Yesterday I was in the drawing room at the Royal College of Surgeons witnessing Greg Delanty perform the significant operation of publicly birthing his Carcanet collected poem publication, which spans 1986-2006 and is a fusion of the seven books in his oeuvre. Being in the Surgeons is big time and only used to roll out large guns of the contemporary canon. Poets with the magic ingredient fingers don’t get put on; the oomph, spark and diddly dee jigger me wotsits from Tir nOg, which all Irish greats are famed as having in abundance. This was no ordinary Monday night launch; which have been held lately in the stark whitewashed basement of Damar hall, where mobile screens double as makeshift walls, shielding the audience from the sight of a humming computer bank.
An underground setting easily imaginable as the first choice destination for passengers travelling to eastern European cold spots this winter on CIA "rendition flights." A place where the run of the mill literary riff raff and lower orders launch their poetry books and christen them with several bottles of Poetry Ireland red or white, dished up in small plastic cups to deter the senior alcoholics from hogging the scarce supply of ale.
It was Sunday best all the way last night, as there was a full bar with robust measures freely available to all attendees, who were even trusted to sup from real glasses of ample size. Knocking back a few of these over the course of an hour or two means that the sensible boozer can set themselves up for a bargain night out. Instead of furtively drinking in the public parks with street drinkers, where there is a distinct lack of civilised exchange, the financially astute can lay down a firm base for further gargle whilst simultaneously imbibing the most cultural literary vibes in a city where to leisure is to learn. In Dublin it is possible to receive gratis what some happily pay through the nose for and is a feature I have attuned my radar to sniffing out, and one I greatly appreciate
The mob numbered around fifty, headed by he who shall remain nameless and a trio of warm up language workers eulogising a route of waffle to the Cork poet. First up to talk was Poetry Ireland director Joe Woods, who swiftly marked out what would happen next, spraying out guide lines which the duo following him engineered into a track of unbridled praise. Job done Joe was relieved from the next part of the operation by Carcanet publisher Michael Schmidt, who purred on site his small truck of words and emptied them as the short hardcore of spoken blurb upon which Boston University poetry professor Michael Ricks dolloped a final lay.
Schmidt’s address amounted to acknowledging Delanty as a talent in his stable who had spent a lot of time in America, informing us he (Schmidt) was approaching free bus pass age and saying Ricks had "defined the way I read poetry", when he taught him at Oxford. So, with the younger men out of the way Chris took centre stage and got to work on pumping up Greg, beginning with the history of how Delanty came to his attention. He told us how the widow of Alan Dowling, a man he considered untalented and described as a "bad rich poet" was responsible for setting up the prize in her dead husband's name, which brought a 24 year old Delanty to Ricks's notice and caused him to invite Greg to read at Cambridge. After that Delanty was off traipsing round the states carving out a career in verse and now he's back in the motherland with an emigre's bag of tricks to sing with.
A few TS Eliot quotes featured as the critical blueprints and buoys he used to construct and float his opinion that Delanty’s work contains "unholy glee and holy mirth" and that he "trusts his reader to take the point" without snickering at them. He quoted someone I failed to catch, saying that Delanty’s respect for the reader is because
"most people aren’t interested in poems because most poems aren’t interested in people, whereas Delanty "is."
He then read another quote written by Eliot at his most culturally paranoid, just before he took British citizenship. His old chestnut about the number of languages worth writing in being very small because only those with a national literature to draw on are somehow worthy. An argument whose logic would deny the world of English speaking American and Antipodean literature, and a quote which Ricks believes Eliot wrote in a very unsure state of mind, not really believing it himself. How this was woven into Delanty I cannot remember, but the Boston Prof continued by saying that what could be a cacophony in others, Delanty makes polyphonic, and what is left of his poetry is the "metal (feeling and thought) behind the words."
Ricks finished by reading the Delanty poem Phone Bird, in a speaking voice that made it impossible for me to detect when he had finished reading, and as he invited Delanty to step into the bardic circle to begin, claps drowned out his final few words.
Delanty read six poems competently enought and then we left to journey into the cold night air and go about our lives.