Archive for the ‘Edna O’Brien’ Tag
The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,
Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly.
Day 57 concluded at the Festival Hall where a full-house tribute to poet Seamus Heaney was celebrated. You’ve never seen so many lauded poets in one place at one time. The lines above from Station Island were on the back of the programme, a pretty good thought with which to start a day’s writing (even more so as it has its roots in Donegal). The evening opened with the Big Man himself recorded reading Digging, one of my favourites for its simplicity and rootsiness. Piper Liam O’Flynn played, who I saw perform with Seamus at the Barbican in 1999. His pupil and friend Paul Muldoon read very well, as did the amazing looking Edna O’Brien who is now 82. Seamus’ protegee Charlotte Higgins was the third of the trio of outstanding readers, saying Blackberry-Picking (also simple and earthy, also from Death of a Naturalist). Poet Michael Longley read another of our family’s favourites, Clearances: III (the bit about peeling spuds with the mammy). Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read as did Ireland’s Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan. Tom Paulin and Simon Armitage added to the rich mix. The Chieftains with Paddy Moloney, Matt Molloy and Sean Keane played. Channel 4 had a kind of presence in actress Ruth Negga of Misfits fame who performed from one of Seamus’ translations of Greek plays. The photographic portraits of Seamus from various times in his adult life projected behind the stage during the linking sections by Andrew O’Hagan were all wonderful, all by different photographers or friends. It’s quite something to make the kind of impact he made on the world by being a Poet in this modern era.
I came to South Bank in the wake of two meetings. The first was with entrepreneur James Laycock, who worked with Richard Branson early in his career and is now getting Central Working up&running as a place from which to grow businesses. I was asking him for advice on the Business chapter as I still haven’t found a subject I’m happy with – though I know they’re out there. As it happened I may have found the right person through the next meeting which was actually about something totally different, about democracy, politics and activism, with writer/marketeer Chris Ward (mentioned on an earlier Day), my friend Steve Moore (who knew Terri Hooley, one of the characters in the chapter I’m currently writing, back in Belfast in college days) and some people new to me who in their different ways are highly committed to trying to make UK politics (and beyond) work better.
In the morning I found the title for my Music chapter in a Joy Division song (albeit the live version which has slightly different words from the record): Take A Chance And Say You Tried – it’s largely about being true to yourself.
What do I think of when I hear the name Brendan Behan?
* Dylan Thomas
* Woolly jumper
* Dexy’s Midnight Runners
By all accounts the man was an alcoholic for years. It certainly done him in. He described himself as “a drinker with a writing problem” (not quite Oscar wit, but amusing enough).
Fighting / Woolly jumper:
He looks like a brawler in the photos, even with those 50s Irish woolly jumper and tie arrangements. I’m not sure how much fighting he actually did – suspect most of it was with himself.
He seems to have got caught a lot but I suppose at least it gave him raw material for his writing. His first stretch, the time he did in borstal, was for republican activities, specifically a half-baked attempt to blow up Liverpool docks. His first writings, poetry and prose, were published in Fianna, the magazine of Fianna Eireann, the youth organisation of the IRA. (My first published photos were in An Phoblacht [it's a long story] but from there, besides our shared wild&windswept hairdo, our lifestories diverge.) I get the impression he eventually grew out of the IRA and came to doubt political violence.
There appears to be a number of close parallels between Dylan and Brendan – lionised to death in the US, hounded by the media, the drink, the woman they couldn’t live with or without (Caitlin and Beatrice respectively), the woolly jumper with tie look, money worries, New York, the White Horse Tavern on Hudson St. in Greenwich Village. My sister-in-law Bronagh is arriving from Dublin this evening and she knows about these things so hopefully I’ll be a bit more clued up about these connections by the time I hit the pit tonight. Poking around on the web I came across a bit of a spat in the mid-60s on this very point between Conor Cruise O’Brien and a certain Constantine FitzGibbon (a biographer of Thomas) – O’Brien made connections between the two and FitzGibbon denied them.
I stumbled across this rather neat link last night: “Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, Brendan Behan wrote under Littlewood” – referring to Joan Littlewood whose Theatre Workshop put on The Quare Fellow at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1956, transferring to the West End and ultimately to Broadway, establishing his international rep.
It’s the last commonality on the list above – time spent in New York – which gives rise to this posting. A new play entitled Brendan at the Chelsea is coming up this month at the Riverside in Hammersmith (starting 15th January) written by Behan’s niece Janet and starring Adrian Dunbar (The Crying Game, The General, My Left Foot, Hear My Song – who co-directs) and Brid Brennan (Dancing at Lughnasa, Topsy-Turvy).
It’s set in the 60s in the “legendary bohemian bolt-hole”, The Chelsea Hotel (where Dylan Thomas checked out of this world in 1953 with alcohol poisoning – hang-out also for that other poet who adopted Thomas’ name, Bob Dylan, and his buddy Allen Ginsberg, not to mention writers ranging from Eugene O’Neill to Arthur C. Clarke [who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there], and musos including Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and of course the ungrateful dead, Nancy Spungen, who had no fun in a room there with Sid back in 1978). So, fellow playwright Arthur Miller is just across the hall, the grooves of free jazzer Ornette Coleman are drifting down from a floor above and Brendan’s in his room, short of dough and inspiration – he’s hung over and way past the delivery date of his next book, not a line written. He’s been told to stop drinking or he’ll be dead in six months – and that was two years ago….
So all set for a lively night on 23rd Street. I’ll report back when I’ve seen it and if you fancy a night of drama, drink and the fascinating interaction of human Behans, you’re just a click away from the Riverside …
Dexy’s Midnight Runners:
I remember buying their first single Dance Stance and being intrigued by the litany of literary Irish (including Brendan who I hadn’t read but if he was in the same list as Oscar Wilde that was good enough for me)
Never heard about Oscar Wilde
Don’t want to know about Brendan Behan
Don’t think about Sean O’Casey
Don’t care about George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett
Won’t talk about Eugene O’Neill
Don’t know about Edna O’Brien
Won’t think about Laurence Sterne
You don’t undertand it
That’s not the way I planned it
Shut your mouth til you know the truth.