Updated: Nov 4
Speaking at the book launch of Arias of Consolation, Dominic Taylor of Revival Press said,
Let me say first off I’m delighted to be here with my colleague in Madrid tonight and that it is important and meaningful for us to have being invited by the Bloomsday Society and to present John Liddy’s Arias of Consolation at the Ateneo de Madrid.
It is also a matter of great pride as we are keenly aware that Spain is the mother country of a magnificent global literature. Spain and Latin-America have provided us with 12 Nobel Prize winners for Literature. This is a measure and a fitting recognition of the consistent strength of Spanish writing and the Spanish imagination.
So to begin, Patrick Kavanagh wrote:
‘A man innocently dabbles in words and rhymes and finds it is his life’
Speaking personally that’s how it has been for me over the past 20 years, 13 of those years were spent at the weekly poetry nights in Gleeson’s White House Bar in Limerick. Since April 2003 when the late Barney Sheehan first started what he called The White House Poetry Revival, and in those early days there was an evangelical feel about such an event.
His aim, which became my aim, was to break down the perceived privilege that surrounded the poetry scene in Limerick by making it accessible and democratising the opportunity for poetry to be read in public. A work I subsequently pursued and still pursue at the Limerick Writers’ Centre and Revival Press. No one had to wait for an invite to read at the White House Poetry Revival, if you had a poem you had written or indeed someone else had written you could read it at the open-mic. And over the years countless number of people did just that, some became serious writers others expressed themselves either in celebration or commemoration of events that happened to them or they felt strongly about. In other words it has become a community of poets and poetry. A community as John Liddy says in Arias;
‘a community of unstoppable flow’.
One of the quotations that we at The Limerick Writers’ Centre have adopted is by the Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda, who said: ‘Poetry is like bread it should be shared by all, by all our vast incredible extraordinary family of humanity’…and that is what we do, like we are doing here tonight.
We like to describe The Limerick Writers’ Centre, as a ‘place to inspire and be inspired’ and our mission has always been to be a strong voice for contemporary literature, arts and culture, based on democracy of opportunity, the community and a participatory co-operative culture.
So we encourage writers – from the serious career minded to people who write for pleasure, healing, personal growth, insight, or just to inform. And over the years we have produced a broad range of writing, including poetry, history, memoir and general prose.
We believe that there is an intrinsic value and profound importance on the artistic and communal value of community publishing as it serves to memorialize our cultural history, fosters a literary community and inspires a passion for reading and literature. And also what better than a book to promote the universal values of literacy, peace, love and genuine human-ness.
When we publish a book by a local author we feel that in some way they are giving voice to our traditions and cultural inheritance…our writers like John Liddy becomes an agent for this giving of voice, causing us to reflect on ourselves and our place, and our culture. What once we may have taken for granted or ignored, the writer makes it dynamic and alive and by writing about it he/she is also contributing to changes in our culture.
As the French philosopher Jacque Derrida has noted, ‘memory is always an act, it is always something performed by a human subject in the present.‘
John Liddy’s Arias is a complex act of memory which gives life to our past. It is a commemoration of Limerick’s past, providing us with a new way of looking at ourselves. In the book Irish Poetry After Joyce, the author Dillon Johnson, says that “There is a connection between the place and the language it nurtures” and I believe that John Liddy has used his connections with Limerick – historical, social, cultural – and by using in many parts of this poem the vernacular of Limerick, the place names and names of people – in wonderful terza rimma - deepens this connection inviting us, using the aesthetic language of poetry, to see the place as if for the first time. Combined with the drawings of Limerick artist John Shinnors he touches on and weaves, questions of identity, belonging and home, transforming them and us in the process.
John has used the magic of words re re-create Limerick using the power of language, and he makes that language universally understood. In many ways he is attempting to restore and renew our inheritance.
I like to think when we publish a book in Limerick that we are speaking to a global audience, whether or not that person understands English, the sound and sensory nature of language combined with rhyme and rhythm convey a universal cultural experience, even if this is an unconscious experience. Arias is a good example of this as even contemporary generations of Limerick people will not always readily relate to the words of this poem on the page but like a bat squeak, in the ‘deep hearts core’ of the unconscious mind there will be some recognition.
I believe that Liddy has captured the essential detail of Limerick in this work. We all know about Joyce’s Dublin, Zola’s Paris, Yeats’s Sligo, Heaney’s Mossbawn…I think we can now rightly refer to Liddy’s Limerick.
By the end of the night, a woman arrived late with a book in hand and she explained that she was a student of John Liddy's when he first arrived in Spain. She was sorry she could not make the event earlier but presumed that a group of Irish writers might still be found, drinking and talking in the theatre's bar. She was right.
John Liddy had inspired her with Joyce and poetry all those years ago and she presented him with a poetry book of her own, that she wrote in 2015, called Como arderá la niebla.
It turns out all of those fine words spoked by Dominic Taylor were right and even in Spain where the students speak English as a second language, there is a ‘a community of unstoppable flow.’
UNESCO City of Literature