Monday, 22 March 2010


and we went off to stanza for a rather lovely break. this time we stayed instead of trekking back and forth, getting a wee housey thing in the centre of town which, aside from the poetry, allowed us to see the students up close (never pretty) and, more importantly, easy access to the cake shop.

we kicked off with colin will and matthew sweeney on gregory corso and georg trakl respectively. i have big grey areas in my knowledge of the beats, or at least that time, and corso is one of them. that'll be another book of poems to buy! trakl was already on my to do list and matthew sweeney gave him a proper sounding. not a man for questions tho.

we bailed out of that, t to a lecture by grevel lindop on myth, which she says was fabulous, and me for my 'intimate reading' with seamus heaney. time was tight but on the way who did i see lurking at the doors of waterstones but rachel. i was a man on a mission but at the same time mother swiss raised me better than to walk past someone i know so i waved cheerily (this might have something to do with the fact i'd actually managed to see someone. i'm notorious bad at this. t has the carer role when it comes to this. there's so-and-so. where? there. here? now pointing. where? now holding my head and directing my eyes etc etc). far from 'wandering the streets' i spent sufficient time with rachel that by the time i got to st leonard's i was ushered in by a flustered looking student and plonked down by the man himself. and that's the story of how rachel keep the nobel prize winnner waiting.... ; )

truth be told i'm not the biggest heaney fan and i'm not super familiar with his work. what i was doing there was to see what a person had to say, who had lived the life. what. a. winner. i'll say it again. what a winner. not only did the poetry make so much more sense when he was reading it, he was such a nice guy. sure i bet he has his moments like the rest of us but, given what must be a wearying task as times, he was a total gent. i did maybe have one question for him in the end but it was complicated and to be honest i felt a bit out of place in the company. he had this new thing he wanted us to read to him. i was mad for it but the others weren't. a shame for his sore throat. and he's funny, big time. we saw him the following day dotting about like the rest of us. a great guy who i will never think of but with warmth.

we did showcase events and listened to poetry in german and gaelic among tothers. we went to poetry breakfasts where the highlight surely had to be stepehen halliwell reading a bit of the iliad in the original. we heard moniza alvi at the same gig and she did some excellent new stuff but it was the iliad that stole the show for us.

emma jones and karen solie were a fantastic double act. i've been really into jones' the striped world but hearing her read from it solved a couple of problems i've had with it. karen solie, who i hadn't heard, was brilliant. never will there be a better poem to a tractor. we were buzzing when we left.

we saw john apkata and linton kwesi johnson. apkata was excellent, t in particular really liked him, but i got increasingly irritated with him over the performance. he's a young guy and he took full advantage of that privilege. i liked the verbal dexterity but by the end i felt like i was being badgered by mormons. they were burning crosses in nova scotia a couple of weeks ago, not that you'd have known it in apkata's performance. he just wants to make the hip-hop and smoke dope. all of which sounds unfair and a bit harsh in retrospect and it probably is, esp as i didn't get the chance for a banter with him, which was a shame as he seemed to a decent, funny guy, brimming with enthusiasm and energy. for the record tho, i have grown a coffee tree and unlike john apkata, i do know the difference between a coffee seed, a bean and a berry.

everyone stands on the shoulders of giants and in apkata's case it was linton kwesi johnston. it's been so long since i saw johnston that i'm unsure if i may have been there when he toured with siouxsie and the banshees. whatever, the man i remembered reappeared and he'd got old! if anything tho, his presence has only increased. he did a range of older stuff and back down in memory i remembered stuff like the new cross fire, things that seem strange and distant now. none fo johnston's power has disappeared, if anything that anger communicates even better and, for those of us who might imagine such things have gone away, in his voice it's only too easy to remember and realise they haven't.

who else did we see? lewis mackinnon came to read in gaelic from nova scotia, will stone, whose book on trakl i have, read some of his own poems. we saw the charming victor rodriguez nunez from cuba who was just a joy to listen to and reassured me that my spanish hasn't disappeared as completely as i sometimes think it has. to finish on sunday we say mario susko who was brilliantly fiery in terms of both humour and tragedy. i'd never heard of him before and he really was the find of the festival. i'll post and/or link to more about all of these in due course.

were there any downs? sadly a couple. the student helpers it appears, have very short attention spans. they need to be out and in, banging doors and generally shuffling about. photographer types seem not to have grasped that you can silence the noise of their cameras, preferring to punctuate the readings with the constant beeping of their equipment. t was particularly enraged by this. and then the open mic, both nights, was unbelievably noisy. true there were student elections on so there were a few non-poetry types in but in the main it was people who'd been in to other performances or worse, working, who were doing the most gabbing while people were trying to do their thing. i've really been up for the open mic in the past but in the circumstances this week, it was impossible. next year they maybe want to move it upstairs.

these are minor things tho. overall it was brilliant. both me and t thought the lineup, for us, was the best yet. we came back in the van babbling and bursting with energy. what a great thing to have on your doorstep, lots of poets, lots of challenging contradictory ideas and the space to discuss them, people to meet, things to say. i loved it and i'll be booking my holidays for next years just shortly.


Rachel Fox said...

Great report.

Sorry about the delaying you thing! Though it squeezed me into some fine company here.


Rachel Fox said...

And yes, the intimate readings are great. I went to the Armitage one last year and really enjoyed it. It's good to meet the big poets a bit off duty and more relaxed.

Did you see the Heaney evening event too?


Niamh B said...

Wow, sounds like a brilliant weekend alright. I'm practically salivating in anticipation of the Poetry Now Fest in Dun Laoighaire next weekend, am going to get to some of it at least, not nearly as much as you got to there, but better than nothing.

Sorlil said...

Heaney always looked to me like big cuddly jolly grandfather figure, glad you had a great time. roll on next year...

Titus said...

Never been yet swiss, but you make it sound unmissable. Creche facilities?

swiss said...

i don't think there's much difference between heaney off or on to be honest. i guess it's different strokes for different folks. we were more concerned with some fo the 'particularities' of the audiences this year!

i definitely fancy one of these irish festivals. ireland this year reamins hovering between back and front burners but family births are interfering (in the loveliest way) with any plans.

creche facilities? rachel's your one for askign about that titus. either that or a weekend away with the menfolk holding the (not so) babies!

Rachel Fox said...

Family births?

Ah yes...the StAnza quiet, so aware of every syllable, so well-behaved...they induce in me the desire to shout 'big hairy bollocks' (it's a Middlesbrough thing) just to see what might happen. But I don't. Especially not at Nobel prize winners.

Though actually I came back to ask a question. Did LKJ have music 'backing'? Or was it just his voice? I've been listening to some youtube and just wondered. I've never really listened to him (though I had friends who did years back).


swiss said...

t's brother's partner the expectant one.

you could've shouted all you wanted at the open mic but no-one would've heard you. there was a musician bloke who did a gig down here a while back and he noted the quietness of the audience until, as he said, i realised they were listening. so while at times a poetry audience can be a bit quiet it's better than the alternative.

lkj was just him, which for me, depsite having seen hom do both and owning the albums, seems better

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, but there's quiet and quiet (I seem to be getting more nitpicky with age).

I didn't make the open fact I never have made the Stanza open mic! One year I tried to go (when it used to be at the bistro place) but it was too full and no room to get past the doorstep. I took that as a sign.


swiss said...

maybe that's it.

when i first started reading many of the venues were rough as guts and there was no way any quiet voice was going to get anything in the way of an airing. these days sometimes it still weirds me out a bit but less and less. there seems to be a wide scope for behaviours in the poetry audience so maybe i'm just fitting in! ceertainly i'm more aware of some of my 'foibles'.

and at the end of the day folk are folk. getting involved with them is something we choose to do or not. someone asked me the other day if i got nervous. of course i do i said, but compared to going in to a family of strangers to tell them their relatives got some sort of horror disease/is dead it's a skoosh.

what i like about stanza is the ability and willingnes of an audience to listen. there's no waggish (read drunk) heckling, no one seems to intersperse a camera between themselves and the reader and there's a general politeness that seems to exist in very few other places.

or maybe it's just me who's getting old. now, where's my slippers?

Rachel Fox said...

I read mainly to the folk club here just now...and they are very polite too. So it's slippers all round!

The events I've been putting on attract an audience that listens...but it's relaxed too (not all poets either which I have to admit I like...). You'll see!