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It came together last October when I was compiling forty poems to put in for the Patrick Kavanagh Prize, which was judged last year by Dublin poet Paula Meehan and her bard husband Theo Dorgan. A guy in the Socialist Workers Party called Dave Lordon won it with a manuscript titled
Going in for the competition was the first time I had set my mind to collecting a book of poems together, as up till then I couldn't suss out how I could put my poems side by side, because the range of styles covered strict metrical verse in traditional lyric, performance, open form, and Langpo. This is because, more by accident than design, I fell into a writing studies and drama degree as soon as I began my writing career; giving myself the best start possible without really planning to, and once there there decided I should try my hand at as many styles as possible. The full details of how I came to write in such a diversity of form is explained more fully
At this point I had just finsihed reading Seamus Heaney's critical prose and Anthony Cronin's memoir Dead as Doornails, which lays out post war Dublin literary life as it was, when Cronin, Kavanagh, Behan and Flann O'Brien were around. It really opened my eyes, as far from being arty waffle about the meaning of erudite minds (as one may imagine a poet remiscer to write), these literary heavyweights were painted as a bunch of alcoholics whose doings took place in the pubs and were too hilarious to be the sort a writer could make up.
At that point my usual Tuesday night warble was taking place in the Duke Pub, which is on the Dublin literary trail; the irony being that this and other pubs which sell themselves as being at the centre of Dublin literature had all barred Behan, Kavanagh et al during their lifetimes. Write and Recite is run by Gerry MacNamara and the so called serious poets of Dublin do not avail of the opportunity it offers. This is the only place in Dublin to get week in and out live time, and there are some very talented poets who go there, and I think that their high quality can scare some poets who consider themselves the intellectual superiors of this easy going grouping, so they stay away through fear.
After reading Heaney and Cronin, I was very excited as I recognised the similarity in their registers was the weilding of highbrow and common as muck in the one sentance. Abstract and concrete in the one slingshot, splattered on the page. My prose writing then started to be influenced by them and I could see that the four years of hard slog were paying off, as all the seperate vernaculars I had developed and explored were now synthesising into one where I could pretty much express myself as I wished. Effectively I had found my voice and come to understand that many of the poetry greats were just like me in the sense of them being hopeless drunks.
Finding, or unearthing my voice was a very important act of affirmation and self confirmation as a poet, and armed with this new found confidence I went along to Write and Recite, bringing my own cans of beer with me. I convinced myself that I wasn't a poverty stricken boozer acting out of the socially normal order by supping his own ale in the pub to save money, but an artist from an endagared sub- species and part of a long standing Dublin tradition of heavy drinking scribblers.
It was on this night as I was waiting to read, before I became totally legless, that I prepared the final order of the poems, four and a half years after starting to write and 18 months after leaving university. I was also hit by the realisation that the point of the exercise wasn't about winning a competition, but using the Kavanagh prize as the mental trick that got me to bring a first collection together.
However, the other side of the equation, or pay back to the poetry gods, was that I ended up outside the pub in an al fresco sing song with some street drinkers at the night's finish, telling anyone who would listen about what I had unearthed via Heaney and Cronin. The manager saw this and was so outraged he barred the whole poetry group, and I had to lie low for a while till the organiser calmed down.