The first Stoics appeared in the 3rd century BC in Greece. They advocated an acceptance of every moment as it presents itself, asserting that by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by fear and desire, we can achieve ‘eudaimonia’, happiness or blessedness. Much of our literature and poetry, I believe, has emanated from this philosophy, and indeed both authors this week bring forth a unique presence of mind in their writings.
‘The Heart Uncut’, published just recently by WordsontheStreet, is a stunning collection of poetry by Marian Kilcoyne from Killadoon, near Louisburgh. Themes ranging from the small things in life to the meaning of life itself are explored and bashed about, with vigour and candour.
Our attention is demanded throughout and is rewarded, as in meditation, with a strange almost unexplained calm. I cannot claim to understanding all on first reading, many more readings are needed. And that is also the joy and inspiration of it. ‘The Heart Uncut’ is now neatly packed into my handbag, so when these lockdown restrictions are all over and I can go places, I’ll be taking poetry with me.
‘Riot Days’, by Maria Alyokhina and published by Allen Lane, is a prison memoir by a woman who was sentenced to two years in the Russian prison colonies for performing a punk song in a Moscow church as part of Pussy Riot – the famous feminist protest punk-rock and performance-art group.
We are taken through her whole experience leading to the performance, the performance itself, her trial and subsequent prison experience. Courage runs through the whole book. At times the memoir feels like an epic work of poetry. Our emotions toss and turn with the beauty of her writing jusxtaposing the horror of her experiences and how she copes with it.
Like the Stoics, Alyokhina took responsibility for how she was experiencing life, even as freedom was denied her. When people advised her to give in, to do what it took to be released, to leave Russia, she stood fast, saying she was not going anywhere.
I had the amazing experience of listening to Maria speak at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival when the first edition of the book was published. One could have heard a pin drop, so captivated was the audience with her belief in freedom and choice and her absolute allegiance to fighting for that freedom.
I asked her afterwards what we could do (as onlookers, so to speak). She said to keep listening for and speaking out against tyranny. And we can choose to follow her example of standing our ground and taking responsibility for how we respond to the world.
Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.