Saturday, March 31, 2007

Robert Hass and Derek Mahon at the Pavilion Dun Laoghaire

Poetry readings eh, I'm ambivalent about them. Somehow the tics and tremors of the poets can interfere with the pellucid words. However, it does serve as an opportunity to accord the bard some respect by turning up when they perform. And I have great admiration for poetry when it's not a lisping sonneteer at the helm. We have constantly to be on our guard against preciousness. Give me the hard taskmasters like Larkin, Berryman, and Yeats.

Tonight in Dun Laoghaire was mighty fine. Peter Fallon, who should be given the Nobel Prize for his services to poetry, introduced both Derek Mahon and Robert Hass, an American poet new to me - but well known to poetry lovers generally as he was American poet lauerate from 1995 to 1997 (I didn't even know they had such a thing).

Mahon was polished and even suave. He deflected Fallon's fulsome introduction by rejoining that "Peter always exaggerates, but in a nice way". He's thinner than he used to be and there is a whiff of privilege, preferrment and tenure about him - a practised international performer. The poetry though is elegant and intelligent.

Hass puts on an extraordinary performance, at least from my position overlooking the lectern: he shakily arranges his papers, picks up a water bottle, puts it down without drinking, takes off his watch and places it on an ajoining table, picks up the water bottle again, puts it down again without drinking from it, picks up the watch and places it on the lectern where it slides to the raised edge, shuffles the papers some more and off he goes. Between poems he repeats this perfomance and is so shaky throughout that it's amazing he can separate the sheets. But his poetry is passionate and more immediate than Mahon's - there's a particularly moving one abut his mother's alcoholism and his father's insensitivity in dealing with it; also a touching one about Nietzsche's last days in Turin. Some memorable lines: "a word is elegy to what it signifies".