4 Corners Festival 2014 (http://www.4cornersfestival.com/) kicks off this month and we are delighted that Pádraig ó Tuama is featuring in two of the events - Tenx9 on January 22nd in the Black Box at 7.30 and Sorry For Your Troubles on January 29th in An Cultúrlann at 7.30. Here is my review of Pádraig's book of poetry Sorry For Your Troubles that touches on both events...
Art that’s not just good but good for something. How much do I go on and on about that?! Well, Pádraig Ó Tuama has just published exactly what I am looking for. Sorry For Your Troubles is a collection of poetry that does so much more than create literary wonder. These poems are a full-bodied contribution to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. That in some ways should not be a complete surprise. The proud to be a Cork man who loves his adopted Belfast has been working in reconciliation for ten years, being a resource to a plethora of peace groups including Corrymeela and Northern Ireland Mediation. That he should bring that part of his vocation to bear on his creative vocation is not only obvious but a more penetrative vocation overall.
One of Ó Tuama’s other contributions is the inventive monthly 10x9 event in Belfast’s Black Box. This is where 9 people each month share a 10 minute story from their life on a specific theme. Stories are very much at the heart of these poems. Indeed at the launch of the book Susan McEwen spoke of the different peace projects that she was involved in, and then engaged Pádraig in, where the stories people told about their experiences of the Troubles had been given the “magic” of Pádraig’s poetic flair and then told back to the storytellers. You can only imagine the impact as you read some of them here. In every way this is what the poems do for us all. From the Hunger Strikes to the Sash, through Pádraig’s connections with a host of people across our society Pádriag tells our communal story back to us.
It is all here. Our stories of deep hurt and sorrow. Our stories of death and attempting to live on in the light of losing loved ones. Our stories of mixed marriages and deep sectarianism. Our stories of flags and religious symbols. Pádraig makes them very much ours. He blends the two communities:
“And ‘please God, keep loved ones safe’
repeated round and round and round
like rosaries told upon a bead
or shoes upon the ground of orange walking.” (Hunger Strikes)
Not only poetically but the actual sharing of grief: -
“And I have started telling out my story,
And I’m not the only one who’s suffered,
And I’m not the only one
Who’s found a way of living kindly.” (Conversation Starters)
There again we are back to stories, poetically directed to reconciliation. They come with some challenge too:
“And the question is
Can we create the space that holds us
And moulds us in our bodies
So that we embody
Who and what
We can be
With one another.” (Once Upon A Timebomb)
In the end the over over-riding thrust is hope. Hope is the oxygen of change, where there is no hope, the game is up. To keep that hope pumping in Northern Ireland is a vital contribution. Pádraig again finds it in our story. He does not lean on the ethereal hope of poets but draws his our story of our stories to a close by the tangible lead of our leaders. He tells the story of two moments. Small gestures yet big statements that became historical and prophetic. Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Dublin in 2011 catches the Irish speaker in Ó Tuama when the British monarch begins her speech at Dublin Castle in Irish – “I cried in my armchair in Belfast watching the coverage on the television. While gesture is not the final word, it is a fine first word.” (The Queen’s Irish)
From that gesture comes the big moment in the collection’s story. Pádraig found himself invited to “the hand shake” in the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. He admits he wasn’t sure about being there – “What does a handshake mean? Who will love what they are doing? Who will hate it? What do I think of participating in an event like this when I neither love nor hate either?” Our poet was again surprised at his response to the gesture. “I deepened my critical and complicated admiration for those whom we call our leaders.” (The Queen’s Irish)
This led to the poem of the entire piece. I had had the privilege of reading this poem at the time of the event but when Pádraig read it aloud at the book launch it made me yelp out loud on a few occasions. Shaking Hands asks why? –
“Because what’s the alternative
Because of courage
Because of loved ones lost.
Because it takes a second to hate, but it takes longer, much longer to be a great leader.
Much, much longer.
“Because it is tough
Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leadeing.
Because to be bereaved is to be troubled by grief.
Because more than two troubled peoples live here.
So join your much discussed hands.
We need this; for one small second.
Wow. Now that is art that is good for something!