A Homage to the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas

Last Friday night, a huge red orb, pulsating orange at its edges, was setting in Carlow. It looked like an African sun – too grand to sink behind the horizon. If it wasn’t for the mountain rising to meet it, I felt it would have pulsated there forever, spreading flame fire and destruction across the earth.
We were driving from the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas to Graiguenamanagh, the small town where we were staying. My rather apocalyptic thought was no doubt a result of the evening I had spent immersed in discussion and debate with Margaret Attwood and Misha Glenny (he of McMafia fame) in Borris.

We were delighted with our front rows seats. I gazed with admiration and reverence at Margaret Atwood whose writing combines the love, desperation, greed and power of humanity to create what are frightening futures, but her scenarios are very much harnessed to our every-day realities. In her interview, Margaret Attwood was sharp, attuned and astute but relaxed. I was interested that her responses appeared to destabilise the usually direct and assertive Anne Enright asking the questions. Occasionally, from my bird’s eye, front row view, I thought could hear amused, ironic sparks crackling between them. The two women had a wonderful, eclectic, inchoate discussion ranging from women writers in North America, to Playtex bras and panty girdles, from women writing men (how do you check for accuracy?) to the crisis of masculinity; from a Christmas tie murder to totalitarianism, from Jung to writing for the unknown reader.

In the next session, Misha Glenny and Luke Harding discussed the rise of totalitarianism, and the increasing prevalence of organised crime in democratic society. The first question Misha was asked was what to do about it. Ask Margaret Attwood, I thought, she’ll be able to show you the inevitable answer and she would have been more articulate than Misha Glenny who fudged the question. But in his delivery, he was passionate, and extremely coherent: our democratic governments, our society is riddled and increasingly dependent on corruption, greed and guns, ruthless murderers and heads of state, like Putin. The collapse of the Soviet Union, Thatcher and Regan’s deregulation provided the drug lords, the gun runners with a laundering service second to none. Wars and porous borders now facilitate easy movement of cargo – whether it be drugs, guns, or sex slaves – and the increased enslavement of populations through either addiction, poverty or war. Time for wine.

At home, over supper and a glass of two of New Zealand wine, inevitably, we discussed the point of life and wondered why we were here, on earth? My answer? Sex, drugs and rock and roll – literally, it is what makes the world go around. We should do more of it…pass the wine.

On Saturday, the garden of Borris House bathed in the sun. Blue skies lorded over mountains and meadows, and trestle tables were long havens of chattering happiness; there were stalls of lobster, burritos, lamb kebabs and market produce. I was having coffee and brioche with raisins and cream when I spotted an old boyfriend from London making haste to the book stand. I called him over. He came and looked down at me inquiringly.
“Hello, my name is Kate Ennals, we used to go out together.”
It was amusing to watch the confusion on his face. I saw his forehead furrow. I could see him back tracking through his memory, his long fingers flicking through the years until he came to me, then he laughed, sat down, pleased to see me. It was a good start to the day.

Then we went to war – cyber war with Misha Glenny, journalist, Ben McIntyre and historian, Margaret McMillan. Here I discovered that the world is not as it seems. We are all infested with viruses, lurking, trawling through the Internet of Things, waiting to be unleashed by the dark, hidden and hooded figures of the Chinese red army, the Russian mafia, the CIA and Mossad. I had a vision of all the hoovers in Europe, leaping into action, hoses sucking and snorting, battling to retain a semblance of dignity as they cavort uncontrollably around our homes. The thought of such mayhem, chaos being at the finger tips of armies is alarming. I wished I could do something, but what? One really feels quite inadequate. What I need is Mary Poppins and her finger clicking abilities, I thought to myself.

What I got, however, was young Raoul Martinez saying (in a six-hundred-page book) that what we need to put the world to rights is empathy. It seems he had a moment of eureka and enlightenment as a teenager, when he realised that we are all merely products of our own up-bringing and that if there was more empathy in the world, there would be more freedom.
What shocked me was that he seemed to think that ‘responsibility’ needed by people was to self, not to society. It was the responsibility of the individual to hoick oneself up by the bootstraps and therefore we needed empathy, to appreciate his background. I was impressed with Michael Harding who was gentle in his attempt to probe Raoul as how this empathetic approach might work. If I’d had the chance, I would have asked Raoul two questions. I) Had he now succeeded in throwing off his own male, middle class, educated identity? 2) To describe the exact ‘freedom’ that his empathy had achieved for the people less well off than himself.

Brimming with knowledgeable irritation, which is always a satisfying feeling, I went to listen to Elizabeth Strout and was instantly calmed by her relaxed manner. Her philosophy (of which I approve) is that books make us feel less lonely, enable us to reflect, and allow us to share our lives. I loved her book, Lucy Barton which is about a relationship between a mother and a daughter, a daughter who was raised in poverty but who escaped its ravaging claws. I was struck by her comment that every sentence she writes is the most truthful sentence she can write. Even fiction must be told with truth.

And poetry. I was as happy as a pig in shit to hear Billy Collins read next. I love how he distils the truth. I felt like I was wallowing in pleasure. I adore his humour, his simplicity. He told us that it was important to listen to the poem being written, and I was very pleased to know exactly what he meant. I do listen to my poems, that’s why mine take so long to emerge because they keep changing their minds and telling me different things!

I have never been star struck before, never drooled over actors, or musicians but I made a holy show of myself asking for Billy Collins signature.
“You are my top favourite poet, I think I am going blub.”
I honestly felt close to tears. He regarded me with a straight look, saying nothing. The man queuing behind intervened and suggested that instead of crying, it might be better to have my photo taken with Billy. So, I did.

Now, meeting Billy was traumatic, so I grabbed a glass of red to recover and went to the Chapel to hear what Alan Hollinghurst and Philip Hensher had to say. I like Alan Hollinghurst’s books but I don’t adore them. They are very English, male and literary and not surprisingly, so is he. I left and decided to eat something. As I walked, munching on a delicious Korean Burrito, I got snaffled up by a happy, drunken American woman who insisted on dragging me for a cigarette “to the toilets” and then proceeded to get us thrown out of the White Garden (next to the toilets) for being too loud while she was telling me about the Airbnb she was going to set up in the house she was going to build in Borris. After that, I decided to call it a day.

That night, Steph and I had a picnic supper, a bottle of wine, and sat outside next in Graiguenamanagh, next to the tractor, under the stars and read poems but I was literary exhausted and we soon retired to bed. When I awoke at 6am, I headed out for my morning constitutional.

Graiguenamanagh is a well-kept Carlow/Kilkenny secret. It is crowded with five-foot concrete monks holding sheaves of corn, books, or pens. The monks await you on the tow path, the street corners, in the woodland walks. They are all made in China. Apparently, for three thousand quid, you can order one to be made with your facial features. The beautiful stone, five arched, bridge in the dip of the town is an architectural joy. Through the arches you can see the delights of summer reflected in the clear, golden water of the Burrow River: Boys diving, headlong, and flipping from traditional bouncing diving boards, canoes readying themselves for the day ahead. It was like a scene from an Enid Blyton book

Sunday morning, we went to breakfast with Claudia Roden and Darina
Allen. From her own account, Claudia Roden was hand reared in in Egypt in an minestrone soup of nationality (they were Arabic Jews from Turkey with a strong French influence). As a child, the food she ate was sutfadi (which has a strong Spanish Moor influence) and Italian, as her nannies were Slovenian. She went to finishing school in Paris, (btw, I think I am finally ready for finishing school), and then on to art school in London. During the Suez Crisis, her extensive family was forced to leave Egypt (as indeed were my parents who were working for UNESCO at the time) and they all descended on her in London where she gathered thousands of exiled recipes, full of love and farewells before they scattered the earth. Darina’s story was simpler: lots of porridge, gooseberries, roast chicken, and butter making.

Sutfadi would have been food to die for in California’s correctional centres where both life and death have bleak outlooks in the American justice system. Rachel Kushner was clear and concise. She described an up-bringing trimmed with crime and chaos in ‘Sunset’ as she knocked around with kids from a background of poverty and deprivation, destined for a life of police and imprisonment. Herself, a child of well educated, strong, engaged Beatnik parents, “my destiny was different”.

To write the book, Rachel immersed herself in the prison system in a different way – she succeeded in becoming a part of a ten day interactive tour of California’s prisons for future correctional centre staff, and she has many incarcerated friends, one of whom is serving two consecutive life sentences. In her talk, she described the strong oily, floral smell of cell block 64, the cleaning solution used in the penal institutions, the garden grown from seeds in the bird droppings gathered by one woman prisoner, the friendships, the ice cream sandwiches shared by women through the toilet system, the smell of the testosterone of 4,000 men. She talked of the ‘ecology of suffering’ and the ‘treacherous moral landscape’. The book, The Mars Room, is a homage to the people Rachel grew up with.

Rachel’s talk may have contributed to the tears gathering and wiped from my eyes with hurried embarrassment as Michael Longley read his poems. Indeed, he struggled himself to get through one poem, a recent one he wrote for Seamus Heaney, but as he said, ‘if we are not moved by our own poetry, how will others be?’ Michael Longley has an exquisite dexterity and can pluck and play with words that wallow in the back waters of the dictionary. He finds leverets, fire seeds, sand pipers, warblers. He claims, “syntax is the bones of a poem”. Maybe, but words are his bloodstream.

Finally, I laid out in the sunshine with Cillian Murphy, stretched out. I listened to him, Max Porter and Enda Wyley discussing grief, crows, fathers, sons. My eyes closed while their still boyish laughter ricocheted through the open ball room French windows, across the green grass and out into the meadows. I smiled at the thrill of their happiness and breathed a sigh of contentment.

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Do What You are Told – Rebel!

Do what you’re told, Rebel! said Bernard McClafferty, describing a line of graffiti in Belfast back in the day when he was at the Cuirt festival last week. I think it was one of my favourite lines of Cuirt because it captured both the loss of independence and the silent wit that exists in the pages of Irish literature. Interestingly, it was a theme picked up by other Cuirt performers. Declan Kiberd, earlier that day, had suggested that Irish literature was an early warning system. Keats, Edna O’Brien, Beckett, Heaney, Friel, McGahern, Boland all flagged the future social issues of Ireland in their writing and the loss of Irish sovereignty through colonialism, religion, emigration, market forces and, more recently, austerity. Kiberd also discussed the demise and ‘privatisation’ of Irish public spaces. He cited the disappearance of the Irish pub scene, particularly in rural Ireland and suggested that we learn how to use public spaces from other countries to enhance and expand our culture, culture being a stake of revolutionary struggle and space being essential to a shared voice.

Bernard MacLaverty re-iterated this later when he talked about the importance of detail in writing. He said the more local you are, the more universal it becomes. Like the Irish Pub which, ironically, while closing, also went global. This link between local and universal, public space and literature struck me again while listening and reading the poems of Imtiaz Dharker who was born in Pakistan but lived in Glasgow, India and now London. Yes, I thought, the sharing of culture, in a public space provides backbone and energy to society. Exchanging culture is a way of understanding and talking to each other. Yet, so often, all we get to read and or see is the graffiti in the wall, graffiti which says ‘Do what you’re told… Rebel.’

However, it must be said, graffiti can work. Everyone loves Banksy. Graffiti can sum up effectively in one sentence what some essayists can take twenty pages to say. Generally, I like reading essays, if they are pertinent, and have a point. I think Montaigne was one of the best essayists. Interestingly, he wasn’t mentioned at the Essays and Ideas event at Cuirt. I’m not sure that essays work when they are read aloud. I find it hard to focus on the thread, if I have understood it in the first place, and I can find myself disappearing up the writer’s back passage, along with them.

Bernard MacLaverty also said he thought that short stories are a place of loneliness while the novel is a public place. For me, that feels right. We each need our place of loneliness, but we also need those public spaces to share our voices. So, I think I’ll finish this with a poem by Imtiaz Dharker, the treasure I unearthed from Cuirt, because I love the magic of poetry and this poem, I think, captures succinctly what I am trying to say in this blog (it is not an essay). And, I like its title because it refers back to my own collection of poetry, Threads, which I published last week just before going to Cuirt.

This Line, That Thread

Draw a line from finger to heart
Draw the water from well to mouth
Place a mark where the words were said
Map the distance from North to South.

Take it apart and start again.

Look out of the window at your neighbour.
Look in the mirror at your own face.
Breath on the glass to blur the border,
Watch it become an unowned space.

Wipe it away and begin again.

Hold the end of a single thread,
Loop it to others, weave it to lace.
Spread it out to see if the holes
Are an imperfection or a kind of grace

With their open heart, their otherness. (Taken from Luck is the Hook).

I had a fabulous few days at Cuirt. Our use of ‘public space’ may be being privatised but Ireland is a wonderful country for literary festivals, and these are very important public spaces to share ideas. I now can’t wait for the Borris Festival of Writing at the start of June. Photos are Imtiaz Dharker, Declan Kiberd, and Bernard MacLaverty

If you want to purchase Threads click below

You can purchase Threads via PayPal here

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I Couldn’t Believe My Ears

You can purchase Threads via PayPal here

 

I couldn’t believe my earsCatriona O’Reilly, Cavan Arts Officer, and Philip Doherty, Cavan playwright extraordinaire, did me proud at the launch of my poetry collection, Threads,  in Cavan, last night. Truly, I couldn’t believe my ears (now I understand that expression) when I listened to them talk. It was as if they were discussing  someone else’s work. When I heard both of them read extracts , I actually nodded,  as one does when one hears an impressive poem. Then I understood it was my poems they were reading. They made them sound so good! I wanted to go home straight away and re-read the collection borrowing their eyes! Thank you, Catriona, Philip and the Johnston Library. You made me feel so thrilled and proud last night.

You can order Threads at the paypal link above.

 

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London in Spring

Last weekend, in London, the sludge of the Thames flowed with blue sky and spring lamb clouds. Park cafes were snaked with daffodils and people tottering on Spring legs. Folk flowed up the steps from the depths of the Underground into the sun strewn streets of St Paul’s, Piccadilly, Green Park, Knightsbridge. The city highways and by-ways were like a murmuration of starlings gathering, dividing, re-shaping.
I sprang back into my home town by eating, drinking, visiting the Pooh and Picasso exhibitions, meeting friends, family, theatre. The Picasso Exhibition was fabulous. A circular swoop of colour and shape, of women and sexuality with a pumping under current of lust and sensuality. The Pooh Bear exhibition was charming. I travelled to South Ken in a tube carriage over flowing with excited, neatly limbed, small children, the sort that go to exhibitions. I loved the narrative around EP Sheppard’s drawings: how to show expression with a just a dot and a dash.
On Friday and Saturday morning, I woke in bed bathed in sunshine and traffic. As I stretched, so did the day. Each morning, afternoon and evening was creased into a linen fold of coffee, lunch and tea, exhibitions, theatre, restaurants, all arrived at by way of linked arms, laughter, murmured secrets and silver service. Sirens blazed, horns blared, people forged. Prince Albert glowed golden in Kensington Gardens. Snippets of stories spilt into the Serpentine or on to cracks in the pavement as we walked, talking of work, writing, retirement, rape, child sex abuse, war and chemical weapons, and books. We single filed and dodged through traffic, hailed taxis, grabbed tables. And my world mixed the magic and sadness of belonging and un-belonging.
On Sunday, it rained. In the morning, I sat quiet in the grey of the window, watching my brother’s magnolia tree slowly bloom in his London garden. In the afternoon, I went out for tea.
Of course, my mother wasn’t there. But that’s okay. She left me London, family and friends and I am grateful to her for that. I thank her.

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Threads

Launch of Threads

A Second Poetry Collection from Kate Ennals

Thursday 19 April 2018 at the Johnston Library, Cavan. 6.30pm

 

 

As Trump continues his reign of turmoil and the Russians and Syrians poison and bomb, and as the British wreak further havoc with Brexit and debate abolishing school meals, and as the Chinese President consolidates his power for the next decade, I am launching my second collection of poetry on Thursday 19 April at the Johnston Library at 6.30pm. It is called Threads.

Adrienne Rich said, “poetry can’t free us from the struggle for existence”, but my poems and writing do help me to express the “inchoateness” (Seamus Heaney) of being. Poetry and writing are my anti-dote to the fading thread of hope in the world we live in today.

The poems in Threads were written over the last five years. The book is divided into three parts: Familiar Threads, Threads of Thought and Other Threads. In Familiar Threads, many of the poems are about my mother who died last year. They are not particularly pleasant, but they helped me deal with her decline. In Threads of Thought, the poems respond to the political upheaval and are tiny expressions of my frustration, anger and fear. The poems in Other Threads reflect on the extraneous threads of life that make up our every day.

I titled the collection Threads because it seems, increasingly, that threads are all we are: threads unravelling from a woven patchwork.

It would be lovely to see you all at the launch (there will be refreshments). I am very happy that Catriona O’Reilly of Cavan Arts Office and playwright extraordinaire, Philip Doherty from Cavan Town Hall, have agreed to do the honours. Over the last ten years, the Arts Office has provided me with tremendous support and encouragement as has the Town Hall Cavan which has put on amazing, exciting extravaganzas and productions which keeps the arts scene flourishing in Cavan. I’d love to see the broader Cavan community there because we are what make life good and I want to celebrate this poetry book with you. But, I hope, all of you friends, poets, writers will come from wherever you are for you are all threads in my fabric.

And many thanks to Nuala O’Connor for the review on the back cover.

 

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threads

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A Valentine Thought: The Rugby Rape Trial in Ulster

kate culture nightI have a lot of respect for the complainant in the Rugby Rape Trial. It must be so daunting to take on such statuesque, well known and popular men. It must be very scary to put yourself into the hands of more men (the legal team) trying to besmirch your character. It must be so stressful to face more aggression after having already experienced shame, fear and anger at their hands. It must be so demeaning to have all your actions while drunk put into the public domain.

I feel all this because I have been in many similar situations but did not have the courage or fortitude to tell anyone, let alone take a court case. On numerous occasions in my life, when I was young and drunk, I was taken advantage of by older men who wanted sex. In some cases, I had flirted, and had been flattered by their attentions, but then didn’t know how to say no. I felt like I had gone too far, and I deserved whatever happened next.  In one case, where I did say I did not want sex, I was chased around my flat by the gentleman, naked, who refused to accept I meant no. It was not a pretty sight. In the end, he had his way. He was angry and I was frightened. I worked with this guy.

On other occasions, the men were colleagues of my father. They worked for human rights organisations. One came to my hotel door, suggesting a night cap. I was sixteen. I was undressed. I was flattered. I will never forget the way his hairy body grazed my young flesh as he rubbed himself on every part of me, or the scrubbing of the hot shower afterwards. Another man was my father’s colleague with whom we were staying who came to my room. Yes, I had been chatting and flirting with this man over dinner. I was his guest. I was my father’s daughter. Mea culpa. And I couldn’t tell my dad. They were his friends and colleagues.

These events when I was young and impressionable, led me to have a blasé relationship with my body and sex which wasn’t healthy. There were numerous times when I ended up having sex I didn’t want with men I didn’t like because they expected it.

On all occasions drink was involved. On each occasion the men felt that they had the right to act, that my behaviour had warranted it, and I complied. But, every single time, I felt abused. Then, I would not call it rape. Rape has so many connotations: it means victim, oppression, violence. I was a middle class young woman who fought for women’s rights, went on protests. I did not like to think of myself as oppressed; I was not a victim, just an immature, silly, drunken girl. And I did enjoy sex. I thought I knew it all. The generation of the seventies who understood sex. I loved the intimacy, the love, the exploration of each other. I loved the gentleness, and physicality the body brings to the relationship. But I didn’t enjoy sex with these men. It was nothing to do with love, intimacy, appreciation. There was no relationship. I had been afraid and ashamed. And I hadn’t known how to stop it.

So, I think this woman is very brave to come forward, and in effect, put herself on trial. She is showing us how honest, honourable men can assume that what they are doing is consensual and it is not. They are imposing their will. They are taking advantage. They are raping women because they are drunk.

I would hazard a guess that, like the ‘me too’ campaign, there are a lot of women with the same experience. My heart is with this young woman, and I thank her for taking the stand on behalf of us all.

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