Ash Wednesday Dinner: For the Love of Poetry and Pork

There are few things in life as good as poetry and pork.  Oh – and coffee.  And the kindness of people who own coffee kiosks.   And you can quote me on that.   You can also quote me on this:   Life is full of happy little accidents.  And, when food and words are involved, those little accidents go from happy to full-on exuberant and joyful.

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I

untitled (11 of 66)Sometime last Fall, I went off to Nick’s, to get my first coffee of the day.  Anyone who’s read this blog in the past knows that I am nothing but a complete romantic when it comes to the coffee there.  I had with me an issue of a literary magazine in which I’d gotten one of my poems published.  It had just arrived, and I wanted to share the joy of it with someone.  As luck would have it, Nick himself was there in the kiosk that morning.   I told him about my poem and he asked to see it.  It’s the longest poem I’ve written so I didn’t expect him to actually read the whole thing .  Going on past experiences of showing poems to people, even the one-pagers don’t seem to excite them enough to get a full read-through.  But read it through he did – all 4 pages of it.  Once he was done, he pointed to the big chalkboard outside  the kiosk and said:

“It’s yours.  To write any poem on it you want”.

And that’s what I did.  For about a month, I would climb up (a couple of times a week) on auntitled (3 of 66) wooden table and I would write a poem.   It made me feel good – great in fact to know that it was there – for people to read as they came in to get their coffee, or their tea.   I’d walk by the kiosk, look at the chalkboard and feel…well, happy.  I cannot say enough about Nick’s (the kiosk), or Nick himself for the kindness extending in letting me share my work in this way.   The simple act of offering up that chalkboard (for poetry of all things!) was as unselfish and open a thing, as anything I’ve experienced while living in Dublin. It moved me to be just as unselfish and just as open.

I thought about how best to use this space – for the good of poetry, and the love of excellent coffee.  And that is when I thought about Leonard Cohen (of whom I make no small shyness about adoring, fully and completely).  He said that ‘poetry is the evidence of life.  If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”.  The ash.   For being here over a year, I’ve met many wonderful poets, all of them burning well, all of them making heaps and mounds of poetic ash.   The kind of ash that belongs on a big chalkboard.   In a coffee kiosk.  In the middle of Ranelagh.    And that is how the “Ash Wednesday Poetry  Series” was born.

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To check out the full series – https://ashwednesdayseries.wordpress.com/

II

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Someone sent me a message the other day to ask me what the Ash Wednesday Series was.   I began with the basics – that it’s a

“public arts display put on by the Ranelagh Arts Centre, in partnership with Nick’s Coffee Company, with the aim of bringing poetry to the streets of Ranelagh Village.   Running between November 2012 and January 2013, the 10-week series has highlighted some of Dublin’s best up-coming and established contemporary poets, in both English and Irish”.

Which is true.  It is (or was – the final poem went up last week).  There is/was also a bloguntitled (22 of 66) that included a small Q&A with all the poets, as well as photos and video (in most cases) of each poet reciting their work.  It was wonderful to see each poem up on the board, and I was excited to read the answers to the questions I had asked them  (my favourite, both to ask and to see the response for was the one relating to what each of them thought Dublin smelled like – the answers to this question alone would make me curious enough to want to come and visit, were I not here already).   The poets themselves were chosen because they, in ways big and small, represent my first year in Dublin.  I remember the first meetings with each one of them – where I was, and in some cases, the first poems I heard them recite.  Collectively, they represent everything I wanted to find when I came to Dublin to write – and, they also make the case for staying, because they each contribute something to being a writer in Dublin, to the literary scene – each one of them makes it  vibrate.

What I couldn’t capture in the blog was something I shared with the person who asked me about the series, and, in sharing it I realized that it was as important to me as the series itself. Life is full of happy accidents – and in this case, what pushed this happy accident into the realm of the exuberant and joyful was simple:  it was the act of going beyond the chalkboard, to the intimacy of the kitchen table.

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untitled (41 of 56)The greatest pleasure in life is to sit and share food with someone.  It is kind, and it is intimate – it is an open hand, extended in offering.  All one needs in life to feel full is good food and wonderful company.  And so it was, that after every poet had written their poem in chalk that they were invited back to my home for a meal.  It was a way for me to say thank you, for their participation in the series, but it was also  a way to take some time, share some space and see what things would come, from sitting at a kitchen table together.

I won’t go into the details of all the things discussed (some things are sacred, and a kitchen table full of food and kind company is a holy space indeed), but each of them could not contain themselves when it came to talking about poetry and writing – the need to communicate and share something with someone, with everyone.   It was sweet, and inspiring, to hear each one speak in such a loving way about creativity and art.   They were open and honest.  The meals that were shared were some of my favourite meals in all my time in Dublin.

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I have always loved what happens around a kitchen table – but, I never expected it to happen as good as it did, week after week, for the ten weeks that was the Ash Wednesday Poetry Series.  And because there aren’t enough words to express my thanks to all the poets who gave their time and their creativity to make the Ash Wednesday Poetry Series such a wonderful success…I did the next best thing:  I invited them all to a dinner this past Saturday.

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untitled (2 of 66)As one of the poets (ah hell, I’ll name names – it was the alliterationally-inclined Colm Keegan) referred to it , the ‘Pork and Poetry Convention’ took place behind the blue door of The Mews this past Saturday.  All of the poets, bar two who were in transit (one flying back from England, and the other from India), and one who lives in San Francisco, came along for a night of feasting.   And feast we did.  I repeated a few of my favourite dishes that were cooked for the one-on-one dinners, including mussels with chorizo in white wine and tomato sauce, and roasted pork shoulder whose crackling was so good, they should change the spelling to craic-ling (apologies for that groan-worthy word-play).   The wine flowed, and the conversation filled the space – and it was a lovely evening of poets and pork.   I invited a photographer along, and all the photos from that evening that you see in this post were his.  Not only does he have a beautiful eye, but he has a way with words as well.  And so it is that I will leave him with the last word regarding the pork shoulder:  “..it’s the way it falls apart when you look just at it”.untitled (47 of 66)

It was, by all accounts, a very special evening – and, if you didn’t agree with me before, I hope you’d be slightly more hard-pressed  than to argue now about my introductory assertion that there are few things in life as good as poetry and pork.  Because, quite simply, there aren’t.

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With the series done, the dinner consumed and all the wine drunk, there’s only one thing left to do – hold a reading of all the poets showcased during the series.  And, with the wonderful support of the Ranelagh Arts Centre, that is exactly what is going to be done.  All of the poets will be there:  Laura Cleary; Andre K’Por (who, now that I think of it deserves much of the credit for me cooking all those dinners – we bonded over the love of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche”); John Cummings (his was the dinner at which the first pork shoulder was consumed); Patrick Chapman; Kerrie O’Brien; Gabriel Rosenstock; Stephen James Smith (I cooked a meatloaf for him – the next day, the horse DNA scandal hit the front pages); Colm Keegan; and Anne Tannam.   Music will be provided by Davy Lyons (he’s got duende for marrow), and there will be a wine reception (3 euro/glass) prior to the event.  Doors will open at 6, and the readings will commence at 7.

Yes – life is full of happy accidents.  On February 13th, take it to full-on exuberant and joyful by coming along to the Ranelagh Arts Centre for the love of poetry…from a chalkboard to the kitchen table,  it’s all an open hand, extended in offering.

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Endnotes:

  1. Anto Kane is responsible for all the beautiful photographs of the Ash Wednesday dinner.  Check out more at: https://www.facebook.com/#!/AntoKanePhotography?fref=ts
  2. The chalkboard will not be bare for long.  The mind turns for the artistic idea.  Keep the eyes peeled for more poems…and other wonderful things at Nick’s.
  3. She watched over us, leopard-skin outfit and all:

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