Report on 2011 Festival by Niamh O’Mahony

Soundeye Festival of the Arts of the Word

Wednesday 1th July 2011

19.00 – 21.30: Tribute to Patrick Galvin

Thursday 14th July 2011

As the clock ticked towards 12:30 on Thursday July 14th it became clear that Soundeye 2011 would retain the conviviality and warmth that annually delays starts and perplexes timetables. While the city was the model of summer sunshine for the “Innovation in Irish Poetry” conference at University College Cork on Tuesday, Thursday morning saw a slight dip in temperatures and white-to-grey clouds interspersing the overarching blue. Festival goers gathered under the four stone columns at the front of Christchurch at the Triskel, around the bright book table inside and in Gulp’d cafe in anticipation of the first reading. It would be impossible to give any account of the week’s events without first attending to the venue itself however, so constitutive was it of the whole experience.

This years readings were hosted within the hallowed grounds of Christchurch, a medieval church renovated by Cork City Council and managed by the Triskel Arts Centre. The venue, replete with stained glass windows, pews, pillars, crypt and pulpit, was designed in neo-classical Georgian style and has all the semblances of a functioning place of worship save for the sound-desk occupying the last two pews on the left, and the large speakers and overhead lights framing the altar. Each dark wooden pew opens aisle-side with a swing door numbered in gold. Leaving coffee and conversation in the bright church grounds outside, it takes a while to adjust to the settled, shadowy darkness inside the church. Morning sessions showed off the greens and whites of the first floor stained glass windows against the dark wood floor and pews. The lowering sun filtered through ground floor during the afternoon, shifting shadows with pale purple and blue.  (http://www.triskelartscentre.ie/christchurch/onsitegallery.htm).

First to read was David Lloyd. Lloyd began with a translation of a poem by Alfred Arteaga to mark the poet’s passing in 2008.  A Chicano poet, writer and scholar, Arteaga was instrumental in organising the Soundeye West festival at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles in 2007. Lloyd went on to read “Three Psalms for Lebanon” in acknowledgement of the religious setting. The text was written in protest against the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, and its language was said to reflect his own protestant upbringing in Dublin in the 1950s while also drawing on the imagery of the Old Testament. The poem that followed articulated an imagined encounter between Paul Celan and Mahmoud Darwish. The idea for the poem developed from the concurrence Lloyd noted between translations of Celan and Darwish’s poetry. His own poem set texts such as Darwish’s “A Cloud in my Hands” in conversation with Celan’s oeuvre to assert the aesthetic significance of recent critical assertion of Darwish’s actual borrowings of words and phrases from Celan’s poems.

Such mediation of subjectivity is carried on through poems such as “Vega,” published with Mindmade Books, and Lloyd moves on to read poems such as “Second Quartet,” “Prism” and “Kodalith,” a poem Lloyd describes as a work in progress though he admits to being unsure of its eventual destination.

Trevor Joyce was next to read, beginning with a “Capital Accounts,” a translation of a poem by the Chinese poet Lu Zhaolin which appears in Joyce’s What’s In Store. The arched vowels and clipped consonants of Joyce’s reading along with a forceful pace and rhythm imbue these poems a melodiousquality. He read several poems modelled on the 36-word constraint from What’s in Store. Joyce’s reading balanced humour with critical astuteness with the short concluding poems often starkly rhetorical, either directly inculcating the audience with the plaintive “All we ask is two minutes of your time” or a placatory “isn’t that better now?”

Keith Tuma followed Joyce, taking to the microphone to explain that he will begin with sections from two or three new projects he is working on, and will conclude with “Holiday in Tikrit” to be performed with Justin Katko for only the second time ever. The biting satire of Joyce’s latter poems gained an even sharper edge in Tuma’s performance. Pop culture infiltrates a number of the earlier poems before he moves on to read a series of 35-word poems inspired by Joyce’s 36-word constraints dedicated to Joyce himself. These short texts have a wide frame of reference, from Bono and Spiderman to Lee “Scratch” Perry and Sam Amidon, while taking as a second constraint that peculiarly American phenomenon of the two-word put down which together grants them the provisional title of “The ‘fuck that’ series.” “Holiday in Tikrit,” co-written and co-performed with Justin Katko, was emphatic in setting any remaining behavioural or social norms of the church surroundings into tailspin from which it would not recover.

John James was up next, reading from his Collected published with Salt in 2009. The second poem, “Local” is a homage to Paddy Galvin and set a soft, warm tone inflected with self deprecation and humour. The following poems, some drawing from James’ newest collection, from Equipage, juxtapose a resounding, assertive tone with more tentative, propositions, often undercut by humour. This contrast is made clear in one of the newer poems where the profundity of the political dialectic between English and French is disrupted with the warning, “Never trust a body builder.”

Gerry Loose began and ended his reading with contemporary poems-in-progress, while the middle section was taken up with poems from his latest collection, That Person Himself published with Shearsman in 2009, along with some older work. Geopolitics was a presiding theme in Loose’s selection. During the reading, he explains how each lyric of his latest selection is split in two, with the second section a commentary on the first.

Matthew Sweeney began by reading, “The Bells” from The Bridal Suite, a poem read in recognition of the Cloynes Report during the week of the festival.  He went on to read “The Doors” from Black Moon and “The Tunnel” from Selected Poems among other poems.

It was during Sweeney’s reading that the sheer diversity of voices at Soundeye 2011 became apparent. Hearing and seeing so many readings over the course of the festival transmutes the traditional experience of reading; the page usually mediating between eye and ear is replaced by the poet’s voice as the sole medium of register. While there is a certain strain for an audience leaning so heavily on the voice, that same pressure vitiates latent rhythms and patterns of intonation within the poems themselves. Charles Altieri describes the contingency of a poem, which is extended through performance, as “less a matter of circumstance per se than of how one can possess specific sentences by investing in what they bind us to” (Postmodernisms Now, 123). There are, invariably, a range of responses regarding what the “sentences” of a poem bind us to, and yet reading these poems aloud extends the remit of such investments by carrying the possible contingencies of intonation and tone of the voice.

Black Sun. Thursday evening saw Black Sun takeover Soundeye. Black Sun curator and DJ extraordinaire Vicky Langan was in charge for the evening, putting together a staggering show that included performances by Adam Bohman, Wölflinge (Vicky Langan) and First Blood Part II, along with short readings by Peter Manson, cris cheek and Steve McCaffery among others. Exhilarations included McCaffery’s performance Carnival and Peter Manson’s read of two poems from Gerald Manley Hopkins. Bohman’s set invited the audience to occupy a position of discomfort that gave more than it took while recognising such occupancy by the audience as a matter of trust; trusting in the performer both in terms of the work itself and of the experience of watching it. In conversation at Black Sun, Aodán McArdle spoke of the obligation of an audience to invest in the performer they see before them, to trust that there is intent or motivation to the act, even it is only iterability itself. With the proper attention, such attribution of trust is perhaps more revealing regarding performances that were not immediately accessible because such acts require internal and external reflection; internal so as to get a perspective on personal disinclination towards it, and external to work out whether it might actually be that everybody else is wrong!

Attending this year’s festival in the sole capacity of an audience member, trust became a presiding feature of my own experience because, irrespective of whatever does or does not happen, the performance cannot be undone.

Steve Willey shared the Friday morning slot with Scott Thurston and Sam Walton, and wasfirst to read. Willey and Tessa Whitehouse read his new poem, “Signals” together, sitting back-to-back on stage. The poem progresses as a fusion of extracts from the “Al-Khaliil/Hebron Update: July 2009” by the Christian Peace Makers, and what read like letters written in a language of intimacy and abstraction. As the poem develops, the dialogue gains in strength what it loses in syntax, rupturing semantics at the impossibility of communicating or reporting violence. Together, the seating arrangement and the dual voices reconfigure the dynamic between stage and audience, orienting the audience into a profoundly uncomfortable position of being both within and external to the conflict at hand.

Samantha Walton took to the stage for a reading based largely around a recent collection City Break Weekend Songs published with Critical Documents under the name of “Posie Rider.”  The deft curls and turns of Walton’s poetic line are set off spinning by warnings and reflections which disrupt taxonomies of language and lend her poems a particular energy and vigour. Walton finds a rhythm of syntax that sometimes leads and sometimes follows and consolidates the agency of the works themselves so that they always surprise.

Scott Thurston began his reading by acknowledging Marianne Morris and her place on the original line up by reading from her recently published collection, Commitment (Critical Documents). Going on to present poems from three of his Shearsman books, he included three from the first section of Momentum, and concluded with some newer, unpublished work. It was during Scott’s performance that the rain finally broke over Cork city. The distant thrum on rooves and windows diffracting a certain slant of light made Christchurch a smaller, safer place for Scott’s poetry so attentive to the internal rhythms of language.

MISSED: Friday 15th July 2011

15.00-16.00: cris cheek, Randolph Healy, Karen McCormack

Late: Cous Cous, Cork County Cricket Club

This years Cous Cous evening was hosted by Jimmy Cummins in place of its founder, Mairéad Byrne, who could not attend. Leaving the Christchurch pews behind, the poets trooped westwards from the Triskel, out to the Cork County Cricket Grounds. The readings took place in the clubhouse facing onto the cricket field, on which only one poet took a lap. The cosy room, bright walls and pub next door warmed the atmosphere by degrees, and the large turnout meant that many were standing or sitting on the floor by the time Geoff Squires stood for the first reading of the evening. There were, as ever, a myriad of diverse voices and texts. Poets I remember reading on the night include Jimmy Cummins, Sarah Hayden, Tessa Whitehouse, Graham Allen, Aodán McArdle, Gerry Murphy, Mark Weiss, cris cheek, Mark O’Leary, David Toms, Laura Kilbride, Geoff Squires and Sarah Deniz Akant.

Jimmy, if I remember, read new lines which extended the rhetorical dexterity of Warbler along the horizontal axis such that the resonance was as loud across one line as it was down through the length of the poem. Sarah Hayden’s Picabia translations were refined tracings of aesthetic fissure, while I am grateful for her final poem which introduced “fizzy” to my emotional lexicon. Graham Allen’s reading brought the fore the question of poetry as generating knowledge, or, more importantly, ways of knowing, that are not empirical. Aodán McArdle gave a memorable performance, crossing and re-crossing the room while reading and thus reorienting audience attention from the head to the body of the room. Tessa Whitehouse seemed to forge space as she read, reaching within and between words and lines to open up possibilities for language and communication. The remaining poets are listed because their performances were generous and presented something not yet heard, but I would need text and time to attempt explanations that were any way adequate to all involved.

Saturday 16th July 2011

Rachel Warriner read first on Saturday morning. The main text of Warriner’s reading was “Eleven Days,” a new publication fresh off the Runamok presses and available for purchase here (http://runamokpress.blogspot.com/) – an investment for your investments. Among the poem’s most necessary and affective passages are:

we sign on remote

to the best party in Dublin

on the day that the

injurious mother-fuckers

walked in

with economic

wish fulfilment

playing in their ears

It is possible to consider a poem, this poem perhaps, as a performance of contingency both in its constitution on the page and in what it yields in critical engagement, though these may amount to the same thing.  If, as for Altieri, contingency is less a matter of circumstance per se than of how one can possess specific sentences by investing in what they bind us to,” “Eleven Days” presents a profound possibility of possessal and investment to those who “stand|furrowed and unwhelmed.”

Reitha Pattison was up next, reading from her latest collection published this year by Grasp Press. Some Fables is made up of books one and two, each book containing ten distinct parts of between nine and twelve lines. After her reading, the poet commented that the collection was written in response to common fables, an indeed it quotes from The Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine. The reading was measured and poised, mirroring the didacticism of traditional fables while also undermining it in lines such as “Providence is one solid thing, tight | Far-off agrarian work ethic another.” (1.1.8-9).

Jow Walton followed Reitha, and read from The Woman published by Department 2 in 2010. Walton’s reading was accompanied by a powerpoint display of photographs of poets, academics and poet-academics, many of whom were in attendance for Walton’s reading or had attended Soundeye in previous years. The vague sort of anxiety that had developed as I recognised that the photos were distracting me from Walton’s reading was suddenly undone in what was for me one of the best moments of the week. One Friday, he asked me to help him with his performance by shouting out the word “racoon” at the end of a given line. Just before he went on stage on Saturday morning, Sarah Hayden who was sitting next to me mentioned that her word was “badger,” so we waited and waited and when the Walton finally reached the designated line, there was a sudden roar with everybody yelling out a different word. It is believed that the original building of Christchurch took place around 1050, and in 961 year interim period, I can’t imagine that there were many, if any moments like the one Jow created in his reading.

Lunch in the Bodega for some of us after the mornings readings, then back to the Triskel for the third last  panel of Soundeye 2011: Jimmy Cummins, Justin Katko and Mark Weiss.

Jimmy Cummins was up first. He began by reading from origins of process, recently published with Randolph Healy’s Wild Honey Press, before moving on to some newer, uncollected pieces. It had been some since I last saw Jimmy read, and yet on account of our friendship he is the poet that I have heard read most often. Seeing the same poem performed in different places and at different times augments perceptions of the work itself and of the interaction between poem and performance. Over several readings, the poem replaced the poet as subject of the reading, and yet the development demonstrated in origins of process is that the listener is inculcated from the opening word.

It was Justin Katko’s piano playing that directed Patrice Reidy and me to the Bowett Room of Queens College, Cambridge for the Peter Gizzi/Jimmy Cummins reading in May 2010. Despite the fact that Katko not only played but also sang at that first meeting, it took me some time to work out why a grand piano was coaxed on-stage for the afternoon readings of Soundeye Saturday. At his opening poem I put my notebook aside, and watched poem and song explode the residues of religious ordinance as the building was reclaimed. The poet read “Rhyme Against the Internet” and “Wario Moped” and “a ‘Song City’ fragment” (thanks Jow), and sang from “The Death of Pringle.” Affirmative, optimistic and revitalizing are all appropriate responses that the poet will have heard before, however it was the hopefulness of this poetry and his willingness to risk it that was its lasting impression.

Peter Manson read first on Saturday evening. Manson began, like many others, by thanking the festival organisers for continuing to provide this place for poets and friends to gather, stating “I like it here.” The depth to which Manson is ensconced within his language, and the way he makes it move and moves with it is staggering; So staggering, in fact, that it took a lot of  sniggering and choked laughter from Trevor and Keith for me to realise that, at times, he also managed to make his poems hilariously funny. The first poem he read provoked humour and horror with the swiftest of turns in syntax and sense. To my ears, this poet forms a balance within language of rigor and grace, and distinguishes discrete rhythmic patterns from that balance. Occupying language, as Manson seems to, generates an acute awareness of, and engagement with, language that is simultaneously creative and attentive.

Steve McCaffery

Right then. The Steve McCaffery’s performance on Saturday developed some of the poetic propositions of his reading at Black Sun on Thursday night. The strongest feature of McCaffery’s poems on Saturday evening, for me at least, was the disarmament achieved through playfulness and vulnerability. This is one of the few readings on which I have no notes, where I stopped my scribbling so as to just be there and listen. Responding to McCaffery’s performance with no written record is difficult after more than a week’s passing, yet what I do remember of his performance was that I was happy to be there. Jow Walton describes Steve’s performance at Soundeye as “cerebral” “funny” and “weird” on his blog (http://sadpress.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/soundeye-saturday/), all descriptions that I would agree with wholeheartedly, though I would add ‘happy’ – “cerebral,” “funny,” “weird” and “happy.”

Alice Notley

The main focus of Notley’s reading Culture of One, published by Penguin in March this year. In her introduction, Notley sides with poetry as “the better form of narrative,” so Culture of One, then, is a poem of at least three distinct sets with the poem becoming increasingly complex and unsettling as it progresses. The narrative focuses on the character of “Marie,” who engages with the thousand-armed goddess of mercy and a group of evil teenage girls, along with Eve Love, the rock star and Tawny, a half-wild dog who dies mid way through the poem. Notley’s language, and particularly that of Marie, has the creeping effect of winding the listener into the contours of the poem, half willingly, half not. The Southwestern desert of America that provides a backdrop to the poem takes on gothic proportions through the course of this poem. Notley’s next collection is due out in November this year and suggests a continuation of the gothic theme with the title Songs and Stories of the Ghouls.

MISSED: Sunday 17th July 2011

Having addressed the location, the readings, the poems and performances, it is long past time to address the people that made Soundeye 2011. This convergence of poets and friends seemed to generate change through the sharing of ideas, a creaking development you might have heard if conversation had the chance to lull.

While walking in convoy from Christchurch to the Cricket Grounds, or filling the Triskel with words and sound, poetry dropped on streets and on corners, and the city was brighter for having you here.

“Perhaps there are times of inherent excellence;” Soundeye 2011 was surely one of those times.

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2 Responses to Report on 2011 Festival by Niamh O’Mahony

  1. Pingback: Report on the Sound Eye Festival « THE OTHER ROOM

  2. Pingback: Soundeye — Niamh O’Mahony « Sad Press

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