Anne Cunningham on Anne Enright

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Anne Enright interviewed by Niall McMonagle

Smock Alley Theatre, Saturday 23rd May

On the day that Ireland voted yes, I found myself wading through the jubilant crowds outside Dublin Castle, trying to weave a path to Smock Alley theatre. It’s tough, attempting to muscle your way through a crowd in full party mode. But I bravely resisted the urge to simply give in and party on down – I had work to do. And I’m so glad I did it.

Listening to Anne Enright wasn’t work at all, as it happened. She is as much of a joy to listen to as she is to read, and has as much presence on the stage as she has on the page. She made us laugh and smirk and remember and try to forget in a short space of time that seemed longer, somehow, as she crammed so much of herself – with rare honesty and integrity – into a mere 90 minutes.

Niall McMonagle, asking her about her new novel The Green Road, wanted to know if this is a Mother Ireland book? (The matriarch of the family in her novel is called Rosaleen.)

“No, I do it for laughs really – to annoy people!” she smiled, adding that her book is about separation and connection and the Big Separation for everyone is surely that of leaving one’s mother. “We leave our mother and return to find the human being” she said.

In that case, was it simply a modern twist on the King Lear story?

“It’s actually through the writing of two books – one on compassion and the other on a kind of female King Lear that this book came about” explained Enright.

Somewhat surprised, her interviewer asked did she not have the ending of those books in mind, how could two books end up becoming one? He quoted John Fowles’ always knowing the end of his novels before he begins (although it’s John Irving who is famous for that quote), and Anne Enright described how she “travels blind” through the writing process. She has a vague idea of shape and plot but says her books are not narrative driven, she doesn’t suffer from “narrative adrenalin” and prefers to think of them as “taking a bath”.

And then the old turkey came out – a mandatory question for women writers, I’ve heard it asked again and again and again: Had she ever considered writing in the opposite gender…yawn…? Really, you gentlemen interviewers, you should know better. Who asks male writers that question?

Ms Enright seemed to consider the question to be as tiresome as any woman would, and since most of the interview was about The Green Road, I could see her oncoming answer like a train down the track at top speed. “Two of the characters in the book are men” she replied.

“I write 3rd person in the past tense, both male and female. It’s not a question of gender at all, it’s a question of character and that character’s place in the story.”

Being a generous-spirited woman, she showed not one teeny sign of being irked, but the annoyance among the females in the audience was palpable. On the very day we voted for equality on an inherently gender-based issue, that such a question could be asked – and not of an MA writing student, but of a Man Booker prize-winning author, a woman whose prose stands alongside the finest living writers… I found it preposterous.

A question from a member of the audience during the Q & A prompted Enright to give us her frank opinion on the “preciousness” of some writers.

“I’m a professor myself”, stated the audience member, “And Virginia Woolf insisted that writers need a room to themselves – a room dedicated only to writing.”

Ms Enright was gracious as always in her response: “If you’re going to be a good writer, then you need to understand that you’ll never make much money. So you need to cut your cloth and get used to living modestly. Good writing is not about having a dedicated writing room. It’s about the page. It is always – always – about the words on the page.”

By Anne Cunningham

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Alan Walsh on Paul Muldoon

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Paul Muldoon: Rara Avis.

The old story about a teenage Paul Muldoon sending his novice poems to Seamus Heaney didn’t run the way people like to tell it. The story goes he posted them to his hero, asking what, if anything, could be done to improve them and the older poet replied very simply; nothing. What Heaney had actually said was that he couldn’t tell Muldoon anything he wouldn’t find out for himself. Rara Avis, was what his teacher, Jerry Hicks, called him when first introducing him to Heaney and it was the older poet that caught him his first break, recommending him to Charles Monteith at Faber poetry and helping him right along to publication while still a student.
The poem Cuthbert and the Otters, from Muldoon’s latest collection features the line everyone hooked themselves onto at the 2013 Durham book festival only a few weeks after Heaney’s funeral:
“I cannot thole the thought of Seamus Heaney dead.”
And it’s very hard to think of Muldoon without half a mind to his fellow Ulsterman. While it might seem to many that Muldoon fell under the master’s influence early on, turning his head from the showboating of poets like Eliot, clashing high and low brow in a single line, to writing about his country and the life around him, Muldoon is more inclined to see influence as a shared thing and has suggested he might have had some impact on Heaney’s work too. It’s hardly impossible. The two are so entwined in popular perception many read Muldoon’s poem Madoc: A Mystery, which tells of Southey and Coleridge trying to set up a Pantisocracy in North America, as a metaphor for the two Ulster poets setting course for major positions in American academia. If he did turn his head it wasn’t all the way. Muldoon has always been a verbal trickster, always mixed and matched meter and tone, and copying his poems into Word has always left the white page awash in wiggly red underlines. He writes in Villanelles, the more complex double sestinas, Persian ghazals and Pantoums. He sets up a neat little acrostic in the poem Capercaillies that reads “Is this a New Yorker Poem or what.” (turned out it wasn’t, they refused it) and shifts gear from sardonic to pathos and back within a line.
Stunt Reading could be the key to it all. It’s a way of reading a poem Muldoon introduced to students during his Oxford lectures. An awareness of what he called cryptocurrents, secret meanings, in-jokes and, like jazz, the notes you don’t hear. Yeats, Tsvetaeva, Hughes, Frost and many others effectively have their poetry rewritten through gamifying the close-reading process into a free-association sport. Like the best of Muldoon’s work, it’s unserious and scholarly, fun but maddeningly intricate and at the same time revealing moments only the highest poetry can aspire to.

By Alan Walsh

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Shamim de Brún : Lost in Music

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A Timeless Playlist

So I’m hammering away at these keys in Dublin’s best smoking area. The IFI. In my opinion anyway. It’s a bit chilly but their wifi works great even out here so I can’t really complain. I punch my earphones into my compact laptop, switch to Spotify and play my “Ryan Gattis: All Involved” playlist. A playlist I’ve just spent a whole hour compiling. It’s as close to the soundtrack of Ryan Gattis’s Lost In Music event that I can get. My head bops, the playlist soothes me while I light a cigarette and think about Gattis. He spent two and a half years researching his latest novel “All Involved” and I’m trying to write about it in only two days. It’s a paralizing thought. So I … scroll through twitter. I follow Gattis. He’s an interesting guy. From REM albums to Hamlet auditions I feel like I learned a lot about him in his one hour nine minute talk in the Liquor Rooms on Saturday. There’s nothing else to tweet about except Gattis. So I do. I tell the world what I’m doing but in a vague way. It’s a tweet, no space for superfluous detail.

The Supremes “Run Run Run” is still playing when my hands get too cold to be typing. There’s only a light but crisp summer breeze to complain about but it’s enough to drive me inside. I pause Ms. Ross and co mid chorus and I rock inside in search of a warmer spot to chill with my playlist, notes and this little blog post.

I find an empty table right near the entrance to that bathrooms. It’s not ideal but hey at least it’s warm. The waiter comes over to me in my new spot and I notice my stomach trying to claw its way into my consciousness. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and it’s almost 4. The waiter, Saleem, he speaks to me over the music in my ears. I take one earphone out and I know I’m being rude but Kid Frost’s Mi Vida Loca is on and it’s almost finished. I listen as its soothing sample peters out and ask Saleem how he is getting on, in French, ‘cos why not. As the song finishes I pop the other ear bud out, slap the pause button and order myself nibbles and a coffee.

My body has warmed up after nicely as I’ve snacked and bopped away to More Than a Feeling and Rock Around the Clock and so I go back to my laptop. I can’t quite remember where I was going with my sentence so I delete it and go back to my notes from the evening. And I am so thankful for mobile phones. Smart phones, man, they make it easier. I have everything I need to write this in my pocket if I wanted. That thought makes me pensive. I think about how riots today are fueled by social media. How Twitter and Facebook get the blame for horrific events. The London Riots in 2011 are a prime example. I guess it must work the way Gattis said the media fueled the 1992 LA riots, the setting for “All Involved”. People know the places and what’s happening and they just join in. We’re all just opportunistic sheep. The image of a sheep in a riot makes me laugh. It shouldn’t but it does.

When you think realistically though…Scary thoughts. Gangs. Rioting. Civil Unrest. It’s all over my Facebook. Ferguson, New York, Baltimore. I can read about it if and when I want to, but I can also not. I can just ignore it. I’m hit in the face by my own privilege as I type this. I think about the themes in Gattis’s bestseller and know that “All Involved” is timeless. Gattis is so right. When things don’t change, when cities and inner cities in particular don’t have access to jobs, education and healthcare it’s always gonna happen. It’s inevitable. We never learn. Do we even listen? Generation to generation? We mustn’t. After all I hadn’t even heard of the LA riots and I was approaching my first birthday when they happened. I mean they happened in my lifetime and if there wasn’t an amazing fiction book written about them I think I’d still be plodding along in my ignorance and I lived in LA for six month. Smack. There’s that privilege again.

Then just to hammer that thought home 5446 comes on. I lament that I couldn’t find the live version Gattis treated us to on the night. I enjoy the remastered version anyway. And I think about him, about Gattis, about how much he enjoyed his work and his reading, how hard he worked on such a mamoth task, how into it he got, how he managed to create 17 distinct, clear voices, and how he had to clarify there were, in fact, no snails in the book. He had tripped over the word snares. It was absolutely hilarious. It makes me smile. One of those broad toothy smiles that if a someone caught it they’d think I was mad. But snails! Hilarious.

A beat of a specials song bumps into my head as I stifle a giggle and I think about how many of these songs I actually know. Considering I was only a baby at their peak popularity. I sip my coffee. Only adults get to sip coffee. A Message to you Ruddy fades out and the playlist is played through. The melody is gone. Just like the final narrator in the brave book I don’t hear anything but background noise. Cafe sounds, a lot better than the cracking fires that consumed most of LA over the course of the 6 day riots. And I rebuild the scene from the Liquor Rooms in my mind before pressing repeat. Mixtapes might have died but the playlist lives on. This playlist is perfect. I think I’ll be listening to these tunes for a while. Thanks Gattis.

By Shamim de Brún

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Stevie McDermott on Jon Ronson

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Jon Ronson

His subjects have included criminal psychopaths, prominent conspiracy theorists and intelligence agents who participated in experiments to discover psychic abilities in U.S. soldiers. But Jon Ronson has so many other interesting things to talk about, these encounters are only mentioned in passing during his International Literature Festival Dublin appearance.

Instead, he tells a capacity O’Reilly Theatre about some of the less-documented encounters throughout what he himself would call his career in ‘humorist journalism’. Like when he jokes about being “nearly killed by Tony O’Reilly” as he was chased away from a meeting of the Bilderburg Group in Portugal. Or the time he was asked to go UFO-hunting with Robbie Williams, which included a trip on Snoop Dogg’s private jet.

Ronson is so naturally charismatic that while he spends most of the event talking about his latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, it never comes across as an exercise in self-promotion. Imagine a TED talk combined with a stand-up comedy routine and you’ll probably have an idea of how he presented his research into 21st century shaming rituals.

For him, the proliferation of social media platforms like Twitter has heralded a return to eighteenth century standards of punishment. Groups of quasi-anonymous people are taking to the internet to publicly shame those whom they believe are transgressing the morals of modern society.

He tells us about the New Yorker journalist whose career was ruined after he fabricated some Bob Dylan quotes, and the PR executive who became an internet phenomenon for the wrong reasons after she sent a racially insensitive tweet to her 170 followers.

Shaming these kinds of people online is the kind of thing that most of us participate in at some point, something we believe we are doing for the right reasons. However, to Ronson it’s the modern equivalent of the stocks or public whipping. And unlike those punishments of old, it’s a process in which everyone gets to play the role of hanging judge, without the feeling of responsibility that comes with being the executioner.

“When shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes,” he says, “nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be. The snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche.”

It’s made Ronson wary of the power the internet has. He talks about how the rise of social media platforms is just the latest in a series of historical events which has seen power seized by people who previously had none. Much like what occurred in the aftermath of the French Revolution, he worries that we are beginning to prioritise ideology over humans, rather than humans over ideology.

“Throughout history”, he says, “when powerless people become empowered it takes a while to work out how to use that power judiciously. I think and hope that things are going to settle down. Right now, bullies are winning.”

We learn about the ways in which the internet has exacerbated Ronson’s anxiety, a surprising revelation given his quite confident performance. In the Q&A session with Anton Savage during the second half of the event, he admits that he is not entirely comfortable by the hype that surrounded his new book.

“Something happened this book that’s never happened with my previous books,” he says. “There was a lot of noise around it, and it was discussed a lot. It wasn’t pleasant, even when the noise was positive: it was just a lot of noise.”

At one point, he even talks of the panic he felt when he recently awoke to 900 notifications on his phone. As he does several times during the event, he uses his laptop to add colour to his story, showing the audience a video by way of explanation: we see a video of Louis Tomlinson from One Direction pushing through a crowd of waiting fans, holding a copy of Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test. It turns out that fans of the boyband had identified both the book Tomlinson was holding, and subsequently tagged its author in tweets which linked the video.

Ronson also reveals that he has created of a list on Twitter dedicated to New York accident reports, which he will sometimes check in frantic bursts when he is away from his family. Both examples are given with the same humour and self-effacing nature that has made him so successful as a writer, and it’s rewarding to see these aspects of his work carry through to his personality.

What’s more, it means that the entire event doesn’t come across as either a shill for his new book, or a polemic against the dark powers of the internet. Ronson captivates his audience by simply being himself: that is, an absorbing and funny writer who seems to know a lot of things about a lot of things. Or, as Anton Savage puts it during his introduction of Ronson: “Someone who has the most extraordinary breadth of exposure, in terms of what he has written about…who is as captivating verbally as he is in text.”

By Stevie McDermott

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Caelen Dwane on Jon Ronson

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“I’m a humourist journalist out of my depth” – Jon Ronson – O’Reilly Theatre – 19th May 2015

Firstly, sincere apologies to those sitting around me yesterday evening in the O’Reilly Hall for the wild scribbling of notes that took place, as almost everything said throughout the event seemed comment worthy on this post today; and yet, I haven’t even touched on half of it in what follows. Anton Savage introduced Jon Ronson as “one of those rare finds – a very funny and captivating author, who is as captivating verbally as he is in text.” I can now wholeheartedly agree with this.

Jon Ronson walked out on stage to say how pleased he was to be standing on the stage of the theatre bequeathed by Tony O’Reilly. He had previously been chased from a Bilderberg meeting where Tony O’Reilly was in attendance, but now he was standing on his stage. Remembering his call to the British Embassy in the city as he ran to escape at the time, he explained to the woman on the end of the phone that he was a ‘humourist journalist out of his depth’. When she called him back to confirm that she had checked and that there were no reports of anyone following him, she supposed that it was good news if you knew you were being followed as they are probably just trying to intimidate you. If you were actually being followed, you wouldn’t know – Ronson’s thought on this was what if he was exactly the right kind of anxious and paranoid person to know exactly when he was being followed by the ‘henchmen of the shadowy police of the world.’

To me, this was the biggest surprise in seeing Jon Ronson for the first time, I found him to be of a somewhat nervous disposition. That is not to say that he is not a confident person by any stretch, surely confidence is a given in a person who infiltrates secret meetings of shady organisations, ventures UFO hunting with pop stars, addresses the wealthy and powerful in society as psychopaths, and beyond. However, he himself said that he is a hugely anxious person, particularly in regards to his wife and child. Yet, this anxiety in his persona, was not something I expected from what I did know of him. In saying that, I found that it added to his charm and is perhaps why he does manage to spy on secret meetings, go on bizarre adventures with pop stars, and address psychopaths without inciting their ire.

I imagine a lot of people are most familiar with Jon Ronson, as I was, from his books The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats, and as a journalist published in The Guardian. Ronson said that writing The Psychopath Test made him a certified ‘psychopath spotter’. In becoming so, it also made him a bit of a psychopath about shoving people into a psychopath box based on the outer most parts of them. He stated that journalism is the quest to define people by their outer most aspects, essentially labelling people. In America, children as young as 1 or 2 are being labelled as bi-polar for their unruly behaviour and being put on medication from that young age. While we all agreed that this seems absurd and a bad thing, Ronson claims that this is what we are all now doing on social media – labelling people, and attacking or shaming them accordingly. On Twitter, we are convinced that ‘some bad phraseology in a tweet is a clue to this person’s true and inherent evil’. This is the idea behind Ronson’s new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In the book, he explores the shaming culture on social media. We now find ourselves in a world where the ordinary people have a voice, and a powerful voice at that, and where it now appears that in the social media realm, a day without shaming has become a wasted day.

One the stories in his new book and a large part of the discussion last night, centred on a tweet by Justine Sacco. If you haven’t heard of Justine Sacco and the frenzy that ensued a tweet sent before she boarded a flight to South Africa, then I’d advise having a Google on that. I hadn’t heard of any of it, but now that I have, I will be forever aware of the potential of Twitter to ruin lives. In his own words, Jon Ronson said he saw that tweet that night and thought with delight ‘Great. Someone is f***ed!’ We all agreed with him that on a visceral level, what she tweeted is abhorrent; however, even then, he thought it was clearly someone mocking privilege by highlighting privilege – which turned out to be the case. Yet, with only 170 Twitter followers, Justine Sacco became the worldwide number one trending item on twitter and a victim of attack on all kinds of fronts. Justine had, in the eyes of the Twittersphere, misused her privilege – but, in truth, she was just a small PR person tweeting in the hope of amusing people that she couldn’t see. It snowballed from there, and everyone jumped on her misfortune. Not just the trolls, and there were lots of trolls, but nice normal people – people like us. The Gawker writer who picked up her tweet and started the attack against her said the way it all unfolded was “delicious”; asked how he thought she was after, he said he thought she was fine. The reality for her was that she lost a job she loved, suffered anxiety, depression, and was left afraid and ashamed. Plenty of other examples of similar and worse situations were covered last night and are detailed in the book. Ronson said of his new book, ‘it is not a polemic, it’s more like a horror story of getting to feel what these people felt.’

Savage posed a great question in comparing it to a modern day witch hunt in a new medium. Ronson agreed that it wasn’t unlike a witch hunt, in that it is impossible to defend yourself. Anything you could say in your defence is just more evidence to their case against you. It has been highlighted as ‘performance piety’, where people surround themselves on social media with people who are in line with their views or the views they want to be seen as theirs, and if something steps outside of that remit then we scream them down. Ronson quite sharply pointed out that this is the opposite of democracy. Savage highlighted that the book ends on an inadvertently capitalist note. That money is being made by this public shaming. Ronson laughed saying that Google has the corporate motto ‘Don’t be evil’, yet, every time something is searched, Google makes 38 cent. Justine Sacco was Googled a handful of times in one day prior to the infamous tweet – afterwards, during the period that followed, she was Googled over 1,220,000 times. It was “us” that did the shaming, Ronson determined that we were just like unpaid Google interns.

On the flip side, for all the bad Twitter stories, he did have a very touching story to share about his former bandmate Frank Sidebottom. Ronson co-wrote the screenplay of the film ‘Frank’ starring Michael Fassbender; and it was loosely based on his time in Frank’s band from 1987-1990. Frank was known for wearing a big fake head. About 15 years later Frank called to say he was staging a comeback and would Ronson write it up. However, Chris “Frank” Sievey died penniless and was going to be buried in a pauper’s grave. Ronson sent out a single tweet and following that one tweet over £20,000 was raised, which Ronson noted was more than enough to ‘bury him, exhume him and bury him again.’ So, surely the world of social media is not inherently evil.

The questions from the audience were some interesting takes on this. On being asked if he thought there was an era of anarchy in the internet – cybercrime, social media shaming and the like; and whether he thought government regulation would be a good thing? Ronson replied that the only people that could be regulated against really were the trolls, and not us “normal people”. Human beings are dimensional and complicated, and this isn’t always demonstrated, or may not even be demonstrable, through social media. Ronson explained that throughout history whenever powerless people become empowered it takes a while to figure out how to use the power judiciously. He favours humans over ideology every time, and while the latter may currently be winning out, he believes in human beings.

By Caelen Dwane

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Rebecca Treacy on Sepideh Jodeyri

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When Sepideh Jodeyri attended a Q&A before a screening of Blue is the Warmest Colour, the conversation was dominated by discussion of her life and works in her home country of Iran. It also centred around her feelings about being exiled in Prague because of her professional life. A poet, translator, literary critic and journalist, among other things, Jodeyri has faced many problems since she decided to translate Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Colour into Persian. She made the decision to do so in an attempt to educate Iranian people about LGBT people and show them how to behave in reaction to those “who are unlike” the dominant culture sanctioned by the Iranian government.

It is clear that living in exile is painful for Jodeyri. She told the audience that she dreams of Iran every night and wakes up each morning saddened to find that she is not at home. This life has been made necessary for her as she’s viewed as a supporter of homosexuality and someone who promotes it, a fact she finds amusing since it’s ‘impossible to promote homosexuality’. The reason for this smearing of Jodeyri’s name is because of her choice to translate Blue is the Warmest Colour. It has led to what she describes as her ‘pen being banned’, with the Ministry of Intelligence banning not only her own poetry and writing but also banning her name. This means that anything mentioning Jodeyri such as interviews or articles tend to be banned alongside her work.

The film version of Blue is the Warmest Colour has had worldwide acclaim, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2012 and performing well internationally. Jodeyri’s love remains with the original graphic novel and she proclaims herself as a fan of Julie Maroh’s work, declaring her enthusiasm for Maroh having sent her the newest edition to her repertoire of work. This remains her view despite the impact it’s had on her life. Jodeyri cannot go back to Iran after leaving of her own decision to keep her son safe and protect her family. Her friends have been interrogated for being connected to her and all have warned her to stay away from Iran as her leaving drew attention to her as a target. That means she hasn’t been able to see her family or friends since she left Iran a little over four years ago.

Before she left, it was clear that her translation of Blue is the Warmest Colour made life for herself and those she interacted with unsafe. She has said previously “I’ve been declared persona non grata in my own country”. Her publisher was threatened with having his license revoked for publishing her poetry, although he is still working as a publisher now and publishing other banned authors. Each text published in Iran needs to be licensed by the Minister for Culture and it took only two weeks after Jodeyri’s licensed book of poetry was banned. Additionally, the man who rented out a hall in Tehran for the launch of her poetry book And Etc was fired from his job and the event was cancelled. It’s clear that interacting with banned authors can cause many problems for those who take the risk.

Sepideh Jodeyri is trying to combat all of this. She has released a new book of poetry called And Emptiness is Flowing Under My Skin this year, all of which was written while in exile. It is banned in Iran as all of her poetry is seen to promote homosexuality, despite the fact that Jodeyri is a married heterosexual woman who doesn’t write about same-sex relationship in her own work. She has made the book free as an eBook to an Iranian citizen living inside Iran and dedicated the collection to all of the Iranian people living in exile around the world.

Sepideh Jodeyri’s life is a harsh reminder that in many places around the world freedom of expression is limited and the rights of LGBT are essentially non-existent. The Q&A was left with the idea that we’re lucky to live in Ireland where there is an upcoming referendum, and for the most part LGBT people are safe to live in this country, not having to fear that they will have to flee the country simply because of their existence as a person who is not heterosexual.

By Rebecca Treacy
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Wurm im Apfel by Stevie McDermott

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Concrete poetry is a form with which even casual readers are probably familiar. Also known as ‘shape poetry’, it is dependant on layout and typography as much as more conventional elements such as rhyme or metre.

There’s usually a playful aspect to a concrete poem’s appearance, and an amalgamation of visual and linguistic elements make it something like a mashup between poetry and graphic design.

Of course, there are other ways of combining the visual possibilities of poetry with its linguistic content, something I learn during Wurm im apfel’s latest event in Oscars Cafe Bar on Fishamble Street.

Vicky Langan begins the evening’s performances without a word. She offers no introduction, no attempt at explanation and seemingly no sense of rhyme or reason as she sits onstage behind a mixing desk, creating otherworldly sounds in an intense performance that sets the tone for the rest of the evening.

Before we know it another figure takes the stage, with her back to the audience as she performs her opening piece. “There is no perspective”, she says. “Her face doesn’t matter. It’s the back of her head that speaks.” Máighréad Medbh brings us from one aural plane to another, but she still invokes the visual element of performance to intrigue the audience and interrogate their expectations.

This is perhaps more in line with what one would expect from a poetry night, but by the time Medbh is performing, presuppositions have been thrown out the window. In that sense it has already been a success, having adhered to Wurm’s self-stated aim to present “unusual, different and experimental poetry”.

Inspired by the 1965 concrete poem by Reinhard Döhl from which it takes its name, Wurm im apfel is a poetry organisation which has taken the concept of visual poetry a step further. Since 2008, it has dedicated itself to presenting experimental poetry in its various guises, bringing an eclectic mix of sound and performance to venues across Ireland.

For Wurm founder Kit Fryatt, poetry’s performative nature leaves the form open to multiple avenues of artistic presentation. As part of the International Literature Festival of Dublin, Wurm present this fresh approach to visual poetry in the performances of sound artist Vicky Langan and poets Máighréad Medbh and Clara Rose Thornton.

“Live poetry seems to me to have a natural overlap with performance art,” Fryatt said in a previous interview. “[T]hat can go places way beyond what people might think of as performance poetry. I find a lot of poetry just says stuff, and I want it to do stuff too.”

Which is exactly what happens as Langan uses digital effects to disrupt more familiar sounds during her performance. She relies heavily on analogue equipment and material, the familiar forms of both sound and audio production. Pre-recorded noises are continually relayed via numerous cassette tapes, and at one point she even picks up a violin to play two discordant notes simultaneously.

In fact, we don’t hear a single word from Langan during her performance. The only sounds from her mouth throughout are the ones she sends through the mixing desk to create further layers of dissonance. She occasionally draws on familiar source material: a child’s voice; footsteps; a dog barking.

But these pre-recorded samples are overlaid with more dissonant sounds until they lose their meaning to create something new instead. It’s hard not to compare her use of samples throughout to the words which fill concrete poetry, raw material that means one thing alone, but which offers something entirely new as it is re-shaped.

Medbh’s performance shows how this re-shaping is also possible when written words find themselves in the context of action. Like the conclusion of her second piece, when she describes the moment when the poem’s speaker and subject interact: “Finding and the found together collapse time”. It’s a knowing statement from a performer who is aware of what poetry can do. She uses form and space to create a new kind of artistic dimension, like a kind of performative concrete poetry.

Throughout, Medbh calls on the audience to seek out the meaning of her work, rather than simply bringing it to them. She performs seven poems on themes of space, love, gender and sexuality, all of which challenge regular preconceptions about how each topic is normally presented. Her re-imagining of gender politics in ‘Quantum Politics’ is her most striking example: “I revise the tired feminist lesson/that it is all personal/that behaviour informs the rule”.

Space is also a theme explored by the evening’s final performer, Dublin slam poetry champion Clara Rose Thornton. However, Thorton’s performance is a much more direct affair, as she introduces herself to the audience and provides tidbits of information about her travels, first across the U.S. and then through Europe.

Unlike Medhb she brings the audience on a journey with her, rather than calling them to join her on the other side. Her opening poem ‘Angels’, for example, tells the story of her travels, which she introduces by asking whether anybody else has experienced “Wanderlust” like her. Then, as she performs, she asks “What does does the road do to us?” with a telling emphasis on the final pronoun.

In her description of scenes from various U.S. states and European locations, it takes a moment to realise we’re still in a room on Fishamble Street. Thornton’s performance is an instant reminder of the power of narratives to transcend space and time, and of the elements of chance which delivered her to the stage in front of us to begin with.

It recalls an observation from earlier by Medhb during an introduction to one of her own poems: “liberation changes according to your thinking toward your culture and your situation.” It seems a desire for liberation is what connects the audience with each performer, as they seek out a challenge to poetic norms and the capabilities of performance poetry, one which is well facilitated by Wurm on a wet Sunday evening in May.

By Stevie McDermott

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