Tour of Duty

Poetry Ireland News September/October 2011

I befriended the poets Luca Artioli, Fabio Barcellandi and Andrea Garbin while living in Mantova in 2009/10. They are all involved, alongside many others, in organising numerous poetry events in Italy, ranging from wine and absinthe-soaked evenings dedicated to the work of the Poeti Maledetti (accursed poets, meaning, chiefly, the 19th-century decadents and their followers), to full scale literary conferences, festivals and publishing showcases. When I suggested a tour of our small island all three smiled and nodded. Ireland still has international cult status among the literary-minded and we are an attractive place for writers to showcase their 

I have been asked several times how one goes about organising such a thing as a poetry tour. The truth is it wasn’t that difficult, though it was helped by the fact that I am already well known on the reading circuit here. My tour with Elaine Feeney in summer 2010 went down well with live poetry audiences all over Ireland. I had a track record of being able to deliver a worthwhile event, so people trusted me to be able to do so again.

In December 2010 I e-mailed the organisers of a number of the by now long-established poetry events around the country and I also spread the news through my Facebook page. This resulted in seven invitations to read, spread out over twelve days between 17-28 June in Cork, Dublin (twice), Bray Head, Trim, Galway and Derry. Easy peasy.

But there are other considerations before deciding to embark on a tour. Firstly, is the work you wish to present good enough to stimulate / engage /entertain a wide variety of audience types? It’s best that you have a record of successful interaction with audiences at local events before taking your show on the road. You should return the courtesy of the invitation with a professional attitude towards your presentation.

Then there is money. Some hosts will have a small amount available to cover accommodation and minor expenses. Others will have nothing to offer but space and listeners. You may or may not raise further small amounts through various official funding channels. It helps if you have something to sell, a book or a CD – again professionally produced or not at all. Our little book is called Poethree – New Italian Voices, published by Thauma Edizioni in Pesaro. Given the cost of petrol, food and drinks, and accommodation you are unlikely to make any money out of a poetry tour. Indeed, you’d be very lucky to break even.

It should be remembered that being on the road is not a holiday but a job, and a tough one at that. If you are thinking of doing a tour involving foreign guests do advise them of the difference. They shouldn’t bring children or partners along.

As a dual-language tour we had to worry about audience reception of work in a tongue most wouldn’t know. But we had the advantage that the stranger’s tongue was Italian, a musical language if ever there was one. I read each piece first in English, and then the poet would read the Italian. This meant that the audience could concentrate on the sound of the Italian version, rather than worry about following the meaning. This was successful. Time and again audience members commented positively on the pleasure of listening to the Italian readers.

The translation of the texts into English was a two-step process, involving a couple of complications. Fabio, a translator by trade, would provide a literal English transcription and I would then go about making my versions. It would have been ill-advised and I think inauthentic to try and imitate precisely the rhyme schemes and verse structure of the Italian poems. Rhyme is written into Italian much more totally than it is into English. I have always found those versions of Dante which attempt to preserve the terza rima to be far too forced to succeed poetically.

Also, these three Italians, though in other ways stylistically diverse, all tended not to versify, usually preferring poems to appear as a single block of text. Used as I am to performing and ‘projecting’ – verse-poetry being a form of oral music as far as I’m concerned – and writing always with that in mind, I view versification as notation. For example, pauses of varying length are usually necessary to read a piece well and should therefore be indicated in the text.

So I had to find an equal or at least adequate music in my own verse style. At least my English is rural, colloquial and Hiberno, perhaps not quite the dreaded ‘perfect language to sell pigs in’ that Michael Hartnett scorned. I tried to find an individual soundscape to suit the theme, tone, and pace of each individual piece. This was time-consuming but intellectually and spiritually refreshing, an enjoyable struggle to shape something meaningful and pleasing to mind, mouth and ear.


The silent love
that you are, that I can give you,
is melting wax

minute by minute
the season darken
from other beds, like a secret rite

to be kept at all costs
or like a debt owed to poetry

which in the gap between wars 
is headquartering here, in Cartagena,

a port where no-one knows what time it is
and where distances brim

and where the light is always the light
that's revealing the route

of our next flight.

Luca Artioli
translated by Dave Lordan

Dave Lordan’s most recent collection is Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains (Salmon Poetry, 2014). 

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