Listen & Surprise! A Multimedia Creative Challenge for Poetry Day Ireland 26 April 2018!
Poetry Day Ireland 26 April 2018 “Mortals speak in so far as they listen.” (Martin Heidegger: Poetry, Language, Thought) When asked to suggest a project for Poetry Day, I instantly thought of something to do with listening. I don’t think I’m always the best listener myself. That is, I have to absolutely focus in order […]
Poetry Day Ireland 26 April 2018
“Mortals speak in so far as they listen.”
(Martin Heidegger: Poetry, Language, Thought)
When asked to suggest a project for Poetry Day, I instantly thought of something to do with listening. I don’t think I’m always the best listener myself. That is, I have to absolutely focus in order to properly get the message. What is hearing? Sound has been described as “a mechanical disturbance in a medium.” To be enormously simplistic about an enormously complex matter, sound is a vibration that impacts not just on the ear but on the entire body. Sound, as we listen, locates us in space. In relation to language, the dynamic becomes even more complex, because we are trying to grasp the meaning of the words in the presence of tone, pitch, accent, rhythm, emphasis, and visual elements like faces and bodies. Publish the language in type and we’re listening internally, which also has a vibrational aspect and introduces further complexities of meaning.
These are fundamental poetic issues. Poetry wants to convey experience in language that in some way reproduces it. The form represents the sense. Because it’s language, we often think of poetry as being concerned with sound, and it is, but it’s also concerned with all the various visual aspects of the text, as well as all the possibilities of meaning, so while we’re sounding it in our heads, we’re also invited to be aware of how it’s physically presented, and of the threads of thought we can pick up and pursue.
“Sometimes an interlocutor’s voice strikes us more than the content of his discourse . . .”
One of the most famous moments in the history of text occurred in the fourth century CE, as recorded by St Augustine in his Confessions (clerics then comprising the bulk of the literate population):
“When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.”
Up to then, writing was considered supplementary to the voice, so it was normal to say the words aloud as you read. While this isn’t the case anymore, I think that to read well is to feel the vibrational implications of the text, and this involves a kind of organic involvement, an openness to some sort of change.
“Hearing is a physiological phenomenon; listening is a psychological act.”
“The voice, in relation to listening, is like writing . . . on blank paper.”
(Roland Barthes with Roland Havas: “Listening”)
Bernadette McKenna, the Irish actress, thought of acting as reacting, so at her first audition she chose a part in which she had to repeat the single word “yes” in different ways, reacting to another character’s unheard words. I feel similarly about writing: it’s fundamentally a response to aspects of the environment. Stephen King has described writing as something like possession. This isn’t the same as abandonment; it’s more like absolute attention, and the “possessor” is usually conglomerate—events, concepts, form, style, medium, purpose etc.
Most of the time, we place barriers between ourselves and the various forms of communication that surround us, understandably in contemporary society, as there’s so much sound and so much information of all kinds coming at us. With poetry, however, the only barrier we should erect is that which allows us to pay attention to its details and potentials. Of course, not all poems are worth the effort, but that becomes obvious straight away. Some poems can keep you happy for years. Look at Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich, Dylan Thomas, John Ashbery . . .
So. To the Fingal Libraries project for Poetry Day Ireland 2018. I chose poems in both languages and in various styles, to appeal to as wide a range of tastes as possible. I guarantee that they’re worth the effort and welcome any claims to the contrary! The invitation is to listen and respond. Usually, library call-outs are avidly taken up by schools, which is most welcome, but I’m conscious of the fact that adults are often side-lined when it comes to play and experimentation. This invitation is, literally, for everyone. You may respond as a reader/listener or an artist, or both. Artists are always both. Creativity is always both.
A brief word on the poems. Bernard O’Donoghue’s “Gerund” stuck with me after I read it. I find it sad, a kind of high tragedy, especially as I know the kind of person he’s describing very well. He/she is everywhere, under the radar. The poem is deceptively simple, playing with language and syntax in various ways that resonate with Latin and learning. I chose Eavan Boland’s poem for its strong visual content and historical intensity. There are many paths to follow within it and leading out of it. Leontia Flynn’s “Perl Poem” is for the future, but resonating with the past (hint: search for “Perle poem” or “Pearl poem”), and recognising code as the hidden language behind so much of our daily communication. Christodoulos Makris takes this a stage further with his “chance” poem. The text is spontaneously created by a piece of code which comprises a widget. The widget causes all tweets containing the word “chance” to appear on the designated web page. So, the poem is the code plus the constantly changing result of the code. A kind of cyber-literary genetics!
Enda Coyle-Greene’s poem is mysterious and always departing, shape-defying and utterly shapely at the same time; an intermingling of language with the things it describes. Gearóid MacLochlainn has given us a moment full of all the sense impressions delivered by sound, but with the initial silence as a powerful framing device. One thinks of John Cage’s composition. Then the final, opposite border or horizon—speech, equivalent to light.
For children, I chose the poems for their sensual exuberance, tangibility and expansiveness. Look for the wordplay in the last stanza of Kerry Hardie’s “The Great Blue Whale,” and the way in which, by deft strokes, the whale becomes human artefact and land-based structure, among other things. Patrick Chapman’s “Robot Kid” explores the very real potential of an operating cyber-consciousness that many children will relate to. An accidental page-opening brought me to Yeats’s lunar exploration of a cat whose eyes wax and wane. The cat’s name alone is one that could elicit much response. What does it mean? What would you like it to mean? Who called him by that name?
Of course “Ar an Seilf sa Leabharlann” had to be offered. Let’s think of that as a never-ending story. Again, “Bunoscionn” seemed a necessary inclusion, because of its intense engagement with sound. I’m very grateful to all of the poets for making their poems available for your creative response.
Caroline Bergvall describes her poetic method as “performance writing.” I think of mine as having to do with body-as-mind. These are just renewed terminologies with adapted methods for what has always been the essential brief of art—to respond to the environment, internally and externally, with disciplined symbolism. The ear has the mind’s speech, Charles Olsen said. Let speech have the ear’s mind.
Full details of how to take part in our Poetry Day Competition/ Celebration are on this page.
by Máighréad Medbh