Being Atypical with Patrick Cotter

He says living Irish poets are more dangerous than dead ones.

In Patrick Cotter‘s poem “The Singing Bichon,” the poet’s fluffy white pet is “just a dog” whose “piss perfumes the corner of my living room.” Antipathy sizzles. One day “after I ignored his whines to be let outside/he learnt to sing.” The animal favors 18th- and 19th-century composers, and yet: “He doesn’t know I know/he sings Rufus Wainwright/when he thinks I’m not around.”

Sly and wry and sometimes shiningly transcendent — as in “The Dream of Angus,” whose title character is held prisoner by his recurring dream of a shape-shifting woman whose “breaking smile wiped clean his brain” — Cotter’s poems merge myth, magic, and the dark hilarity of daily life.

While the average American might cherish visions of the stereotypical Irish poet — a lean figure gazing moodily through cigarette smoke and rain while brooding about priests — Cotter calls himself the “Anti-Laureate of the People’s Republic of Cork.”

Although he was born and raised in Ireland, “I would be a pretty atypical Irish poet. Usually to be recognized as an Irish poet, one must concentrate on a subject matter rooted in local place and the questions of Irish history. Ironically, certain contemporary Irish poets have received more critical attention from Irish Studies departments in American universities than from universities at home. Irish academics have preferred to concentrate on dead authors who can’t contradict,” quipped Cotter, whose books include The Misogynist’s Blue Nightmare and A Socialist’s Dozen.

He’ll be at Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley) on Tuesday, October 5, with fellow Cork poets Leanne O’Sullivan (author of Waiting for My Clothes), Billy Ramsell (author of Complicated Pleasures), and Gerry Murphy (author of A Small Fat Boy Walking Backwards).

Cotter’s visit to Berkeley is another whistle stop for a poet who tours the world reading his work, which has been translated into Chinese, Estonian, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.

“At the Irish Pavilion in the Shanghai Expo” earlier this year, “I autographed 150 books in about five minutes flat,” Cotter said. “When I finished my reading, I was swamped by autograph hunters in a way you would associate with pop stars.” A recent visit to Istanbul involved “a disorganized poetry festival where I was sent not only to the wrong venue but to the wrong continent.”

Cotter describes himself as “primarily influenced by European poetry and Americans like Charles Simic and Stephen Dobyns, who themselves are heavily influenced by Iberian-language and European poets. 

“Arguably, certain ambitious poets have funneled themselves into a shape which would make them more attractive to Irish Americans. I would hope that my work might be more attractive to a Chicano Marxist lesbian than the stereotypical Irish-American type.” 7:30 p.m., free.


Newsletter sign-up

eLert sign-up

scattered clouds
50.2 ° F
56.6 °
45.9 °
91 %
42 %
64 °
62 °
58 °
61 °
61 °
Support the East Bay Express, local news, donate