The Coronavirus Diaries, 10th November 2021

Big news: I am plaster cast free. Oh the joy. My wrist is stiff and a bit sore, I have to make sure I don’t lift heavy objects, I have a splint to wear when I am not exercising or engaged in an undemanding activity, and my sling is still a good idea when I am out and about.

I had been trying not have my hopes too high before attending fracture clinic this morning. Obviously I wanted the X-rays to show everything was healing well, but I didn’t want to pre-empt anything and come crashing down in disappointment. The waiting area is airy and light. We are all spaced out, or rather the seats are. Some patients might have been actually spaced out, I shouldn’t like to say. Michèle had been there yesterday. I don’t think there’s a way we can make our appointments chime, though it would be nice. Instead I wondered if I were sitting where she had sat yesterday (no, she was in the area reserved for wheelchair users), and that made me wonder about a series of narratives, tales of different people sitting in the same spot throughout the day.

I settled down to read more of The Sun is Open by Gail McConnell. Two weeks ago I became suddenly a fan, having previously been entirely ignorant of her work. It was while I was in Northern Ireland. Two days after Uncle Bill’s 100th, there were the annual John Hewitt Birthday Readings. For a while I have thought I’d like to attend, and that thought was cemented last year when Roger Robinson and Sinead Morrissey did the readings and had a discussion online. So Fiona and I had tickets. Only Fiona was not well, so I attended alone.

What a friendly welcoming bunch the John Hewitt lot are. A lovely man, very dapper and with silver hair took my name and made me welcome. I didn’t recognise his name, but it turns out he’s a literary agent and an actor. We were chatting, and he told me Tome French, one of the poets, was already inside ( I was the first member of the audience to arrive having allowed myself lots of time as I didn’t know where the venue was and thought it more than likely I should get lost). I picked up a book of poems by another of the poets Siobhan Campbell and was immediately taken by her work. Lucky perhaps, as she arrived while I was reading it. I bought two books of her poems as gifts, and decided to leave it there. The third poet arrived, Gail McConnell, dressed in black but with a bright yellow checked jacket.

I recognised some members of the audience from other literary events I have enjoyed down the years. People were talking to each other and it would have been easy to have felt excluded, but somehow I didn’t. It was as though I was included, though silently in the warm embrace of the John Hewitt Society.

It was a small audience, an intimate audience. I settled down in my seat. As it was in a lecture theatre at the university there was a comfortable ledge to rest my beslinged arm and throw my coat. I didn’t take notes. The lights dimmed. The evening began. The poets read in alphabetical order, so Siobhan was up first, then Tom, then Gail. I am not actually on first name terms with the poets, but I think if I were to move to Belfast I might be soon.

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In Praise of Poetry Weekends

I’m home again but off to Octavia’s shortly for supper and to celebrate her mum’s 94th birthday, so this will of necessity be a quick, photoless post. Just to be clear, her mum is there, so we shan’t be toastimg the start of her 95th year in her absence.

I had a fabulous time in Northern Ireland; three poetry events in three days at the Heaney Homeplace. The highpoint for me was undoubtedly Simon Armitage on Saturday afternoon, but I enjoyed the rest and have a book of Nick Laird’s poetry to add to my shelves.

Simon Armitage is the real deal; funny, profound, poignant, his poems provide a commentary on the world about him. He opened with Thank-you for Waiting, which for an audience no doubt familiar with both Easyjet and, in particular, Ryanair, sent ripples of knowing laughter round the Helicon, as the auditorium is called.

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When I went into my local Poundland today in search of boxes of paper hankies, I picked up my wire basket and prepared to voyage. Armitage checked that his audience knew what Poundland is, and commented that when he read the eponymously titled poem in Oxford he wasn’t sure people knew what he was talking about. The poem came about when one of his students told him he had seen a copy of Ezra Pound’s poems for sale in Sheffield’s Poundland for a pound. Armitage having, as he put it, a bit of an obsession about Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, the two ideas collided to create something very wonderful. Read it here.

Nick Laird on Sunday was a new name to me. As a local lad, he attracted quite a crowd. He’s from Cookstown where I spent some of the summers of my youth. Or rather I spent those weeks in the country not far from Cookstown. Cousin’s son-in-law went to the same school, as indeed did some of our family who belong to my generation. He’s currently based in New York, but if he’s doing readings anywhere near me on this side of the pond, I shall certainly try to get there. He has also written novels and there’s a television series he’s authored coming this year on, I believe, the BBC. I really liked the look of the anthology he has edited, but I only had a small in flight bag, and so I chose a slimmer volume. Continue reading