Poetry takes centre stage with Peter Fallon and Helen Dunmore
Leading Irish publisher and poet Peter Fallon and prolific novelist, poet and children's writer Helen Dunmore came together for our first Literature Live event of the new year on 23 February. Having been introduced by event chair John McAuliffe, Peter read a selection of poems from his most recent book The Company of Horses, including the title poem and New Country (a reference to the proliferation of 'Irish' songs coming out of Nashville in recent decades).
His next poem, A Refrain, made use of a colourful phrase he first heard when visiting an esteemed American friend on his farm. Having felt unusually nervous about the visit Peter realised that he thought himself unworthy of his friend's company, until the latter's description of one of his animals as "a splashy shitter" put him at his ease!
Peter then turned to his translation of Virgil's The Georgics, which he undertook initially for his own pleasure. Losing himself in the translation of ten lines each morning he was in no way seeking contemporary relevance in the work, but found that the passages resonated with the West's worsening relations with Iraq as the second Gulf War loomed.
Returning to his recent collection he read Depending on Water, before finishing his selection with the new poem A Summer Flood and his reflection on a solitary iron gate in a farmer's field, Gate.
Helen Dunmore began by reading a poem which had been commissioned by the Arts Council to commemorate the bicentenary of the transatlantic abolition of the slave trade. Adopting the owner's point of view of his young female captive, I Owned a Woman Once tackled a subject which she felt she would never have otherwise written poetry about.
Her most recent novel, Counting the Stars, however, is set in a highly-stratified slave society: that of the ever-expanding Roman Empire. For some of those working under others' ownership though there was the ever-present possibility of buying or being given their freedom, as with the character Lucius in the passage Helen read. The slave had adopted a highly valued, parental role towards the poet and lead character Catullus after the death of the latter's mother, and remained with the family long after his freedom had been granted.
Helen went on to read a selection of poems, including Violets - about the unknowability of one's ancestors and the value of insights and impressions glimpsed - and Glad of These Times, the title poem of her most recent collection which effectively counts the blessings of the modern age. Having reflected on the signs of getting older in Litany, she concluded with a poem dedicated to her own recently deceased father, her late night conversations with whom she still sorely misses.