Monday, November 29, 2010

Brian Lynch and the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Competition

Brian Lynch, this year's (and last year's) Patrick Kavanagh adjudicator, does a fine job and isn't afraid to talk about the process. His introduction to the presentation on Friday was great. He said that from reading so many poems you get a snapshot of what the country is thinking. Last year the country was getting itself prepared for the death of the Celtic Tiger, this year he heard a lot of voices calling out from underneath the dead body of that coarse beast.

He also noted the continual influence of Kavanagh - phrases, themes etc. He gave the example of poet entrant Colm Keegan transforming Kavanagh's Stony grey soil lines to be relevant to a bleak drug-ridden suburb of Dublin.

Brian spoke of the process of narrowing the 130 or so entries down to three and deciding on a winner from those.

He mentioned that the Kavanagh Prize recognises promise. If it was just for promise alone, he said, Helena Nolan would have won. As it was she was awarded joint second prize. The other joint second place poet, Jim Maguire, had a high level of achievement and his poems showed a deep understanding of music as well as of poetry.

As to the winner, he said promise and achievement were there and more. One extra she had was an extraordinary story. The first poem in her collection described being questioned by Guards at the age of 5. Years in an orphanage followed before she eventually went to the USA where she has a successful university career. However the poems which come out of that experience contain no self-pity, are objective, measured, full of energy and emotion. The prize is for the poetry not the pity. The winner, Connie Roberts, went in to the language and came out with great poems.

Jim Maguire read Zen Garden Dream and Weather. The latter references the BBC Shipping Forecast with its mesmeric list of sea areas but does so in a very effective low-key way. It also has a wonderful picture of a father keeping vigil beside a child's sick bed.

Helena Nolan read My Mappa Mundi, based on the idea of dressing oneself in a map which had personal references to the past and the future and followed it with Sunday Miscellany which was based on a Sunday morning memory of her parents. Gussets is a lovely word to use in a poem. Her entry was entitled Kissing the Ceiling and she finished with the impressive title poem.

Connie Roberts started by reading Austin Clarke's 1953 Simple Tale about children being taken into industrial school. She then read three of her own: Bethlehem inspired by a photograph of a 1970's orphanage nativity scene; Omphalos (navel, centre of the world) With nods to Heaney and Yeats she tells of her omphalos - a "pigeon grey orphanage yard". She finished with a sonnet, Cupboard, about a Lucille Ball doll confiscated and lost forever to the orphanage cupboard.

The whole event worked very well, Brian's introduction whetted our appetite for each poet's work and their readings were exemplary - varied, clear, well chosen and well introduced poems. Well done all!


Brigid said...

I enjoyed reading your account of the poetry night, Michael, congrats to all the winners and a very special (if a little bit biased) congratulations to Helena Nolan who I have known since we were 17 year olds and she was as full of 'promise' then as she is today.

BarbaraS said...

Enjoyed that, Michael. I was to go on Friday, but couldn't get out in the end - babysitter problems. It's nice to read what the judge had to say and how he came to his decisions.

Anonymous said...

Nice to meet up in Inishkeen Michael. The whole weekend was magical, particulary John McArdle interview with Rita-Ann Higgins on Saturday.


Michael Farry said...

Yes Patricia, always a good week-end. I missed the interview though.

Connie Roberts said...

Michael, thank you so much for your terrific (& generous) accounts of the Patrick Kavanagh Weekend.

Again, heartiest congratulations to my fellow winners, Helena & Jim! (I know you read Michael's blog.)

I had a glorious five-days in Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan. The weather was bitterly cold, but the warmth of all the people I met--including your good selves--kept me nice and toasty!