Wednesday 13 November 2019

Book Worm: The stigma of being called a poet

Rick O'Shea
Rick O'Shea

John Boland

Rick O'Shea, who hosts RTÉ Radio 1's new cultural show, The Poetry Programme, made some startling admissions when interviewed last week.

Asked to name his three favourite poems, the Radio 2 presenter volunteered Shelley's 'Ozymandias' before conceding "It's really hard to choose". As for his favourite Seamus Heaney poem: "I haven't read him all". Well, then, how about other poetry that's been broadcast on RTÉ: "I've never listened to it".

Given all this, he was probably wise to keep a low profile when presenting the first instalment of his new poetry show last Saturday night, his few questions to Liz Lochead never risking anything beyond perfunctory queries about her official role as Scotland's national poet and the kind of verse she feels moved to write.

But at least the chat was about verse, whereas in the show's other segment, which purported to concern "a lively evening of poetry", the response of participant Paul Curran when asked whether he considered himself a poet was to retort: "No, definitely not, there's a stigma attached to the term."

So what on earth was this new venture about? Perhaps we'll find out more from this evening's show or from future instalments when O'Shea promises to engage with such poetic "heavy hitters" (his term, not mine) as Paul Muldoon and Eavan Boland.

Meanwhile, writing in a Guardian blog, journalist and novelist Matt Haig named Sebastian Barry as one of the "top 10 writers to see live", saying of Barry's public reading from The Secret Scripture: "I had never seen a reading like it: a tour de force performance". And that was because Barry's "whole body shakes as he reads and he's unafraid to do the voices".

Other bloggers chipped in with their own likes and dislikes, one of them deeming "the late great Seamus Heaney" to be "in a class of his own", though not so enamoured of John Banville, who "seems to be deeply in love with himself".

For myself, I prefer to read what authors write without feeling obliged to listen to them as well.

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