LITERATURE AND music have long had an intimate relationship, and the music of a word is often as important as its literal meaning. A new anthology - Fermata - Writings inspired by Music, showcases writing written in response to music.
Published by Connemara based company Artisan House, and ably co-edited by Eva Bourke and Vincent Woods, with a thoughtful introduction by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, it features prose pieces by Ken Bruen, Rita Ann Higgins, and Ciaran Carson, but it is poetry which predominates.
Some, such as Eamon Grennan’s ‘Kate Singing’ and Peter Sirr’s beautiful eight line ‘Listening to Bulgarian Music’: “God grant me crooked corn and a cool day/she prayed, and it happened…” are inspired by particular songs or tunes. Martina Evans’s ‘Burnfort, Las Vegas’ is a witty investigation of the relationship between our worship of our music heroes and other forms of worship.
When a novelty Elvis mug came suddenly back to life “frightened us all/by spontaneously bursting/into Viva Las Vegas” the narrator in Evans’s poem chose to take this disturbing turn of events “as a sign” and “did what any/Catholic would do – put up a shrine".
Gerry Hanberry’s ‘The Rocker’ shows a rare honesty which captivates. Hanberry’s narrator tells, in 18 curt lines, how he stole a college friend’s girlfriend with “two bottles of wine,/a red candle and Thin Lizzy,//Vagabonds Of The Western World”, and ended up marrying her.
The best tribute to a musician living or dead here is Louis de Paor’s ‘Rory’, about a Rory Gallagher gig the young de Paor attended in Cork City Hall in 1976: “A million miles away from you/right at the back of the hall/my heart was beating/the drum of my hands…” If you are a Rory Gallagher fan you simply must have this poem.
At the other end of the spectrum, the clunker of the collection is Paul Durcan’s ‘In Memory: The Miami Showband – Massacred 31 July 1975’. In it, Durcan constructs a Provo apologist against whom to argue: “In a public house, darkly lit, a patriotic (sic )/Versifier whines into my face: ‘You must take one side/Or the other, or you’re but a fucking romantic.”
Durcan uses the murder of the Miami Showband as an opportunity to go on in a rather politically simple-minded way about the IRA, and those who supported them. If one was not aware of the details, Durcan’s poem could lead one to think the band were killed by the IRA when the murder was in fact carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force, and a gun owned by Robert Nairac, a British army intelligence officer, was found at the scene.
Whatever this poem is about, it is not about music. It is, though, a rare dud note in a book with much to offer fans of music and poetry which, deep down, we all are.