I first met Sarah Lundberg in Bowes Pub in Fleet Street in Dublin where her ‘Seven Towers’ company had been in Open Mic session for some weeks. There would be many changes of venue in subsequent years but her monthly ‘Last Wednesday’ would always be a fixture, presided over by Sarah and skillfully MC’d by Declan McLoughlin. It was here that many younger, and not a few of us older, poets and writers got a chance to float some new pieces and see how they sounded. And everyone was assured of a fair hearing. No heckling (although occasional shouts of praise were permitted!) and no going on and on and on, taking up more that the 7-10 minutes, a practice that afflicts so many of our city’s open mics. There was law and order and plenty of socialising, an aspect of the open mic that was never neglected by Sarah. She well understood that a writer’s life can often be a lonely life (not many ‘ordinary’, i.e., ‘sane’ people are prepared to discuss creative writing problems) and the monthly Seven Towers Wednesday Open Mics were great opportunities to talk with kindred spirits. As time went on, and through Sarah’s prodigious efforts, Seven Towers developed as a publishing imprint and as an event-organising company and many other things but it was the Last Wednesday Open Mic and its camaraderie and good humour that was always nearest her heart. She loved talk, laughter, cycling, good music, good writing … she really was our Sarah Sunflower who lit up our lives and we all miss her terribly. And always will.
Very sorry to hear that Dennis O’Driscoll has left us, and at the young age of 58. His work always appealed to me, because of its mixture of humour and seriousness. His regular contributions in the Poetry Ireland Review of ‘Pickings and Choosings’ , in which he listed out various ‘definitions’ of poetry, was always something I looked forward to reading. His ‘Stepping Stones’ book of interviews with Seamus Heaney is a fine examination of Heaney’s work and life and is eminently readable. Ar a dheis De go raibh a anam.
Mary Travers, of ‘Peter, Paul and Mary’ fame died last month, September 16th. This group shaped a lot of my poetic and musical and political outlooks. I remember how impressed I was with their ‘Album 1700’ LP which I bought hot off the press in 1967 when I was in my Leaving Certificate year and had very little ready cash. Of course I was really taken by John Denver’s ‘Leaving on Jet Plane’, but every track was great and the one that (for me) was absolutely revolutionary listening was ‘Whatshername’, a slow-moving, very poignant and, by turns, pathetic monologue from a middle aged man wondering about a girl he used to know and what became of her. At that time I was surprised at the form of the composition (written I think by Noel Stookey the ‘Paul’ in the group’ ) because it was absolutely nothing like the three-minute fomulaic compositions so common at the time, and which I loved very much– Hey! I was teenager! Now I realize that this was one of my first meetings with poetry. It is a marvellous composition. And now also, since I am now well past middle age, I can appreciate it from the resources of life-time experience. And isn’t this the very thing about good writing?– That it retains its power to move you, even after a lifetime? They were truly a great group and she was a great singer and a big influence on me and my attitudes to many things, including major themes like civil rights and war. I can hear her now in my head and I will go on hearing her as long as I live.
Ar a dheis De go raibh a hanam.