By Hermina Campbell
When news reached Bantry the ‘Hutch’ was in town, ladies of a certain age caught their breath, jolted back to a teen crush, whilst men old enough to know better, contemplated, just for a minute, rolling over the bonnet of the nearest car. David Soul was both ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ and he was in South West Cork this week.
Never particularly comfortable with either title, having started his performing career wearing a ski mask and known as the ‘Covered Man.’ Soul sees himself a long way from those days and actually came to this corner of Ireland to recite poetry. Unfortunately for him, he’s only made himself more desirable to women and more enviable to men, in choosing the verse of Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda, whom David remarks was “able to say what women wanted to hear and what most men couldn’t say.”
David Soul is mildly reluctant to be drawn too much on himself, but indicates he’s no stranger to Ireland, having lived in Dublin back in the beginning of the 80s, where he exercised race horses for a time. However, diligently side-stepping my suggestion that his fascination with Neruda could lie in their similarities (Neruda was married three times, Soul five, and both are very politicized figures), David quite literally inflates with enthusiasm, given the opportunity to educate me about Neruda’s remarkable life. He was once called “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” He wrote in a variety of styles from erotically charged love poems to historical epics and overtly political manifestos. Two years before Neruda’s death in 1973, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Soul discovered the Chilean’s poetry whilst touring South America with his band back in 1982. Reading Neruda he says, “knocked his socks off.” It was the life of the poet, however, that has captured his imagination. Neruda, born in 1904, was just 13 when his poetry was first published. His father disapproved and hence Neruda was adopted as his ‘pen name.’ At the tender age of just 20, Neruda had established an international reputation as a poet with his work translated into many languages and yet he faced poverty. The Spanish Civil War, Soul continues to enlighten, was a key turning point in Neruda and his work, moving from introspective pieces on love to highly politicized writings and a new desire: the common good.
St. Brendan’s Church on the Square in Bantry was the setting of a rather austere stage, where David Soul, accompanied by the incredibly talented guitarist Hugh Burns, began to breathe life and form into the story of Pablo Neruda. The delicately played strings of Spanish guitar encouraged one to close their eyes and drift off to the places and people that had shaped this poet. The huskiness of Soul’s delivery seemed to emulate the battles between the people and those in power of which he spoke in the poetry.
Bantry is only the third location in which this wonderful performance has been presented. Whether a long time fan, or like David Soul, someone who has taken a while to ‘get’ poetry, it is a beautiful form in which to enjoy it. There are plans to extend the tour and David is working on a documentary about this poet who has evidently had a great impact on the former actor’s life. When asked has Neruda encouraged him to start writing poetry, Soul explains any attempts are blighted as soon as he considers the talents of such poets as Pablo Neruda. Unfortunate when one considers, the evening’s performance at St. Brendan’s brings to an end the renowned West Cork Literary Festival, where hoards have flocked to seek the spark to ignite their writing career. The delighted faces of the audience, however, would suggest Neruda’s work had only set alight their desire.
Now very familiar with the inside of the Maritime Hotel in Bantry along with the Church, David intends to take a couple of days to acquaint himself with the Sheep’s Head at least. But what of those women of a certain age and the men who should know better, what of their blue-eyed, blonde-haired bonnet sliding idol? He’s older, he says, a bad back and hip have put paid to any sliding, but cool . . . it’s still there!