Sunday, 29 March 2009

DLR Poetry Now Festival 2009

This year's DLR Poetry Now Festival has been extraordinarily good. I heard Belinda McKeon's opening address on Thursday, a deeply engaged and serious meditation on the role of poetry in modern life, taking a cue from Auden's poetry makes nothing happen. She began with Husserlian phenomenology, moved on to empathy, and then wove her observations into an acknowledgment of the work of all the participating poets. It was skilled, humane, and reinforced in one, yet again, just how important poetry is; how important.

On Thursday, Robert Pinsky gave an opening lecture, which I missed (I write this red-faced), and on Friday evening the first reading took place, featuring Sujata Bhatt, Paddy Bushe and Paul Batchelor, followed later by Harry Clifton and Tomas Venclova. These too, alas, I missed, but I heard they were fantastic.

Saturday had readings from Valzhyna Mort, Ellen Hinsey & Ian Duhig, all extremely enjoyable. Mort read in Belarussian and some translations. She was strong and urgent. Hinsey read some work on violence, drawn from International War Crimes testimony. It was compelling and almost impossible to listen to without breaking. Duhig's reading was super, full of anger and a searing sense of justice. Later Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin read, with her characteristic understated humour, wearing her learning lightly, followed by the remarkable Tomaž Šalamum who read in Slovenian and English. Finally, Frank Bidart read. He was gorgeous.

I speak of Bidart with a bit of affection because he lead a poetry workshop in the morning in which nine poets participated. I was lucky enough to be among them. He was gentle and humane and such a careful reader. He ran way over time in his utter fastidiousness, giving time to everyone, wanting to read and re-read poems aloud incorporating suggested changes, repunctuations. It was also a great pleasure to meet and read the work of the other poets. One in particular, Padhraig [PJ] Nolan, designed the programme and the beautiful broadside for Heaney's birthday. His blog is as measured as his poetry: read it.

On Saturday another very special event took place: a celebration of Seamus Heaney's 70th birthday. A group of poets read Heaney's work, with the great man sitting in the front row. Everyone chose something that meant a lot to them, and Venclova read a Lithuanian translation of 'Mid-Term Break'. It was an experience to hear a translation in a language I do not know of a poem I know better than my own hand. Deeply deeply moving. A very special birthday gift was presented to him: a painting entitled 'Inheritance' by the great Hughie O'Donoghue. Heady stuff when the greats are in conversation with each other.

Today had the Strong Reading and Award for Best First Collection. Ciaran Berry's The Sphere of Birds (Gallery); Patrick Cotter, Perplexed Skin (Arlen House); Áine Moynihan, Canals of Memory (Doghouse); and Simon Ó Faoláin, Anam Mhadra (Coiscéim). The very deserving winner was Ó Faoláin who gave a super reading of his work, full of humour and humility but with a great sureness of touch. He seemed so comfortable but not too comfortable. Mary O'Malley, the judge for this year's competition, cited his flexibility, and it was much in evidence.

The final reading (to a packed house I might add) had Adam Foulds read from his extraordinary The Broken Word, which I immediately bought afterwards and started to read in full. Then Colette Bryce read, from her three collections. There was something so formal but relaxed about her work. I confess that I did not know either of these poet's work but have come away with books under arm and am hungry for more. The final poet to read was Carol Ann Duffy. She was funny, reading poems from The World's Wife, and elegiac, reading poems from Rapture. She had such a presence on stage, understated but very self-assured (right down to the little bow she took at the end, the only poet I saw do such). It was a terrific reading, and a terrific way to end. Belinda graciously thanked all who participated, poets, audience, staff, the lot. I look forward to next year. It is simply not to be missed.

I went away feeling enriched and blessed.

3 comments:

PJ Nolan said...

Hey - thanks for the mention! What a great weekend that was - enriched and blessed is a damn good description of how I feel too. Keep in touch! Ciao.

Srdjan said...

Hey, just discovered that you have a blog. Your modesty is inspiring, K!

Miglior acque said...

Oh stop it! This old thing...

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