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Thomas Street Is Happening (just not today)

14 June 2006

To St Catherine's Park to do a reading for the Thomas Street Is Happening Festival. The brief is to read poems that in some way relate to this area, a project that appeals because I have written quite a few pieces set in this part of the city or in some way inspired by it. For years I lived opposite Christchurch Cathedral and now live down the road in the Tenters. I was, though, a bit wary about reading in St Catherine's Park. Park is probably a bit of an exaggeration; it is in fact the graveyard at the rear of St Catherine's Church in Thomas St, with the entrance in Thomas Court – not by any means a major thoroughfare. I used to drop in with the mutt to give him a bit of greenery until I realised it seemed to be used exclusively by dealers and users. I find it hard to visualise it being packed with poetry lovers on a Wednesday lunchtime. And indeed there is no-one in the park except for one of the organisers and two sound technicians who have brought an impressive bank of equipment in their Dublin City Council truck, which sits in the middle of the park, taking up about a third of it. The podium and mike are set up and waiting. It's five minutes after the advertised time and there's still no-one. A woman comes in and sits at the other end of the park. This is briefly interpreted as the act of an audience member and there is the real possibility of delivering the reading to a single distant auditor, though the sound equipment will safely carry my voice all around the Liberties. The woman, however, proves not to have come in search of poetry and faced with the prospect of enduring some, promptly flees the park.

The users who were evicted when the sound men came to set are out there somewhere, waiting for us to leave. There is some talk of reading to the organiser, or reading, as it were, speculatively, in the hope that people in the area, magnetised by my amplified poems, will pour into the park. Em, don't think so. Eventually the effort is abandoned and the cheerful soundmen – 'it's all the same to us, we get paid anyway' – load up the truck, and we all drift off. Through Pimlico and The Coombe and back home. I close this dismal chapter in the freelance life with a couple of the poems I'd intended to read, a kind of compensatory virtual reading, both featuring Peter Lewis, proctor of Christchurch Cathedral in the mid sixteenth century, some of whose words I've taken from the account ledger he left us.

After a Day in the History of the City

What vagabond bones
and you, too, Ivar the Boneless,
come together now
stench of what plagues
thriving again
and everywhere one turns
places of execution

Who should not prefer
to cross the river
and walk in procession
down the aisle of his own cathedral
with Samuel
Metropolitan of Oxmantown
wanting nothing from him but his title

or say, with Peter Lewis, cathedral proctor
Today came with his men Tady the hellier
to renew the slates
after the heavy snows of Christmas and the frost

(Selected Poems, Gallery Press, 2005)


I dyd byllyd and pyllyd with oke timber
I fyllyd hit the foundacion with roche lyme
The masons paid, the carters paid
the smith, the cooper, the casters of sand

What I really wanted was to stand
for once empty handed
by the vanishing spires and the bells
beautifully dumb, pealing quiet

as we waited, the world rinsed out of us
Stone by stone the city returned
these streets mapped by desire
the light that seemed to flare

from our own skin to press
the district towards us.
As if in a small rain of touch
we stood, and watched it grow

I leaned towards you, provoking
a dark bricked brewery palazzo
you kissed me and caused
black tramlines to loop and veer

When you stopped, they disappeared
So greedy the desire
the whole place seemed to fall
and my spirit, that had been light, was air

(Selected Poems, Gallery Press, 2005)


Paula Meehan said…
From the Department of Surreal Readings

Sometime in the early nineties Ivor Browne asked a group of poets to read on midsummer's day in the grounds of St Brendan's Psychiatric Hospital Grangegorman. It was an open day to encourage the local community to come in and to allay some of the fears and misconceptions around the institution we as children called The Puzzle Factory. There were art and craft exhibitions, the Garda Band, the Singing Jukebox (Suzi Kennedy) face painting, etc. It was a day of high winds and high clouds and high good humour. Luckily. Early afternoon a voice over the tannoy: All poets to the carpark please. All poets to the carpark.

There was a chipvan in the carpark, a few plastic tables and chairs, a handful of mothers with babies and toddlers and chips mashed in to the tarmac. There was a lot of screechy feedback as the wind whistled through from the one solitary mike standing in the middle of the carpark surrounded by empty chairs.

We drew straws. Sitting among the mothers waiting my turn to go on I heard — "Ah sure god love them, it must be part of their therapy."
The Cat Flap said…
I love that story, Paula!

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