Fado, fado... when poetic licence went too far
Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30
More than rain is pouring down this puddle-pickled August. Poetry performances are taking place everywhere. Some are part of arts festivals, such as the one which finishes in Kilkenny today.
There was something to tempt all tastes in its programme: with music from Beethoven to Colombian folk; drama to dance; animation to acrobats; sean nos singers to interactive street shows.
But there was an embarrassment of riches when it came to poetry, including readings by prestigious poets, as well as the launch of a poetry broadsheet by a former US poet laureate.
It's not surprising poetry is so prominent in Ireland, which has produced so many Nobel Prize for Literature winners, half of whom were primarily poets. They include the late Seamus Heaney, an interaction with whom my friend, Dermot, cherishes.
Spotting the acclaimed poet enjoying a pint in a pub one evening, Dermot asked if his French wife, Carole, might shake the hand of greatness. Turning to Carole, Dermot announced: "Carole, meet Brendan Kennelly; Brendan Kennelly, meet Carole".
Leading Seamus Heaney to explode with laughter.
Of course, Brendan Kennelly is a much-beloved bard in his own right, for this old sod is stuffed to the gills with exquisite scribblers. But long ago in Ireland, not all poets shared such a sense of humour - so much so that they were nearly given a prosaic boot.
Piles of poets imposed themselves on Irish chiefs, eating them out of house and home before passing on to the next hospitable house with their extravagant demands. Such as calling for fresh fruit in the dead of winter. Or demanding comfortable beds, each with a second bed at a slightly lower level, in case they fell out during the night!
If anyone refused, they composed satires on them. There was no need for social media to spread the savage verse, for they were sung by every scullion and cattle-boy in the country, to the eternal shame of the victim.
A band of bards once descended on Guaire, the good king of Connaught; over 600 poets, their womenfolk and servants, and 150 hounds. Guaire's generosity was proverbial, but their demands were outrageous; cuckoos to sing to them between Big and Little Christmas being one minor request.
Eventually, the people rose up and would've driven these self-regarding poets out of the country, but for the intervention of Saint Colmcille. He begged permission for them to stay, under promise of good behaviour. So if you're a poet and you know it, be polite - or say goodnight!