By Deb A.
But though lean Hunger and green Thirst
Like asp with adder fight,
We have little care of prison fare,
For what chills and kills outright
Is that every stone one lifts by day
Becomes one's heart by night.
from The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
In 1897, toward the end of his two-year imprisonment in Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde was finally allowed to write... one single piece of paper at a time. Each sheet was confiscated once filled. Together, those individual pages became De Profundis, a bitterly passionate letter to his lover. Shortly after his incarceration, Wilde immortalised the prison in his devastating The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
The Reading Jail closed its doors in 2013, but is temporarily open to the public in a tribute to the Irish writer called Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison. The project is a collaboration between Artangel and the National Trust that sees artists, writers, performers and poets building on the theme of separation that permeates Wilde's final works.
Wilde's cell stands starkly empty, but others feature handwritten letters on the topic of state-enforced isolation, including Ai Weiwei's missive to his son about his own experience of imprisonment. Some spaces contain art installations: gold-plated mosquito netting around a steel bunk bed frame by Steve McQueen; photos and videos dealing with forbidden homosexuality by Nans Goldin; and portraits of Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas and other men by Marlene Dumas.
Every Sunday, performers including Patti Smith, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes will read the 50,000-word De Profundis live in the jail's chapel.
The National Trust is also offering tours of the premises on Fridays and Saturdays.
Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison is open until October 30th.
By Deb A.
Usually it's the spring season that denotes renewal and a fresh look to the futureand yet, the lists of writers to watch for are already popping up, most notably from the Poetry Book Society and CBC Books. The first list, issued only once per decade, boasts a Mercury Prize nominee, Kate Tempest; the second is an annual compilation of Canadian authors that tipped Eleanor Catton in 2011. She went on to become the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2013 for her novel, The Luminaries.
Here are a few of the names to keep an eye out for in the years to come, alongside the talented contributors to Agave Magazine, of course (don't forget: the next issue is due out this week. Subscribe here to have it delivered directly to your inbox):
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
By Ariana L.
There is something compelling about the Irish literary sensibility that transcends the canon of English Literature. It rebukes the cultural prison of authority and validity by creating a dynamic literature distinctly apart. This sensibility is elaborated by a collective voice that measures equal parts strength to strife, and balances hefty doses of intellectualism with an extraordinary specificity to articulate the quotidian and the commonplace. Indeed for a country of only 32,000 square miles, there has been a disproportionate amount of suffering resulting from social and geopolitical injustices. And yet, despite all of the hardships and indignities, somehow a disproportionate profusion of talent —of greatness— has emerged.
Seamus Heaney was amongst the greatest of Irish literary heroes (including Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh and Brain Coffey). Renowned poet, critical thinker, humourist and literary professor (most notably at Oxford and Harvard), Seamus Heaney has served as one of the key figures not only of Anglo-Irish writing, but indeed of contemporary world literature. In his lifetime, he published over 20 volumes of poetry, numerous anthologies, and achieved success in his definitive translation of the Old English heroic poem, Beowulf. In 1995, he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature for "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."
Heaney reminded us that literature does not have to exist within confines to be meaningful. Rather, he challenged the boundaries by investigating his own fears and uncertainties. He drew upon the visceral interplay between the past and the future, and in his inimitable fashion, refused to eulogize it.
"It is always better/to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning./ For every one of us, living in this world/ means waiting for our end./ Let whoever can/ win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,/ that will be his best and only bulwark."
—Seamus Heaney, Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
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