Sunday, July 25, 2004

Local poets and writers we've met so far (alive as opposed to long dead).

Clairr O'Connor

She is the best example of why they say the Irish are some of the warmest people on earth. It was only our second day in Dublin and when Denise and I came back from the Dunne's Store supermarket with our staples for the week, we found a nice note and letter from Clairr slipped under our apartment door at Botany Bay. Clairr was a friend of Stephanie Strickland and Stephanie must have alerted her of our presence in the city. The note said she would love to meet us and she suggested lunch the next day. She said she would be waiting for us at 12:30pm at Books Upstairs bookshop on Dame Street which was right across from the front gates of Trinity. Look for short hair and a blue scarf. Stephanie had mentioned that Clairr had recently struggled with breast cancer and that she may be somewhat weakened from all the treatment. We found the blue scarf and the big hug that came with it. A warm Irish welcome indeed! She then lead us up Dame St. and turned left just before Christ Church Cathedral to the building where her flat (apt) was located. In the flat which has an impressive view of the cathedral we met her husband Kevin who had prepared us a lovely lunch. Time flew by because "the craic was good" and we left nearly four hours later with a signed copy of her novel Love in Another Room (Marino Books, 1995) and a list of things to do and places to eat in Dublin. Clairr is also known as a playwright and a poet and she read us a moving poem about her experience battling this aggressive form of cancer. When this collection of her poems (tentatively, although, with much forethought, called Breast) is published in the future it will be a significant event not just for feminist literature but the whole of Irish poetry which has timidly stayed away from this subject matter.

Dennis O'Driscoll

Now, here is a man who does know quite a bit about the contemporary Irish poetry scene. He has been terrorizing the local poets with his piquant wit and ample irony as a reviewer at Poetry Ireland, TLS, and others for a few decades. We actually began corresponding by email long before we arrived because he had helped arrange a reading for us at the Poetry Ireland stage at 170 St. Stephen's Green on July 28. Three American Poets to be introduced by Dennis O'Driscoll is how it is billed. I believe we are quite fortunate to have Dennis introduce us Three Amigos to Dublin literati. Last Thursday Dennis was invited to Campbell's poetry class to give a talk and read a few poems. He assisted us in our understanding of the Irish literary tradition and provided us with a clear image of what literary challenges were ahead for Irish poets and writers. The point that stuck out to me was the issue of multiculturalism, not just in society but in the literature. With the recent enactment of a law (which many see as anti-immigrant) stating that Irish citizenship will be determined by "blood lines" and not place of birth, where do the people of color fit it, if at all? It takes an astute eye to be able to see these challenges and an able mind to begin dealing with the issues. I suspect the job(s) he's had since he was sixteen years old at the Customs House gives him a unique perspective on what comes in and out of Irish soil. Poetry being one of them. His own poems (he generously gave Denise and me signed copies of his poetry books which included: Exemplary Damages, 2002, Weather Permitting, 1999, and Long Story Short, 1993) are filled with wit and irony and I wanted to ask him a question about where he finds himself most comfortable in the ironic scale between the abyssmaly tragic and the hysterically comic. Then there's the poems with diseases in them. He did say he admired the poems of Miroslav Holub and that the Romanian poets of the 80's thought he was a long lost brother. But unlike the unrelenting tragic shadows cast by his Eastern European bretheren, Dennis is not afraid to be very funny in his poems. But behind the levity hides a deadly seriousness which has his arm around the shoulders of death. There they are, turning the corner on the cobble stones.