Big bash for Maurice Harmon’s 80th birthday:The critic and poet Maurice Harmon is one of the most gracious figures on the scene, so it wasn’t surprising to see the literati turn out in force for his 80th-birthday celebration in Dublin on Tuesday night.
What was surprising was that he now has eight decades behind him, because Harmon has the appearance of perennial youth. Fittingly, Christopher Murray, a colleague from UCD, where Harmon taught poetry for decades, reminded the throng that we were also celebrating the talents of a man still very much in harness. “Maurice’s own work as a poet is an extension of his work as a life-long lover of and commentator on poetry, especially Irish poetry from earliest times to the present.” Also there was the poet Tom Kinsella, on whose work Harmon has written extensively. Kinsella is one of a number of contributors to Honouring the Word: Poetry and Prose. Celebrating Maurice Harmon on His 80th Birthday, edited by Barbara Brown, and published by Salmon Poetry for the occasion.
The artwork on the cover is by Harmon’s daughter, Maura, entitled Maurice Harmon as a Boy with His Dog Hector at Ardgillan Castle. In his contribution Kinsella writes of his shared beginning in the 1950s with Harmon. “Maurice was always an important presence. Our thoughts matched on things that mattered.” There were many tributes to his role as an encourager of emerging poets and the value of his essay Advice to a Poet, which remains a mainstay of the Poetry Ireland website. Rosemarie Rowley hailed him as a treasure in the field of Irish studies, open to the birdsong of young poets in a way that was “tactful yet exacting, encouraging yet bracingly real”. Also launched at the event was Harmon’s latest book, When Love is Not Enough; New & Selected Poems, also published by Salmon.
Colum McCann tries his hand at the aisling
Various contemporary Irish artists and writers have had a go at variations on the old Irish poetic form of the aisling. Now it’s Colum McCann’s turn. His new short story entitled Aisling, in the summer issue of the Paris Review, is quite a departure from the realist prose of his National Book Award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin. The story is a modern take on the traditional female lament – McCann’s version having a redemptive kick in its step. And although it’s very short, at under two and a half pages, he manages to include a wide range of Irish references, from Loreto Foxrock to Oxegen and the Trocadero. The issue also includes an interview about the art of fiction with the novelist David Mitchell, at 41 one of the youngest authors ever featured in the magazine’s famous Writers at Work series, and – showing there’s hope for fledgling writers – a fiction debut by Chaz Reetz-Laiolo, who first came to the magazine through the slush pile.