25 June 2006

Radius from The Dock

We are in the process of designing the book that documents this project, which is titled Staircase Poems. I am working with two painters who are also graphic designers, Linda Shevlin and Padraig Cunningham. More on that as it progresses.... But part of the plan for this as a public art project is that once the book is printed, we plan to post out 10,000 copies to people who live close to the Dock. So we are faced with figuring out how far out the radius from the Dock is that will encompass ten thousand households. Interesting problem. I'm in touch with the people in the planning department at Leitrim County Council about this--they are interested in such questions, thank god. If you have any guesses as to how long the radius is, please say so. I'm guessing five miles. Your turn.
Why am I posting ten thousand books of poetry to the Leitrim/Roscommon public? Well, it's mostly to do with this notion that public art projects often address the section of the public who actively "engage" in public art projects. You know the people who like to come to art centres and events and workshops and performances. But what about the folk who either don't know that anything is happening that is called "public art" for them to engage with? Or those that work at jobs that keep them out of the loop for reasons of shift schedules? And what about the introverts? Shy people? People whose confidence in their own language/culture skills is shaky so they stay away from events at the Dock?
Those are some of the reasons why I think a mass mailing may reach a different audience than usual. And there's also the notion that Joseph Brodsky espoused when he was Poet Laureate of the US--he was trying to get an anthology of American poetry put in every hotel room along with the Gideon's Bibles that are already there. His reasoning was that if the books were just there, were available, they might be picked up by someone who might just get interested. And when you get interested, you seek more. And that's how poetry finds the people who either go on to become writers or readers of poems or both.
I'm not enthusiastic about projects and programs that aim to increase the audience for poetry, per se. I do think that it finds its own audience and that the quantity of readers of poetry is not a big problem unless you earn your living selling books, which few poets do. But I do like the idea of dealing with poetry books as one deals with flyers from Super Valu. Send 'em out, and if they want to open it up and read it, fine. They might put it on the table and the kid coming home from leaving cert. poetry class picks it up and flips through it. Or it might go in the recycling bin. Or be used to prop open a window.
Seamus Heaney talked about poetry as being a force that confirms our "inwardness." He said this in a television interview with John Kelly a few months ago when District and Circle first came out here. That's just right. And I hope that this mass mailing might offer that opportunity for inward activity to some people in Leitrim and Roscommon. Hey, something different from iodine tablets anyway!


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