Sometimes, in the ocean of Boston College events that occur every single day, there emerges a hidden gem—a diamond in the rough, of sorts. This Tuesday, the John J. Burns Library and the BC Center for Irish Programs collaborated to bring together a collection of poets for the enjoyment of students and teachers alike. This event, “Poems of Repossession – A Celebration of Contemporary Irish Poetry,” was very much one of these unexpected beauties sometimes found at BC.
It can be easy for students to forget about the abundance of lectures and programs that exist across campus, especially in the midst of midterm season. As the night began, this could not have been more apparent. The audience was composed almost entirely of adults (presumably professors), with only a student or two dotting the Devlin lecture hall. But the night pressed on anyway as Christian Dupont, the organizer of the event and a Burns librarian, greeted the audience.
“Poems of Repossession – A Celebration of Contemporary Irish Poetry” was centered around Leabhar na hAthghabhála: Poems of Repossession, an anthology of Irish writings put together by Burns Library scholar Louis de Paor. A poet himself, de Paor was the first to read. He opened with “My Sorrow, Doncha,” a lament for the death of a young child. The words were especially touching in the native tongue.
The English translation of the fourth stanza is similarly chilling: “The moon is dark and I cannot sleep. All ease has left me. / The candid Gaelic is harsh and gloomy—an evil omen. / I hate the time that I pass with friends, their wit torments me. / Since the day I saw you on the sands so lifeless no sun has shone.”
Three more readers, two of whom had not read together in over 20 years, took the stage as time passed on. Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Liam O Muirthile, and Deirdre Brennan (all poets in their own right), read from the same work, Leabhar na hAthghabhála. Many poems dealt with the pain of loss, and others with the beauty of life, imbuing symbols of nature, youth, and death. As one of the presenters so eloquently suggested, perhaps the beauty of youth and childhood is very much connected to the beauty of loss and death—they seem to be tied together in a cyclical nature, one eventually leading back to the other.
Without question, “Poems of Repossession” represents a larger issue not only on BC’s campus, but within humanity as a whole. The event was certainly rather cerebral, dealing in subject matter that most undergraduate students have little to no background in. Many of the poems were read in the native Irish tongue, making certain nuances of the writing more difficult to follow. Some experiences, on the other hand, run deeper than what words may present on the surface.
Take the first poem of the night, “My Sorrow, Donncha,” as an example. The words, in English, are beautiful—there is no doubt about it. But running even deeper, the poem read in its native tongue communicates sadness, anger, and weariness in such a way that a listener’s soul feels each and every emotion that the writer has suffered with so deeply. Certainly, grappling with the native tongue and the high levels of emotion it conveyed took work, but it was equally rewarding by the end of the event.
And herein lies the problem. At BC, students are constantly inundated with schoolwork, social pressures, relationships, work shifts, and the like. “Poems of Repossession” was a remarkably beautiful event, even if an emotionally and physically draining one as well. The value gained from listening to the experts on Irish writings speak from their hearts truly was immense, but most students have not and will not ever come into contact with such a challenging scenario. Is it a lack of an environment that fosters the energy for events such as this, or just a more personal lack of willingness to challenge oneself on such a high intellectual level? Or even just poor advertising? It remains difficult to say, but regardless, the low student attendance of “Poems of Repossession” is quite a shame.
Still, perhaps this is all just conjecture (and very pessimistic conjecture, at that). The truths uncovered and explored at “Poems of Repossession – A Celebration of Contemporary Irish Poetry” were unquestionably human, and unquestionably important. And for those in attendance, there may never be another night quite like it.
Featured Image By John Burns Library