Between the Lines - festival of literature
Belfast 2005 and 2004

the Crescent Arts centre festival concluded two weeks ago, already and of course our report is under way. This year (2005) , it featured guests who appeared on the Klandestini festival in Malta, one of them was Federico Zanatti from Italy whose performance onstage of his audioplay "Brief Tales of St Louis & Lawrence" was well worth a look. Federico narrates a story being inspired by William S Burroughs to a soundtrack with his band Father Murphy. Very good, I like the format, we are trying to do a similar presentation with The Bohemian Tales. Look forward to our report, and give a hand to the artists local and from abroad.

I was pleasantly surprised to meet Velma, a band from Belfast fronted by Jeannette who used to live in my neighbourhood. The band is a five piece with gibsons and have released a CD on the good vibration label (c/o Phoenix Records)- they will be performing at the Scala in London in May. Further details to follow.

This week marked the anniversary of an arson attack on the North Street Arcade. Biggy Bigmore has released a short DVD with following sleevenotes: "North Street Arcade was built in the 1930s and is one of the historical buildings in Belfast City Centre that survived the Belfast blitz during the Second World War and the IRA bombings in the 1970s 23 arts groups and businesses were burnt out of the arcade by arsonists on the 17th of April 2004. The arcade is the only building left of its kind in Europe, therefore it must be preserved back to its original art form. This DVD contains images set to music of North Street Arcade past and present. It takes you on a tour of the arcade from the entrance of North Street through the inside of the arcade and out of the arcade at Donegal Street. This DVD is dedicated to the men and young boys who built the arcade. Thank you for taking an interest in this DVD and thank you for your support with the matter of the ongoing crime investigation of arson on this beautiful listed building. Biggy Bigmore.

I have personally visited the arcade a few times since I moved to Belfast in 1994, it dates from the art deco time, and one can see a sculpture on the front of this building. It was home to a community of artists and small shops and many of them have stated that it is important for a thriving town and local culture to have a meeting place. I would like to join the appeal to save this building and restore it, and make it an affordable home for artists from Northern Ireland. Our next printed issue will have a little feature on this building.
The destruction of the North Street Arcade by blast incendiary bombs on the 17th of april 2004 marked the end of a business and arts community unlike any other in northern ireland.

we are still angry that the arsonists and the people who paid them have not been brought to account for this.

on the 1st anniversary of the burning of this listed building and the loss of over twenty businesses, we will be holding a vigil at the Donegall Street Entrance on Sunday 17th April from 2 to 3 pm[/i].

Between the Lines: The Crescent Arts Centre Festival 2004

"The Title of the recent collection Semper Vacare by Belfast Poet Padraic Fiacc translates as "Always Make Space". This sums up the spirit of Between the Lines (BTL) in a year when political progress locally is taken behind closed doors again, when calls to create a "Fortress Britain" are back in the headlines and when reality TV mimics art with "I'm a Celebrity..." borrowing from George Orwell's 1984. In line with the ethos of the Crescent Arts Centre, BTL aims to create a popular platform for Literature, a supportive space for it to be performed and flourish.... Festival director Mairtin Crawford, who died on 11 January dreamt up the idea that BTL is Belfast's new postcode, with the L standing for Literature. It's a postcode of the imagination, boundless. So this spring we throw back the curtain on BTL, on the space for dreams and renewal... The beat goes on, so come on in (written by Deirdre Molloy, festival director).

Location: The town of Belfast. The Crescent Arts Centre, a 19th century building that started as a school for ladies and some astute viewers of a BBC programme called Restoration will remember its cameo role. Many many years ago, well, nine to be precise, I taught some French on these premises as a freelance tutor, in 1998 then festival co-ordinator/jack in all trades and master of all Mairtin Crawford invited to recite some poetry on stage, and I must say, that this was a frightening experience but the poetry classes were fun especially with the prospect of discussions afterwards on widened subjects.

In 2003, I came back to Belfast after a stint in Europe and narrowly missed the Crescent Festival. Mairtin kept in touch and so I heard about the documentary he made about Paidraic Fiacc, he also told me to venture down the Arcadia Cafe last november where I prefered to read some poetry by Michael Stavaric (cf: our poems page) rather than my own and I definitely enjoyed him reading from his favourite poets, and they included John Berriman, Louis McNiece and William Auden and a lot of people I have never heard of. I was definitely chuffed to hear that he liked Franz Kafka a lot and that he had been to Prague so I could compensate my lack of poetic ability with storytelling, and yep and the music. Thanks to him I know how Sonic Youth and Patti Smith sound, and I will always associate them with him. In fact I am glad that a small collaboration came out of the writing class, without him, I could definitely not have depicted a scene in New York underground. As an editor for the Belfast Fortnight, Mairtin Crawfold  invited me to give an informal hand in the office as the mailings went out. Indeed, to me Mairtin was a journalist just the way I wanted them to be, I imagined them to be, including a mac and I hope that his reputation will grow in Belfast, and beyond. Therefore the following is both a tribute to him and an acknowledgement to the team and the guests at the Crescent.

Provided we get it right, these are the contents we are dealing with:
A talk with Francis Wheen and Nick Cohen, hosted by John O'Farrell
Outside down the Dublin Road, the current blockbusters
Padraic Fiacc at 80
Contemporary Cinema (intermezzo in the lobby)
Howl Night - The poetry of Allen Ginsberg
Close - A tribute to Mairtin Crawford

A talk with Francis Wheen and Nick Cohen, hosted by John O'Farrell
Astrologers, psychics and life coaches crowd the horizon. Are they gurus or charlatans. What rituals were enacted in the Blair's witching project? Francis Wheen's new book "How mumbo jumbo conquered the world" (Fourth estate) takes the pulse of mainstream culture and offers a discomforting prognosis "The bunkum stops here", splashed the Observer headline. "A hugely enjoyable sweep through the tangled thicket of superstition and gullibility in which modern man likes to ramble". said the Independent.

“Wheen’s thesis is simply stated. Reason is on the retreat. The values of the Enlightement “an insistence on intellectual autonomy, a rejection of tradition, and authority, as the infallible sources of truth, a loathing for bigotry and persecution, a commitment to free enquiry, a belief that, (in Francis Bacon’s ?the philosopher, not the painter, ed ?“knowledge is indeed power ?are daily being betrayed. And armed with a sizzling pen, a filling cabinet as big as the Albert Hall, and a banner bearing the legend “scepticism and sobriety? the crusading Wheen has come to open our eyes to the danger of that betrayal (not without a sense of humour, judging by this description, ed) (written by David McKie, The Guardian Newspapers, Feb 7th 2004)

This evening, Wednesday 31st March of this hallowed year 2004, Mr Wheen from the town of London starts to say that the original title was meant to be "A brief history of b*******s" and that the publisher suggested "25 years of history on how we stopped thinking". 1979 marks a turning point in modern history. Back then the fundamentalists got to power in Teheran and Margaret Thatcher got into power with speeches about the end of liberal thoughts and some quotes by St Francis of Assisi and a strong faith in the market. Leotard made his case about post-modernism a movement that attributes equal value to all statements and likes to speak and show with inverted commas: "as soandso would say....", conclusion: this is the end of the narrative.

In his book "The End of History", the economist Fukuyama compares history to a football match, and now capitalist values have won the cup final.". Michael Samuel Hattington argues in "Clash of civilizations" that civilizations are hermetic (thus rendering inter-civilization dialogue superfluous, ed, don't assume this editor has read all Francis's archive because it's big as the Albert Hall of London).

Currently new age theories, third ways in politics with spiritual advisers are around, there is a general hostility to modernity and enlightment, fundamentalists want to get back to the basics and seal their thoughts, groovy thoughts want to return to primal and primitive worlds. Most of them hate scientific empiricism (powers of deduction by using scientific methods). Some even claim that there is no such thing as reality. This gave revisionists like David Irving the opportunity to deny evidence and claim that gas chambers in concentration camps never existed and this is an insult to the victims who died in those very gas chambers.

Recently, when asked at the Royal Society of Science whether he was happy with a school in North London teaching that the world was created 10.000 years ago in the way depicted by the book of Genesis alongside the accepted curriculum , Mr Blair said that he was happy because diversity should be encouraged as positive for our society. Mr Wheen says that the notion of diversity has been hijacked to avoid making judgements thus giving equal value to science and belief. In fact, we do live in a world where many people believe the words of Genesis to be true, in fact, a recent survey in the US says that 48% of the people asked are believers in creationism. Fossil evidence contradict what creationism teaches or the earth is definitely older than 10.000 years. Another example on mumbo-jumbo are the talks by Caroline Caplin who is a life-style adviser to Mrs Blair and induced a new age re-baptism ceremonial for her client and her husband largely covered by the media.  - This is so surreal, I wouldn't believe Mr Wheen if I hadn't read about this myself.

What Francis Wheen offers is a challenge. "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the madness of Crowds" written by Charles Mackay in 1841 says that people go mad in herds and recover their senses one by one. Up to the reader to cast a critical eye.

  Outside down the Dublin Road, the current blockbusters

We shall make a transition between Francis Wheen comments and Nick Cohen's argumentation by casting an eye around this town and ponder a few thoughts.
The Belfast film festival has just come to an end on Monday the 30th and once again we came to the conclusion that a platform for small and independent films is difficult to find. In fact, the two guests made clear that many cultural events are sponsored by private companies rather than the state, although cultural secretary Chris Smith had the vision of "Art for the people" who brought us culture in cool pop format and a millennium dome - the result was that many artists and musicians got confused, re-asserted or are still re-asserting their individuality and respective styles, while record companies, managers, art galleries and sponsors offered a more suitable platform for them. That is not to say that artists cannot have political and social ideas, but their main job is neither that of a polician nor a social worker, unless they are polymaths and show the qualifications and abilities. The solution lies in a pragmatic combination between the Arts Council and private sponsors - needless to say: choose the sponsor wisely

The cineplex is a few doors away from a cafe, a place called Dempsey's and Burger King - there are a few clubs, restaurants and churches and shops on our "Golden Mile". The cineplex is advertising the latest blockbuster. It is a film with actors, a script, photography, props, music, special effects and gimmicks. Like any self-respecting blockbuster it comes with merchandise, original soundtrack and you will be able to rent it on video or DVD, read the book and discuss it. Yes, you can even visit the themed cafe where you can view the trailer, marvel at the interior decoration, especially the cross with the quotes and the blood-brown colour scheme matching the poster. And in the cafe, you will not only be able to pick up a leaftlet advertising the film but an extensive literature on the specialist subject depicted in the film. This is an epic story set in an oriental country on how a legendary figure of good behaviour was betrayed and put to death by a court of foreign forces relenting to the clamour of the local mob.This is a tragedy that has been mourned over every year by a large group of people for nearly 2000 years. The account of this was written sixty years after the events and the author states that the legendary figure came back to life three days later and another forty days after he was lifted to the heavens not before promising to come back one day and gather all the chosen people and lift them to the heavens. The film itself stops at the scene where the legendary figure dies on a Roman torture instrument which is still adorning many buildings and home across the world and dangles from necklaces also.

An essayist's job is to describe the scene and state the data and use the deductive process to form a conclusion. What I see advertised on the multiplex is a film that has been hyped a lot. Hence it is already a blockbuster. Hype makes us believe that there is a huge demand for a product, so the product is launched to satisfy the huge demand and peer pressure makes sure that the demand is huge. Somehow Margaret Thatcher was ahead of her times when she proclaimed her faith in the market.

What I don't like about hype is the fact that you cannot escape it. Everyone talks about Mr Gibson's latest film. Maybe someone will be inspired to teach Aramean at 8 quids an hour, just like there are people who teach the piano. I have no desire for it that means I have no need for Aramean right now, my heart is not stirred by overflowing excitement, that is because I get stirred and excited by things that leaves other people cold.

And so I pass the multiplex and I look at the poster in the window of Burger King, I am not really a fast-food person because I favour a different diet, and a poster of Mike Myers "The Cat in the Hat". Another blockbuster that I won't go and see.

at a lecture by Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen grew up in Manchester in the 1970s and remembers the massive unemployment  this memory  affected him. He remembers that the left in the 1970s spoke a lot about their roots in 1930s idealism.
As a journalist for the Observer writing the column "Without Prejudice" he is the holder of the Orwell Prize. He started writing his latest book "Pretty straight guys" in summer 2001 to capture the contradictions the left has got itself into, starting with how conservative secretary David McClay was whipping about crime and how to get tough on it. Cohen spoke to Mr Blair, then Labour leader on what he made of it, and the answer was that the issue was important to readers of the Daily Mail. So the book is how the British left has given up some of its principles to access power and mainstream.

From journalists who argue on form rather than content, retro-fashion comments (comparing current events to past milestones), the hype of the shares and the markets. Nick Cohen was deploring the fact that the public seemed passive until marchers got on the street last year. This development puzzled him because it seemed that the anti-war movement was supporting the right of Irak to decide for themselves and yet there was no room for the Irak opposition movement in the mainstream media.

So the question that arises is: why doesn't the left treat the victims of the Ba'th fascism like the victims of Apatheid? For the B'ath is a fascist party with a charismatic leader, a collectivist thought and breaches of human rights. The opposition, many of whom had to flee the country over the past years and apply for refuge as asylum seekers ranges from shi'ats, to liberals, to trade-unionists, socialists and communist and kurds.
Many of these people are disillusioned by Western intellectuals, oe Mr Berham Sali a Kurdish leader taught himself English by reading the Guardian. It is as if intellectuals in our countries do not believe in the ability of people from the far east and the Third World to be as liberal and refined as them - and the parallels between them and the dissidents from Eastern Europe before and during the rule of the Iron Curtain are obvious.
What current affairs and international politics are showing us is the fact that the matter of preventing massacres is to make firm decisions at international level, this notion contradicts "sovereignty of state" so we are left with a wide incertainty. Nick Cohen explains that the criticism in the book is implicit, and invites to think about the contents. So one should never lose critical ability, and never assume. The message is also that human principles should prevail and that people from all over the world should be treated as humans.

Nick Cohen's remarks are very precious to us. First because of their humane message. Second because of his solidarity for persecuted dissidents. Third because of his courage to speak out opinions that might be controversial to mainstream opinion makers. His remarks about the liberals in Irak remind me of the fate of the dissidents in Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement in 1938 as reported by Martha Gellhorn. The challenge that opposition movements against fascism can arise from any part of the world is a very positive statement because it refutes the old colonial adage that some civilizations cannot rule their countries by themselves. I am pleased to hear that we still live in a post-colonial world and our eyes are going to keep in touch with current affairs to acertain this. We sound optimistic here, but then we have to.

Padraic Fiacc at 80

Belfast poet Padraic Fiacc is an example that a dissident's life often means to be confined to the margins and denied a platform, or getting censored. His family emigrated to the United States of America, in Harlem New York in the 1939, he returned in 1946. His poetry reflects the oppression of rebel thoughts, the influence of religion both as part of culture but also as a form of oppression, the violence both in the American ghettos and Northern Ireland and the graphic images and the personal loss that incurs. There are multiple layers of course, but I thought to emphasize these facets of Padraic Fiacc's poetry. I think the way the Belfast Theatre Company presented the man and his poetry worked well because I don't think that I am the only one who does not know both too well, great challenging poetry!

Howl Night

It is good that Mr Kirby told us that Dogville has a dog in it because at least the next section can be introduced by a large howl, as we step into an evening of poetry by or inspired by Allen Ginsberg. In fact, it is so haunting that this might as well be taken place in a windbeaten lonely mansion on the Wuthering Heights. It starts with wild and energetic drumming on different sorts of instruments by Damien and BaddAssbeat.

Tim from BauHau (construct/beat) himself a former drummer with a band called Winter was impressed, and I am glad that a pro was on hand to judge the quality. Anyway, this was good. After that, Irish language translator/poet Frankie Sewell read a few poems and one that caught my attention was one called "Mozart Cafe" about an encounter between the narrator and a woman at a fancy classical concert, complete with refined diners and marble halls.

One may wonder why readers pay attention to this or that, or what might appeal to them. I am interested in Allen Ginsberg's poetry also for the prosaic reason that his family were imigrants from Russia and that leads me to the performance by novelist Kevin McGimpsey, the story about the flight of a hooded crow all over town in July 2000 thus enabling the author to make comments on what people in different districts in Belfast are up to on the same day, some are still immersed in a drunken sleep, others argue, some marchers get their gloves ready, some are ready to leave town for some quiet etc, Clockwork Mandarin deserves a round of applause just by mentioning the title - could anyone imagine something coming from another region? Hardly. Unique. Somehow I have our young friends from Vichy Government with their song "Orange Disorder" in mind. Nobody minces their words over here, nor did Ginsberg.

When I was in London in 1997 to do a film course at St Martin's, little did I know where I was going to land, but here we go, and yours truly, learnt a bit of craft from Mr Paul Hallam, who did work on set for Derek Jarman - the only film I saw by the English film-maker is called "Blue", an art-house film which plays with the idea of witness behind the screen.

Poet Naomi Foyle, herself a published author of anthologies, explained that Allen Ginsberg largely bypassed images with women in his poetry, apart from a few poems about his mother called Naomi - this mysogyny softened a bit when he met New York singer Patti Smith. One of her songs was played earlier on by DJ Rosie, as for Naomi, she does a fantastic and sensual (cheeky) a-capella rendition of a poem inspired by Nick Cave, as usual my memory fails me so I cannot render the exact lines, but it is the one with Monte Cristo in it. I don't know if it has anything to do with the Dumas Novel, but the evening is quite spooky and kooky. Some may wonder how we staggered in there, and I am sure that there is no use of claiming innocence on our part, so we admit our guilt. I enjoyed all that quite a lot, as you can judge from the camera work.

Our next guest is nicknamed "Oscar Wilde" on Eddie's sheet, he is a mature man in a yellow suit, with brown shoes, a salmon-coloured shirt and a red tie, a low voice, nearly whispery accompanied by an antique Hofner guitar plus Fender amplifier. Looks a treat on stage. The combination of spoken-word and music has often yield good results. A jazzy version of Bach's Aria (not the one by the Swingle Sisters, but the one used for Hamlet cigars) sounded refined and blue. Apparently Mr Ginsberg likes the colour ultramarine, the colour of love. Humm! But the poem was a tribute to two youths who had committed suicide in this town, hence blue is the colour of love, the colour of the night, and the colour of silence.

The next guest came from outside town - from Edinburgh to be precise. Mr Kevin Williamson is the founder of Rebel Inc alternative publishing, which can pride itself of some beat classics. One of these was "Young Adam" by Alexander Trocchi from Edinburgh, and it is now also a major film feature soundtracked by David Byrne and various guests including Mogwai. Rebel Inc is also the publisher of Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, also made into a film with a cult soundtrack. Later, as I had a little chat with Mr Williamson, on the cue that he named the zebra as his second favourite animal, and this is how I got all this information for our benefit. I also learned that The Proclaimers "Sunshine on Leith" is the only love song to be sang on the grounds of a footie stadium.
The poem that he read on stage was about the relationship between a father and his son using imagery of football which is a language that most men understand.
Another poem which made me chuckle was about a couple where the woman agrees on everything the man says, with the punchline that as they agree to jump over a cliff out of love, he says to her "you first", of course we say here that if anyone tells you to jump over a cliff, answer that this is not a good idea according to the principle of self-preservation. I was reminded of Mel Gibson and his epic works, because of a small haiku mentioning William Wallace and Jesus Christ, ah!, if good Mel would try the format! Sorry, I shouldn't diss Mr Gibson but Kevin W has the knack of putting the epic into a nutshell, he thinks that "Howl" is an appropriate title to summarize our world since 1955, everyone has been shouting about aaaargh!!!!! We should pass this to Francis Wheen mentioned earlier.

Our next poet is Peter Pagnell who lives in Lancashire, and tells us a poem about Howl - as in Hull in England. Peter talks about songs that drive you mad because once in your head they repeat themselves. In this case the culprit is called Zabadak! by Mitch, Titch and co, also known as the Penguin Advert "If you want a chocolate biscuit, join our club" or summat like that.
Another poem by Peter  is about a Swedish massage parlour and the narrator wants to check it out to describe how it feels to step out in the street out of a place like that. The narrator hesitates and when he finally gets back to the place, well, it has been taken over by Baker the caring funeral assistant.

Mr Tam Dean Burn, who looks like he is just back from sailing mission across the world, and has starred in productions like Hamish MacBeth and Eastenders explains to the audience with a smile that he has been scouring around the place where poet William Blake was buried,  William Blake  is buried in London, and Allen Ginsberg claims to have received a visit from Mr Blake just at the moment when Mr Ginsberg was half-dressed in his bed. That is surely not too embarrassing for Ginsberg because he didn't mind if his audience took their clothes off. In fact, such an evening did happen once in the presences of Mr Burn, and everyone was shivering waiting for someone to remove a stubborn shoe. But even with clothes on, the audiences were bound to shiver because some bits of this Howl poem are very very scary
well, those Americans had to keep up with Edgar Alan Poe - so I suppose that there is a continuation in this.

The visuals on the side showed various portraits of Mr Ginsberg which depict a lanky man, with a black beard and inquisitive dark eyes behind his glasses - he sure left an impression on Belfast 10 years ago, at that very same festival, "The Big Spoon" Mairtin Crawford's publication paid tribute to Allen Ginsberg in 1997 when it published an interview. This was indeed a very rich evening which took the audience to a powerful imagery, a passionate poetry away from the contrivances of academe, often leaving the confines of reason, verging on hallucination and landing in the guts. Is all this beautiful? In some way, yes.
Many of the audience agreed that this was a great evening, even if it was going to be a late night, but who cared if there was something to drink and a bit of a dance courtesy DJ Rosie -  Goodness gracious me, the eighties are trendy these days! Depeche Mode and Billy Jean by Jacko were two of the tunes, plus the White Stripes for good measure. The sound technician said that I shouldn't worry too much, nobody in Ireland can dance anyway. I beg to disagree, Miss Molloy is quite good on her feet, so was poet Kevin McGimpsey him of the Clockwork Mandarin, Monica and Melissa.
As for the absent Mr Crawford, I can remember the day in 1999 when he ended up at the Fab! Limelight Club to check it out and joined the silly jump disco with "The Music sounds better with you" and all the Fabsters wondering what the local hack was researching about. And the festival is going to end with a tribute to Mairtin Crawford, hack, poet, organiser, traveller and a great pal.

The festival ended with a tribute to Mairtin. It was a subdued evening where poets and friends read poems by or for Mairtin: Moyra Donaldson, Paul Grattan, Martin Mooney, Naomi Foyle, Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, Peter Pegnall, Kevin McGimpsey, Anthony Bartley. My favourite one is about Jupiter, that ends with “Jupiter you will be a star one day" He definitely took the stellar image towards astronomy and space age discoveries. But this didn’t mean that he was not rooted to the earth. The Scottish part of his listened to Ulster-Scott singer Dick Gaughan performing songs by Robert Burns
The Irish part of his was interested in the works of Padraic Fiacc, as we heard the two performers, musician on a tin whistle and singing poet, many of us hope that this documentary will become accessible, even as a fragment.
Poets Naomi Foyle and Moyra Donaldson recalled some anecdotes, for instance Naomi said that her pseudonym came straight out of a stream of consciousness discussion about James Joyce, whilst Moyra explained that Mairtin had a wonderful gift as a tutor to bring out the literary qualities out of students, and recently he had also worked as a tutor with the Outreach programme as he was keen on the idea that people with mental disabilities should find in poetry a means of expression. And so in the end, ..... whom we heard earlier introducing the debate with Francis Wheen and Nick Cohen reminded us that Mairtin was also an astute political commentator and that he should be remembered as a man with commitment who brought different worlds together and that should inspire us.

Well, and that’s it for now ?the BTL, Between the Lines is signing off for this year and the courses and evening classes will resume after the Easter break, for the Crescent is still fulfilling its old role as a place of education and inspiration. In that sense, full marks!

Special thanks to: Deidre Molloy, Liz Brennan, Anthony Kirby and to everyone who was ready to exchange a few words with me. The last word goes to Eddie, who was busy all week with the roadie work:
“You can kick a football, it will never kick you back?