You can tell this is for serious writers: the apostrophe is in the right place.
I’ve enrolled for a workshop, "Advanced Poetry" with Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill.
I might be a bit of a fraud in such company. What will the others be like, in the group of 15? Will they scoff at my poems? Everyone was asked to send Nuala two poems in advance, so that she might see who was coming.
Next… I got a phonecall asking me to bring three long poems, or six short ones, for discussion at the workshop - and 16 copies of each. The workshop is over three days, Thursday to Saturday. For me, this is a real journey into the unknown. Nuala is well-known and successful. I imagine all the others will be familiar with her work.
So far, I’ve read: Feis Radharc o Chaban tSile Titim i nGra An Bhatrail Four poems from her collection "The Astrakhan Cloak". But it’s Paul Muldoon’s translations into English I’ve read. So, you might say, I’ve never read a poem by Nuala. (Peculiarly, the collection title is in English, without an Irish translation.)
I expect this workshop will change me irrevocably. If it doesn’t, I’ll have paid a lot for a little: three days of my time are worth a lot to me. (The fee isn’t that much.)
What follows is mainly for those of you who are interested in poetry. I’m going to take one short poem and comment on it, as I go down through it. This is my way of engaging with Nuala’s work before meeting her. I’m putting down a marker, so that I’ll have something to look back on after the workshop, something to help me see how far I’ve moved.
So I’ll pick a poem which is no more than sonnet length: "My Two Lughs"
It begins: "My two latterday charioteers… my mercurial" and I’m hooked. Normally I hate multi-syllabled words; I look for short ones with punch. But ‘latterday’ conjures up the church of latterday saints. ‘charioteer’ and ‘mercurial’ go well together; all the classical world in a couple of words. I feel I’m about to be taken on a journey.
What’s coming next? "airline pilots… you’ve come to find the dark dancing girl" I wasn’t expecting such a rapid tranfer back to the modern world of airlines. ‘dark dancing girl’: is the girl dark? is the dancing dark? I thought poets were meant to make it clear what they meant? But, no. I didn’t think that. I think the poet is there to open up the reader to new worlds: what the poet means is one thing, what the poet achieves is another. Of course, there’s a Rosheen Dubh hanging round here.
Read on… "who was snatched from you by cruel Chinese, by a gloomy band" I wonder if this is on two lines because the page is too short for it? And there is no full stop so there must be more to this. Are we in the world of triads and transportation of women round the world for sex? This is getting rather political, a long way now from the classical - although, wasn’t the story of Troy all about the abduction of Helen?
a new stanza begins. This is something I’d like to develop my thinking about: how you decide when one stanza stops and another begins. How you determine the form of the poem: whether it is best in cuplets, quatraines (four liners, I think), 8-liners or whatever? I think this is an inexact science and it all depends on what the poet wants the reader to see on the page. I like thinking about the physicality of the poem, its ruddy appearance.
"of guerrillas or some such terrorist-troop. I’ll do my level best to ferry her out of the theatre to you: you’ll once again loop the loop"
Why the ’some such’: what’d the role of those words. They seem to be a timing devise, a way of controlling the pace of the poem and maybe also linking to colloquial speech. Someone would say ’some such…’
I love the phrase: ‘I’ll do my level best to ferry her out of the theatre to you’. I immediately was transported into the world of the arts theatre which seemed completely out of place, until I got the association with theatre of war and then I was in two theatres at the same time: this is what I love about poetry.
"through the highest reaches of the stratosphere" end of stanza two. A full stop. A resting place, a ledge on which I can sit and look back over the poem so far and also look out into the rest of the journey the poem offers.
It is time for a rest and I am not going to do the last stanza because this is already too long and I have got just what I want already. To go on would be overkill.
Nuala has taken me on a journey through my memory of the classical world that I read about as a young boy. I remember reading some book about Mars and Mercury, Venus and Apollo and all the gangs of gods..The classical world has never left me. Just as the Tain has never gone far: all that blood in the river and the two bulls.
She has taken me to the jungles of VietNam where I first found the word guerrilla and now I know how to spell it, at last. Onwards to the modern time of people trafficking. And all the time the association with the theatrical live is there, reminding me that I was on the stage myself last week and I haven’t yet written about that.
The last stanza probably contains the revelation, the punch lines, but I don’t need those lines now. I have enough for this morning.
The questions I get from this expotition…
what is the balance to be struck between the exact and the colloquial?
isn’t timing everything?
isn’t the poet responsible for everything in the same way the painter and photographer is?
Isn’t a poem a constructed image? an essay into the collective unconsciousness and the particular unconsciousness of the mercurial reader?
Isn’t poetry a wonderful excuse for a journey over rich lands both outside the body and within the mind?
Isn’t it a great excuse for practising the art of thinking in images, including the impression on the page of the lain-down words.
How many associations does the poet want running at the same time?
Given that the poet has no control over the reader, how should this influence the poet and the poem?
What is the difference between the poet and the poem?
Has Nuala changed so much as a writer since 1992, that the one book I have of her stuff is hopelessly out of date with her current ideas?
I wonder what the others at the workshop will say?
I wonder if anyone has read down this far because we are now in the entrails. You’ll have to find you own way back Omaniblog.
You’ve led yourself down here.