Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene
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Fringe reading: Matthew Sweeney reads “Fish ‘n Chips”

June 22, 2010 By: Patrick Stack Category: 2010, fringe, poem, poet, poetry, video

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Fringe reading: Patrick Stack reads “Jungle Warfare” (with oboe)

June 21, 2010 By: Patrick Stack Category: 2010, fringe, poem, poet, poetry, video

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Fringe Reading: Teri Murray reads from “Where the Dagda Dances”

June 21, 2010 By: Patrick Stack Category: 2010, fringe, poem, poet, poetry, video

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Fringe Reading: Paul O’Mahony reads extract from “Epic Poem in 33 Cantos”

June 21, 2010 By: Patrick Stack Category: 2010, fringe, poem, poet, poetry, video

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Fringe Reading: Paul O’Mahony introduces his Epic Poem

June 21, 2010 By: Patrick Stack Category: 2010, fringe, poem, poet, poetry, video

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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

Campaign for the Right to Blog Listowel Writers’ Week

June 09, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010

Blogger Paul O’Mahony to launch Campaign for the right to blog at the Listowel Writers’ Week Festival, after being attacked by Committee Member on the last day of this year’s Festival.

—- Paul O’Mahony calls on bloggers across the world to support his campaign by emailing the Chairman of Listowel Writers Week – info@writersweek.ie – demanding he be allowed to continue blogging unhindered, and without violence or intimidation.

In an incident that many might have thought only happens in China or Burma, Blogger Paul O’Mahony was attacked verbally and physically as he tried to leave Listowel Writers’ Week. His crime? Doing his work as a blogger, voluntarily and unpaid, seeking to report on a writers’ festival he dearly loves. A full report follows below from a shocked and badly shaken Paul about what happened.

But the big question now is will Paul O’Mahony get an apology from the Listowel Writers Festival Committee? Even more importantly, will he be assured no further action will be taken against him, when going about the business reporting for his blog?

You can help by standing up for the right to blog and getting in touch with the Listowel Writers’ Week Festival and making your voice heard in defense of a brave and courageous member of the blogging community…….

PAUL O’MAHONY REPORT……..

I was on my way out of the Michael Hartnett memorial event at about 2.15pm on Sunday when a cross woman came up to me. She demanded “Have you recorded that session?”

“Yes”, I replied gently – but my heart was starting to beat strongly as I experienced the woman’s anger, the rage on her face.

“Who gave you permission?”

“No one.”

“You are a disgrace. You had no right to do that” – the woman was very agitated and I was nervous.

She reached over and gripped my arm. “How dare you.” Her grip felt fierce. This was in front of at least twenty people including Christopher Reid & Anthony Cronin. I had never met the woman before.

“I’m from the Writers’ Week Committee for 23 years. You are a disgrace. You are not welcome in Writers’ Week.” I felt in a difficult situation: she would not let go of my arm.

“Please let me go. I need to go to Dublin now. I don’t have time to discuss this.”
She still held me – I couldn’t get away from her – and I was expected at Dublin Writers Festival, Abbey Theatre, for the Gallery Press celebration. This was a public confrontation and I felt vulnerable, at risk of doing something stupid like pushing the woman away from me. If I used any force to free myself from her grasp, what might she do to me? It was like being taken hostage in public.

I kept repeating “Please let me go, I have to drive to Dublin.” Eventually, she let me go, and I got out from the crowd into fresh air.

I was shaken, fairly traumatised, shocked. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had since returning to Ireland after 30 years in UK.

It was like some sort of secret police person tried to arrest & disgrace me – in front of people who’d been to “Two Poetic Voices in Memory of Michael Hartnett“. The incident was terrible. I hope Michael wasn’t bothered by it.
The implications of all this:

I’ve been blogging Listowel Writers’ Week in an open & transparent manner throughout 2009 & 2010. I don’t know the state of Irish law on such blogging. Never have I made a cent from blogging Writers’ Week. It is an act of love as far as I’m concerned. I wish to bring Listowel to the wider world – so that people who can’t be there can share some of the experience I’ve enjoyed so much. Until now. Do I really need permission to use my iPhone to record material I’ll later use for the benefit of Writers’ Week? If I’m breaking a law, what is the penalty? What is due process for taking a case against me? I would be prepared to defend my action in court – and stand in front of the people of Ireland. Have other bloggers been charged with an offence for recording poets?

Contrast that woman’s action with the experience of Dublin Writers Festival. On Sunday evening, Sinéad Connolly, director of Dublin Writers Festival publicly thanked the bloggers, tweeters & facebookers from the stage of the Abbey Theatre – at the final event of Dublin Writers Festival. I was moved by the honour she paid to those of us who do our best to communicate the joy, excitement and creativity of festivals in Ireland. I could not help comparing the two experiences. What do other Irish festivals think of bloggers who publish and broadcast the festival?

Did the woman who said she was from the Listowel Committee represent the Committee? Is her view and behaviour representative of the values, style and policy of Writers’ Week? Today I think of her as a single individual. But I don’t know for sure. I do want an apology. I feel I’m entitled to a public apology from the whole Committee of Writers’ Week – because I want to be assured that the official view and style is completely different from what I was subjected to. I ask the Chairperson of Listowel Writers’ Week Michael Lynch to make this clear in public not for my benefit but for the sake of others in future. Bloggers, social networkers, new media people – we won’t go away. This dreadful experience may do some good for the future. I care for the reputation of Listowel Writers’ Week and the future audience for all Irish festivals.

I rest my case.

PAUL O’MAHONY

Photographs of 2010 Festival

June 08, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010

There are 74 snaps by Paul O’Mahony – a set he’s posted on Flickr – you can find a link on the blogroll too.

Only two photos have been edited – and none cropped. Paul’s a real amateur eh?

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


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