Nearing the end of a pretty hectic week, I have quite a lot of literary news to cram into one (hopefully not too lengthy!) blog post, so I’ll start with the most recent and work my way back…
Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a free ‘Life Stories’ (in conversation) event with Pulitizer and multiple prize-winning poet (although he doesn’t really refer to himself as such!) – Mr Paul Muldoon. Courtesy of Coleraine’s University of Ulster, myself and other enthusiasts settled back to listen to an hour-and-a-half of the poet discussing his early life, his poetry and to read some of his work (including a new piece, called ‘Twist’, from a song book just published – very good).
Having read examples of Muldoon’s poems in an Irish Poetry anthology I have at home, I have to admit that I’m maybe more of a MacNeice than a Muldoon type of person, so I was interested to hear how he responded to the question that his critics would describe his work as difficult. The answer, delivered in Muldoon’s trademark relaxed, dulcet tone, was that he didn’t set out to make them so, rather the contrary and I would agree that they are fairly easily read, but then, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one understands their message.
Anyway, an interesting fact for me was that Muldoon didn’t grow up surrounded by books, as one might expect a writer to do (I seem to be adapting his penchant for using the word ‘one’ here – apologies!) Instead, his red Junior World Encyclopaedia nourished him with an array of fascinating facts which no doubt seeped into his poetry – writing which some would say most definitely focuses on the obscure (and the Native Americans).
He said the poetry writes him rather than claiming any sort of ownership over it, which, perhaps odd as it sounds, I can understand. There can be a certain degree of thinking and planning when writing novels and certain types of poetry, but in Muldoon’s case, the words come fresh, one after the other, as he writes – not knowing what form they will take. “What makes it turn that corner and become another verse, another line?” he asked. “What makes the change? That’s what a verse is.” It is word after word, line after line, until it is done and he sees what has been created.
Poems, hopes Muldoon, should be like a newspaper or magazine article – one should come out the other side a little different, a little changed by it.
Asked what he thought about the current problems in supporting the arts in NI and the UK, he replied that perhaps he and other poets – other artists – should champion themselves more, claim themselves as poets the way other people proclaim their job titles, rather than avoid defining themselves, as he himself did at the start of this talk.
Prove that poetry is necessary – it has a function.
There is more that I could say on this and perhaps I will at a later stage but for now let’s move onto my meeting with Portstewart/Belfast author, ‘yer man himself’ – Mr Tony Macaulay – who recently published the second installment of his memoir trilogy, ‘Breadboy’.
I met ‘the only teenage pacifist in West Belfast’ during the Troubles, over a cappuccino at the Port on Tuesday (perk of the job) and was delighted to hear that his writing had more or less come about as a result of positive feedback from a former creative writing tutor. It gave him that self-belief that it might actually be good enough to publish and lo and behold, out in the book shops came ‘Paperboy’ and ‘Breadboy’, with a final, third volume, in the pipeline.
I was never sure if I would like reading an account of someone growing up during the Troubles – surely it was all a bit doom and gloom – but all I can say is that if you haven’t read these books, you’re missing out, really. For those of us who are from Northern Ireland and remember, or for anyone who only has an outsider’s view of the Troubles, Tony Macaulay’s memoirs offer hilarious insights into the life of a young boy just trying to live his life and grow up under the shadow of one of the most turbulent periods in our history. He dodges the local ‘wee hoods’ on a regular basis, has to sell bread to a prolific paramilitary and dances like John Travolta at the Westy disco every Saturday night – he’s growing up, so he is.
Actually now all grown up, Tony has carried on being a peace-maker, with his impressive work in West Belfast through Macaulay Associates Network Ltd and he has various other projects currently underway, including a play based on a local women’s group from the area, a novel and of course, his ongoing reconciliation work. The boy has done good.
Meanwhile, back to the poetry and… on Tuesday evening, it was time for Miss Gruer’s poetry class at the Hope & Gloria Emporium (another laid-back poet – with a Scottish dulcet tone, as opposed to Muldoon’s Northern Irish mixed with American).
We created characters from shopping lists (most guessed more or less correctly!), wrote postcards fraught with emotion and tackled the Haiku poem – little Japanese poems with the following syllable structure on each line: 5/7/5. All very inspiring and all very fun – poetry, if I haven’t said it before, is for everyone and everyone can write poetry!
Examples of our Haiku writing, which I really enjoyed, included picking our favourite season and writing a Haiku poem about this. Next, we chose the title of a poem from a selection of poetry books El had brought and again, wrote a Haiku poem inspired by this title. We did the same with a word from these books which we liked and a word which we didn’t.
Our final exercise was similar to one from a previous week, where we wrote down some of our favourite things and subsequently created a poem from them, beginning each line with ‘You are…’
Next week, we will be writing a poem based on the things that we dislike… and also looking at more Haiku!
(PS Did I mention that ‘the best work placement student ever’ was at the Muldoon event last night? Figures!)