(Annual lecture of the Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan: 26th February 2014)
The luck of this, to have been in Theatre M (UCD) on a rainy Wednesday night to hear Paula Meehan speak, one of an intimate crowd of about 250 people – yes, it did feel intimate, because everyone seemed to know at least one other person there and to half-recognize several more. So many waves and smiles were exchanged as the theatre filled, it might as well have been a party.
It would be ridiculous to try and capture the essence of this extraordinary talk. Paula Meehan herself said it was a series of meditations on and around poetry, but it was far more than that. Ambitious in scope, it ranged across thousands of years, from prehistory through myth and folklore, the Brehon laws, actual history and the present to the edge of an environmentally uncertain future. Along the way she quoted an equally generous range of poets: Marianne Moore (from whose “Ars Poetica” the title of the lecture is derived) Theodore Roethke, Yeats, Carol Ann Duffy, Auden, Kate Newmann, Louis MacNeice, Euripides, Samuel Ferguson, William Blake, Gary Snyder.
Topics she covered included: mythology, geology, the environment, bees and their coded dance, 40 000 year-old cave paintings, amber, honey, language, the Brehon laws, the nature of poetry, personal history, grief, the joyous transgressions of schoolgirls, fossils, dolmens, the internet, Seamus Heaney, Doris Lessing (her Golden Notebook in particular – life-changing for so many young women) Beckett, Edmund Hillery, and did I mention Yeats? No wonder we were all stunned.