Surveying the Poetry Scene

Children's Express reporter Lyra Mckee rates Belfast poetry

The poetry evening at the Belfast Festival promised an exciting line-up including veteran Medbh McGuckian, a former Queen's student herself, and two-time winner of the TS Eliot award Michael Longley.

To the disappointment of everyone in the audience, the Granddaddy of Irish verse, Seamus Heaney, who had been scheduled to make an appearance, could not attend for reasons of ill health. 

One would have expected that the lilting tones of McGuckian and Longley would have more than compensated for the absence of the Derry born Poet Laureate but, surprisingly, it was the younger generation of poets who stole the show.

Longley's recital was, for me, entirely forgettable. While his poetry is undoubtedly the work of genius, his softly spoken timbre failed to do justice to the riveting melancholy in Ceasefire, long considered one of his best-loved poems.

As for Medbh McGuckian, her verse also lacked strong or forceful delivery. However, given that she is recovering from illness, her lacklustre performance can be excused. She should be credited for making the effort given the reason for Heaney's absence.

But even with a more powerful reading, I feel that her work would have struggled for the much sought after and coveted standing ovation.

Despite my disappointment at the performances from the more seasoned writers, the other younger poets, Gearoid Mac Lochlainn and Leontia Flynn from North Belfast, shook the hallowed halls of Queen's University to its very foundations.

Their passionate medley of words made the evening more than worthwhile.

Mac Lochlainn's performance, full of four-letter expletives, may have shocked the ‘blue-rinse brigade’, but was none the less superb.

A vigorous reading and the repetition in his verse created a thumping beat you could have clapped along with.

While Ms Flynn was slightly more reserved, her words wove a surreal and magic tableau for the audience and managed to quieten even the crying toddler near the back of the Whitla Hall.

Overall, the evening was well spent in the company of Mac Lochlainn and Flynn, and the other poets who joined them.

But the next time I see a poetry reading advertised which includes an audience with Longley and McGuckian, I might just give it a miss.

That is unless they are actually accompanied by Seamus Heaney for whom, it must be said, the vast majority of the audience had turned up to see and hear. Maybe next time I will get to hear what the squat pen of the man himself has produced.