Friday, September 09, 2005

Inaugural Patrick Kavanagh Celebration 2005 1/8/05

PJ Brady & i hosted the inaugural 2005 Patrick Kavanagh Celebration last Thursday, above the Palace Bar, Fleet Street, Temple Bar. This boozer is where Kavanagh held court with the contemporary hacks, and famously said of:

The Palace Bar, there was the gabble of poetry to be heard.

The night kicked off with actor-poet Brady doing a 25 minute piece from his one man Kavanagh show, where he plays the man himself in his own prose and poems. I first saw this show last year, around this time, when I had been in Dublin for a couple of months. I came here after finishing a degree in writing studies and drama, at Edge Hill College, Ormskirk, which is also my home town. By the time I left my writing was all along the lines of mining the depths of my Irishness, and I knew that a crossroads had been reached and really there was only one way to go.

I could stay in England and be an "Irishman" writing about a place I barely knew, or I could go to Ireland and see what happened with the writing. Really there was no choice, as to stay in England and write meant I would have turned into a Joe Horgan clone, prior to his moving to Cork.

When I first got here the usual spiel to anyone asking why I had come, was to roll out the Horgan analogy. Anyone who read his column in the Irish Post (weekly newspaper for the Irish in Britain) would know what I mean. Up until he actually moved to Ireland his column was pretty one dimensional. It would run along the same lines every week -

"My name is Joe, I am a second generation Irish person who grew up in Birmingham. I have a dual identity. I don't know who I am. Life is a bitch when you are a plastic paddy. Low lie the fields of Athenry. Ireland forever."

So imagine my surprise when I was at the Kavanagh poetry prize last year and his name was read out as the winner, as I sat there in the heart of poetry flame HQ, surrounded by all the previous winners and the great and good of Irish poetry, scribbling away in my journal, which in itself was something of a novelty as I was the only one writing. What a way to get noticed without even trying, going to the druidic lair and Heaney's golden circle armed with pen and paper, only to realise that you are the only one with that idea.

Just before this PJ was doing a two week run of his show The Heart Laid Bare, a one man show in which he plays Kavanagh. For the first week the audiences had been dire, and there was only himself and his brother Seamus to do all the work, so I volunteered to put up a few of his glossy posters at some establishment events, which I had read were on. Up till this point I had only been to the weekly open mic at Brogans, where the non mainstream poets gathered to warble. I am still with them now, and they are the antithesis of the wine and cheese poetry brigade, a lot more real and less educated.

Last year was Kavanagh's birth centenary and everyone in Dublin was on the bandwagon, somewhat ironically he has become an establishment icon, long after his life, when the Irish literary establishment wouldn't give him the time of day.

There were two events, one was a Kavanagh manuscript exhibition at the National Library and the other was the Royal College of Surgeons launch of Peter Fallon's translation of Virgil's Georgics, published by his own imprint, The Gallery Press; with fellow Gallery Press poet Seamus Heaney introducing his publisher's translation of the Latin bard. These, I thought, were two of the most perfect places to catch Dublin's poetry buffs. The Kavanagh manuscript launch was on Kildare Street at 6.30 and Fallon at 7pm, 5 minutes away in the College of Surgeons, Stephens Green.

I arrived at the library and asked if it was OK to put a poster up, and the security man said fine, no problem. After I had put one up I thought it would be an idea to ask whoever was doing the spiel if they could mention PJ's show. I ended up talking to the third in charge oppo, who came out with the classic reason, after being asked if she could ask the main honcho to mention the show -

"I don't think it would be appropriate in the circumstances"

I couldn't help but inwardly laugh, thinking "what circumstances are they? This is a Kavanagh do,  Ireland's premier Kavanagh actor is having a limited run of a world-class Kavanagh show, performing his own prose and poems on stage; surely the circumstances couldn't be more apt?"

However, being new to Dublin and still enthralled with the place, I moved on to Fallon and thought I would play it by ear. When I got there I decided to forget asking for a mention and just put the poster up in the wine and cheese ballroom where all the faces were to mingle post book launch, that happened in the main raked, six or seven tiered, college of surgeons lecture theatre .

The ballroom was an imposing high-vaulted space with an intricately decorated ceiling adorned with expensive oak and plaster friezes, and fading oil portraits of various Augustine personages hung staring out on the walls; but the sash windows had been faced with interior double glazing, making an excellent flat surface for the poster.
After the library vibe I thought it best to completely cover all bases, and so got permission from the security man to put it up. So, after the launch, as the crowd mingled, I went to put it up, but half way through a man who was clearly involved in the launch - I had watched him introduce Heaney at the start of the event in the main lecture hall - came over in a very agitated and disgruntled state, and we had the following exchange -

"You can't put that up here"

"It's OK, I got permission to put it up"

"What, from security?" (somewhat disbelievingly)


"Well, erm they probably think you're with us. You'll have to take it down."

By this time I was inwardly laughing more than I had been at the library, as he was obviously very highly charged, probably because of the high profile nature of the event, so I said "no problem" and started to slowly un-sellotape the two thirds affixed poster, which is when the funniest thing happened. He physically interjected and said

"Here, let me help you."

And just at this point about to tear it away like an angry executive snatching a latte from a facetious office boy, he realised his behaviour was drawing attention to us, away from the main focus and centre of poetic gravity in the space. And he blushed brightly before turning on his heels and then shuffled off to fulfill his role of chief smiler, hand-shaker and chit chatter of poetry related pleasantries with those present. He had inadvertently given me more free publicity than I could have hoped for, as the eyes in the room noted from their corners the man who Mister Poetry Ireland Director (i later learned) had been having the frisson of exchange with. As you will be aware, at the wine and cheese do's any news is big news, no matter how slight, so I felt somewhat pleased with my efforts. I had not gone out to create a fuss, but still the fuss came and could not have been better scripted.

I had been to my first Dublin literary establishment splashes, back to back, and all in all a good evening's voluntary work had come of it. I ended up spotting a mobile notice-board just outside the sumptuous drawing room and decided to put the poster on there. When I had slowly and methodically done so I turned round and was immediately met, ten feet away, by the eyes of Fallon and Heaney; who were having a one on one time out from the bustle of the ballroom, alone sitting on two chairs to the side at the top of the sweeping marble staircase, saying nothing and staring directly at me.

And with no sign of acknowledgement from them of me beyond the stare, caught unawares, not realising they were there, I sheepishly raised my eyes and walked off in fixed facial feature.  I was filled with positivity at the success of my mission, smiling in joyful surprise as I vacated the building, welling with imbhas and feeling I had made a good impression of things.

At this point I had not seen the show, and was going with my instinct that it would be good, as I knew PJ from the Tuesday night open mic poetry event, Write and Recite. I ended up going on the second to last night and it was a full house, in the same place we did the Kavanagh celebration. He really brought Kavanagh to life, as the man himself, or so I imagined. A man who lived in near poverty for most of his life, before his memory was sanitised by the collective forces which took control of his identity. On the final night there were a few RTE producers in the audience and since then PJ has made a number of radio programmes with RTE. One as the Kavanagh expert on RTE's "The Enchanted Way", hosted by Pat Boran, and another piece about his life as an actor and poet.

Last Thursdays event was all about bringing established and emerging poets together on the same bill, and the night was a great success. After PJ, Leanne O'Sullivan read, as did Maurice Scully, along with the usual open-mic suspects from the Tuesday Sessions, who now have a little bit more belief in ourselves than before.

Thanks, Ireland.