BY JOHN FITZGERALD
Arts Week saw the publication of two little gems from writers whose work transcends all social divides (real or imagined), appealing to just about anyone who enjoys a little recreational word-play.
Judy Rhatigan and Peter Brabazon launched their books halfway through the hectic seven days of celebration and creativity in the county.
Judy chose the Book and Coffee Shop in William Street, Kilkenny, for the occasion. The café is run by critically acclaimed novelist Marion O’ Neill. It’s is a little Aladdin’s Cave of literary treasures and part of Kilkenny’s thriving intellectual hub.
On any day of the week you’ll find a few of the Marble City’s weighty makers and shakers sipping their coffees or lattes, sharing ideas or catching up on the latest comings and goings in a city that’s shaping up to be the Arts Mecca of the South East.
What an apt setting for the launch of The Raggedy Bush Poems. Judy Rhatigan’s book is a heartwarming collection that takes up, in a sense, where her 2019 memoir Beyond the Briary Wood left off. She plumbs the depths of memory to retrieve those precious images and word-pictures that accumulated over the decades of her deeply fulfilling life, creating a symphony of graphic evocation that pulls gently but compellingly at the heartstrings.
To appreciate the wondrous world of yesteryear to which she reaches out across time and space, just close your eyes and try to forget about our hi-tech consumer society, moving at breakneck speed, with gadgets of all sorts buzzing and flashing, and the art of conversation increasingly backed into a corner- or silenced- by a tidal wave of I phones and so-called smart devices.
Instead, think of that Other Ireland where picking blackberries or a visit to the cinema was a special treat, or tending to a garden (Judy’s one is work of art in itself), or painting a landscape under a pre-Climate Change summer sky, all the flowers blooming and the hedges sagging with fruit; or calling into a small shop where you’d have time for a chat.
Or threshing day, when community spirit surged as neighbors and friends pooled their efforts, all helping each other at harvest time in an age when few homes had a house phone, let alone anything more sophisticated, when gossip was confined to the pubs and street corners and social media was undreamt of. It is to that “other country” as the past has been called, that Judy takes us in her poetry.
All the poems are infused with a passionate love of nature and in fact, long before the biodiversity crisis was mulled (and without the benefit of a crystal ball), Judy wrote: “Now they must replenish the earth. Leave the bogs to the frogs, the hedges to the birds, the woods to reseed themselves, streams to flow with watercress, and green mosses to shelter bugs and slugs…”
The cream of Kilkenny’s literati and glitterati turned out in force to show their support for Judy. They took turns eulogizing her poetry.
Pillars of the artistic community such as Ger Cody, actor Brendan Corcoran, Mary Cradock, Joe Murray, Ger Mullally, and of course Judy’s illustrious husband, Jimmy, whose portrayal of poet Patrick Kavanagh in Geoff Rose’s Where Old Ghosts Meet is a legendary and a must-see event for all drama lovers. Actor/singer Joe Murray concluded the launch with a moving guitar tribute to Judy.
The Raggedy Bush Poems is on sale at all Kilkenny book shops.
Singer Peter Brabazon is another Poet of the People who’s tried his hand at writing prose, having penned two books of poetry.
If you’ve ever wondered what life as a busker might be like, do pick up his book on the subject. In 9 Months a-busking the author relates the story of what happened when he took to the streets to entertain.
Peter had in mind a kind of social experiment. He wanted to test human reactions to his performances in the unregulated and unpredictable milieu of the wide open urbane spaces, away from his familiar cozy indoor stage settings or the firesides of the many pubs he’s played in.
The book title was inspired by the idea of a gestation period. After the nine months he expected that there might be a “delivery” of sorts, perhaps a decisive result of his experiment… or an “aha” moment that he could then write or sing about, or maybe incorporate into a future poem.
Reading of his exploits is a pleasure for anyone familiar with the Kilkenny streetscape. He busked at places like the Tholsel Arch, in the Butterslip, and on all the medieval lanes and ancient street corners that city dwellers and visitors will readily identity.
It wasn’t plain sailing for him, and he earned every cent of the modest takings that accrued to him over the nine months. His account sparkles with humour. Penny Lane was a killer to sing, he laments, and he got “pennies” for his efforts.
On some days he had to compete for space and an audience with, for example, brass bands, tour guides, Jehovah’s Witnesses, sausage dogs, and Defence Force personnel rattling charity collection buckets.
He played in the foulest of weather. Standing dutifully in hail storms, lashing rain, and howling winds, he belted out the tunes, nimbly alternating between guitars, mandolin and harmonica as the elements conspired to undo his heroic renditions.
Undaunted, he sang on even when a grumpy fellow inadvertently kicked his little cap containing a few cent into a puddle of water. Nothing could quell his musical zeal…whether he sang his own compositions or the songs of John Denver, the Beatles, Bob Dylan or The Water boys.
Peter launched his book at Fennelly’s of Callan, the internationally renowned, multi-award winning arts café. He also sang some of his favourite numbers and recited the haunting tale of the Martian who landed at Ballydehob.
Partly disguised as a piece of black comedic verse, it hinted at the distrust and suspicion that so often greets newcomers or perceived “outsiders”…not just in Ireland but anywhere that human beings are confronted or challenged with the unknown or the unfamiliar.
Fennelly’s courtyard filled up quickly and there was barely standing room for an audience that got to hear the talented author sing in the converted former farmyard that has been likened to a film set in lavish online reviews.
It was one of many such events scheduled for Fennelly’s. Some topnotch entertainers will play there over the coming weeks.
9 Months a-Busking is on sale (at five euro) in Callan at Joe Lyons’s fruit and veg shop and may soon be available elsewhere.