Features & Columns

'One City, One Book'
Poetic Exchange: Dublin & San Jose

If Ever You Go shows off the sights, sounds and poets of a San Jose sister city
School of RockMASTERS OF THE VERSE: Dermot Bolger, Paula Meehan and Brendan Kennelly are among the contemporary Irish poets featured in an anthology of poems and songs about Dublin.

Once a year, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland, a UNESCO City of Literature, shows up in downtown San Jose, along with an entourage of colleagues. This time around, he informed yours truly about a Dublin initiative, "One City, One Book," that unfolds every April, when the entire city is encouraged to read the same book over the course of one month. The book is either written by a Dublin author or connected to Dublin in some way.

Other cities implement similar strategies, but since Dublin and San Jose are twinned, a chance soon materialized for me to once again suggest ways of enhancing this relationship. In Dublin's case, the "One City, One Book" program began in 2006 and this year marks the first time that a book of poetry has been chosen. If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song is a new anthology comprised almost entirely of contemporary poets, all writing about the Dublin condition. The wide variety of work included will inspire anyone, native or exotic, to explore the main thoroughfares, neighborhoods, historical monuments, parks, slipshod alleys, libraries, pubs and other distinguishable components of Dublin's landscape. Right now, readings, recitals, film events, parties, cruises on the Liffy, guided walks, train rides and concerts are erupting all over town.

The very day I arrived, my jetlagged self infiltrated a lecture about paintings that inspired the William Butler Yeats poem, "The Municipal Gallery Revisited." The poem, written in 1937, finds the nobel laureate visiting the famous Dublin gallery and reflecting on portraits of persons related to notable events in the previous 30 years of Irish history, events in which the poet was also a part. Due to our sister city relationship, I felt like Yeats was a distant brother.

Another example: Just before I returned back home, musicians performed songs from If Ever You Go at The Church, a place of worship renovated and converted to a multi-level restaurant and bar complex. It was originally where Handel played the pipe organ, where Jonathan Swift first attended services and in which Arthur Guinness was married.

Jane Alger, one of the brains behind Dublin: One City, One Book, explained over lunch that no one knew what to expect by having a poetry book this time around. But so far, she said, If Ever You Go has been a major hit, on track to become the biggest-selling poetry book in Irish history. Everyone seems to find something within its pages. Even people normally alienated from poetry are enjoying it.

"It's not the kind of book that you read from cover to cover," Alger explained. "You buy it, or you borrow it from your local library, and you dip into it. And everybody will find a poem about a place that means something to them. ... It's a lovely gift book. It offers a view of the city that people might not necessarily engage with."

Now, I've written in this space numerous times that more local poets and creative writers illuminating the San Jose condition would make this town a zillion times more interesting to live in, on a variety of levels. Obviously, unlike Dublin, we don't have Joyce, Yeats, Oscar Wilde, or Bram Stoker, but one has to start somewhere. The time is now for a similar San Jose book. The possibilities are endless.

The day after I returned home, my jetlagged self stumbled into the San Jose Museum of Art, where newly crowned Santa Clara County Poet Laureate David Perez headed up an event with local poets reading work inspired by artwork in the museum's collection—eerily similar to the event I attended in Dublin when I first arrived. It felt like the great sister city goddess of synchronicities decided I should bookend my trip with Yeats and San Jose's own poets respectively contemplating paintings that inspired them. This is precisely what sister cities ought to be doing, and precisely how a columnist should be connecting the two, especially since April in the United States is National Poetry Month—another coincidence. In any event, I look forward to many more poetic exchanges, literally and metaphorically, with our sister city of Dublin, Ireland.