Tony Brady, our Chair Reflects on Paula Meehan’s Poetry Workshop:
Last Saturday thirty people participated in Paula Meehan’s Poetry Workshop which was hosted by Fermanagh Writers in Fermanagh House. By an amazing co-incidence, Paula began with a reference to a Russian poet that Carlo Gebler had opened his series of private classes with Fermanagh Writers last Autumn. The image was Mandelstam’s breathing onto a pane of glass in the train transferring him from one gulag to another and tracing words that remained on its surface after the mist of breath had evaporated. The poet was “disappeared” in transit to feed the myth that he was consumed by wolves. Words then as expressed in poetry, endure and are liberating.
Paula suggested that before words began to form language, sounds were the medium of communication, and taking as her theme Seamus Heaney’s – Hearth Word Hoard – encouraged participants to recall the primal sounds that shaped expression in pre-speech development. She reminded us of the pre-birth medium of water and evolution evidence of prehensile tails
(primates) in humans, and arms as vestigial flippers (fishes).
Paula suggested we make a mental map of sounds over time spans. The pre-natal child is aware of sound: a pulsing in rhythm with its mother’s heart beat, a drumming “When memory fails imagination spurs the recall of birthplace sounds.” At my age, I could not remember my pre-birth or post-natal sounds, but recalled the sounds of when attending and assisting at the birthing of my 3 children: screams, moans, laughter, whispers, buzzing, exhortations, blips from machines, shouts, urging voices, distant ambulance sirens, deep breathing, hiss of gas, silences, new born babies’ cries.
Later life situations are loaded with their own unique language: jargon, religious rituals, music, hymns, distinct zones like churches evoking liturgy and prayers. Children learn without being taught by repetitive chanting of familiar passed down chants in playtime. Hearth sounds assist re-creation through poetry: light, flames, crackles, splitting, spitting, sharp sudden retorts of bursting coal, turf, wood. Unusual words cropped up: brattle, scroig, scrug. The word Quoof used by poet Paul Muldoon turns out to be a hot water bottle.
Regrettably, I had to leave early as caring duties called me away. I just had time to hear an extemporised poem by Ken Ramsey
Our treasurer, John James adds a few words:
Excellent summation of the workshop, Tony. Thank you for that. One or two points I would add. The amazing turnout for poetry on a rare sunny afternoon in Fermanagh, after a winter of torrential rain, gale-force wind and the persistent chill in the air that stole the very breath that elixir of life from our chests.
We also had a considerable force of nature in Paula Meehan. She proved herself a true daughter of Gaia, by weaving a spell over us in the soft yet strong, lilting voice, that took us back many years – for some, too many to mention, to our childhoods. Memories of joy, memories of pain, memories of happiness, memories of loss and sadness too. She opened doors that will never be shut again, no bad thing.
Our gratitude to Paula for a wonderful afternoon.