“For This: Poems for Our Ireland” (A session at PN11)

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.

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7 Responses to “For This: Poems for Our Ireland” (A session at PN11)

  1. libranwriter says:

    I’m the nerd who scribbles illegible notes in the dark!!

  2. Thanks for posting this. You’ve a better memory than me!

  3. libranwriter says:

    Hi Padhraig,
    I missed the closing, so thanks for filling in the blanks.
    I liked Michael Cronin’s selection and introduction too, (especially when he said we’ve asked the pyromaniacs to become the firefighters); and Borbála Faragó’s reminder that losses and gains at times of change are a question of perspective.
    And I loved Dermot Bolger’s choice of the embodiment of heroism, being the Neilstown grandmothers who bring up their grandchildren because their own children were lost to heroin; also Joe Wood’s sensible reminder that in the face of relentless bad news, you could do worse than go outside and take a walk.
    See, this is the problem – there’s no end to what could be said about this one session …

  4. Padhraig says:

    Hi Lia,
    thanks indeed for posting this. I had planned to – now I only have to link to you 🙂
    ( whenever I can get my addled brain around to a decent blogpost!)

    What a great weekend overall! Belinda’s extremely gracious and pitch-perfect closing address – while fully expressing her own disappointment – recognised the issue of diminished resources and seemed (to me) to frame aspirations of the festival’s independent status being restored the future, should the economic situation improve? After 16 years of growth, let’s hope so.

    Either way, It’ll be quite a challenge for whoever is appointed to curate next year, I think. I hope they receive all the support they’ll need.

    I particularly related to both Michael Cronin and Barbola Borbála Faragó’s choices and introductory comments (respectively, regarding the danger of empathic breakdown and the positive aspects of being open to – even painful – change.)

  5. Luz Mar Gonzalez-Arias says:

    Lia, thank you for keeping us posted on this. How I wish I could I been there. I remember going to the Poetry Now Festival with you, several times, different years of my life. I have such good memories of it …. I always get the blues when I am not in Ireland for the event. xxxx

  6. libranwriter says:

    Noted. Thanks, Dave.

  7. Dave Lordan says:

    Thanks for the mention.

    The songpoem is called Sond for the Minister of Education.

    dave

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