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‘What Culture Means to Me’ by Phil Kingston

Co Author:
Phil Kingston

What does culture mean to me.

Culture is being able to take a film out of a library last week and end up watching ‘Of Time and the City’ by Terence Davies late into the night. It’s being immersed in somebody’s very personal and moving journey.  And being changed by it. It’s listening to music old and new on the way into work and not just hearing the music but getting flashes of the lives and values and worlds of those who made it.

Culture is realising that when I have to work on myself, on my mind and my emotions, often the path forward comes from culture. A line from the poem ‘In Praise of Limestone’ by W H Auden, ‘Sweet Thing’ by Van Morrison, watching Philip Seymour Hoffman act.

The American poet William Carlos Williams once said

“It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.”

Art may not build bridges or kidney machines. But it helped us dream them up in the first place and we travel over the bridges to get to the arts and stay alive long enough to enjoy them.

Culture is arranging things on the shelf, culture’s loving something, culture’s viewing an object with value so that it sings to you. Culture’s the stone wrapped in felt I made at my daughter’s primary school craft day, it’s the lego dinosaur my son wants me to keep at work, it’s the collection of white stones I picked up on the beach at Tregumna in Skibbereen. All these sit below the screen I’m writing on.

Culture is  libraries, I can’t get past how important they are, what they say about the sharing of what’s best about humanity.  Culture’s how many books and records and films there are left to explore. It is discovering something new like ‘The Blocks’ by Karl Parkinson which is unique and yet also realising that other people have had similar thoughts but in different times, places, countries and languages.

“That which is most personal is most general” Carl Rogers

I’ve lived in two cultures, English and Irish, and see now how distinct they are. I see how history and landscape have influenced them and how certain things move deeply inside me because of where I’m from –  ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ Vaughan Williams, the poetry of Eliot and Blake, the books of Philip Pullman. And Eliot was a blow-in too. And though I tried reading history books the things that have really taught me about Ireland were Gerry Stembridge’s novels, watching ‘Reeling in the Years’ and listening to The Gloaming.

Culture is the confidence that there’s always a trace out there of other people’s attempts to make meaning and beauty and joy out of life. It’s knowing these traces will teach my mind and heart about the uniqueness of those lives. Culture is the opposite of loneliness.

Phil Kingston
Abbey Theatre



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