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Results, Readings and Thoughts on Sickness and Writing

May 11, 2010

Some nice results of late – Highly commended in Cavan Crystal/Windows National Student and Adult Poetry Competition, shortlisted in the Fish poetry prize, Commended in the European Week Against Racism competition and to round it all off won an American competition devoted to Greek and Roman myths – this particular competition was on the subject of Hermes. Link here.

Two readings coming up. Firstly, the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series of 2010. Here is the schedule –

Venue: The Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Time: 7.00 pm
Date: Monday 17th May 2010:

Andrew Caldicott
Jessica Colley
Martin Dyar
Peter Goulding
Venue: The Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin 1

Time: 7.00 pm


Tuesday 18th May 2010:

Connie Roberts
Andrew Jamison
Simon Leyland
Niamh MacAlister

Venue: The Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin 1

Time: 7.00 pm


Thursday 20th May 2010:

David Mohan
Cliona O’Connell
Edward O’Dwyer
Pauline Hall
Rosie Shepperd

The second reading is in Galway with Over the Edge – here are the details.

Over The Edge in association with the Galway-Lorient Twinning Committee presents the May Over The Edge: Open Reading which takes place in Galway City Library, St.Augustine Street, Galway on Thursday, May 27th, 6.30-8pm. The Featured Readers are David Mohan, Michael Maye & Patrick Argenté.

David Mohan is based in Dublin and writes poetry and short stories. He has been published in The Sunday Tribune, The Stony Thursday Book, Southword, and the anthology Night and Day. He won the Hennessy/ Sunday Tribune Poetry Award, as well as the 2008 overall New Irish Writer Award. He is the winner of the 2009 Over The Edge New Writer of the Year competition.

Michael Maye is a native of Tralee, Co. Kerry. He has lived in Galway for the past 32 years, where he worked in public relations with Udarás na Gaeltachta. He retired in1991. He writes with the Salthill Active Retired Association’s (SARA) Writers’ Group, guided by the group’s tutor Kevin Higgins. Stories by Michael appeared in two books published jointly by SARA group and the Knocknacarra Writers’ group. He has read his work a number of times at the Over The Edge open-mic and delighted audiences with the dark, Surrealist wit in his tales of small town Ireland past and present.

Patrick Argenté was born in Dinan (Brittany) in 1945. He studied literature and became a teacher, then a social worker and a further education counsellor. Today he is retired in Lorient and he dedicates part of his time to writing. He has published four collections of poems: Voisinage du vent (La Part Commune 2005), Les jours lâchent leurs porcelaines (La Part Commune 2006), Oeil effaré plume et les dents (Manoirante 2009) & Ernestine ou Julie (Manoirante 2010).

There will be an open-mic when the Featured Readers have finished. This is open to anyone who has a poem or story to share. New readers are always especially welcome. The MC for the evening will be Susan Millar DuMars. For further details phone 087-6431748.

Phew. And lastly, some thoughts on sickness and writing. I am re-reading parts of Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf at the moment. I was lucky enough to be taught by Lee in the early 90s and she was a wonderful teacher, which is by the by, but a good teacher does make you pay close attention to things you might otherwise neglect or forget, and I did get curious about Woolf because Lee was writing her book around the time I was studying with her.

I found Woolf difficult to get along with as both a writer and as a person. But reading her was my first exposure to how closely linked sickness and the life of the mind can be. Woolf was sick one way or another throughout her life and the ebb and flow in her health had a relationship to her writing – her writing both drove her mad and wore her out and refreshed and compensated her for her troubles.

Other famous writers were driven to write by illness and/or struggled to write because of it. Poor Carson McCullers was perhaps the unluckiest I’ve read about. Milton went blind of course, and Joyce had failing eyesight in the end. Pound went mad. Blake was mad to begin with. Byron died of fever. Alcohol and addiction took too many to mention – (Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, etc). The Brontes were virtually all wiped out by TB. And, of course, many writers were sick as children and developed an inwardness that stayed with them as a result of leading a less outdoors life than other children. Our bodies and minds are in constant battle – if one lives too vividly it begins to cancel the other.

I find this aspect of any writer fascinating and telling. It can be hard to unpick what comes first – the writing or the illness. Sometimes there is no clear chronology. In my own experience I would say that writing is gruelling but also a refuge. To retreat into it is one of its consolations and attractions.

Another aspect of this is the interesting cases of the (rare) writers who actively attempt to marry the two sides of themselves – whether it is Dickens with his obsessive walking (which he found inspirational) or Joyce Carol Oates with her obsessive jogging. Though Oates has recently said that writing has failed her since her partner died – it can’t cure the brutal fact of death.

So, anybody got any body/mind, health and illness and writing thoughts to share? Any dodgy knees or backs? Any wonky eyes? Let me know which is currently winning – the life of the body or the life of the mind?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2010 11:39 am

    Wow, that’s a lot of results! Great news, congratulations.

    Fascinating post on the mind v’s body thing. I suppose I think the body can suffer when you want to spend too much on the mind – ie sitting around reading all day – but I think you could ideally have health in both sides – ie I don’t like the thought, at least, of one taking from the other in a direct way (and sports people would probably agree – ie they need mental and physical brilliance I guess). Writing is a way of trying to understand life, ourselves, and each other, so I suppose it is going to draw a higher proportion of people likely to think about those areas more – because of problems that they may have. Which comes first is a tricky question though – one of the honey fungussers was recently heard to complain about the phenomenon of poetic illness “Why do they always kill themselves and get sick? It’s not a great ad for doing it!”
    Myself – I’m extremely unfit – but I don’t think I can blame writing for this. I’m just lazy when it comes to physical exercise. No other symptoms to report.

  2. May 11, 2010 11:54 am

    Thanks for that, Niamh.

    Yes, glad you are in good health. I think there is an association in our culture between the notion of great art and self-sacrifice, and looking back, it does seem as many writers have sacrificed themselves, one way of another, to their art. I have grown quite unfit in the last 4 years or so, I would say, and I do have back and other problems too to contend with, and I am conscious of being very out of balance at the moment and ultimately want to look after both sides of myself if I can.

    Woolf even has an essay ‘On Being Ill’ that reflects on the subject of illness and art – it’s worth checking out.

  3. May 13, 2010 1:44 pm

    Well, the longer I write, the fatter I get…

    I do aspire to, and write many lists in this spirit, having a perfect balance. Which in my imagination seems to involve brisk long walks and being generally “full of energy”. Whatever that means exactly.

    I don’t know if I agree 100% with an illness/writing association. Perhaps its the same for any sedentary solitary profession, wonder if there aren’t similarities between the health of writers and long distance lorry drivers for instance?

    Or being writers, their conditions become public whereas other professionals don’t often write poems about their death wishes?

  4. May 13, 2010 1:46 pm

    Ps Congratulations on your shortlists and commendations!

  5. May 13, 2010 7:45 pm

    Lol – thanks Niamh. Can see your point about other sedentary professions. I suppose I am going on my own experiences to an extent, and also reflecting on what you might call the Romantic myth of the artist – the one that claims we are all tortured in one way or another!

  6. May 13, 2010 8:02 pm

    Its such well proagated myth, I was once given a hand out in a writing class that started…”to write is to be in a constant state of anguish” (!) I binned that one.
    But I have to admitt, to submitt to writing competitions is to be in a constant state of anguish!
    Its tempting somehow to buy into the tortured artist temperment myth, (How can I write under these conditions!!!) but it may be nicer, if less dramatic, to have a life outside writing and to live well into old age. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I might still have to do dishes even if i get my novel published, but thats probably my artistic temperment! The torture.

  7. May 13, 2010 8:40 pm

    It is a trauma submitting to magazines and competitions! All that waiting around etc is not good for the old nerves. And yes, it would be disappointing to have to do your own dishes after publishing a novel – you can get your agent to do them while you paint your nails.

  8. May 19, 2010 3:19 pm

    Connie Roberts was in the Hennessey’s a coupla years back. I really liked her poetry. Good luck with your reading (if you make it)

  9. May 19, 2010 5:01 pm

    Hi there Colm,

    Thanks for that.

  10. May 22, 2010 2:53 pm

    Hi David,

    Congrats on all the activity – you’re flying along at the mo!

    I’m smiling weakly here at the sickness/writing thing – I’m laid low with some sort of tummy bug on what must be the single most ‘get-thee-outdoors’ day of the year so far. So I end up writing. Worse, in fact – browsing! Commenting! Sheesh 🙂

    I’m not sure the correlation is quite that clearcut. After all, Hemingway lived a robustly physical life (in spite of depression, addiction and even being a writer). And there’s many wonderful writers who are in excellent physical health – damn their eyes. But I think the perception holds – that physical and intellectual acuity are mutually exclusive – the ‘Niles Crane’ syndrome.

    Childhood sickness / trauma often seem to be a factor in forming an off-centre way of observing the world. I’ve heard it said that this explains art as being a way of staving off fears born of childhood vulnerability – illness, trauma etc. threatening what should be a period of idyllic innocence. Which sounds a bit of middle class perspective to me? Many children in the world never experience anything like that. Yet it sort of makes sense that artists, writers etc. in their adult life are, in a way, hiding from reality in their ‘fiction’? Or reshaping ‘real’ to a perspective which allays their misgivings (all the while speaking of ‘truth’, ‘keeping it real’ ‘raw honesty’ of course). Whereas those for whom physicality is the key tool (emotionally scarred or no) immerse themselves in the ‘non-fiction’ of ‘real’ life?

    Anyways, hope your PI Introductions reading went well? Would have liked to make it, but ‘real’ life intervened. Ciao.

  11. May 22, 2010 4:28 pm

    Hi there Padhraig,

    Nice to hear from you.

    Yes, it is a complex one. I think writing can be a protection and a vulnerability, in that it is both an outlet and intensive intellectual labour (depending on the writer).

    I think some writers do hide from things in their writing, but I agree that it is also a way of re-processing and moving on from life experiences. I suppose a bad back etc pushes you in the direction of such thoughts!

    The PI Introductions went fine – as far as I could tell. There was a nice, friendly crowd.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  12. Pete permalink
    May 25, 2010 3:58 pm

    Hi Dave, sorry I couldn’t make the Thursday – had to work unfortunately. I was able to get there on the Tuesday thankfully.
    Personally, I finished nowhere in the Cavan Crystal thing, didn’t enter Fish, finished nowhere in the European Week against Racism and let me see, where did I finish in Hermes? Ah, yes, nowhere.
    You’re really on a roll now!!!

  13. May 25, 2010 7:33 pm

    Hi Pete,

    No worries re: the reading. I, myself, couldn’t make the other two readings besides my own so I completely understand. It was fine – I was quite nervous but it wasn’t too bad in the end.

    Lol – now, now – don’t be hiding your light under the proverbial bushel – Mr Golden Pen winner!
    Incidentally, I really liked ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ – great punch-line at the end!

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