Pursued by a Bear »

  • Oxford poets scandal

    May 26, 2009 @ 12:08 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Oxford poets scandal: three words that don’t often come together, but there you have it, ladies and gents. The latest shocker from the world of wordsmiths concerns the recently appointed Oxford Professor of Poetry, Ruth Padel (Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter, interviewed here by Arminta Wallace), who has resigned the position after only nine days on the job.


  • Carol Ann Duffy is new poet laureate

    May 1, 2009 @ 11:43 am | by Fiona McCann

    Carol Ann Duffy is the new poet laureate across the water, the first woman to occupy the post famously scorned by Wendy Cope earlier this year. Course the yearly stipend is not to be sniffed at -  £5,750  Sterling for a few verses on royal births and coronations, no small sum in these troubled times. Then there are the 600 bottles of sherry traditionally bestowed on the poet laureate, which Duffy has reportedy requested up front, after learning that her predecessor Andrew Motion (the first poet laureate to resign the post) had yet to receive his. The question is whether any writer should be beholden to the king or state, under obligation to trot out poems for occasions regardless of muse or inspiration, and presumably only those that toe the state line. (more…)

  • ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy

    April 7, 2009 @ 1:48 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Some folk I know can love a song without having any notion of what’s being sung. The music takes precedence, and lyrics get sidelined in the listening process. Not me. I’m a lyrics lady, and can swing in favour of a band or singer simply by the order of words, the poetic content they put to melody. Favourites include – kind of obviously – Leonard Cohen (“Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in”), Tori Amos (“No one’s picking up the phone / Guess it’s clear he’s gone / And this little masochist / Is picking up her dress”), The Magnetic Fields (“It makes me feel blue / Pantone 292″), Bonnie Prince Billy (“A fireman her husband was/and so to give him duty/I duly tried to light a fire / upon his rightful booty”), Bell X1 (“I was other people’s children / I could always be sent home”), Sigur Ros (Ok, just kidding about the Sigur Ros bit). But you get the picture, and the list goes on and on. All time favourite? Bah, Hallelujah of course, for its perfect marrying of lyric to music (“It goes like this / the fourth, the fifth / the minor fall / and the major lift”). Yours?

  • Outside the black-and-white lines

    March 8, 2009 @ 8:21 pm | by Fiona McCann

    A. A. Gill is not a writer I always admire. But he shone when he wrote on poetry in a piece that appeared in the Sunday Times today. “Most of us are gaffed, flayed, stitched up and stuffed by poems,” he said.  “We’re marked out and buoyed up by them. Even if we haven’t read a new one for a decade, still there are verses that are the most precious and dear cultural amulets we own, hidden in the dead letter boxes of our hearts. Ask anyone what’s right at the centre of their personal culture and it will be poetry. Snatches, lines of verse, we take them to our end. A poem is a thing that transcends its construction.” I don’t know if I agree that asking anyone will reveal that poetry is at the heart of his or her cultural matter,  but I know that’s true if you ask me. And now I’m asking you: what are the snatches, lines of verse that you will take to your end?

  • Between the snow and the roses

    February 2, 2009 @ 2:04 pm | by Fiona McCann

    It snowed today in Dublin, and given that this is such a rare, and heartflippingly thrilling occurence to see a white and flurring blizzard through the big panes of Tara street, I want to mark it with something beautiful about snow and more than snow. Though snow has caught the imagination of many literary giants (Orhan Pamuk, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson spring to mind – any others?), this is still my favourite, by Louis MacNeice.   (more…)

  • Are we not of interest to each other?

    January 20, 2009 @ 12:27 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Elizabeth Alexander, poet and professor of African-American studies at Yale, has been chosen to compose and deliver a poem at Obama’s inauguration today. On her website, Alexander pays tribute to Obama’s “respect for the power of language.” Because, as she tells it, “poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the worldviews – we live in.”

    So much for poetry making nothing happen. After all, as Alexander herself articulated in her creed Ars Poetica #100: I Believe:

    “Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
    is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?”

    A question worth pondering on a day when the promise of the election of a new president thousands of miles away is palpable even in a grey-rimmed office on Tara street.

  • Books of the year

    November 29, 2008 @ 12:48 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Colm Tóibín tips Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, while Harry Clifton was impressed by the “magical” Life on Earth by Derek Mahon. Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, Jim White’s Manchester United and biographies of Thomas Moore, Daniel O’Connell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are all in there in this year’s selection of books of the year by sundry poets and politicians. So step up and be counted alongside John Gormley, John Connolly, Claire Kilroy and the like, and tell us what the best books published over the course of 2008 were for you. . .

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