Rebecca Treacy on Sepideh Jodeyri

Sepideh Jodeyri

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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Wurm im apfel

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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Anita Byrne on The Only Jealousy of Emer

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The Only Jealousy of Emer at 14 Henrietta Street.

When I arrived at the location of the play, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I was on the earliest Georgian streets of Dublin, Henrietta street, where many of the houses had fallen into disrepair during the 19th and 20th centuries when they began their lives as tenement buildings. The houses have been the subject of restoration efforts in recent years and one of them were the location for this play, The Only Jealousy of Emer starring Yemi Adenuga, Deji Adenuga, Oluwayomi Ogunyemi, Esosa Ighodaro and Penelope Anyaji-Aniuzu. Who knew that such unassuming, barren houses could hold such an unforgettable event?
We were guided into the first room of the house where there were a few chairs lined out but no performers to be seen. The atmosphere was extremely sombre and slightly haunting, given the long history of the Georgian houses on Henrietta street, I am convinced they’re haunted. This haunting feeling was further reiterated as the play began with slow humming coming from down the hall which slowly approached closer and closer to the room in which we were sitting. I remember preparing myself for something jumping out at me, the anticipation was really starting to become too much and I began feeling very nervous. The beautiful singing voices of the performers soon quenched this nervous feeling as they walked in in a procession and presented themselves to the audience.
The play which went on for approximately 25 minutes, Cuchulainn has killed his son and in grief, attempts to fight the sea. Half drowned; he lies in a state between life and death with his wife and mistress watching over him. Strange events occur as Cuchulainn has in fact been replaced by a changeling and they try tirelessly to get him back. This play is highly interactive with the audience as you follow the performers from room to room for the duration of the play. In some instances they even stand among the crowd, giving the crowd a feeling of inclusion, the events of the play being something shared by both the performers and the audience.
This play is a production by the City Arts Office in association with Yemi and Deji Adenuga for Nigerian Carnival Ireland, the production is designed by Robert Ballagh, with costumes by Marie Tierney and choreography by Liz Roche. The play is already an stunning piece of theatre, but there is an amazing sense of multiculturalism at play with the contribution of Nigerian Carnival Ireland. It puts an interesting spin on the play as it is combining both Nigerian culture and Irish culture to create a unique masterpiece that I would highly recommend anyone with an interest in culture and theatre to go and see.

By Anita Byrne

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Sara Baume at the LAB – by Anite Byrne

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Sara Baume at The LAB Gallery

We had the pleasure of having Sara Baume with us in the LAB Gallery on the 18th of May. Unfortunately Brian Dillon, a lecturer at the Royal College of Art, was unable to attend due to unforeseen circumstances. Baume flew solo in conversation with writer and art critic Nathan Hugh O’ Donnell in what was an interesting and inspirational evening, highlighting how a visual art background enabled Baume to create her critically acclaimed debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Sara Baume studied fine art at IADT, completed an internship at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity
College, where she also completed a Creative Writers Masters. Influenced by both visual art and writers, Baume began writing the book which would catapult her writing career in to existence. Spill Simmer Falter Wither is on sale in both Ireland, the UK and overseas in the United States.
The evening began with Sara reading two extracts from her novel, a story of rural isolation and the relationship between man and dog as told through the eyes of the narrator, an old man. When the question arose as to why Baume chose to write the book in the tricky second person she answered that “it didn’t seem authentic in any other voice”. Many authors chose not to write in second person due to how exceedingly difficult it is but the fact Baume had the idea and ran with it, made it that much more admirable. Typical of her visual arts background, she shows complete attention to detail and visual scrutiny which places you right in the head of the old man and his rescue dog as he goes about his daily activities.

In what Joseph O’ Connor describes as “utterly wonderful” and “the most impressive novel” that he’s read in years, Baume’s protagonist adopts a one eyed rescue dog who was consigned to the local pound after being attacked by a badger. Without giving too much away, old Ray learns a lot from his canine counterpart as he observes his movements and the motives behind them. Instead of him attempting to give human attributes to the dog, he tries to apply the attributes of his dog to his own life, attempting to make the most of his days such as the dog makes the most of sniffing each little blade of grass.

After discussing the book, Nathan Hugh O’ Donnell and Sara Baume had a rather interesting conversation about art criticism. Both came from similar backgrounds, O’ Donnell began with publishing, then turned to art criticism and Baume went the opposite way, from art criticism to publishing. Sara Baume discussed something her past tutor from IADT said to her, he said that everything you put in to your sculpture must have a reason for being there, she applied this to her writing. If one piece of it does not work, nothing works. Baume and O´Donnell agreed that art
criticisms are truly successful and composed from something that you know honestly, that all the high brow notions that come with art are not truly successful if you do not understand what you are looking at. At the moment, writing is the priority for Sara Baume, she intends to return to sculpture sometime in the future; as she beautifully put it “art is a muscle that you need to keep stretching.” Baume has an interest in conceptual art and folk art.

Unfortunately for me I had not read the text beforehand but I can safely say that I near sprinted up the stairs to purchase a copy after the event. I am only a quarter through the novel but I feel it in my toes that this is a book I will, without a doubt, read numerous more times. It is an honest escape, there is nothing insanely beautiful about where the protagonist lives, it is just a normal rural town but the way Baume writes it, it feels like you are travelling to a new place in your head. Every morsel is described and illustrated in the minds eye.

To end the event, it was open to the floor for Q&A where she was asked about her love for animals, her inspirations when she was experiencing a hard time when writing and the process of publishing. What really inspired me about Baume is that her story is real, it didn’t all just happen overnight, she experienced successes and failure and furthermore, she created her own opportunities through hard work. She faced the struggles that any art graduate faced; the difficulty to find the finance to create works but Baume persevered and kept chipping away with what she was doing and in the end it all paid off. She is an inspiration for any aspiring writer, including myself. I left the event feeling refreshed, that hard work will pay off and what is meant for you will not pass you by.

Currently, Sara Baume is working on her second book. She did not want to reveal too much about it, only the fact that it is going to be something more autobiographical rather than fictional.

By Anita Byrne

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Shamim de Brún on Elif Shafak

Words of Breath Stay, by Shamim de Brún

“Right now I am sitting in a small independent coffee shop at the rear of a bookshop in Rathmines and I am on Amazon. Horrific, I know. But the sad truth of the matter is that I am a product of internet culture and I need more information than the blurb at the back of the books can give me. I need to know more. Curiosity. I just have to know more. I can’t get enough.

Today I can’t get enough of Elif Shafak who up till yesterday I, in my ignorance, had no notion of really. I’d read the program of events callously as I applied to cover bits and pieces for this blog that hadn’t been snapped up and I skipped over her name. Rookie mistake! It nearly cost me a fantastic experience. Luckily fate or a some clever person divinely intervened and I was put straight on course for Shafak’s Smock Alley debut.

I sat in my seat with a notebook, pen, strange sense of anticipation, and a need to tweet about it. But I legitimately had no idea why I was, well kind of anxious. Maybe because it was my first event? Maybe because I was on my own? Neither of those things really got to the route of what I was feeling so unable to identify it enough to express myself I just checked in and snapped a photo. Solid. Standard. Moments later, it began.

The fantastically fitting couches that adorned center stage were filled by Shafak and Brendan Barrington and we the audience we’re brought on an incredible journey. From the center of the universe and the angles that guard it, to the comfort and solace of books, through the enchanted lands of language, beyond the peaks of discrimination, into a melting pot of the cosmopolitan, and over the sweeping skies of the world to here in this theater on this day.

We the audience got this real little glimpse of a person, a human being in imperfect balance and harmony. What a gift to give. What a gift to get. I found that even with as little prior knowledge as I had I identified on a pure and basic level. I, like the protagonist of The Architects Apprentice felt like the words were intended for me personally, so powerful was the honesty of the Shafak’s words that I struggled to scrawl in my tiny notebook.

I give up trying to live two seconds behind her in a world of paper and focus fully on the human exchange in front of me. Just as I do Shafak breathes the question “How come human life cannot be more important than any notion of religion. For me human life is the most sacred thing” … Wow. It sticks with me. It sticks to me. It sticks in me. These words made of mere breath stick in my heart.

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Inspirational Authors – Alan Walsh

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He had a dream and it shot him.

Mark Twain once said he went into writing because it was the easiest job going, and adding it up after fifty years, he hadn’t worked a minute the whole time as it had all been play. He told the story of his brother Orion, who would cool his head by kneeling in a bathtub filled with cold water and immersing himself to the neck for as long as he could hold his breath. One afternoon the maid happened in through the unlocked bathroom door and ran to alert the house, screaming “Mr. Orion is drowning!” begging the question from his wife; “However did you recognise Mr. Orion?”
It’s probably comments like these that landed Twain in the place we know him at now, jokester, satirist, children’s author, but one of my most cherished moments with a book and one which still resonates, is reading the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the back-seat of a long-distance bus trip across Southern Spain and alternating between actually laughing out loud and feeling chills over the horror at the human condition. The unfortunates trying to sleep must’ve hated me. Vonnegut brings on a similar impression but I always felt less shaken by his juxtapositions of Dresden and aliens and time travel maybe because I was never handed his books in school. It was Twain’s inversion of Homer’s old Greek myth that hit so hard, I think. Odysseus, the lone beacon of reason and civilisation, traversing his vast ocean of monstrous wilderness and drawing a curtain on the age of gods and giants looks down into the water to see the horrible reflection of a young boy and a runaway slave acting anything but civilised and beset on all sides by the nightmare of a society crumbling to pieces under the weight of the social lie. Scylla, Circe and Calypso can only watch as the new world sails right up to pass them by, but there on the banks of the Mississippi, the King and Duke, the Shepardson/Gangerford feud and the convenient fantasist outlook of Tom Sawyer all thrive in a sophisticated society dependent completely on exploitation and fear. The only sanctuary is the raft itself, where a person’s moral compass is within and the brotherhood of man only has a shot the further two disenfranchised souls can get from the shoreline.
The proposed re-edit of the book (not to say prohibition in some places) to remove words considered unpalatable today is both a Pandora’s box and an interesting reflection on a society where the question of racial inequality is so doggedly side-stepped that it asks the actual murder of black children by police before anyone thinks to discuss it. To dwell on a detail like this is to miss the whole point. Homer’s myth chronicles the march of intellect and logic over chaos, Mark Twain’s children’s story records a civilisation’s descent into despair, corruption and scenes of officially endorsed public brutality of the kind we’ve grown familiar with on American news channels.
It’s a strange but common assumption that a book making these kinds of points ought to be impenetrable and scholarly. Literary social critics are so often at pains to come over wounded, isolated against their society down to their biology. What I like about Mark Twain is his ease within it while remaining at odds. I’d venture only someone graced with an outlook like his could have turned out a book as complete.

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Anne Cunningham on her Relationship with Poetry

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Poetry has waned somewhat in its importance for me in the last year or so,  and I’m the poorer for it.  Perhaps it’s because of my father’s sudden death late in 2013, perhaps it’s the “running to stand still” process with which I wrestle in order to meet the day. It’s more likely, though, that I’m submerged in a prolonged spell of grief avoidance. That which cannot be named can always take a back seat, while the spuds have to be peeled or the school uniform needs washing the dog has to be walked.  Can’t it?

And yet it is in poetry – the poetry of others, I hasten to add – that I have found those words which prompt me to exclaim “Aha! There it is! That’s what I’ve always thought, too – wish I’d said it like that!” It is in poetry that I’ve discovered words for love, for anger, for disdain, for bliss. But I shudder to think of exploring the poetry of loss.

Who hasn’t turned to Yeats in the first flush of yet another bout of “true love”? Who hasn’t thought of spreading their dreams underneath another’s feet, and who hasn’t asked the love object to tread softly, having them stomping all over our dreams?  But of course love isn’t the only song that poetry sings.

As the centenary commemorations of WW1 rumble on, the voices of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon come back to haunt us, describing military battle as “…obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud”. Lest we forget, everyone keeps saying. But we did forget, of course. We keep forgetting, again and again, and we keep imposing military “solutions” on questions which cannot be answered by might and force.

I can’t think back on my hectic single days, my own personal “Roaring Twenties” – and their abrupt ending – without thinking of Louis McNeice’s wonderful, sing-song  “Bagpipe Music”.  There’s something about what someone called its “tremendously exhilarating pessimism” that describes perfectly my youthful experience of a tired and depressed Dublin in the eighties.

And who hasn’t turned to the poetry of Leonard Cohen, albeit set to music, when rejection makes its inevitable call?  I remember the drink-addled fug of many a night, those delicious troughs of whiskey-sodden wallowing, with Laughing Lennie in the background, crooning about climbing a mountain “…to wash my eyelids in rain”.

Ultimately I must of course face grief instead of dodging it. But rather than listen to the platitudes of some well-meaning but misguided  therapist who would tell me that time heals everything,  I know instead I will return to poetry to find some dimension of consolation. Auden’s much-quoted “Funeral Blues” no longer fits the bill. I need to find poetry which explores the long-reverberating aftershocks of bereavement, rather than its immediate crippling impact.  And in the meantime, while walking the dog and mopping the floor, I can console myself with Patrick Kavanagh’s lines about unacknowledged sorrow, while “Every old man I see reminds me of my father”.