Feature Articles


(Poetry Ireland News, May/June 2004)

As it was in the beginning so shall it always be - there are many poets, many alleged poets, many poets who could be better, and many poets who need more practice at being poets.

Then there is the audience, who hunger and thirst for a poetry that is true, laced with angst, humanity, spirituality and indeed humour.

The playwright Tom Murphy points out: Writers do not choose to become writers, it is more a case the profession chooses them. If this is true, who are those rejected and why? Is it possible they may somehow reject themselves, the unfinished creation without the stamina and endurance to stay the course; or perhaps without the excitement of real talent to juice the literary creative engine? But with so many obstacles who can blame them? Even the greatest yearn to give up, temporarily run away, yet return with another layer of resilience applied to their literary skin.

I can recall - in another lifetime, or so it seems - being in the audience at a writers' conference in Marin College, Marin County, California, the summer of 1969. The guest writers and poets included William Stanford, James Dickie and Richard Brautigan. It was a well-attended gathering complete with readings by the writers. In his contribution, William Stanford alluded to the concentration of time invested in the writing of a poem, followed by a kind of trance-like state on completion - the same state enjoyed by the audience while we listened. Aware - as I was - from their own literary experiments in reading and writing, the audience connected with the total validity of the idea.

The same trance-like quality is present at most good poetry readings, and is never more discernible than at the Bank of Ireland Out to Lunch readings. Particularly when the poet is not a self-styled egotist, milking and manipulating the gallery for applause.

If it is true some poets possess better sensibilities than others, it is also likely that they are better poets. Generous of thought and soul, they gladly open up the worlds of wonder and discovery which they've found in their diggings and excavations. Mostly they want to share and invite the audience and readers into these worlds they've worked so hard to create. Yet the less well-endowed sensibilities still hoard and thriftily add the 'ha'pence to the pence', rendering the reader and the audience bored, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, like a Scrooge refusing to pass out presents at the Orphanage Christmas party.

It is part of the emotional cannibalism current and ever-present in the new millennium, whereby the cannibals end up eating themselves. Yet a poem, like a song with a lift in the melody, can soar high above so much of the refuse tip of modern life.

So also can the entire family of poetry soar - even with family rows, feuds and vendettas. The entire mishmash of the sour and the sweet. If the clan of poets can regularly produce a high-class soufflé or superb pastry, then the entire kitchen of letters has not sweated in vain.

The editorial policy of the Out to Lunch series is to include, not exclude; cultural diversity is actively sought. To acquiesce towards a cozy Dublin literary cartel would be - poetic justice - the kiss of death for the readings, with no chance of a reprieve.

The standard is high in keeping with the number of gifted practitioners who inquire about the possibility of doing a reading; so also those who have a contribution to make are inquired after and invited to read. The Big Rule that takes priority over any small rules is that the show must go on. The Out to Lunch series is much more the audiences and the poets who go to create it than anything I might contribute; audience and poet in combination is the one indispensable factor.

The 'Johnny Ross' at the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre, Barry O'Kelly, is a boss not without a thespian and artistic soul himself. To his great credit as an innovator, it was at his behest the series began. I for my part am happy to learn a little more about people and poetry, for people are where art and poetry come from. I intend making my contribution for as long as I'm competent and have an ability to introduce quality poetry for poetry lovers.

This is the sixth year of the Out to Lunch series. It includes poets from Belfast, Sinéad Morrissey and Ruth Carr; Paul Murray from Newcastle, Co. Dublin; Tom McCarthy from Cork City; and younger poets such as Rachel Hegarty and Leanne O'Sullivan.

New talent must be allowed a platform, seasoned stagers must be given due accord - in both Irish and English. What is original and individual will always have a place at the Out to Lunch readings.

John McNamee has published many volumes of poems since his first book Flight was published in 1977. His most recent book, The Trophy & New Writings, was published in 2001, while a CD of the poet reading his work, entitled Out to Lunch, was released in 2003.

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