Hartnett poems are put to music on new album by Limerick musician

Norma Prendiville


Norma Prendiville

Hartnett poems are put to music on new album by Limerick musician

Paul Dunworth is to launch The Poet in the Desmond Hall

IT’S the kind of gig poet Michael Hartnett might have liked himself. Indeed, there’s a good chance it’s the kind of gig he would have organised himself.

This Sunday, almost 17 years after his death, Hartnett’s poems will be sung, not spoken, in the lofty Desmond Hall where Hartnett once organised poetry readings. And the man who has achieved this collaboration of word and music is musician and singer/songwriter Paul Dunworth.

Sunday’s gig will see the formal launch of his debut album, The Poet which contains 12 Hartnett poems set to music composed by Paul, a native of Newcastle West.

Speaking in advance of the event, Paul explained that he hadn’t deliberately set out to do a Hartnett album. It all began, he said, when he and performance artist Míchéal Rowsome worked together on a collaboration of songs, poems and stories. Míchéal supplied the words, Paul the music. It gave the words another dimension, he said. But one of Míchéal’s choices was Death of an Irishwoman (one of Hartnett’s best known poems)..” I wrote the music. I only did it for the project but iit escalated from there.”

He wasn’t that familiar with Hartnett’s work when he began. “But I enjoyed it, selecting the poems and I have connected with them,” he said. “The music was my representation of what I thought of each poem. The man was a bit of a tortured soul.. It comes through in the words…”

“I am exploring my take through the music,” he continued before adding: “It was difficult .. It took a lot of hours .There are a lot of open tunings.”

His selection includes many of Hartnett’s most accessible poems as well as ballads that continue to resonate hugely with people from Newcastle West such as The Ballad of Salad Sunday and The Ghost of Billy Mulvihill.

Choosing a title for the CD however was the easy bit.

“I called it The Poet because that is what his family used to call him. I know his brothers Dinny and John and they would always refer to him as The Poet,” Paul explained.

He has his own memory of The Poet though. “I met him in 1999 not long before he died. My parents used to run a B&B and he stayed with them. When I came down in the morning, he was wearing his green velvet jacket sitting up at the table, He picked up one of my guitars and said he was a guitar player too.”

On the basis of that particular morning’s display, Paul wasn’t convinced. But Hartnett was indeed very knowledgeable and passionate about music.

Paul’s hope now is for a positive reaction on Sunday. It will be, he said, a fully live gig and he is enthusiastic about the acoustics in the 13th century medieval hall, a place of banquets, of poetry, song and music in the past.

He plans to perform all 12 tracks of the CD and the event will also include an exhibition of the artwork for the sleeve done by Míchéal Rowsome. Míchéal has also created 12 artworks as his response to Paul’s CD.

Sunday’s gig begins at 5.30pm and admission to the event, which is programmed as part of National Heritage Week, is free.

Copies of The Poet will be on sale for €15 but can also be obtained via paul.dunworth@gmail.com