Image courtsey of Abby Oliviera
Hello Kit and welcome to writing.ie. Could you introduce yourself to the readers please?
Hello. How do you do? Thanks, Kate, for interviewing me.
How did you first get into poetry?
My dad used to say this rhyme: Spring is sprung / the grass is riz / I wonder where / the birdies is? I never got tired of that. I used to write poems to entertain my family, who were, fortunately, patient and easy to entertain. They didn’t get a VHS player until 1991, the standard was pretty low.
I’m interested to hear about the Mater Dei Institute of Education Irish Centre for Poetry Studies. What do you cover there and what courses are available?
We run an MA in Poetry Studies, which is one of only two such courses in Europe, the other being at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. It’s a course in the literary and cultural criticism of poetry. There’s no creative writing element, though a lot of the students are poets. At lots of universities now you can do a BA in English without studying any poetry at all. So we thought it was important as a counterbalance to of a poetry-centred course. It’s been really successful: we had full enrolment last year. I love teaching on those courses. I teach a formal-basics workshop – how to discuss sound, rhythm, form, rhyme, layout, line, all that, and then there is a module on lyric poetry, one module studying a single author (Elizabeth Bishop), and a module on the poetry of the last 10 years. There are optional modules on verse drama or the poetry of geography and travel. The students can also take an interdisciplinary module in Holocaust Studies. Then the students write a 15,000-word minor thesis. A lot of people opt to take the course part time – all the teaching is in the evening – one evening a week part time, or two full-time.
The Centre publishes a webjournal, POST, and runs a seminar series which is named in memory of the late John Devitt, Head of English at Mater Dei until 2006. A speaker is asked to give a short talk on a particular poem, and then discussion is opened to the floor. The seminars are open to the public. We also do one-off events and conferences. The last one was in June: we had academic papers in the morning, a collective reading of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems over lunch, and readings in the afternoon.
Why and how did you start up the Wurm im Apfel and why the name?
Well, a friend, Dylan Harris came to live in Dublin in 2007. Dylan and I had been regular attendees at the same poetry open mic in Cambridge in the late 1990s. We shared an interest in certain kinds of poetry: visual and concrete poetry, in which layout and typography carry the primary weight of meaning, sound poetry, which uses words primarily for aural quality, not for meaning. Poems that we more like pictures, poems that were more like music. I’d been to classes and lectures by J.H. Prynne, who wasn’t at all the offputting mandarin he’s often caricatured as, but an engaging avuncular personality who’d happily talk about Robert Creeley, or Frank O’Hara, or Montale, Auden, Wordsworth, or Blake, or field recordings of the folk music of Aberdeenshire. That made my reading of Prynne much easier, I think, though like most people I struggle with the more recent work.
Anyway, there wasn’t much of that sort of stuff in Ireland, it seemed. There was the Cork International Poetry conference, which became the Soundeye festival, but that, interesting as it always was, was an annual event. And there didn’t seem to be anything similar in Dublin. So Dylan and I egged each other on to organise a monthly event. We got a lot of help in the early stages from Aaron Copeland, who was the main brain behind Upstart, (www.upstart.ie), the recent art “election posters” project. Aaron’s brilliant: I don’t know anyone in Ireland right now who is so absolutely and self-effacingly committed to art. We called it Wurm im Apfel after this concrete poem by Reinhard Döhl:
The first event was in December 2008, with Maurice Scully and Annemarie Ní Churreáin. A year later we organised a festival, Wurmfest, which took place in what was then a very new, very raw-industrial-looking and very primitively-equipped Complex theatre in Smithfield. Lighting by desk lamp, toilets in the pizza restaurant next door, no heating. Everyone read in their overcoats. We gave one performer chilblains and another bronchitis. Everyone made jokes about concrete poetry and seems to remember it fondly. In 2010 Dylan moved to Paris, where he now runs Corrupt Press, so Wurm is just me now.
What do you think distinguishes Wurm im Apfel events from other spoken word events around Dublin?
It’s more closely focussed on poetry than any other regular event, I think: very occasionally there’s music, and last month (July 2011) Graham Tugwell and the Risky Proximity Players did their show; dramatised readings of Graham’s weird fiction. But mostly poetry. And because the focus is limited, I can – to an extent – keep up with what’s going on outside Ireland, and try to introduce audiences to poetry that they may not know about yet. More international poetry, poems that push and stretch our understanding of the art. Live poetry seems to me to have a natural overlap with performance art, and that can go places way beyond what people might think of as “performance poetry”. I find a lot of poetry just says stuff, and I want it to do stuff too.
What have you got coming up both for yourself and for WIA?
Lots! I’m hosting a spoken word tent at the Kilmainham Arts Festival on 27th August: it’s called The Field Hospital because we’ll be in the grounds of IMMA, the old Royal Hospital. We’ve got some great local and international artists performing there – the Poetry Chicks are coming down from Derry, and others coming from New York and Belgium. The show starts at 3 and goes on till 6pm. The festival is a fantastic free community event: dance, drama, music, comedy, theatre, kids’ events and visual arts.
On 8th September I’m organising the Irish launch of books by Aodán Mccardle and Maurice Scully. They’re being published by Veer Books, which is associated with Contemporary Poetics Research Centre at Birkbeck in London. (http://www.bbk.ac.uk/cprc/publications/veer-books) Maurice and Aodán will be joined by Stephen Mooney, who’s also involved with Veer: it’ll be great to get their list more of an Irish platform. That launch is at 8pm in Hello Operator, an acutely hip gallery (12 Rutland Place, Dublin 1. ) Free, with refreshments.
On 20th September at 8pm in the Loft Bookshop above the Twisted Pepper on Middle Abbey St., we’re welcoming Phil Hall, from Canada: his poetry comes out of this very deep consciousness of the politics and processes of labour – but it’s gone in unexpected formal directions. He’ll be supported by Kerrie O’Brien.
On 18th October Frances Presley is doing a reading for Wurm, again the Loft Bookshop at 8pm. I became interested in her work after reading the selection in Carrie Etter’s anthology Infinite Difference(Carrie read for Wurm in 2010, and introduced her reading with one of Presley’s poems, which you can hear here: http://wurmimapfeldublin.podomatic.com/player/web/2010-11-24T16_31_46-08_00 ) and that explores a sort of semi-bilingualism – Presley’s mother was Dutch, and so the language was always ambient for her, but she never learnt to speak it fluently – and then in these poems – “Learning Letters” – she goes back to an old primer, exploring inheritance and translation and sound.
Rob Brown at the Loft Bookshop has been great – the space is a good one for spoken word events, and I notice lots of people are doing stuff there. I think an independent bookshop culture is really vital for poetry and performance. It helps if there is coffee too, and the Twisted Pepper does good coffee.
I’ve also been putting together a package to crowdsource funding through fundit.ie – it’s a platform which advertises creative projects that need funding, and members of the public are invited to donate. You get a gift if you donate a certain amount: Wurm Press books, or a chance to commission a poem, in the case of Wurm’s application. If the project reaches target or exceeds it, the project gets the money, if not, not. That’ll be going live soon – I only need about 750 euro to run all the above, because I have armies of enthralled minions ready to obey my every command. Oh wait, no, I don’t. But we only need about 750 euro, so please, do come along and drop your mite into the coffer if you can. All Wurm events are free, and people give of time and energy really generously: I’m humbled by that, and would like to use the opportunity to say thanks.
What have you been reading recently that you can recommend?
Well, if I can plug Wurm Press shamelessly, I’ve been reading Christodoulos Makris’ first collectionSpitting out the Mother Tongue obsessively – proofing it! There was an afternoon back there when I knew those poems better than my own….I wrote a poem about that. And Dave Lordan’s book will be out in November. It’s had about twenty titles so far.
Old-skool stuff: D.H. Lawrence (geat poet, don’t know why people bother with the novels), the recentRichard Sieburth Selected Ezra Pound. Haroldo and Augusto de Campos: visual poetry is a good way for virtual monoglots like me to feel that they’re reading in another language! It’s also about time for my yearly re-read of Paradise Lost, which I teach to undergraduates. Frank O’Hara, provoked by a recent book of essays.
Reasonably recently published stuff: Maggie O’Sullivan’s Waterfalls, Rufo Quintavalle’s dog cock ape and viper, Gavin Selerie’s Music’s Duel.
I’ve also been reading lots of novels, though – really impressed by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and unimpressed by Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child. I’m reading Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren, which I could never get on with before because it seemed to be the progenitor of an sff style that I really don’t like much; but it’s just clicked this time round.