A guest post from the commenter known as Dawnriser: a first for both of us. Her writing is always worth reading; you’ll know not to expect the same fluency from me. Many, many thanks to her.
My good friend, Speccy, has been coaxing me into the virtual world for some time, so when she invited me to do a guest post on her blog I jumped at the chance. Not. I know exactly what she means about being a perfectionist and having to get everything just right before launching into print/cyberspace. However, I have decided to be brave and follow her example. Which may sound contradictory, given that, yes, I am a published poet ,and I have given a lot of public readings, but I’m also a 1) a control freak; 2) a high introvert; 3) facebook-phobic. Without meaning to sound precious, taking that step into the uncontrolled chaos of the internet seemed to be inviting trouble.
Not as much trouble as my broken foot. My editor, Pat Boran, of Dedalus Press in Dublin, had rung me out of the blue a few months ago, and invited me, with himself and two other poets, to read in Paris on Bloomsday, 16th June. Dedalus were also bringing out an anthology to mark the occasion. I said yes. He said that was the right answer. Then, two and a half weeks before the reading, I fell over in my own kitchen and smashed my foot against the kitchen table, breaking bones, tearing ligaments and jeopardising, it seemed, the whole trip.
Nevertheless, I got to Paris with the assistance of lovely airport staff and a couple of wheelchairs, one on each side. I’d only met Pat before, so it was lovely to meet Katherine Duffy and Gerry Murphy. We were ferried to the Irish Cultural Centre passing close by Notre Dame which turned out to be the only part of tourist-Paris I saw. Shame. That evening we went out to eat, but the 5-10min hobble on crutches exhausted me. Still, the conversation was good, and the wine flowed, and it was great to talk poetry and literature. The wine helped the mood of the return hobble, if not its effectiveness.
The following day, in preparation for that night’s reading, I studied the book . It looked great, especially the French part. I compared the lines to see the match. I practiced in faux-French to hear how much grander the poems sounded. Totally different animals. Not mine at all. Pat had already told us that our editor, Cliona, would guide how the reading went. All of us had several poems in the book; I’d four, three of them quite long. I was used to the advice at home how to keep people interested by not reading for too long. 20-30 minutes was the standard length. Otherwise everybody might start getting twichy, start
looking round for a drink. As there’d be eight of us reading, four poets, four translators, I anticipated reading two poems at most. Mentally I decided my preferences while also keeping my mind open to Cliona, or my translator, having different choices. What I wasn’t expecting was that we’d be asked to read the whole book!
They do things differently in France. The reading was over two hours, with a short interval for French wine and Irish cheese. It was held in the courtyard of the cultural centre, tho’ our stage was under an awning through which swallows and sparrows flitted. Around us, signs around the courtyard betrayed the monastic history of the centre, announcing dioceses of Ireland: Armagh; Clogher; Ferns; Waterford. The audience was profoundly
attentive and appreciative. In fact they had to be cautioned not to applaud every poem, English and French – wait till the end of the symphony, advised Cliona. Pat and Cliona had chosen well in terms of the poets and translators: for people who had mostly never met, we gelled and the work complemented. Each movement was a gavotte: a poem in English, its translation in French, poet and translator (although each translator is of course, also a poet; the transmutation gives the form a different body, a different being), stepping up to the mic and away, as the performance evolved. While poems live well enough on a page, it’s a narrow enough niche for them. The genetics of poetry lie in its aural origins. There is always a magic in their body of sound, how it enervates,
gives flesh to their meaning through a human voice.
Isabelle Genin translated my poems. It was brilliant to meet her, hear her say how my work had lived in her head for months; how she felt the poems become French. I could only marvel at the alchemy. But writing is like that. It begins with you but it acquires its own existence; and then you can only wonder, with Elizabeth Bishop, that you ever had anything to do with it at all. Isabelle did my essential monoglotism that ultimate compliment by autographing my copy of the book with this inscription: “Poetry is essentially multilingual”.
I led the second half, although I had to sit down between poems, as my good leg wobbled underneath me, and my crutches threatened to fall down while I was at the podium, so the waltz between myself and Isabelle was not quite as fluid as with the others. Nevertheless, I felt that stillness of the audience as Leaving my Father’s House caught them up. It’s a long poem. They stayed with me. Then, Amethyst Deceivers, my relatively light relief, but, as Isabelle said, a problem for the translator. Then, The Black Princes, which I’d never read
in public before, and which is quite abstract in parts, but again, the audience listened deeply. Finally I read Afterwards, a good romp home. Listening to Isabelle, I couldn’t help feel that the struggle of the journey to get there was worth it. I was in Paris, reading my poetry on Bloomsday, listening to the work of my fellow poets, in English and French. It
was a great place to be. The moon had risen by the time Gerry Murphy brought the reading to a close. Then Pat announced that everyone would receive a copy of the book. The gesture truly reflected the gift of attention that the audience had given us.
The next day, it was Home James for me, but with plenty of
inspiration and energy to think about writing again. Thanks Speccy, for the
invitation to contribute. It’s been fun! Who knows, I may even branch out on my
own one day….
PS: my foot’s getting better. Fear not, I will walk again!