Does this make me… hardcore?

Kim Hyesoon

Last Friday I immersed myself in poetry read aloud at the Poetry Parnassus. It claims to be the UK’s largest ever gathering of poets. (Not including pubs surely?) At least one poet from every country competing in the 2012 London Olympics. It’s big.

So does even turning up make me an intellectual?

Let’s raise the stakes. I sat through repeated bouts of poetry, in Korean by South Korean poet Kim Hyesoon. So that’s Korean poetry in Korean. That must make me a hardcore intellectual.

She said, through a translator, that she’d only read short ones, the better for us to get the meaning in translation. She may need help with the translation of the word “short”.  I can tell you that she is very illustrious and pioneering and that it was an unrepeatable experience. Not to be repeated anyway.

Does that make me a philistine? (Though not in a Palestinian sense.)

Wole Soyinka thinking to himself: “Are two phones enough? Maybe I should get a third one just in case.”

Next up – Nigerian Nobel literature prize winner Wole Soyinka. I’ve read quite a bit of him. I’ve even seen him before. But the highlight of his performance was when a mobile phone started ringing during one of his readings – and the phone owner would NOT turn it off. It wasn’t until Wole came to the end of his poem that we discovered the culprit. It was Wole’s own phone ringing – conveniently amplified by the nearby microphone.

We laughed. He laughed. He turned it off. Then he took out his other phone and turned that off too.

The man has TWO phones!

So does having that as my Wole Soyinka highlight make me… trivial?

But who was the star?

Seamus Heaney by Zsuzsi Roboz.

It was the man whose name rhymes with famous. Irish Nobel litereature prize winner Seamus Heaney. Time is marching on, but he can still hold a room – even a room as huge as the Royal Festival Hall.

He gave us some more foreign language poetry. But this time it really was short and each word was a tasty mouthful. It wasn’t his own. The writer (or the inspiration?) was Raftery/Ó Raifteirí/Ó Reachtabhra. I got the poem here.

Is Mise Raifteirí an file,

Lán dúchais is grádh,

Le súile gan solas,

Le ciúnas gan crá.

Ag dul síar ar m’aistear

Le solas mo chroí

Fann agus tuirseach

Go deireadh mo shlí


Féach anois mé

Is mo chúl le bhfalla

Ag seinm ceoil

Do phócaí folamh.

Or in other words…

I am Raftery the poet,

Full of hope and love,

My eyes without sight,

My soul without torment,

Going westward on my journey

By the light of my heart,

Weary and tired

To the end of my road.

Behold me now

With my back to the wall

Playing songs

To empty pockets.

Seamus’s own poems featured a lot of digging, turf and trucks. We hear about cheeky coalmen, gracious Gloucestershire gardens and the turning into ashes of Magherafelt. A squat pen snuck in too. And you can hear a little of him yourself here.

So does having Seamus Heaney as my highlight make me… predictable?



Filed under poetry

22 responses to “Does this make me… hardcore?

  1. To answer your question: You are made of steel, Paul. If I had sat next to you we could have held hands and sweated through ‘short’ together.Which reminds me: I still haven’t watched “Lost in translation”. I trust it’s not ‘short’. Neither does poetry translate well.

    As far as I am concerned, and now you may wish not to hold hands with me any longer, Seamus Heaney could have recited Ireland’s entire telephone directory and I’d been spellbound. Though not quite as much as I was by Ted Hughes: His voice, his diction delicious.


    • blackwatertown

      Just having a moment thinking of Seamus Heaney reading through the Murphys. Much as I enjoy his work, I might not make it to the O’Neills.
      Good news about Lost In Translation – it’s a gentle strangely mesmerising watch.

  2. “Short was actually long; two phones, one ringing; foreign presentation … I dunno. I’m leaning toward the masterful work of Heaney by Zsuzsi Roboz.
    Blessings – Maxi

    • blackwatertown

      Hey – at least some of them put on a show. I’m not one for the monotone approach that some poets favour.

  3. It makes you an adventurer. I would not dare be anywhere near all that brain power!

    • blackwatertown

      I know. It’s hard for people around me being so close to genius.
      Oh, wait…
      You meant the poets on stage, not me.
      Anyway, moving swiftly on…

  4. I laughed when you said, “She may need help with the translation of the word ‘short.'”

  5. 29

    “She may need help etc”, I like that also. How diplomatic.
    Re the portrait of Seamus Heaney, I think that Zsuzsi has slimmed him down a little. Zsuzi, now there is a word for Scrabble ie if there were 2 zs and it were not a proper name.

    • blackwatertown

      I wonder about the slimming down aspect. He’s not a guy who is putting on weight on his face. He’s not looking as robust as when I last saw him at Westminster Abbey.

  6. You’re anything but predictable, Paul – I never know what to expect when I visit your blog. My husband has two cell phones, too, but that definitely does not make him a poet. Thanks for the link to the Seamus Heaney readings. Like Ursula, I could listen to his voice all day… It sounds like on the whole you enjoyed your time spent at the Poetry Parnassus.

    • blackwatertown

      I like that – definition of a poet – two cell phones.
      On the whole I did enjoy it. That area round London’s southbank is usually home to at least one fascinating event – often many.

  7. Hudson Howl

    I sit on the porch. Listen to bird songs from the birch and oaks. Watch the sun set behind the village church steeple. Then entertained by the dance of fireflys. Which makes me think. You may be hardcore. And I must be ‘what’? -soft core. A cell phone I have not. I fear my brain will go to mush. The truth is, these day the eyes and mind are more active then in the days of listening to Ondaatje read, or hanging with people who ran with Warhol. Names, places and events, all seems entertaining if one lives in the south end, the west bank or just downtown. That seems worlds away to one living on the fringe of nowhere.

    Hardcore you maybe, genuinely interested and curious, most certainly.

  8. I know you’re a hardcore intellectual. I know all about your secret stash of top-notch poetry. It’s funny, there are quite a few poets I used to adore when I was young but now they don’t impress me at all – like e e cummings. Either my standards have got higher or my brain is addled.

    • blackwatertown

      Shh! Don’t let on about my secret stash!
      I haven’t particularly forsaken any poets, but there are some bands with whom the thrill has gone.

  9. You brought me back you did to learning that exact same poem when I was far too young to appreciate it.
    Now “Do phócaí folamh” brings me to tears.

  10. You’re a better man than me… Or woman, you know what I mean. Having a wee snigger about the Korean poetry- sounds torturous but you brought it on yourself!

  11. Playing songs

    To empty pockets.

    I felt that way for the greater part of 33 years as a high school teacher.

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