On the cover of this book we read ‘Absolutely riveting’. It’s not. ‘A classic’. A classic what? ‘Terrific.’ As in ‘terrifying? or ‘Really good’? It’s neither. I had heard so much about it I thought yes I must read this. Very disappointing. OK, the murder tself was very odd, and the subsequent events only deepened the mystery. But it could be said of this narrative what a critic once said about another work: ‘The covers of this book are too far apart’… Mr Whicher is the detective who has his suspicions that he is not getting the truth out of people, and the case is certainly a peculiar, and interesting one (though not ‘riveting’) but the author is not content to stick to the case itself. We have to hear about other cases Mr Whicher was involved in, and at great length, and so by the time the digressions are finished, it’s time again to consult the list of characters to see who’s who as the narrative of ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ sputters into life again. There are also lots of digressions regarding life in Victorian Britain, which I found interesting because I have an interest in that period. But I wonder about people who are NOT so interested in Victorian Britan? There is also a lengthy treatment at the end of the book regarding how each of the family fared in later life, which, although interesting, is not relevant to the ostensible subject of the book. Not recommended.
I finally got my second collection out of my hair, first in Cassidy’s of Westmoreland Street (launched by Karl Parkinson) and then in Lucan Library (launched by Niamh Bagnell). And a big thank you to Seven Towers for publishing it. Seventysix poems. It’s been a long time since my first collection, ‘Dispatches & Recollections’ in 1998 and what kept me so long? I guess you musn’t be in the poetry-writing-publishing arena if you ask that question. If you are, you will know just how difficult it is to get your work in print. It’s not just because there are so many really good poets out there, which there are. Or because there are so few publishers– also true. It’s also such an effort to keep up the submissions and not be ground down by the rejections. And if anyone tells you that as time goes on one doesn’t mind rejections take it from me that that’s not true either! One just learns to absorb them and carry on regardless.
In fact I had a collection assembled about five years ago, and almost got to the publishing stage but (and I want to cut a long story short) things didn’t work out. I put a lot of work into preparing that collection and so I really could not psyche myself up to start submissions again until some time afterwards. Just about then I started going in to the Seven Towers open mic, which hadn’t been going very long. The atmosphere was welcoming and inclusive and, eventually, I submitted my book. Seven Towers lays emphasis on open mic performance poetry as well as less ‘dramatic’ page poetry. (In fact all poetry is performance poetry: think of John Donne). Since my work ‘straddles’ both ‘camps’ (such terrible categorising!), or more precisely, since my poetry works equally well in both ‘formats’, my submission was accepted. Much of the poetry published by Seven Towers grows out of its open mic and listed reading venues. From the first I was delighted with this and still am. This is the way to write. Write, read out, amend, read out again, amend again… Well, this is the way I write so I guess it’s too much to say it’s the way. In the final analysis, there’s not just one way. However, as far as I am concerned, one has to get the stuff out in front of an audience to be sure if it works, both for the audience AND the poet. I don’t believe that poetry is a solitary meditative exercise.
The poems cover a long period of time. One of them, ‘When I am become Again’ was published in 1980, but most of them are of much more recent date. Many of them stem directly from my Seven Towers readings (such as ‘OMIGOD: Not Another Newgrange Poem!) and have all the hallmarks of ‘performance’. Others, somewhat ‘quieter’ (‘Times I Hear of Lives Lost’) date from a time previous to Seven Towers, but are still indebted to that open mic for a little ‘fine-tuning’ here and there. Still others were ‘forged’ at Gerry McNamara’s ‘Write & Recite’ open mics and others at Delta O’Hara’s ‘SpyBar’ sessions. As you can see, the book has a rather ‘mongrel’ pedigree. And I’m proud of that.
I have been using the name ‘Seven Towers’ a lot in the above meanderings, but it all really comes down to individuals in the end and I must say particular thanks to Sarah Lundberg, Oran Ryan, and Ross Hattaway for their encouragement over the years. I should also mention Steve Conway, but I won’t because he is of a shy and retiring disposition and wouldn’t like to be singled out.And I could not possibly list all the other writers who have helped me in the 7T open mics. Everyone I heard showed me something I could use and I was not ashamed to steal it– like all true writers.
This reading was on the theme of ‘Dublin’ (it being so near ‘Bloomsday’ and all that) and Karl Parkinson led the way with a long poem ‘City’ poem (didn’t quite catch the title: think it was ‘Song of the City’) devoted to a warts-and-all portrait of our ancient town. As he said in his intro, there is not just one Dublin in his head but many. His poem was full of the people of Dublin, and the imagery mixed the beautiful with the ugly, the despairing with the hopeful. As one expects with Karl, it was all spell-binding, and even if it seemed at times as if the ‘warts’ were a bit too plentiful, one had to ask oneself why am I expecting some kind of sanitised cityscape? There are far too many uglinesses around for anyone to become complacent about our capital, and the disappearance
of the Celtic Tiger hasn’t helped. And far too many sleeping rough and begging in the streets. Bob Shakeshaft was next and, in a new departure, sang one of the lines in one of his poems. He also gave his ‘Molly’ poem about poverty and some new pieces. Like Karl, he wasn’t into ‘romaticising’ things. Neville Keary read on the theme of coming back to Dublin after an absence, and also had poems and prose shot through with a sense of Dublin’s history, reminding us for instance of ‘Narcissus’ Marsh who gave us that great library we Dubliners are all very proud of, even if we’re never in it. I liked to his remarks about ugly monuments and his parting remarks about Sean Lemass
who, he said, was one of Ireland’s great Irishmen. I agree. Bernie O’Reilly, the master (or mistress?) of the short poem gave us an idea of life on a housing estate in the 70s and several short poems including one with the absolutely fantastic lines: ‘…the black shoes sat on the counter/waiting for a pair of feet’. Great! Ross Hattaway read from his work for his new book ( tentatively entitled: ‘Pretending to be Dead’) and also that poem called ‘The Must’ (about elephants mating… Ross is a man of many parts!). Oran Ryan obliged with an excerpt from his novel ‘The Death of Finn’ and Eileen Keane gave a piece from a short story. I read a
few ‘Dublin-centred’ poems from my just now published book ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’ . I was a bit surprised to find there were so many in there that were heavily redolent of my native city and I do not know why I was. I think it was because this was the first time I had them in front of me all gathered together in the book. Weird experience. But a very enjoyable session in a very relaxed setting.