Back in Dublin this morning after a quick visit to Jane’s rellies in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland – a busy couple of weeks. Woke up to a foggy Galway morning, Sunday week ago – didn’t sleep at all well after hitting the sack just after midnight and being awoken by a woman conversing animatedly below my window as she strolled down the avenue. Checked the time – 3:15am – the woman’d disappeared but I note the swans still patrol the river. Needed to catch a bus to Clifden at midday to meet Jane where we hoped to hear Oz poets Robyn Rowland, Teresa Bell and John Foulcher read as part of Clifden Arts Week.
Caught up with Jane who’d spent the past three days with her sister, a few miles up the coast. We’d an hour up our sleeves but wanted to make sure of the venue, the Station House Theatre; found it and peered inside the foyer … heard reassuring sounds so assumed we had the right place, which was confirmed a moment or two later when poet and performer Teresa Bell, whom we’d met the week before, emerged from the stage wing to say hello and briefly expound on the difficulties of co-ordinating a theatrical recital at the same time as manouvring a cello. Took this on board, without being privy to the finer details 🙂
Three o’clock arrived, Robyn Rowland – first to read – opened with words of thanks to an audience who’d bothered to turn up when the inclination may as well have been to stay home and tune in to the national football championships live on tv. ‘There’s plenty to compete with poetry at 3pm on a lovely Sunday afternoon … so I thought I’d start with a poem about … sex. And next, a poem about death. These may well be the themes I’ll pursue for the afternoon… And: could we turn the lights up? I hate it when I can’t see any faces in the audience!’ Strong poems from Robyn who – to quote Ron Pretty – ‘handles passion and laughter, politics and loss with equal confidence’, whose work ‘is very sensual and encompasses a broad range from the political to love affairs that go astray, death and cancer.’ Best for me is a particularly sustained and moving, longish poem broaching relationships with her parents.
If I were to toy with water as a metaphor, I’d probably suggest Robyn’s reading as akin to myriad beams of colour and light playing through eddying streams; with John Foulcher’s poetry, by contrast – ‘I wonder if we might have the lights lowered again please?’ – a trickling brook of carefully considered observations of the moment … and Teresa Bell’s a rushing torrent: deep and fast-flowing, troubling, mysterious. Teresa’s dressed in red velvet and clutching a cello, I don’t play the instrument she says ‘ … but I’ve always wanted to walk onto a stage with a cello, wearing red.’ “I don’t call myself a poet,’ I later learn, on googling Teresa’s name, ‘I write; I suspect like most people do – often and everywhere. I believe in ‘miswanderings’ and have never made or followed a career plan. I have to write. I’d go pretty mad if I didn’t. This means it leaks into everything and I’ve been lucky to find ways to publish and earn money in the area.” (seacliffcoast website).
Checking the books for sale in the foyer, I note John Foulcher’s Pitt Street Poets publications include one termed a ‘pocket size’ book, a size Jane particularly takes to. For my part, the format invites questions … are longer lines necessarily cut to accommodate the smaller-page format? How difficult is agreement with authors over line lengths? [This has been central to my concern with e-books, which I’ve fiddled with in the past: that it’s a form necessarily excluding poetry with longer lines which is not at all the same for essays and fiction with text simply running on). The pocket size appears ideal for chapbook productions with the smaller format bulking it out.
We’re sold on John’s poetry, purchase a copy of his 2012 collection the sunset assumption. Most poems in the book were drafted during a residency at the Keesing Studio in Paris during 2010 and 2011. ‘I’m not opening it till we’re in Paris in a couple of months’ time,’ Jane says.
John mentioned how it was John Knight’s health problems some years back that provided the impetus for the setting up of his poetry imprint, Pitt Street Poetry, in order to publish fine writing – an ambition for which he’d always yearned.
My own take on what it meant to publish (I said in response) was, ideally, to work towards being in a position to take on projects dear to me, whenever they arose. ‘Not a bad position to take,’ John agreed.
Joined at the table by Robyn, conversation turned to current newspaper headlines reporting changed directions for the Catholic Church. Robyn and John discuss the new pope with interest and some approval, noting the problems he faces and ruminating on the impact of Cardinal George Pell in the Vatican…. I’m not at all surprised to realise they’re au fait with developments in the church, I’ve caught the drift of John’s poetry and come across reviews such as that of Peter Pierce in ‘The Canberra Times’:’Foulcher’s The Sunset Assumption confirms his status as a thoughtful, melodious poet, one of seriously investigated religious beliefs, one morally attuned to the need for and the compromises of such beliefs.’, and other findings including Robyn’s launch of the book back in 2012 where she notes ‘This book is rather about spiritual living and history; about light and dark but not always in an oppositional way. It concerns our beliefs about religion and about art, and also about the rightness and wrongness in historical moment and politics’. Though I haven’t much of a religious inclination, I appreciated the conveyed sense of a shared comfort in mulling over questions of faith, a refreshing contrast (for me at least) to the many brook-no-argument approaches from the other end of the spectrum.
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Stayed overnight with a friend of Robyn’s who generously offered to put us up in her lovely and spacious house on a spit overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Wandered down the lane in fading light to take a few photos, then – exhausted – slept ten hours. Obviously needed it. Headed out the door at a reasonable hour to stroll round to Robyn’s house for breakfast.
‘Which way do we head to Robyn’s once we get to the bottom of the driveway? To the left?’
‘And which direction did we head on our walk last night?’
‘To the right… You know, for a woman who can offer seventeen various interpretations of the colour purple, you haven’t the vaguest notion of direction!’
‘Is that right!!!’