Ciaran MacArtain and Zakery Simpson Review by Paul Strickland.

Ciaran MacArtain and Zakery Simpson Review by Paul Strickland.

Organized under the theme of "Crossover," the most recent Spoken Word event was held on August 16th, 2018 at Cafe Voltaire and drew the interest and participation of 35 Prince George poetry lovers.


Internationally known, Ciaran MacArtain of Glasheen, Cork City, Ireland (originally from Prince George) was the featured guest. MacArtain is a prominent poet, producer and theatre artist who has worked in New York, Montreal, where he read in both English and French, and Cork’s twin city of Cork, San Francisco. The San Francisco event, sponsored by St. Mary’s College resulted in an exchange of readers going to Ireland for an event that MacArtain hosted. The other host was Stanley Notte, another Cork poet.


MacArtain read first from his own in the book spoken worlds: sound as character (Cork: bheal press, 2017), published jointly with Notte.


Three of MacArtain’s poems were accompanied with classical music played by Prince George pianist and composer, Zakery Simpson. “You Are Not Lazy” was read to the sound of Johann Sebastian Bach’s prelude and fugue. After reading a few more poems, MacArtain asked Simpson to accompany him again. This time it was the first part of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique with MacArtain’s poem “Billboard Attraction”. The final music accompaniment was a piece by Twentieth-Century composter Philip Glass played to the words of MacArtain’s poem, “I Roll Over.” 


The poems sometimes reflected standardized leftist views, but that was secondary to MacArtain’s sense of dramatic rhythm, a sense not usual among young poets. The combination of Simpson and MacArtain produced an evocative sonority that had real impact. For me, the performance brought back memories of the Beat Poets of the 1950s who read to saxophone or bongo drum music. But this style of performing art goes all the way back to ancient Greece when poets recited to the tones of lyres. Evidently Anglo-Saxon alliterative narration was accompanied by harps. I’m certain the combination of music and word will remain a popular style of entertainment until long after I’ve quit writing reviews.


Humbly following MacArtain, I read two poems inspired by the 2017 forest fire season and fortunes of evacuees. First was "Die Fluchtlingen" (The Refugees) written and read in German and "Demasiado" (Too Much) written and read in Spanish. I provided English translations at the end of each poem. Local theatre artist and poet, Andrew Burton, followed me, reading a number of his well crafted and thought out poems near the end of the evening.


The end featured a standing ovation that included hoots and shouts of appreciation. Yes, music with poetry is good for the ear.


A reading of spoken worlds: sound as character,confirmed some of my impressions from the Spoken Word event. First, MacArtain writes poems of statement, poems that rail against “those that worship money,” and that trace the thinking of ordinary folk who are tricked by politicians into becoming cheerleaders “for a profit system / That perpetuates inequality.” I thought I heard reflections in these poems of the plight of what the English call “the just-about managing” (JAMS) who are increasingly not managing because of the social upheaval and insecurity, caused by Brexit, in both Ireland and the UK. 


Second, the combination of poetry and music has a powerful effect, and can take many forms. Notte’s poetry is diametrically opposite to MacArtain’s, focused on sexual love and his personal experiences of betrayal and confirmation. But here too music takes precedence to theme. Notte’s story is told by way of linked phrases from popular music. In the poem “Love is Enough,” Leonard Cohen’s phrase “Everybody knows” is used as a sort of refrain. Along with Cohen, we hear Buddy Holley — “Heartbeat” and “True Love Ways.” 


MacArtain's and Notte's book is available for $14.95 at Books and Company.

Author Bio:

Paul, in his 28 years as a full-time journalist and 6.5 years as a free lance journalist, Paul has worked for newspapers in Nevada, Medicine Hat and Prince George. Besides being an investigative reporter, he is a poet, a short story writer and an essayist. He presently resides in Prince George and haunts all the literary scenes that appear in town.