Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Percy French Prize at Strokestown
First up was Margaret Hickey with her Ballad of Noah and God, a conversation piece with some wonderful rhymes - hidin' it / inside in it, bangin' it / orang utan in it etc. Margaret was the first ever winner of the competition back in 1999 and delivered the poem with her usual professional panache.
Massachusett's Lawrence Kessenich was next up with a very Percy French-esque tale of a dead sailor pickled in rum who doesn't quite make it back across the Atlantic intact due to his comrades' love of the liquid. Lawrence actually won the serious prize at Strokestown in 2010 and so is one of the rare breed to have been nominated in more than one category.
John McDonagh, who was shortlisted last year and also finished second in the Bard of Armagh, was next up with his ballad of a septic tank inspector, fairly apt as Percy French himself was an inspector of drains. This one got the most amount of belly laughs - passing motions in the Dail, taxing me hole- and was definitely the popular choice on the night. Of course, mentioning shyte is a sure-fire way of getting laughs (says he who was once nominated with They Dissected my Poo on the Telly) but this was done very thoughtfully and skilfully to boot.
Loughrea's Ian McDonald had the rare distinction of having two entries in the final, Deputy Alowishis Turnip TD and The Derivatives Express. It was a bit unfortunate that he had to read one immediately after the other. The first was funnier but the second was wittier, if there is such a distinction. Ian has been nominated before and is able to turn his hand from humour to serious poetry seemingly at the drop of a hat.
Mary O'Connell's Kenny Lives was another very clever piece, satirising the Fine Gael shenanigans of the past year or so. Delivered in a very poised manner, it was the sort of piece that had you grinning throughout but no belly laughs.
Scotland's Alice Walsh was the only absentee but her entry, Austerity Blues, was read out by Pat Compton. It was a shame we never got to hear it in Alice's own voice, as judge Pete Mullineaux commented afterwards.
In a nutshell, John McDonagh (above) won and thus garnered a prestigious Slieve Ban ashplant. Mary O'Connell was second and Ian McDonald third.
No Declan O'Brien this year to get the party going in Anthony O'Beirne's, no Martin Parker, no Sean Lyons, no Dee Gaynor but it was still a great night. If I could have one teensy-weensy observation, it was that every poem in the final relied on rhyming couplets. Is this the only form available to humorous verse? I've used it myself in the past but have used other forms too. The winner in 2006 won with a free verse poem!
In the post-competition booze up, I managed to distinguish myself my telling one of my favourite poets, Paddy Bushe, that I had never heard of him. Paddy has shaved off his beard and I didn't recognise him and I didn't quite catch the name when introduced. His Nitpicking of Cranes is one of my favourite poetry books so after an hour of feeling three inches small, I eventually went back up to him and explained. We'd actually met a few times in Strokestown in previous years, so I bet he thought I was an awful gobshyte.