Hi everyone. Since I couldn’t get to Listowel this year I decided to spend the time organizing articles I had written or started to write about previous years, and present them to you here as recaps, in that we are all getting older and prone to forgetting…I look forward to any and all accounts of whatever I missd this year…I am sure it was great as always….Thanks to our blogmasters Patrick Stack and Paul O’Mahoney for making this possible…
Listowel “Master” Pieces June, 2007
John B. Keane, Ireland’s leading playwright, looking over my portfolio, remarked, ”Photograph the farmers in Connemara. They’re a dyin’ breed.” As Ireland changes rapidly with the spread of EU money, and developments crop up everywhere, the farming population does seem endangered. The characters that abounded arefewer and farther between, pubs abandon that homey, homely look for the spiffed up, sanitary look of the new millenium. All the more valuable then, the words caught by John B. and transcribed to immortality in his twenty-seven plays and numerous prose works. And all the more endearing the John B. Keane Pub in his hometown Listowel, his original typewriter adorning the windowsill, a bunch of books toppled over on shelf above, and the framed photos, posters and other mementoes of his life strewn about the walls in loving haphazardness.Listowel’s mayor Anthony Curtin declared emphatically, ”He put us on the map,” as the statue of John B. was unveiled June 2nd, cast in bronze by sculptors Seamus and James Connolly, of Kilbaha, who had done the Richard Harris sculpture in Kilkee.
“The best debt of gratitude you can give an actor is a job, and boy did he give us jobs!” mused Niall Toibin, famous comedian and John B.’s favorite Bull McCabe.
“Several generations of thespians owe an enormous debt of gratitude to John B.”
Politician Jimmy Deenihan lauded his old friend, then John B.’s daughter and Chairperson of Listowel Writers Week Joanna Keane O’ Flynn declared, “Here John B. has a bird’s eye view of his town, thanks to the idiosyncrasies of our one-way system.” John B. loved the human touch and his hometown Listowel. This heritage town in County Kerry cleverly encourages pedestrian traffic by making motoring inconvenient. From the Small Square, John B. heads toward St. John’s Theatre, the centerpiece of a large mainmarket square bordered on one side by the town’s only hotel, the Listowel Arms. He strolls down the street with his hand outstretched, this day greeting all the town, local and national public dignitaries, literary celebs from far and wide, wife Mary and son Billy who run his famous literary pub, two other sons, Conor and John, cousins, grand-children and other family members, inspiring one and all to
reach out and touch him back.
John B. initiated Listowel Writers Week 37 years ago with Bryan MacMahon, Tim Daneher, Nora Relihan, and others. Bryan MacMahon, writer of an award-winning novel, “The Master,” and locally known as the “Master,” a position in reality he shared with John B., wrote plays centered more on society’s intellectual dialogues, while John B. chose to preserve the organic tones of the working classes. ”The Street,” a collection of John B.’s poems by Mercier Press, was launched at Listowel Writers Week in 2003, on the first anniversary of his death, and dozens of other books have launched during the festival, including Billy Keane’s “The Last Of the Heroes.”
announced Roddy Doyle as the winner of the hefty 10,000 Euro Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award for “Paula Spencer.” Joe, author of the popular ”The Secret World of the Irish Male,” ”The Irish Male at Home and Abroad,” and “Sweet Liberty: Travels in Irish America,” is back from a residency at the New York Public Library. Thursday morning, the five short-listed novelists gave readings, and he read from his new novel, ”Redemption Falls.”
“Lunchtime Theatre,” another Listowel tradition, offered “Bookworms,” a unique take on word-play by the Beehive Theatre. Characters dressed as worms gave a captivating performance showing just how playful words can be.
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate since 1999, who, calling himself ”town-crier, can-opener and flag-waver for poetry,” co-founded the Poetry Archive, was followed by Gerard Donovan.
“Schopenhauer’s Telescope” and his latest novel, “Julius Winsome,” made this year’s short-list.
Next up William Palmer, winner of the 2006 Collections Prize, launched a published version of the poems,”The Island Rescue.”
Literary Award for his novel,”The Master,” read from his latest, about a mother’s response to her paedophilic priest son. All this in just the first afternoon!
Thursday evening began with an Amnesty International Event. Gerard Stembridge, co-writer with Dermot Morgan of “RTE’s “Scrap Saturday,” defined the relationship of the artist to Amnesty International. Fergal Keane, BAFTA recipient, “Reporter of the Year”, Independent columnist and author of the ‘95 Orwell prize-winner “Season of Blood,” is known for no-holds-barred, emotionally charged reporting from Northern Ireland to Rwanda. The slate was completed by Zlata Filipovic, whose ”Stolen Voices, Young People’s War Diaries From World War I to Iraq,” travelling across the globe at the speed of translation, is an outcome of her own 1993 bestselling teenage diary of war-torn Sarajevo. John McAuliffe, a native Listowellian who directs “Poetry Now” at Dun Laoghaire and the Creative Writing Program at the University of Manchester, launched “Next Door,” his second collection, at the Plaza, the original theatre in town.
Anyone who has seen the latest movie reviews here and abroad can hardly have failed to notice the clean sweep of interest by “Once,” a small-budget film by ex-Frames bass-player John Carney that won the Audience Award at Sundance and
boosted musician and Frames-bandleader-turned actor Glen Hansard into an overnight Boy Wonder. Much later that night he was sitting on the floor of the Listowel Arms Hotel, surrounded by a bevy of young international friends that were enrolled in his songwriting workshop. Writers Week was started to hold workshops giving newbies a chance to interact with already successful writers. Monika, an Eastern European long-time associate of Glen’s, exclaimed, “Though he’s long been one of Ireland’s most popular rock-stars, he’s as down-to earth as can be!”
Looming symbolically behind him was the beautiful skylight of the Listowel Arms Hotel, always the setting for the Festival, most especially late at night for drinking bouts without no end in sight where one can really get down to the nitty-gritty with
literati around the bar. That’s where I was later that night after the Paddy McCabe “cabaret” ”Radio Butty,” in which Paddy as performer mercilessly poked fun at everyone who refuses to poke it at themselves. This show, loosely based on radio shows of the fifties, had little acts, like Peter Trant doing a ”Guy Noir” ala
Garrison Keeler, and a “Bruce Lee is My Best Friend”riff, parodying the one we all know whose claim to fame is being convinced they know someone famous. Niall Toner and friend Joe made ridiculously frenzied rock ‘n roll expressions while strumming their guitars to famous 50’s songs and singing at super low volume for hilarious effect. Paddy’s brilliance was especially brought to light by his ownmagnanimous way of reading from his works, such as “Breakfast on Pluto,” and “Butcher Boy,” to a backdrop projection of Peter Trant’s newly photoshopped slides of olde Ireland, and set off with an array of technological gadgetry and a statue of John Wayne with an oversized head. Back at the Arms, Marie Shanahan, from Best of Irish, taking Gerry Stembridge’s workshop in sitcom writing, decided that Peter Trant looked exactly like George Clooney as he bought us drinks, especially when he laughed, so we proceeded to amuse him as much as we could. A young admirer to our left broke out his guitar to serenade Marie, who though
Irish, hails from Nice. She detailed an extensive international itinerary of her diurnal routine marketing fish to gourmet restaurants. As her sit-com will be about fishmongering, I proferred up, “A Plaice in the Sun,” but maybe they didn’t see the Montgomery Clift/ Elizabeth Taylor version of “An American Tragedy.” Marie threw out “I’m Your Sole Mate,” and Sean baited us with ”Cod in the Middle.” Fits of laughter ensued when I hatched ”Deep Trout.”
By 2:30, Cliodhna Ni Anluain at our table needed a lift to her B&B. She had been up early that morning, making a taping of live Listowel readers for the “Sunday Miscellany” broadcast of RTE Radio1, an annual Writers Week event and much coveted possibility to hear oneself on the radio. “What a marvelous time I had here in Listowel!” she said as we agreed how very Joycian the whole experience was, what with musical interludes tucked into every nuance. Indeed, the following night the performance at St. John’s was just that, an elucidation of the songs to which Joyce referred in “Ullyses,” “Finnegans Wake,” “Dubliners,” “A Portrait of the Artist” and “Chamber Music.” Joyce was a highly accomplished singer and pianist, like his father, and made as much reference to songs of his day as to literature in his works. (Pictures coming)
all the staging, costuming and props for her wonderful memoir of Isadora Duncan, which she performed so exquisitely, but she had also written the piece. Quel imagination! She has a series of one-person plays she performs and wrote, Georgia O’Keefe, Emily Dickinson, several more. You feel you are in the same room with Isadora as she looks over the substance of her life. Martha lives now in Cork, but is ready to travel with her one-woman shows anywhere on the planet.
Her brilliant performance compensated the disappointment of missing the much-hailed poet Roger McGough, who helped write the Beatles “Yellow Submarine.” Roger’s entertaining style was still the talk on Sunday.
This year, the abundance of performances overlapping in time, so that one cannot see it all, makes me think, ”The poor chaps taking workshops, they are missing everything!” Perhaps the workshops should be held the week previous, though they are always sold out well in advance. I also had to pass on History-Brought-To-Life with Alice Hogge and Alison Weir to get to veteran Listowel art exhibitor Maria Simonds-Gooding’s show of landscapes of Dingle at the Seanchai Literary
and Cultural Center, writers’ museum extraordinaire. We discovered our mutual interest in the Sinai Desert. She sold a piece of hers to the Metropolitan Museum through a curious story. She had done an etching at the Santa Katerina Monastery, given it to the monks, where it was seen and admired by chance by the Met’s curator passing-through! I convinced several of her lovely friends, such asBrigitte Downey,(”Diaries of a Cultured Cat,”) into hurrying along to the Esther Perel presentation of her new book, ”Mating in Captivity- Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.” They said they knew how already, been-there-done-that, but upon the suggestion that people-watching-who-else-might-be-attending might be the real draw, they readily agreed and off we sauntered to the packed hotel ballroom. Esther had her audience in rapt attention.
Hailing from her New York family therapist practice, she said, “This is my first time in Ireland, and I never realized the interest here would be so high!” When Writers Week first began, she would never have gotten a platform with her subject matter, which I might sum up as “The only good sex is bad sex.” Judging by audience reaction, times have certainly changed! I can still remember when my brother got slapped for mentioning the word birth-control in a pub to a girl in Roscommon.
Positively gleaming in a silky linen pale pink suit that complemented her thick naturally blonde hair, the intrepid Madeleine O’Sullivan, original chairperson and now a permanent director of the Festival, launched at the Boys’ School the memoir of George Rowley, also one of the founding organizers. She put together, with
teacher Margaret Broderick, a splendid exhibition of articles, arranged year by year for all 37 years of the festival. ”We stayed up every night for three weeks straight to find all the most interesting stories!” laughed Madeleine. Madeleine was one of the first people to have the foresight to see that the Listowel Writers Week would take on an international persona, quoted in 1984 saying, “Now is the time to move beyond the native, towards the creation of an international festival of literature in all the languages, a celebration of the living word in all its forms, a polyglot panorama of international imagination.”
After the evening Joyce event, back at the Arms, some people invited me to their table to sing-along to Beatles songs with their friend on guitar. Paul McNeive turned out to be a great second choice to Glen Hansard, whose late-night Frames concert that night at St. John’s sold out two months previously. Paul made it to the top ten in an English American Idol with his band, the Savills. (www.partynearthepark.co.uk) Clio whispered that he was actually a real-estate mogul from Dublin who had helicoptered them all there, although in his jeans and wailing Oasis tunes, he seemed more like his look-alike, Bono.
On Saturday Neil Beasley, an artist and musician (www.myspace.com/zeppoed) and grandson to Maureen Beasley, the well-known poet and organizer of WritersWeek since its inception, accompanied me to the unveiling of the new statue of John B. Keane in the Small Square. Joanna Keane O’Flynn spoke about her father’senduring legacy and thanked everyone for taking the time to honor him, quipping “Time is the new money.” When Neil Toibin went to lift the velvet cloth, the crowd
pressed forward, swarming instantly within inches of the statue, as if a giant magnet were pulling them in closer to hear his story. Snaps were taken in the general mayhem, and John B. himself would have loved the sheer havoc of it all, the lack of pomp and circumstance that would have put a rigid artificiality on to the celebration. Children especially abounded, playing accordians and fending off impending rain with bright smiles.
Anne Gildea. (I think that’s her on the left, in front of the Listowel Arms having a chat with Seamus Hosey from RTE). Anne, cited by the NY Times as “wackily original,” was ridiculously funny in a most bawdy sort of way. She thoroughly shocked an eighty-year old woman in the front row by grabbing her crotch in mockery of American rappers who do the same on stage. ”What is that all about?” she cried out. ”Maybe I should do it more like this?” as she began stroking herself. Most of the audience burst into laughter.
On a more serious note, Melvyn Bragg, author with Norman Jewison of the screenplay, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and President of the National Campaign for the Arts, went over the content of his latest book, ”Twelve Books That Changed the World,” to an SRO audience soaking up his wisdom.
Then, two first novel launches, Liam Browne, program director of the Dublin Writers’ Festival, with ”The Emigrant’s Farewell” and Mia Gallagher, a short-story writer and stage performer, with ”Hellfire.”
Two readings followed, by Irvine Welsh, famous for “Trainspotting” and a Monday column in the Daily Telegraph, and by Alain de Botton, author of “The Art of Travel,” ”How Proust Can Change Your Life,” ”Status Anxiety,” ”Essays in Love,” ”The Architecture of Happiness,” and presenter of a TV series to go with his “Consolations of Philosophy.”
Psychology was the theme of the evening’s show, Paddy McCabe’s“Frank Pig Says Hello,” with its portrayal of the macabre demise of a disturbed Irish youth of the 60’s into a pit of violence and insanity. Abstractly weaving life’s phases, two actors assumed multiple roles in a difficult, fantastic work of art.
Back at the hotel the storytelling competition, dedicated to Eamon Kelly, was wrapping up with announcements of winners. I met Neil’s cousin, named Kevin Barry, after the famous rebel song, at a songfest out back with the friends of Glen Hansard. He offered to lend me an extra memory card for my camera for Sunday’s events. On the way out, 3:00 AM again, George Rowley called out across the asphalt, “Be sure to be at the “Healing Party” tomorrow at John B.’s at noon!”
Marie had insisted I see the Sunday lunchtime theatre “Allergic to Beckett” “Because,” she said, “it’s absolutely crying laughing funny.” Hopefully some other time, some other place. John B’s at noon was definitely the right time and the rightplace. Despite the packed bar, I found a high window ledge with room to move to get a few photos. Marie found her way there too after the play. One famouscrooner or bard after another got up to sing or recite in a steady stream, with Billy playing Maitre D’. Surely the super verve that the statue unveiling had brought to town had affected this gathering with enthusiasm that exuded from every ear and throat. Old farmers whipped up witty anecdotes, young girls sung sweet ballads,
crumpled poems were grabbed out of pockets and emoted with extra emphasis and melodies streamed out of tin pipes in a potpourri of relaxed bon vivance which everyone was welcome to share. I looked around with thirsty eyes at the chaotic scene. How much faith the people had in each other to proscribe a dogmatic approach that would only serve to suppress this natural creative juice!
Speaking of juice, I ran quickly out on my cards so skipped out to the Arms to fetch the extra card Kevin Barry promised to loan me. Sure enough, the concierge had it! Only in Listowel, where the artistic urge is a given is the need so well-understood! I stopped in for a moment at the Seanchai Center to get a pic of Giles Foden reading from his novel, “The Last King of Scotland.” By his narrative, the Oscar-winning filmscript followed closely his novel’s text.
year’s festival was dedicated, had a reading by Katie Donovan, editor of “Ireland’s Women,Writings Past and Present,” but the lure of John B.’s drew me back there. On my way up the street, I ran in to John from Templeglantine and told him about the “Healing Party.” He was thrilled to find out, exclaiming later, “It was one of the best afternoons of my life!”
with four virtuosos fiddlin’ up a storm. One had spilled something on his shirt, taken it off and hung it to dry on a clothesline right through the middle of the crowd. The sun shone through it light blue like an extra cloud in the sky wafting just over the headline of the players and audience. Like a surreal dancer in the sky.
I jumped next door for a moment to the Mermaid, to the Poetry Corner Open Mic, because I promised Dan Griffin to hear his recitation of a poem he wrote at John B.’s funeral about hands. About how nothing is being made by hand anymore. About the blacksmith’s hand and the letter-writer’s hand. And the poker player’s hand and the surgeon’s hand. But that the best hand was the hand that stretched out to greet you.
John Sexton was reading “The Green Owl,” for which Katie Donovan awarded him as winner of the Poetry Competition 700 Euros and a slim volume to be published and launched at next year’s Festival!
Now for the grand finale event, John B. Keane’s “Big Maggie” at St. John’s. Years ago at the Abbey Theatre, Brenda Fricker, (Christy Brown’s mother in the film, “My Left Foot,”) gave a more sympathetic interpretation. Susan Cummins, a Shakespearean actress from Cork, noted for performing Keane’s women, portrayed Big Maggie more like a psychopathic control-freak than an overbearing mother. How times have changed!
After the play I returned to John B.’s for one more pint of Guinness to finish off the festival. I found George Rowley in there talking up a storm with Denis Costello, a music critic and classical guitarist who had toured with Nora Relihan, due to arrive in NYC to pick up an award of his own from the New York Film Festival for his Arts and Entertainment show on RTE radio. We kept it up till they kicked us out, then headed over to the Arms to have “a cup of coffee.” The concierge bought that and let us in, even though it was way after hours. The “craic” was fantastic once again and we were up till the wee hours with the other stragglers having too much fun to go home. One thing was clear to me, the writers of Listowel are sure not “a dyin’ breed”.
“Listowel Master Pieces” Copyright 2007 Laura Jean Zito All Rights Reserved For use of any photos and/or text contact firstname.lastname@example.org