On Tuesday evening a stimulating, challenging, critical focus on poetry was led by the poet Paula Meehan. She began with an example of poetry being an expression of freedom and identity. Osip Mandelstam, a Russian poet, imprisoned under the Stalinist oppression exhaled his breath upon a window surface onto which he drew his name as a means of making human connection. Other prisoners of the gulags stripped birch trees of bark: using charcoal they inscribed their poems on the inner surface of the bark forming pages which were passed among themselves and out to supporters. Thus, she underlined early in the session that poetry is fundamentally concerned with making connection and developing identity – even to the death. In different parts of the world poets are killed for their commitment to combating political oppression through poetry.
Paula used her particular and developed technique of “putting poems under pressure” and displayed in the process her broad and deep knowledge of structure in a range of styles: narrative, reflective, memorial, humorous and the concrete. She traced the forms of expression that combine emotion and vocabulary pointing out the pitfalls of cliché and overused terms that can and do, obscure the poet’s meaning and intention. She stressed “poetry as a craft and knowing when a poem works or not…” adding that “…close attention to texture, pace and form in established works can reveal how blind we are to our own work.”
Applying these criteria five poems were close studied. Each reflected a particular poetry endeavour: Love – John Monaghan. Dernish Island, a sentimental journey – Dermot Maguire. An historical character – Edgar Alan Poe & The Raven – John L James. A grief provoked elegy – Untethered – John Kelly and a poem Deep River – derived purely from the poet Teresa Kane’s imagination.
By the end of a stretching, dynamic revealing process of participation of shared insights, Paula had referenced an eclectic and wide ranging sweep of poets such as Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Gary Snyder & the Beat Poets, including numerous prominent contemporary poets.
To sum up: Paula advised the group to read as widely as possible the work of poets of this millennium. She warned of the perils of groups such as FWs “cannibalising” their shared work. Finally, she stressed that it is essential that a group such as ours regularly choose several poems of a selected published poet and, while appreciating the poetry, subject the poems to rigorous critique. Therein lies the path to further learning and improvement of each individual’s creativity while always maintaining sensitivity, reverence and respect for each other’s work.
Many thanks to Teresa Kane who arranged the workshop. Paula and her driver, Kate Newmann (Poetry Ireland) were each presented with a book as an expression of our appreciation.
Tony Brady, Chair