I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, over the years I’ve been extremely blessed to fall into friendships with many wonderfully talented people. I don’t see this run of good fortune coming to an end any time soon. On Thursday evening it was an absolute delight to celebrate yet another writer who has, over the last few years, become a really great friend and also an exceptional poet.
I was first introduced to Stephen Sexton around three years ago and have not only grown to value his encouragement and insight into my own writing but also come to really enjoy his poems. I’m not sure exactly why I like them so much. They’re often stacked full of incongruous images and intriguing phrases and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what they’re about. However, like much of Dylan’s late 60s work the rapid fire imagery comes magically together to invoke a powerful feeling. Stephen’s poems have helped to convince me that poetry is something I can actually enjoy, even if I can’t explain why. I don’t feel quite so much the poetry Philistine when listening to him read. This is quite a big confession from a girl who read Autumn Journal beginning to end and never noticed that it rhymes.
When you find yourself, as I often do these days, surrounded by enormous numbers of poets it can be very tempting to turn to your fellow prose writing friend, (I say friend rather than friends, because more often than not Mickey and I seem to be the only two prose writers in Belfast, propping up the back row of poetry readings), and instigate speculation on which of these fine young poets will go the distance, which will still be composing sonnets, (and other poetic forms of which I am entirely ignorant), in ten years time, which will feature in the “best of Irish poetry” compilations forming the backbone of GCSE English curriculums in the next century. When these debates invariably come up, I always say I’d put a tenner on Stephen Sexton going the distance and if I was I betting woman and bookies took bets on future T.S. Eliot prize winners, I’d actually put my money where my mouth is.
The Emma Press, a wonderful English publishing house specialising in poetry pamphlets, launched a small collection of Stephen’s poems, as part of the Belfast Festival at The Crescent Arts Centre this week and, after many months of anticipation, it was great to finally get my own copy of Oils, albeit with a rather cheeky dedication on the inside cover. If you haven’t heard Stephen’s work before you should proceed with all due haste to the Emma Press’ website (www.theemmapress.com) and buy yourself a copy for £6.50. It’s a thing of great beauty with a gorgeous illustration based on Stephen’s “Starry Night” poem on the cover and a host of wonderful words inside. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.