Coffee-House Poetry at the Troubadour
“I first discovered the Troubadour, in London’s Earls Court, in the early 1970s, returning from a week in Paris, and first played in the legendary basement, alongside New-York-Irish poet and traditional musician, Mike Donaghy, in the early 1990s. Since 1997, when Anne-Marie began the poetry-reading series entitled Coffee-House Poetry at the Troubadour, I’ve been resident musician at the fortnightly Monday poetry readings alternating between ragtime piano, traditional music on bandoneon and mandolin, and European, Latin, jazz, klezmer, light-classical, tango etc on musette accordion.”
John Hewitt Society
“Hearing poet John Hewitt read in 1969 — at Cushendall’s long-vanished Glens of Antrim Hotel, from The Day of the Corncrake, published by the Glens of Antrim Historical Society — was, for me, like having heard Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley read alongside Davy Hammond’s witty, moving, rooted folk-singing earlier that same year, as part of the Room-to-Rhyme tour, a crucial moment in the unleashing of poetry’s possibilities.
But it was only one of the political, literary, artistic, cultural and local-historical aspects of John Hewitt’s life/work that I’d come to value over time, including his socialist politics, his tolerant freethinker’s agnosticism, his belief in the relevance of the arts to everyday life.
When John Hewitt died in 1987, Glens-Society founder/chair, Jack McCann and fellow-Glens-Society members including my father & Pat Clerkin, joined with critics, painters, dockers, art-experts, musicians, story-tellers, teachers, local-historians, poets, academics, politicians, preachers and peace-makers of every hue to create the John Hewitt Society, an organisation which continues to provide a cross-cultural meeting-space in which those from differing — and often mutually opposed — disciplines, persuasions, faiths, inheritances, political perspectives and cultural traditions meet and celebrate the arts in the midst of quotidian North-of-Ireland realities, through an international summer school in Armagh, an annual literary spring festival on the Antrim Coast, a winter lecture in Belfast’s Linenhall Library and an autumn poetry reading in the John Hewitt Pub in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter…”
“As Motown, or Island Records, weren’t merely propagators of revolutionary art but part of the revolution, so Blackstaff Press was both the publisher most associated with the ‘Sixties renaissance in Ulster writing and a crucial facilitatory presence in that widely-recognised cultural moment.
My first poems were published in TRIO 7, in a Blackstaff “introductions” series that had included Ciaran Carson, Martin Mooney, Peter McDonald and Medbh McGuckian, my poetic enthiusiams having been much kindled by a Blackstaff volume, Poets from the North of Ireland (ed. Frank Ormsby). Their recent poetry publications include a new John Hewitt selected, (ed. Ormsby & Michael Longley), a recent collection by Michael Foley, (former editor, like Frank Ormsby, of The Honest Ulsterman, the NME or Melody Maker to Blackstaff’s Motown moment) and my own latest collection, The Year of Not Dancing
The Poetry Workshop
“One of the joys of aspiring to writerhood in one of the world’s largest urban agglomerations — ask W.B. Yeats and his companions of the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, or Coleridge casually meeting Wordsworth in Hampstead’s Vale of Health — is the “workshop-based” support of other writers. There are two workshops from whose company and critical processes I’ve benefitted: one, which I joined in its latter years, fostered many of today’s leading poets but “wound up” in the early 1990s; the other, The Poetry Workshop continues to meet on a regular basis after 25 years.”