May 2011


Irish Poetry and an Appreciative Clapping Audience

Wednesday night I had the pleasure of joining the Irish Berliner and Snooker in Berlin for a poetry reading at the Irish Embassy.

Admittedly I am not a huge poetry reader. I find poetry difficult to navigate and comprehend on the first try—and I suspect that I process poetry differently from the way I process prose. In fact, I suspect that I tend to process poetry the way I process song lyrics, which is to say that I don’t.

However Ian in Hamburg contacted us and said that Terry McDonagh, a Hamburg-based Irish poet and writer would be speaking Wednesday evening at the Irish Embassy. Ian in Hamburg’s recommendation was enough to convince me that it would be a worthwhile evening—and it was.

Honestly, there’s something about the Irish accent that makes me wilt—and so even just the opportunity to meet and listen to Berlin’s leading Irish blogger (if not the best English language blogger based in Berlin) for dinner was enough to excite me – exciting enough that I wasn’t careful enough whilst eating my Dolores burrito and dribbled gunk all over my pants (naturally there’s no second chance for a first impression). The icing on the cake was listening to Terry McDonagh read his work aloud, and the candle was listening to the Irish Ambassador to Germany, Dan Mulhall, introduce Terry McDonagh to the appreciative audience of about 30 people.

I was in accent heaven.

My favorite work of the evening was a letter from Hamburg, where the writer described one difference between Ireland and Germany—in particular when it comes to manners. In Ireland, when one is offered a cup of tea, you are taught to decline it—knowing that eventually you will end up with a cup of tea before you—there is a dance where you constantly decline it (even if you desperately want it), yet the host feels obliged to serve it.

In Germany words are taken at face value and should your host offer you tea and you decline it, it will not be offered again and you will not receive a cup of tea at any point during your visit—even if you actually wanted a cup of tea.

Which brings me to a cultural difference that I stopped noticing relatively early in my time here in Germany.

I was vividly reminded of it a week ago after talking to the students from Indiana University – at the end of the talk I mentally assumed that all of the students would pound their knuckles on the table as a way of showing appreciation for my talk.

Instead they clapped.

Instantly I was brought back to my first few weeks here in Germany when I didn’t know about the knuckle knocking – and I was caught off guard when it first happened to me. Then the sound was foreign. Now it’s normal and clapping is foreign.

Enough so that after Terry McDonagh read his first poem, I was looking for something I could knock against—and I realized that I could knock against the side of my wooden chair—and I reached down with my fist ready, but before I could knock, the audience started clapping.

I guess the Irish clap, even in Germany.

6 comments to Irish Poetry and an Appreciative Clapping Audience

  • Hey, it was really nice. The Irish Embassy knows how to throw a ‘do for sure. Ian, it was a great suggestion, thanks for that. I hope my sister enjoys the book of Irish poetry which is coming her way.

    As for the “gunk” landing on Adam’s pants… I was just kinda happy that my normal pattern of food all over my chest didn’t happen to me… Is that Schadenfreude?

    Oh, and meeting up again with the Irish Berliner… truly icing on the burrito, er… cake.

  • Oops, we accepted tea right away in Ireland. Germanized!!

  • You don’t grok song lyrics? That explains a lot about your taste in music… 🙂

  • I’m a bit of a fan of the IB, too.

  • As I write I’m blushing. Thanks. Seriously. I have nothing funny or amusing (there is a difference) to add. A great night was had by all and I look forward to many more.

  • SnookerinBerlin – Awe — Schadenfreude is fine. I engage in it all the time. Some might say that it means that I am a heartless ass… But you are not heartless….

    CN Heidelberg – What, exactly, do we do as Americans. I think Americans would tend to give the honest answer as well–and accept the initial honest answer as truth as well.

    Scott — No, I don’t — and thanks for teaching me a new word. As for my taste in music — I think that the fact that I love and adore Eurovision means that my taste in music is perfect.

    The Honourable Husband – He’s totally awesome…

    Irish Berliner – Awe!