penal colony in the 1850s — no tentative ‘first commission for the most prestigious theatre in Britain, so better keep it neat and tidy’ for this fearless woman. The day we met, she’d just heard that she’d won a coveted award to attend the Puglia Film Experience, an international workshop for professional screenwriters. So she’s off to Italy mid-June, where she’ll be developing a film treatment she’s been working on here. A thing we had a laugh about: she was in Romania doing a writing workshop recently and when she was introduced, the not-exactly-fluent-in-English local audience immediately went, ‘Ah yes, Abbie, we know, we
A Bavarian jazz musician is trying to drive a bat out of a neighbouring room
by serenading it with his soprano sax
understand: Abbie Theatre, Dublin!’ ‘What were they thinking, that I am a theatre?’ she laughed.
Speaking of laughter, I must mention the poet Brendan Cleary, a 50-something Carrickfergus man who’s long been living in England (but thinking of coming back). I’d never met nor heard of him before, though evidently I’m out of touch with things bardic, because when I looked I found five books of his poetry in the Tyrone Guthrie library, one of them a selected works. He has another collection, Face, being published in September, and another collected works coming out next year. But it isn’t just all the books that speak of him as a poet: it’s his whole unique, open, deep, light, insightful, quaffing-red-wine-to-the-point-of-itbeing-intravenous demeanour. I told him I was suffering final-draft cold feet and was worried at the thought of all the personal stuff I’ve written ending up in bookshops soon. So I was quaffing wine as a crutch. ‘I’m writing and drinking,’ I told him. ‘MULTI-TASKING!’ he boomed in reply.
Everything about him bears a certain witness to an exile born of the Troubles. A sample couplet from a poem: ‘So when they asked me on their forms if I was Irish or British, I answered “World Citizen” & they threatened to strip me’. Or, from another, ‘& I wanted to escape the daggers behind language, the subtle testing out process at teenage discos’. Even when it’s not so obvious: ‘Here I am, nearly at the start, or the end of things’, the refrain of a new poem that he performed with Norbert doing improvised sax accompaniment.
Norbert last came to the Guthrie Centre in 2004, where he met the Belfast painter Patricia Doherty. They fell in love and have been together since. For the last three years they’ve split their time between Sligo and Bavaria, where Norbert is from. Any jazzers or spoken-word aficionados in the general area of Lissadell (where they live half the year), seek him out. He’s very funny. When a visual artist mentioned, at dinner, to Norbert that a vocalist friend of his had opened her exhibition by ‘singing to one of my paintings’, quick as a whip he retorted, ‘And did the painting sing back?’
Unpretentious, delightful hard workers, each of the above (and I must also mention Billy Ramsell from Cork — a poet, and another one of us with a September book release. His work is beyond brilliant.) Finally, the bat was found hiding under a sofa and safely returned to nature. (No animals were harmed in the making of this column.) Next week: can’t wait to reveal how the bust went...