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First Powys Lecture in Ireland: Nov. 22nd, 2010

It’s a bleak November night in Dublin with the rain beating against the tall windows of a Georgian house. Teams from the IMF are going through the balance sheets as Ireland faces ruin. The city is full of rumours that the Irish Government is about to fall. It doesn’t seem an auspicious night for a discussion on literature.

But the challenging outlook and philosophy of John Cowper Powys may be even more relevant for people in a dark time. The lecture in the Irish Polish Society building is given by Powys Society member, Patrick Quigley, on ‘A Glastonbury Romance: the Novel and the Grail.’ He reminds the mixed Irish and Polish audience that they are taking part in a historic event - the first public lecture on the Powys family in Ireland.

The audience, with the exception of a visitor from Weymouth, are new to the subject, and the lecture is accompanied by a slideshow presented by the Vice-Chairman of the Irish Polish Society, Anna Swezc. The lecture starts with Powys’s life leading up to the writing of his ‘book on Glastonbury as has never been writ of any place before.’

The book is examined in detail, leading to a review of Powys’s ideas and their relevance for the 21st Century. His work is strongly focussed on the individual, but he is political in the broadest sense – in his concern for freedom from oppression. The quest for the Grail can be linked to his emphasis on individual self-development.

In the novel those who see the Grail have achieved a high degree of enlightenment, knowledge of the life beyond the self. The spiritual life may be seen as a higher level of existence, but is also part of life’s daily struggle.

The meeting considered a number of Irish connections with John Cowper Powys. He once wrestled with his brother, Littleton, who had sneered at the role of the Irish Parliamentary Party. In New York in the 1920s he was close to the Irish poet, Padraic Colum, and defended Joyce’s Ulysses in a US court. A Glastonbury Romance makes many references to performers from the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in the preparations for the pageant.

The Irish poet and critic, Padraic Fallon, was fascinated with Powys’s work; he reviewed Weymouth Sands in the 1930s and wrote a long perceptive appreciation of Porius in 1951 where he talked of Powys as a Titan among writers “with a might of presentation to keep the Gods moving among men.” He suggested that Powys’ technique of accumulation can be as effective as the more usual habit of selection.

The meeting ends with a discussion on the Grail and its connection to Celtic mythology. Several people question why Powys’s wide output is unavailable in Irish bookshops. Many of the books from the Powys family were banned in Ireland on initial publication. Powys wasn’t widely read in the country and was considered part of a trinity of English regional writers. His universal qualities were unrecognized.

While reading JCP still appears, for some, a daunting prospect, a seed has been sown. Despite, or because of, the social havoc caused by bank bailouts and budget cutbacks, people need a strong “life-illusion.” No matter what happens in the social and political arena, a meeting will be held in Dublin in 2011 to discuss one of Powys’s more accessible novels, Weymouth Sands.

Details can be had from: patquig2002@yahoo.com

 

Patrick Quigley - John Cowper Powys Lecture   Patrick Quigley - John Cowper Powys Lecture

Patrick Quigley - John Cowper Powys Lecture

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