Cultural Dispatches 12/05/2016

A bright evening light gushes in through the upstairs windows of The Workman’s Club claiming more and more of the wooden floorboards. The launch of Solar Bones, Mike McCormack’s first novel in a decade, has this bookish crowd indoors of a fine semi-Summer’s evening.


Published by Tramp Press, Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff find themselves only across the hall from where, two years ago, they announced themselves on the independent publishing scene in Ireland by launching their first title, Flight by Oona Frawley.

Having published six Tramp titles since, Lisa and Sarah paid tribute to the enthusiastic readers that make an audacious book like Solar Bones possible. This is a readership that is underestimated, they say, before introducing Kevin Barry, author of Beatlebone, and a writer who keeps that readership invigorated with his own daring prose.

Kevin B

Barry evokes the flowing Liffey outside the window as a metaphor for the enthralling prose experience he had while reading this novel, “Here is a writer that said ‘Fuck it, we’re going to go for it.'”

As Barry details the hypnotic effect of being embedded with this Mayo family as things unravel, author Mike McCormack is leaning against a pillar in the middle of the room with his wife Maeve beside him. He has picked a spot somewhere off in Mick Wallace’s Italian Quarter on the other side of the quays and is staring attentively as the praise comes from his eleven o’clock.

“That’s why you don’t want to speak after Kevin Barry,” says McCormack, as he takes the mike.

Mike Mc Gaze

It was half two in the morning many months ago when McCormack hit send on his computer. The draft of the novel was on its way to his agent and eight hours later his first child was born, “Maeve had said it was either the book or the child, the house couldn’t have the two of them.”

McCormack tells of how this book was like a car whose hood was lifted by many publishers and editors, mostly male, who were flummoxed by its inner mechanics. They were unwilling to dirty their hands with the strange oil it ran on.

When Tramp received the unpunctuated story it posed only opportunities. They meet its author for coffee to convey what they envisaged for the novel.

“A book about all the declensions of manhood which was adopted by the all the women in my life,” he says gratefully.

To finish, opening the novel in his hands and smoothing out years of his creative work he says:

“There is one page that is perfect. And that’s rare for any book. On it are written two words: for Maeve


What to Read?

Solar Bones – Mike McCormack, €15, all good bookshops

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 21.47.45

Mike McCormack’s new novel is one sentence, two hundred and twenty three pages long. Beautifully languid prose, metered commas, choice paragraph breaks and dashes make this feat of punctuation seamless for the reader.

A story of unravelling manhood, remembered within the timeframe of two tolling bells, sees engineer Marcus Conway’s world fall apart in a Mayo and Ireland on the brink of recession. The memories of a family in crisis are driven by a slalom-like sentence that gathers pace and force while rural life careens rhythmically out of the narrator’s control.

If launches are your thing, Tramp Press do take two in the wonderful Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway tomorrow at 6:30pm with Tommy Tiernan as the special guest. If McCormack thought coming on after Kevin Barry was tough imagine what it’ll be like after Tommy, especially if he does this.

Here is an interview with the author from the Galway Advertiser’s arts podcast:


What to Watch?

Obama Out – Washington Correspondents Dinner

After 30 minutes of working the room for his eighth and final speech at the Washington Correspondents Dinner, Obama, in dicky-bow, had dispatched everyone: Hilary Clinton (“like your relative who just signed up for Facebook”), The Republican Primary mess, his own ‘black’ credentials, comrade Bernie Sanders, and of course, ‘The Donald’. And he revelled in it.

As the speech came to a close, Obama reached into the podium to grab a prop and after thanking the press corps for working with him, and holding the Republic to account, he had only two words left to say, “Obama out,” before mic dropping. Watch what for years will remain the coolest act perpetrated by a President, here.

With the presumptive candidates looking as bleak as they do, Dynasty Candidate versus Megalomaniac, we are already starting to miss the 44th President.

Obama Out

Obama is a polished and classy deliverer of speeches, first demonstrated here back in 2004, but who are the people that have helped craft his speeches since? These staff have written and contributed to serious policy rhetoric as well as providing flippant yet stinging party jokes and they are worth knowing.

Jonathan Favreau was writing speeches for Senator John Kerry by 21. At the 2004 Democratic Convention, Favreau interrupted Obama who was practicing his speech in order to point out some repetition. When Obama was elected senator he hired Favreau and later made him chief speechwriter – a position he held through the ‘Yes we can‘ election of 2008.

There have been others like Cody Keegan, who Obama christened ‘Hemingway’, but recently the New Times Magazine did a profile of Ben Rhodes that is worth reading for its sheer insight into a writer and West Wing insider who helped shaped foreign policy narratives during the Obama Presidency.

While the author of the piece, David Samuels, ridicules the Washington lapdogs in the press (27-year-olds who ‘literally know nothing’) and slams the 140-character diplomacy of the day, he is over-fawning of his own insider subject.


What to go to? 

Chris Kraus

International Literature Festival Dublin – Chris Kraus, 21st May 6pm, €12

Only this year has Chris Kraus’s 1997 cult American classic I Love Dick got a UK and Ireland pressing. The epistolary tale of infatuation, obsession and desire is a feminist coming-of-age that questions why the exposition of female needs, both artistically and sexually, remain taboo.

She has compared her writing to the process behind acting:

It’s like somehow I’m moving through the terrain of the book as a performer, but this time I’m transcribing. Literally, I see my writing as transcription – a transcription of what I see, hear, think, live. I’ve always been a fan of plain writing. I hate metaphor-laden, heavily larded, lyrical writing.

While her fiction is more than part memoir, with many characters sharing names and details with real life individuals, what her work really explores are the power dynamics at play in a world in which reality moves much, much slower than the platitudes given to equality et al.

Chris Kraus is in conversation with journalist Una Mullally on Saturday the 21st of May as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin, tickets via the title link.

Lisa O’Neil – Pothole in the Sky, album launch. Whelan’s, 20th May, €16.50

Lisa O'Neil

Lisa O’Neill has been part of Glen Hansard’s touring cavalcade for months, now she is taking to intimate venues around the country for a series of solo shows to launch her third record, Pothole in the Sky.

O’Neill is a unique folk vessel and stage seanchaí whose interludes between songs are filled with stories that abandon linear logic in favour of exploding asides. Her music comes from that same strange, alluring vision.

At the gig expect to travel with a gun runner called the Border-Fox, have tea with Elvis in O’Neill’s kitchen and begrudge the English and emigration for stealing her man.

Go to hear the new tales and you will fall for this spellbinding Cavan singer-songwriter-storyteller.

Have a listen to O’Neill’s recent interview with Róisín Ingle:


What to Listen to?

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

At the above link, for the next month, you can listen to Radiohead’s new album A Moon Shaped Pool in full via BBC radio 6.

A smooth sonic treat, the album hums with a low-level angst reminiscent of our digital age. It’s a sound familiar to us from the band’s most innovative output, Kid A and OK Computer, where Thom Yorke’s vocals are set against an ever-encroaching culture: human warding off machine.

Here an N+1 archive feature looks at Radiohead’s place in popular culture:

Radiohead’s success lay in their ability to represent the feeling of our age; they did not insist on being too much advanced in the “advanced” music they acquired. The beeps and buzzes never seemed like the source of their energy, but a means they’d stumbled upon of finally communicating the feelings they had always held . . . They tilted artificial noises against the weight of the human voice and human sounds.

The band got Paul Thomson Anderson, director of Boogie Nights, The Master and There Will be Blood, to do the video for the single Daydreaming:


Speaking the truth in job interviews, via New Yorker cartoons:

New Yorker cartoon

“In five years, I see myself with the same job title, about the same salary, and significantly more responsibilities.” 

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