Paris, Bloomsday

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!

Isabelle Genin, Dawnriser, Gerry Murphy, Paul Bensimon

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!


a correspondence

Dawnriser: Oh, oh, oh, I’ve been invited to give a poetry reading in- wait for it- Paris!!

Speccy: Oooh, get you! That sounds exciting, and very  grown up. How did you get to be a grown up?

Dawnriser: Aaaah! Ouch! Ow! Sore foot! Crutches! Pain! Don’t know if I can go anywhere.

Speccy: Are you better yet? Can you go away? I might go to a thing in the Book Festival tonight… *hit by a clever wheeze*… Would you like to do a guest post for the blog? Like a ‘book festival from the other side’ sort of thing? Maybe? Perhaps?

Dawnriser: No. Thanks, but no thanks. No. No. No. Absolutely not. No.

Dawnriser: Yes, well, maybe.

Dawnriser: Ok, I’ll write something and see what I think.

Dawnriser: Here it is, and there’s a picture, links and everything. I could get quite into this.

Speccy: Dear Dawnriser, I apologise for raising your expectations, but I will be unable to use your guest blog post after all. It’s too good, and will show up the star of memineandotherbits (me, me, me) as the plodding amateur she really is. Thanks for the effort. Good luck and goodbye.

Dawnriser:  Honey, that’s fine. I’ve more offers!

You’ll have gathered that Dawnriser and I are old, old friends. She’s source of strength, inspiration and entertainment, a scientist and a fine writer. Watch this space for her post this week. Also, she writes more than me, so bring a glass of wine/cup of tea and enjoy…

the aftermath

Herself is happy to be back in the nursing home, with the people who know her, care for her and tease her- the people who saved her life. I’m beginning to breathe normally again. I’ve had a good sleep. I’ll start dealing with all this soon. In the meantime, some random observations/ things that are coming back to me about the crisis time.

On the way to Enniskillen, as dark night turned into dawn and then bright sunshine, I was struggling with the seemingly strong possibility that Herself might have died before I got there. Driving (albeit on an empty road) was not the time to consider all the emotions involved there, so I focussed on practicalities. How would we get the girls to the most exciting event in the world ever, the JLS concert? What ‘clothes for a wake’ would I get Spurs Fan to bring (the Brother had a suit hanging in the car, luckily not needed)?

Oh, the bathroom! Herself’s house will be full of people and the bathroom will be a bio hazard (the Handsome Husband has Alzheimer’s and can hardly look after himself, never mind clean the bathroom). Will I be spending my first hours as an orphan doing the cleaning?

photo from here

The half dressed man to whom I pointed out a door buzzer into the assessment ward? That was the consultant hurrying to Herself, roused from the on-call bed. I’d been in the hospital minutes and I was trying to give directions to senior staff. Delusions of authority or what?

Directions? The hospital is all higgledy piggledy, with bits added on here and there, seemingly randomly. A new hospital is being built; until then, bring string to find your way back to the entrance. It look me nearly 24 hours to be confident of the routes to the canteen, the ladies’ and the front door from the ward Herself was in. And as for car parking- be prepared to walk miles. True, I often park far away in a nice, accessible, space, but most folk can manoeuvre better than I and still have to park a fair bit away.

Enniskillen looks well in 4 am sunlight. I don’t want to see it like that again.

I had to miss a hair appointment. I can cope with the white roots for another while, but not the too long fringe. I took the scissors to it myself. Forgive me Hairdresser Extraordinaire, I was stressed.

Next time- there will be a next time- I need to bring more clothes than I actually require, just to be able to change something, to make decisions and carry them out. I can’t control the situation, so if changing one pair of jeans for another is all that I can manage, then that’ll have to do.

the dancing

Tuesday morning, 8 am. I was fit for the hills. Girl2 was in floods of tears and was not to be negotiated with, Girl1 was bouncing with excitement and wanting me to watch her practise: ‘count me in for my new step’, ‘can you do my hair’, ‘isn’t my cape like a superhero’s?’. I had a day of the dancing festival behind me, another full day to go. I hadn’t had coffee yet. Did I mention it was only 8 o’clock? Maybe the day could only get better? But then, I was going to be spending the day in a hot theatre watching 70-odd 9 or 10 year olds lepping about a stage, with varying degrees of skill, enthusiasm and agility. Time for medication…

Monday could have been worse, because Spurs Fan took the evening shift of driving, distributing numbers, serving the tea etc, but it was a late night. Monday + 10pm + Girl2 = receipe for disaster. On Tuesday morning she was exhausted, had a day of school ahead and couldn’t find one of her medals. She looked in her dancing bag, in the big bag, in Spurs Fan’s coat pocket, but it was nowhere to be found. And she had to bring it to school to show her friends. Today, not tomorrow. No, a substitute medal would not do. Grabbing a random medal from the hoard upstairs and suggesting it was won on Monday would be cheating. There was no solution so off we went to school, Girl2 blotchy and despairing, me not much better. Then the school phoned to say she was ‘fretting’ ( I heard ‘having a meltdown’) because she’d forgotten her violin. Luckily we live in the next street to the school so Girl1 trotted off to save the day, while I finally got the coffee. It was still only 8.30 am…

The festival was full of familiar faces- the usual prizewinners, the rest of us, some new people. I met a former colleague at his first festival; what joys are ahead? It’s about showing off, having fun, spending time with friends and maybe getting a medal to show at school. My own dancing career was brief; I had no coordination, enthusiasm or resilience. Our girls are grand wee dancers, but they’re not winning championships. They deal with that remarkably well. They swallow the disappointment, dust themselves down and keep on going. I admire that.

Image from flickr

There are heavy shoes and light shoes, fizzy drinks and sticky sweets, new steps and new dances, big smiles and anxious faces. Girl1 eyeing up a costume with lots of sparkly bits. Should we get noisier heavy shoes? How do these small children get their feet to do these things? Team dances, couples, 3 hands- each of them a small miracle of coordination and practise. A tea break; time to go outside for air, even in the rain. Coffee and a bun. We’ll get through ok. I’m perfecting the art of reading at the back while not missing  the important people dancing. (It wasn’t always thus- ‘yes, of course I saw you, you were great.’)

Eventually we all got home in one piece. Each girl got 3 medals. The lost medal was found in Girl2’s dancing bag after all. I had a long bath and finished my book. We all relaxed.

Thank all gods it’s over for another while.