Aengus Woods, co-Curator of IAC’s Poetry Fest, introduces Poets

 How it’s NY: New York was the subject of several poems, and two of the poets live in New York.

How it’s Irish: Two of the three poets are Irish, and although Saskia Hamilton says she’s Dutch in her navel, “there’s an O’Neill back there.”

New blogger, novelist/playwright Honor Molloy (look for her forthcoming Smarty Girl) attends some of IAC’s Poetry Fest this past weekend and finds

It was a feast of voices, accents, sense and sounds….Here we are, tucked in together on a sunny Saturday afternoon, language thrumming on the walls as we listen in the dark.

Listening in the Dark
Each day last week a poem arrived in my e-mail from the Irish Arts Center. I eagerly read the work of the poets included in IAC’s Poetry Fest 2011. Their words carried me far beyond my cubicle in corporate America. It was a rare week, and I thought of friends–writers, artists, theatricals–who’d love a certain poem. So I forwarded the pieces by Leanne O’Sullivan, Michael Longley, Dennis O’Driscoll, Thomas Kinsella to Sydney, Dublin, Sacramento, even the Flatiron Building at the bottom of the avenue.
Saturday afternoon’s session at the IAC featured Saskia Hamilton (filling in for Leanne O’Sullivan), David Wheatley and Nick Laird. It was a feast of voices, accents, sense and sounds.

Saskia Hamilton is a highly-awarded, former Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard who teaches at Barnard College. She read all new work from a collection-in-progress called Nightjar“like the bird,” she said. Dark-haired, casually dressed, she read with ease and authority. I was struck by the following images (quoting now from my notes) referred to in a poem called “Midsummer Rain”:

People standing outside a bar . . .

White shirts blossoming on the street . . .

Rain drives them back inside . . .
and by these random lines:

in a far field north of here

does your desk face the wall or the window?

which sound is in the fore?
“How quiet the room, listening, listening,” I scribbled. Here we are, tucked in together on a sunny Saturday afternoon, language thrumming on the walls as we listen in the dark.

With his mod hair and his dark clothing, David Wheatley might have been a hip schoolmaster or a mid-sixties pop star. His use of form (rhymes and near-rhymes and the feeling of balladry) and his subject matter (the natural world) are traditional. His genial nature and good humor set his work apart from its models. “I do like my creatures,” he said, and proved it by reading several poems about birds that were as light and darting and lovely as their subjects. Much delight was generated by a poem that answered, in one line, the question in its title:

Have You Seen This Cat?

Because it’s awesome!
His range is impressive and included a postcard poem, drinking songs, an homage to Philip Larkin and “Riptide” a piece about a Hawk jet zooming over a city dwelling, “the pilot shot free like a champagne cork”.
Wheatley lives, he says, between Ireland and England. This is true linguistically as well as geographically; he bridged the divide by reading one of his poems first in English and then in Irish and by reading two versions of the same poem, one with Irish references, and then again with British references.
Slim, boyish Nick Laird also teaches at Barnard. His poems draw upon a wealth of references (everything from John Masefield to Inspector Gadget) and sources. A poet can find a poem anywhere, even in graffiti on a library carrel–which is where Laird found the basis for his opener, an amusing riff on the mysterious “Alan”. The poem has hidden depths. “Alan” mutates into a God-like–or Godot-like–figure, the subject of increasingly frenzied speculation.

Several love poems came next, including one for Maud, his pug dog. “Pugs are a cross between E.T. and an Ewok,” he said. “You’re not supposed to buy them because they can’t breathe properly.

He closed with the luminous “The Evening Forecast For The Region”, a poem about “insomnia and the gaps the mind makes when you can’t sleep”:
The weatherman for Boston ponders whether, I’d bet not,
the snowstorm coming north will come to town tonight [. . .]

Everyone on earth is sleeping. I am the keel-scrape

beneath their tidal breathing which is shifting down through tempo to the
waveform of the sea. The gathered even draw and lift of air.

Further east a blizzard of homogenous decisions breathes above the folding and unfolding pane and counterpane of waves

as if the white so loves the world it tries to make a map of it, exact and blank to
start again, but the sea will not stay under it.

The ricepaper wafers are melting. Millions of babynails cling to the wind lifting
hoarsely off the Atlantic. The whole thing

is mesmeric. For hours the snow will fall like rhythm.
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