Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

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Campaign for the rights of bloggers wins

June 16, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2009, 2010, 2011, blogs, fringe, journalism, organisers, participants

The email from Michael Lynch, Chairman of Writers’ Week Listowel, Kerry, is more than welcome. It is generous. It is also a total vindication of all points raised in the blogpost which launched the campaign for the right to blog at Listowel Writers’ Week Festival.

I am delighted with Michael Lynch’s email. It must have been incredibly difficult for the Committee of Writers’ Week to agree. In the circumstances, it is a noble & extraordinary victory for common sense – and future reputation of Writers’ Week.

I’d like to explain why I’m so pleased with the Chairman’s response.
It’s important to remember that Michael Lynch wrote the email after the Committee meeting. Since 9 June, the Committee received many representations from people in Kerry, Ireland & abroad – emails, letters, Joe Duffy Liveline RTE national radio show (a listenership of 414,ooo), and, most of all, via Twitter (#LWW10). There have probably been many face-to-face conversations too.

The Committee considered the issues while under considerable pressure from ‘outsiders’. They had to deal with a situation where someone ‘assaulted’ me, and announced, in the name of the Committee, I wouldn’t be welcome again at Writers’ Week. It’s no easy matter for a local committee to deal with such an unprecedented situation.

The internet, all its off- shoots & platforms (digital cameras & recorders, blogging, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter for example) challenge all of us. The Committee of Writers’ Week was not in its comfort zone.

It would surprise no one if many Committee members deeply resented being put in such a storm – by someone from outside.

The Committee’s Response:

Michael Lynch begins with “Thank you…” That’s such a difficult thing for anyone under pressure to say. To be thanked for my email, which demanded a public apology, simply amazes me. It shows a spirit of big-heartedness. I feel greatly relieved – it would have been so much easier to have said something else. I did not expect gratitude.

The Chairman continues “You have raised an important issue …” Think about it, I raised the issue of being attacked, ‘assaulted’ in public, by a committee member. Michael Lynch now responds by saying I have raised an important issue. Of course he’s right, but a lesser committee might have denied, or tried to sweep the issue under the carpet. Instead Michael says “… which Writers’ Week is formally addressing.”

What did I expect? Did I expect the woman to be ostracised in public? No self-respecting local community would do that to anyone. No committee could do that without losing the confidence of its home base. The committee will deal with the matter in a formal manner – behind closed doors. This is exactly what a business does when one of its staff has behaved badly: its internal disciplinary process goes to work without ever informing the outside world what has happened. It is enough that I am assured the commitee will deal with the issue in its own way. The behaviour will never be repeated, I trust. It seems clear to me that the lesson has been learned.

I take this as the equivalent of a public apology. I am satisfied on this issue now. There is no reason for me, or anyone else, to be bothered that they might be attacked by a Committee member at Writers’ Week again.

Recording at Writers’ Week:

The good news is that the Committee is committed to a clear policy which we can all understand. Michael Lynch says

Our policy has always been that only authorised recordings are permissible and we will in future be informing our audiences to this effect.”

It is entirely appropriate that “authorised” recordings may be made at the Festival. There are circumstances in which it would be unfair, even dangerous, if recordings were made. If speakers come from certain countries and speak their minds freely, it may put others in danger – if their words are recorded & broadcast. I fully support the right of speakers to speak publicly without their words being transmitted – provided that there’s a good reason.

My view is that the sensible policy for Writers’ Week to have is this: a default position that everything can be recorded – except when a speaker has an important reason for not being recorded. It should be easy to make this clear to everyone – whenever such a situation arises.

The important matter has been sorted: there will be a publicly available policy – and it will be understandable to us all.

All event organisers have struggled with the advance of technology – unobtrusive recording devices increasingly link to the internet.

But there’s also another shift in society: more and more people want to find out what’s going on. More and more of us want to share our experiences with others via the internet. We’ve already moved into a more connected & transparent world. This revolution is profound & challenging. It’s also something I love. It is great to see the Writers’ Week Committee committed to a public policy – rather than leaving it to individuals to take the law into their own hands.

Authorised recording” – bloggers can all be authorised recorders, on the same basis as mainstream journalists, I trust. This is a major step forward.

Bloggers are welcome at Writers’ Week in 2011:

After what happened – and all the fuss which Twitterers, Facebookers & Bloggers have created – some committee members must have been keen to ban bloggers for ever. That’s a human reaction. Of course, wiser counsel prevailed. I always knew that if it was put up Michael Lynch & the Committee, the answer would be clear.

Please pay attention to the wording : “we are looking forward to welcoming you and all bloggers to our future festivals…

This is the first time Writers’ Week Listowel has said, publicly or privately, that it is looking forward to welcoming bloggers. This is a huge shift.

In 2009, bloggers from our Fringe Blog were allowed in. We paid our way. We were tolerated, treated civilly, as we published a stream of articles about the Festival. In 2010, with a bigger team, we returned to the task of blogging this Festival. We were similarly tolerated – apart from the single disgraceful incident. But were we “welcome”?

I never felt truly welcome until now. That’s my personal feeling. I have no idea what the committee of Writers’ Week intended in the past. Perhaps they were welcoming but never expressed it.

Patrick Stack & I – with the help of Jeremy Gould – set up Listowel Writers’ Week Fringe Blog. As we wrote before the 2009 Festival

It is on the fringe, meaning that we alone are responsible for its content, its cock-ups, mistakes and whateverelse we get wrong.

But we’re not here to speak for LWW. They can do that for themselves.”

There is an advantage in being independent of the Festival – independent enough to say exactly what we think of any aspect of the Festival.

It would be posssible for Writers’ Week to set up an official blog. I would welcome that – but that is a matter for those who’s job it is to think about the long-term future of the Festival. We, bloggers from the fringe, have loved Writers’ Week in our own individual ways.

The important news for all bloggers is that we are all welcome – that means that bloggers can take different angles on the festival, and still be welcome. There is no equivocation in the welcome Michael Lynch has expressed.

There are different types of bloggers: bloggers who write, photo bloggers, podcasting bloggers, video bloggers and even cartooning bloggers. Writers’ Week is now on record as welcoming all bloggers. I think this is a huge step forward.

This is important because it means people who can’t make it to Listowel will be better served than before in 2011. Our bogging effort has always about opening up the Festival to the wider world in a responsible way.

I’m on record saying to Joe Duffy that I think every Festival that gets pubic money should be open via the internet. The citizens who pay via the Arts Council, & customers who pay for corporate sponsorship, are entitled to share in the experience.

The internet experience is different from the live one. What you get via the internet from Listowel – in Dublin, New York or Tokyo – is very different from what you get in the town – in Listowel Arms Hotel, John B Keane’s, The Kingdom Bar, Wolfe’s Bookshop or Lynch’s Bakery. Nothing is quite like conversations struck up with strangers around Listowel, and its hinterland, during the Week.

The Writers’ Week Festival was begun 40 years ago by Brian McMahon, J B Keane and others. It was seen by them as a campaign for a better Ireland. We owe it to their memory to move with the generations, the technology and the zestful spirit of the founders. They were gritty. They have inspired us all.

I would like to publicly thank Michael Lynch, and the whole Committee of Writers’ Week, for the brave and generous way they have responded to this challenging experience.

With this understanding & spirit, I ask you all to give your on-going support to Writers’ Week in 2011. Put aside all negative thoughts and impressions.

I believe there will be much good from this. I thank you all for the wonderful support you have expressed for this cause, and for me personally. I thank those of you who have not agreed with my position. We need all voices. There are many festivals, thank goodness.

Listowel Writers’ Week will need all your support for the future.

Response from Micheal Lynch Chairman of Writers’ Week

June 16, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010, 2011, organisers

Tuesday 15th June

Dear Paul

Thank you for your recent correspondence. You have raised an important issue which Writers’ Week is formally addressing.

Our policy has always been that only authorised recordings are permissible and we will in future be informing our audiences to this effect.

Thank you for your ongoing support and we are looking forward to welcoming you and all bloggers to our future festivals.

Sincerely

Michael Lynch

Chairman

RECAP OF LISTOWEL WRITERS’ WEEK 2007

June 07, 2010 By: Laura Category: 2007, creative writing, events, historical, journalism, memoir, novels, organisers, painters & paintings, participants, photographs, poem, poems, poet, poetry, poets, short story, Song, songwriting, Speaker, storytelling, theatrical plays, workshop

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

Text and Photos by Laura Jean Zito laurajeanzito@gmail.com

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.”

Joseph O’Connor opened Writers Week this year with an Awards party at which he

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.

Presently a New Yorker, Gerard won the Kerry Group prize in 2004 with

“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.”

Colm Toibin, president of Writer’s Week and 2005 winner of the IMPAC Dublin

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)

Friday morning, for lunchtime theatre, American Martha Furey had not only done

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.

After the unveiling, we chilled out at St. John’s to the comedy of Nualas founder

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.

At St. John’s, the tribute to Poetry Ireland head Michael Hartnett, to whom this

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!”

Eventually everyone ended up in the pub’s back garden in the orangy afternoon

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 laurajeanzito@gmail.com

RECAP of LISTOWEL WRITERS WEEK 2008

June 06, 2010 By: Laura Category: 2008, creative writing, events, historical, journalism, memoir, novels, organisers, painters & paintings, participants, photographs, poet, poetry, poets, Reflections, short story, Speaker, theatrical plays

Listowel Writers’ Week 2008 “Writing by Feale”Photos and Text by Laura Jean Zito laurajeanzito@gmail.com

Seamus Heaney opened the festivities of the Listowel Writers’ Week 2008. And what a draw he is! Of course, the house was packed to the rafters and out onto the streets as he read from his latest volume, “District and Circle.” He presided over the awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award going to Anne Enright for “The Gathering,” her novel about a dysfunctional family that also won the Man Booker Prize in 07. The author, TV director and producer and mother from Wicklow County took the distinction over Joseph O’Connor’s “Redemption Falls,” James Ryan’s “South of the Border,” David Park’s “The Truth Commissioner,” and Julia Kelly’s “With My Lazy Eye.”

Nuala O Faolain, who died a few weeks before on May 9,was given a wonderful tribute by her many friends in attendance. Just last year I took this pic of her here in Listowel, where she was teaching a workshop, and was judge for the MemoirPrize, set up in her honor. She awarded it to Jennifer Farrell as the inaugural recipient. I remember when we met at Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr a few years back now as she was signing “Are you Somebody?” She was the somebody who validated so many people’s personal experiences with her example, including my own.

The doting audience got the real prizes, the living presence of these important authors among them, just milling about the Listowel Arms, always the setting for the hub of Writers’ Week, having conversations left and right as the evening wore on. I remember the first time I came here, and Bryan McMahon stopped me in the street and said, “Never feel shy!”I promised I wouldn’t and then he hired me to fill in for a lecturer that had failed to show up!

Cliodhna Ni Anluain topped off the morning with the annual Sunday Miscellany event for which she is famous as the RTE Radio program’s producer, and editor of several of its anthologies in book form. Another one is due out in October featuring 2006-20008 excerpts from Seamus Heaney, Anne Enright, Colm Toibin, and Joseph O’Connor, mixing anecdotal tales and topical treatises with their compatriots in a potpourri of texts for readers to savour.

Readers got readings galore as the day progressed. I entered the hushed ballroom of the Arms, and was drawn to sit by an artist, sketching John Banville as he spoke about identities in a new global and technological synthesis of culture that we are all subject to of late.

I found his simple old-fashioned method of depiction refreshing. So few people draw or paint from life anymore. As a photographer I find it much more interesting than sketching from photos, where one’s viewpoint is already formed. So often I am disappointed at art galleries lately where artists just seem to be copying information from photographs rather than creating something completely different. Seems techno tools cause laziness!

Gemma Billington’s expansive Kerry landscapes display none of those downfalls. On exhibition at the St. John’s Theatre I enjoyed them with a glass of wine, and that was something I could identify with. They were amorphous, undetailed, foggy, vibrant in color, suggestions of fences and rooftops scratched into the fields of hue. Her favorite was “Through the Gap,” she said about the gap between Southand North Kerry, or the gap between one level of consciousness and a higher one. Or was that a stroke to the festival organizers and attendees? After her vernissage, Joe Murphy made the customary announcements in customary good humor, and then introduced Martin Lynch, who put on a one-man

show, “The Humours of the Troubles,” about the North, of course.

Julien Gough read next, writing from two points of view, in “The Orphan and the Mob,” a prologue to his novel “Jude: Level One.” He won the BBC Short Story Competition with this first person and third person perspective, about a guy who had two penises apparently. Having it both ways? Losing identity? Deliberately? Seems to be the theme this year. Defining identity and its importance in the larger scheme of things.

In the audience I met my flat –mate, an English teacher from Sydney, who invited me for an apple tart and a glass of Merlot at the Arms. She speaks fluent French and Italian, is 67 and has the body of a teenager, running a mile every morning. She told me she’d whispered in Julian Gough’s ear he had to take responsibility for his characters. He didn’t like that and immediately got up from the signing table, flicking the ankle length thin silver scarf over his shoulder as he departed.

Later outside, I asked for his autograph I had missed, and he signed with tongue in cheek the polaroid his father had given me as we chatted there, that he took of an orange sunset, “To Laura Jean Zito, We will always have our memories of those sweet Morocco nights…..Love, Julian” Maybe the teacher was right, but the organizers were giving out about her remarks to him. All stroking, no poking for them, I guess. The American hostess, our mutual landlady, had already gotten wind of it through her grapevine by the time I got home after midnight. The Australian said through the wine, “When going to the opera, expect the Italians to have the best parts.” She doesn’t understand why everyone wants so badly to homogenize. Why they are building a highway through the hill of Tara? Why Julien is pissing on the past, writing about orphans without identities pissing on monuments of historical figures from generations back as they make their way to traditional celebrations? It annoyed her that the young Irish girls in the audience were laughing along with him, and that she felt they didn’t know what they were laughing at.

Our landlady, on the other hand, doesn’t go to the literary events, calling them incestuous. She seems lonely and needs attention as I type. I was writing to my sweetie about everything that was going on, my only chance being after midnight since every day at Listowel is so jam-packed with events. I was trying to find another love poem to send him.

After that glass of wine earlier with the teacher from Sydney I had met Galway poetess Caroline Lynch at the Arms. Turned out she knew Elizabeth Spires,

had been her protégé of sorts, as we discovered when I sought her advice about which poem I should send my new amour for flirts. She recognized the lines of the one he sent me as Elizabeth’s “In Heaven It Is Always Autumn” in seconds, and then I revealed that my heartthrob had studied under her at Vassar. She didn’t have any love poems of her own in her repertoire that I could send off though…not yet, anyway…Off we went to her launch at the Plaza for her new book “Lost in the GaelTeacht.”

Later that evening, at St. John’s Theatre, I saw “The Faith Healer,” by Brian Friel, performed by members of AC Productions, also about point of view. Friel’s intriguing play, some say his most transcendant, is built on four monologues by three characters, the husband, Frank Hardy, his wife, Grace Hardy, and his agent, Teddy. Each monologue is a different view of the same life path. By not meeting up on stage, the characters reinforce the isolation that each human’s mental and emotional life must by definition abide, despite all effort to be connected to each other. I got curious and discovered that Ralph Fiennes had made this part his own and was said to be remarkable in it.

Here is a still from another drama I saw during the lunchtime theatre agenda at

St. John’s. Can anyone tell me which one it is? O.K. Admittedly, Listowel Writers Week is known for its late nights, where people might stay up in the lobby of the Arms till five in the morning, singing and reading aloud and playing the piano and all sorts of special performances taking place…all with great quantities of alcohol imbibed by almost all…

Points of view abounded in the Film Club’s offering of Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” in which Bob Dylan tells his life story through the renderings of a variety of characters, most touchingly Cate Blanchett.

Saturday David McWilliams spoke about an altogether different point of view,how important it is for Ireland to wake up and sniff out its own genetic progeny in whatever country they emigrated to and grant them Irish passports, before the offspring of Chinese immigrants get granted more rights in Ireland than someone who is actually Irish by blood. He has many important economic points to make and I will have a look at his books, “The Pope’s Children,” “Follow the Money,” and “The Generation Game,” which he obligingly signed for all those interested.

Paddy Bushe, living locally in Kerry after years in Australia, read from his recently published, “To Ring In Silence: New and Selected Poems” in which he had translated his own poems from his previous collections as well as classic Irish poems.

poems. He has won the Listowel Writers Week Poetry Prize, the Strokestown Poetry Prize and the Michael Hartnett Award, among others. He’s known for setting up poetry workshops in foreign locales for all those interested in combining their writing desires with gadding about the planet.

Weeshie Fogarty launched “The Essential Gabriel Fitzmaurice” at the Plaza.

Gabriel is known for leading historical tours about the local area. Until I have time to develop the actual film I shot of Seamus Heaney strolling about the Square with Gabriel, a Listowel native, here is the only pic I have digitally from the Healing Party at John B’s in 2007. There’s that technology, taking over again, just like John Banville said!O.K. It was after another very late night! That’s why it’s called a healing party after all! There is a lot more to expound about Writers’ Week 2008 but I will beg off until I have developed all the film. Please return again here and I will update this article with more pics and text! For more about Listowel Writers’ Week in general, please read my recap of Listowel Writers’ Week 2007 and 2009 on this blogsite, listowelwritersweekfringe.com

“Writing By Feale” Copyright 2008 Laura Jean Zito All Rights Reserved For use of any photos and/or text contact laurajeanzito@gmail.com

The Kerryman today…

January 27, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010, creative writing, events, organisers, participants, preparations, starting up, workshop

There’s a nice report today in The Kerryman newspaper. The message seems to be :

Get your booking for a writer’s workshop in early this year: unprecedented demand for places.

Michael Lynch, chairman of Writers’ Week Listowel organising committee, encourages you to book now.

LWW Takes a Great Leap Forward for 2010

January 20, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010, blogs, connections, events, historical, organisers, preparations, Reflections, starting up

Today Listowel Writers’ Week joined the new world. The Festival published its revamped website, which looks great.

But it had a good website last year.

The great leap forward is the simultaneous launch of its Facebook page and Twitter identity. This change is significant. It’s just in time for the 40th anniversary of LWW Literary Festival. I’ve immediately sent a request to be admitted as a Facebook Friend.

In my opinion, it would have been better if the Festival set up its Facebook presence differently – made it possible to become a “Facebook Fan” of Writers’ Week. But the big step it to get out where the public is.

The Festival is in Listowel for a few days every year, but there is a whole world of people who can’t make it to Listowel. There are so many who would be interested to know what’s going on. This Facebook presence give everyone a chance of linking up with the spirit of Listowel Writers’ Week. John B Keane and Bryan McMahon would have approved. They always wanted the Festival to break the boundaries of the parochial.

The Twitter move is dramatic.
Once you go on Twitter, you have to engage. People follow you, and you can’t afford to ignore them – it damages your reputation if you offer nothing to your followers. You have to tweet. People can see how serious you are about sharing, linking, engaging… Twitter is a medium which exposes a lot of your soul.
As soon as I got alerted to @writersweek on Twitter, I followed. I urge you all to do the same. Nothing will do more to raise the profile of LWW, all round the world, than a really good presence on Twitter.

It’s still not clear to me what this blog’s plan for LWW2010 is to be.
We are completely independent of the Festival Committee. We love the Festival. We’d love the Committee to love us, but we have no right to expect it. During 2009 Festival, the organising committee were civil to us. But if they liked anything we did, they didn’t let us know.

I have huge emotional attachment to Listowel Writers’ Week Festival.
It would be wonderful to continue to blog it again. I am completely convinced that all Festivals that are any good should be blogged. It’s all about making the hard work of organising the Festival visible to the audience of the future. All valuable Festivals deserve to be out there, reaching round the globe.

We’ve heard a lot about the Irish Diaspora, what about the Listowel Writers’ Week Diaspora?

This is surely a day for celebration. May the Fesitival of the Future be a credit to the joyful spirit of its founders…

Is there any news about LWW2010?

October 27, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: blogs, connections, historical, organisers, preparations

Or is it all under wraps… in committee?

Does everyone know that LWW10 will be number 40?

It means that the planners must be wondering how they can mark the occasion fittingly. It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough time to prepare for it.

No one’s approach this blog to see if we’ll be live for the 2010 Festival. That doesn’t surprise me because no one from the committee approached the blog during 2009. No one official contact – imagine.

It was as if we the bloggers were the elephant in the room.

I bet there are loads of ideas out there concerning how the 40th anniversary should be celebrated. The challenge is how to let others contribute their goodwill?

These are the kind of issues that cause the passion of bloggers to be engaged. If LWW doesn’t get it’s act together and engage with bloggers, what will bloggers do?

Answer: they’ll chatter about myopia on Twitter. It’s the world we live in now – so different from the locals who set up Listowel Writers’ Week.

A Rumour about

September 24, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: blogs, organisers, Reflections

I’ve heard a rumour that Writers’ Week has appointed a person to produce an official blog of the 2010 Festival, the 40th one …

Anyone heard any more?

Since 2009 Writers’ Week, we the bloggers have unfortunately had no contact with the Organising Committee of Writers’ Week.

This has saddened me. But it may be the sort of world we live in, sometimes…

Here’s another literature festival : Cheltenham

August 06, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: connections, organisers, poetry

It’s good to be aware of other literature festivals. It offers another perspective on Listowel Writers’ Week.

There will never be another literary festival like Listowel: it’s a snowflake loaded with a special atmosphere.

I’ve been to Cheltenham Literature Festival (now The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival) at least twice, maybe three times. I once competed in the UK Allcommers Poetry Slam, without distinction (but the top three performance poets were amazingly good).

This is Cheltenham’s offering this year…

Colm Toibin @ Listowel Writers’ Week 2009

August 01, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: connections, organisers, participants, photographs

I took this photograph in Listowel Arms Hotel on the first day of Writers’ Week 2009.

Shortly after I introduced myself to Colm and told him about the blog. He said he’d be happy to be interviewed later.

However, in the fire of the festival, I never got back to him – so I’m left with “the one that got away”.


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