At a Saturday afternoon session of the 2011 Poetry Now Festival in the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, sixteen readers, some of them poets participating in the festival, and some invited notables, were invited to read a poem that reflects (on) Ireland, where we are now. The session was introduced by Vincent Woods.
Here’s a list of who read what:
Dermot Bolger: “Neilstown Matadors” (Dermot Bolger)
Michael Cronin: “Campo di Fiori: (Czeslaw Milosz)
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill: “The Language Issue/Ceist na Teangan” (Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill)
Borbála Faragó: “The Art of Letting Things Go” (Anne Le Marquand Hartigan)
Diarmaid Ferriter: “1954” and “Canal Bank Walk” (Patrick Kavanagh)
Alice Leahy: “A Sociologist Looks Back” (Brian Power)
Jinx Lennon sang: “Nothing but a Leprechaun” (dedicated to ‘Ben, Denis and Michael’) & “The Sumo Option” (Jinx Lennon)
Dave Lordan: “Song for the Minister of Education” (Dave Lordan)
Brian Lynch: “On a Distant View of the Irish Disaster” (Brian Lynch)
Sinead Morrisey: “Various Portents” (Alice Oswald)
David Norris: “Easter 1916” (WB Yeats)
Miriam O’Callaghan: “A Woman Untouched” (Frank McGuinness)
Leanne O’Sullivan: “Safe House” (Leanne O’Sullivan)
Gerry Smyth: “South of the Border” (Gerry Smyth)
Joseph Woods: “Old Country Awakening” (Joseph Woods)
Highlights for this member of the audience included:
- Leanne O’Sullivan’s marvellous poem.
- Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s “Ceist na Teangan” and its introduction. Describing the dilemma of Moses’s mother as she entrusted her infant son to the reeds and a future she couldn’t see, Ní Dhomhnaill remided us that even when things look bleak, you never know what can happen. Hope is what we all need (and maybe a small bit of faith, not to mention courage).
- Dave Lordan, saying that one of the things he likes about being Irish is that the question is never Can you sing? but whether you will sing. (He did. Sort of.)
- Diarmaid Ferriter’s clever juxtaposition of “1954”, written at the end of an annus horribilis for Kavanagh, and “Canal Bank Walk”, written after things deteriorated further – and then took a sudden turn for the better.
- Jinx Lennon’s “Nothing But a Leprechaun”. It always makes me laugh a little/ cringe a little.
- Miriam O’Callaghan, reminding us that while ‘we can bore each other to death talking about the recession, the things that really matter are life, love, loss and death.’ The poem she read was written about the premature death of her sister, Anne.
- Seeing Seamus Heaney in the lobby afterwards. Heaney, who has been a staunch supporter of and familiar figure at the festival from the beginning, was awarded this year’s Irish Times Poetry Now Award for Human Chain the night before. But was he resting on his laurels? No. There he was, as always, lending his support to the proceedings.
The Poetry Now Festival attracts massive support from Irish poets. It’s not just Heaney – scores of others turn up for the readings: established poets, emerging poets and those who are still unknown. They mix with, and talk freely to, readers, fans, academics, punters. It’s one of the most informal, democratic festivals around. It’s been a bright spot on the calendar for 16 years. For a while, there, it looked as though this might be its last year, but during the festival it was announced that, from now on, it will be amalgamated with the Mountains to Sea festival. We’re told it will retain its own identity, its own curator and so on. We’re expected to be glad about this.
I’m not buying it, people. Poetry Now came first, it has built an international profile and standard over the years, it attracts people to Dun Laoghaire in great numbers. I don’t see why it has to amalgamate with anything. There was an element of sadness to standing among the throngs of people chatting in the lobby of the Pavilion and thinking, it won’t be like this again.