Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I have only been to two poetry readings in my life and both were by the same poet. Does this make me a groupie or a stalker even? More hopefully, a comrade and a friend.

The reading at Manchester University was so much grander than the one in Hull. Hull does cosy and bars, Manchester has theatres and plush, quality restaurants. Even without pre-lubrication in historic pubs, George read beautifully the complex beauty of his work. This time he was not alone. I was really taken by the Irish poet Vona Groake who shared the billing. Her latest collection aptly takes its name from the spray thrown up from the prow of a boat. As she read, each phrase was like time-lapse photography, a shimmering droplet rose and was let fall, a pause before the next glistened in view, crystallising thoughts, and then you glance down to the deck and, to your surprise and delight, there is a small pool of water, reflecting all around you.

Then the exquisite led on to the powerful, her translation and interpretation of the 18th Century Irish keen of a woman for her murdered husband, Lament for Art O'Leary. To my shame I had never heard of this before, though it is regarded as a great classic of Irish literature. As a document, it is a voice of an 18th Century woman, heard too seldom, and illustrative of the suppression of the Catholics of Ireland under English rule and the power of petty officials. As a work of art it is a wail of anguish, of anger and of desire - of thwarted passion and revenge. Rhythmically declaimed, it brought tears.

I am getting a taste for this, maybe I will go to more. Though the invitation to the free meal where I can brush against the skirts of fame will not be there and I will have to pay to get in. Now back to reading the lament.

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