two prose writers and four poets read, as well as spending plenty of hours chatting at the festival club and nosing through Charlie Byrne’s book shop in the Town Hall.
Maria McCann & Mike Mc Cormack, Thursday 24thApril
Maria read four extracts from As Meat Loves Salt her novel set in seventeenth century England. She gave a calm, measured reading and her explanations of the scenes were delivered in a lecture-like way, as if the whole enterprise was an academic project. But the scenes themselves were written in beautiful language and the story was direct and evocative, dealing with drowning, murder, Calvinist musings and gay sex. Maria is from Liverpool (the posh end, clearly) and she was a pleasure to listen to.
Mike read a new story called ‘Drink, Drink-driving, Heart Attacks’; it was a sort of picaresque ramble through a village in West Mayo in the company of two brothers, who lost their father at a young age, and who live in a haze of alcohol, house-building and memory. Not a lot happened in the story, but the audience lapped up (with laughter) the archaic-modern dialogue of the pub-dwellers, particularly. Echoes of Kevin Barry’s work and John McGahern’s, I felt.
Susan Rich & C.K. Williams, Friday 25th April
Susan is from Seattle and has worked supervising elections in Bosnia and also for Amnesty. She read in that slow, deliberate, declamatory style that many American readers favour. The language of her poetry is simple; it’s a prosey-poetry, where it’s hard for the listener to know where lines break, and therefore to hear the music of the poems. Which is fine if you write prose poems but not if the poem is laid out semi-formally. Anyway, she read poetry about Bosnia, mentioning in one poem – where she was being shot at in her hotel – that the shooters fired their rounds to the beat of the song, the Macarena. Bad enough to be shot at…
Regarding the joy of writing and research she said: ‘Poetry is a chance to be nosy about anything you want to be nosy about.’ Yes indeedy!
Susan ended her reading with two moving poems about her deceased parents.
C.K. Williams is a Pulitzer winning New Jerseyite, a gravel-voiced and imposing man. His reading was electric. He reads conversationally and his poems are long, and laced with an effective use of repetition. He struck me as someone who really lives, noticing and giving significance to everything, and engaging with the world. His poem ‘Apes’ recounts his despair with man’s inhumanity to man. His ‘Cassandra Iraq’ does something similar. His stand out poem for me was ‘This Happened’, about the casual suicide of a beautiful young French student, which ends with the line ‘Forever. With grace. This happened’. He told us the rather creepy story that just last week he was reading in Texas and one of his hosts showed him a photo of a girl with ‘Forever. With grace. This happened’ tattooed on her back. He said he still didn’t know what to make of it.
Vona Groarke & Breyten Breytenbach, Saturday 26th April
Vona is from the Irish midlands and teaches in Manchester University. She read some new poems, in the typically shy and friendly delivery of Irish poets. (Irish woman poets?) The new poems were from a sequence called ‘Spindrift’, which, she informed us, is the spray that comes off the crest of a wave. Many of the poems were set in Spiddal, County Galway where the poet has been visiting since she was a child, as many of us have. She then read from her brand new book (published that day!) which is a translation of the moving and sensuous Irish language keen/poem Lament for Art O’Leary. Vona is the latest Irish poet to provide a version for non-Irish readers of Art’s wife’s and his sister’s extemporaneous poem. Vona’s translation is all that it should be: ribald, soft, angry and heartfelt.
Breyten Breytenbach is South African: a poet, prose writer, visual artist and political activist; ‘a genuine post-modern hybrid’ as poet Eva Bourke called him in her introduction. She also called him ‘the only nice South African’, paraphrasing a song from the makers of Spitting Image. His delivery of his work was not as powerful as the work itself, or as his banter between the poems, but it was extraordinary to listen to poems that were written by him in prisons such as the so-called ‘Beverly Hills’, where executions took place once a week. He told us that the prisoners who were to be hanged would sing together for the week before their execution and that he would sit in his cell listening to them singing, then later shuffling past in leg shackles to their deaths. He worried about reading a poem which used the Our Father as it’s structure as ‘Ireland is such a religious place’. That made the audience snigger.
All in all it was yet another very enjoyable Cúirt. It’s impossible to go to everything and dangerous to go to too much, but I always come away feeling respectful and in awe of certain writers; more in love with writing itself; and a little anti-climactical to be home again, away from all the wonderful literary atmosphere, chat and gossip.