Monday, October 15, 2012

Loss property

Leontia Flynn, Saturday 13th October, 2.30pm, 

Whitworth Art Gallery Words by Jenny Rafferty. 

Walking into the Whitworth Art Gallery, there is no mistaking this is where today's MLF and Poets & Players joint event is being held. I find myself guided by a siren's call of Irish folk music to the South Gallery. I'm not the only one to be drawn in as it's standing room only, and I overhear an urgent call for 'emergency seating', while some find space hanging over the balcony overlooking the huge room.  Although this is a literature festival, Paul Caddick (guitar), Michael Rodden (fiddle) and Dave Lim (uilleann pipes) do a great job of injecting musicality to the proceedings, and it is striking the depth of  richness and texture that only three musicians can create. The group play famous Irish standards including Slow Air and the Great Fields of Canada among many others; after their first set, I notice that most of the audience is bobbing and tapping along and most will likely carry on to the Jolly Angler tonight where the group announce they will be playing.
The rhythmic metre of the music is a perfect accompaniment for the poetry of Leontia Flynn, the Northern Irish poet based in Belfast. Today Leontia is reading from her third book Profit and Loss, which was published last year and shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.

Leontia starts her reading with The Notorious Case of Robert the Painter, an account of the time she lived in the house where a notorious and particularly grizzly murder had occurred many years previously. Unsuprisingly, the poem is haunting and I'm surely not the only one to experience a chill with a line at the end remarking how the dead women's roses continue to bloom in the garden.  Leontia quips that “if you start with a hideous murder, things only get better”. 

A theme running through Profit and Loss is living spaces and the items we share our lives with. In Peace Lily, Leontia writes about a plant that was given to her by a friend: In the corner of the room the potted peace lily / Throws up its waxy leaves towards the light / How many grim locations around town / passed on from friend to friend, has it called home? 

The concept of loss also looms large throughout the book and in particular the poem Colette is incredible touching. Leontia tells us Colette was her mother's five-year-old sister who tragically died in a car crash. In the poem, she explores the deep well of her grandmother's grief and the cruel irony that her mother was born on the first anniversary of Colette's death: Next year to the day. My mother’s birthday cake / is iced in black and sweetened with black ashes / the candle-flames are little points of dark.  

Not only are Leontia poems both beautiful and moving in equal measure, her gentle delivery is pitched perfectly; the room is enraptured to the extent that there is a small stampede when the host announces during the interval that Profit and Loss is on sale, and Leontia will sign copies.

Like all great poets, Leontia Flynn captures those visceral emotions we all expierence but struggle to put words to. Her epic poem Letters to Friends is a great example of this and was inspired after she discovered a box of things packed away 15 years ago when moving; she writes of going through the box and finding the eponymous letters to friends, of the bus tickets and photos as evidence of past adventures, obsolete technologies (floppy discs, cassettes, Polaroids, remember them?) and other knick-knacks that seemed too important to throw out then, but impossible to remember why now.  Throughout the poem, she weaves her refections of her life including her father's deterioration, the result of Altzeimer's, her impending motherhood, the social impact of the peace process and the impending financial crisis (Letters to Friends was written in 2008). I would encourage any poetry fan (particularly if you are old enough to have 15-year-old boxes of 'important things') to check out her work.

Jenny Rafferty works for a mental health charity and enjoys writing as a hobby


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