THE AMERICAN poet and editor Steve Luttrell's first visit to Ireland will see him read at the Over The Edge Writers Gathering at Galway City Museum on Friday May 13 at 8pm, along with local poets Stephen Byrne and Eileen Ní Shuilleabháin.
His visit co-incides with the Galway launch of a special Irish issue of the poetry magazine which he edits, The Café Review, featuring poems by Paula Meehan, MacDara Woods, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Thomas McCarthy, and others. A native of Portland, Maine, where he still lives, Luttrell has published five chapbooks and six major editions of his poetry, including Home Movies, Conditions, The Vagaries: A Winter's Sequence, and Permaquid and Other Poems. He has also served as poet laureate of Portland.
“Relative to its population the arts scene in Portland is extremely strong,” he tells me over an afternoon chat by phone. “Portland is a peninsula city of about 75,000 people and if you factor in outlying areas it adds up to about 125,000, so it is a small city. There is a lot of activity and writing, it has a symphony orchestra, a university, a lot of music and things like that so it is a very active city for arts.”
He tells me about The Café Review which he founded in 1989 and has edited since. “The name of the publication comes from the fact that we were meeting in a café, a little coffeehouse in Portland and reading poems," he says. "I’d go around at the end of the reading and collect the poems that had been read and publish them in a little pamphlet.
"For the first three years we were a monthly publication - which proved to be biting off more than we could chew! - so then we changed to quarterly and over the years it has expanded into an 80/85 page journal with art as well as poetry. This is actually the second time we did an all-Irish issue; we previously did one back in 1997.”
As well as editing The Café Review, Luttrell has hosted his own TV show (Poet’s Café ), and has run the historical Portland Club, giving him a strong presence in the region, and a large following among New England poets and writers. His intimate, unassuming voice is driven by a musician’s sense of rhythm and a deceptive simplicity.
“I have a new book out called Plumb Line and that particular title reflects my own approach to poetry,” he tells me. “I try to find the centre, a place to stand and from which to write. I am influenced by a lot of different sources, the early Beats, the Black Mountain poets, Charles Olsen. One of my favourite poets is Michael Hartnett, I truly wish I could have met him while he was alive.”
More than 10 years in the making, Plumb Line conjures the beauty of the New England Coast and the enduring power of nature. In sparse, accessible verse, the poet evokes the wild Maine landscape–the rocks and wildlife, the shifting planets, and the surging waters–at the same time that he casts an observant eye on his fellow creatures. He deftly melds the eternal and the transitory, the extraordinary and the everyday. He imbues the small routines of daily life with quiet significance and casts the enormity of the cosmos to human scale.
Luttrell is eagerly anticipating his imminent Irish visit. “I’m very much looking forward to it,” he declares. “My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was from Claregalway, and Galway will be my first stop on my journey. Then I am also doing readings in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. I’m cramming a lot in and getting involved in community poetry readings. I’d just like to say that I am really grateful to Kevin Higgins in Galway and the folks in Dublin to allow me to read here. I’m really excited to hear the poets I’ll be reading with, as much as reading my own work, and to hear that authentic Irish voice.”
Sharing the bill with Luttrell are Carna native Eileen Ní Shuilleabháin and Stephen Byrne, a semi-retired chef. Both have had their work widely published in a range of literary journals. Among other Café Review contributors who will also be reading their poems on the evening will be Lorna Shaughnessy, Órfhlaith Foyle, Susan Millar DuMars, John Walsh, Susan Lindsay, Kevin Higgins, and Aideen Henry.
The Over The Edge reading takes place in the Museum's Kitchen Café. Admission is free and all are welcome.