Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene
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Tony Guerin launched this book

June 04, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: creative writing, events, novels, organisers, photographs, storytelling

Tony Guerins novel

Tony Guerin's novel

At 1330 on Saturday 30 May, straight after Rebecca Miller read from her new novel, Tony Guerin‘s novel was launched by Billy Keane.

Billy Keane looked so relaxed, sounded so fluent, that he seemed a different man from the one who’d been in the ring with George Kimball.

Billy was speaking to his people, in his way, about his kind of book.

I’d watched a long line of people queue to have their “Tomorrow is another day” signed by Tony Guerin, including…

Bryan McMahon’s son read from Tony’s book. So did a young woman who said “my father died before J B Keane“. She may have been Bryan McMahon’s daughter. (I couldn’t catch her name

She described Tony Guerin as having “a massive heart” for the generosity he’s shown her father.

Imagining the conversation between Brian McMahon & J B Keane …

June 02, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: historical, Imagining, organisers, preparations, storytelling, theatrical plays

[In the bar of J B Keane’s pub, Listowel, Kerry, Ireland, winter 1969)

Brian: John?

J B : Yes Brian. Will you take one for the road?

Brian: Go on, hit me. I’ve been thinking John…

J B : I’m sorry for your trouble Brian. Is that head of your’s throbbing again?

Brian: John, we have no Hell’s Angels in Listowel, no Black Panthers either.

J B : Tis drawing Brian. I like to let it sit until the dark has settled in.

Brian: You pull a great pint for such a young man John, as we all know. But what are we putting back?

J B : Into the youth? Is it the futute of the young people or the ancients that you’re thinking of?

Brian: Tis time we put down a foundation John. We’ll not be here for long. As they say in Paris, the youth deserve the earth left to them cleansed with the best their writers can deliver from tombstones.

J B : No wonder your head’s aglow. I see light in those eyes.

Brian: Let’s see if we can gather a fair crowd John. A fair crowd in Listowel. And get them all talking, all exciting, all doing their own thing. Let’s see if we can show them the Kerry way to revolution. Words John, imagination from the soul, for the soul. with the soul. I have a dream John, that one day there’ll be a fair in Listowel, and twon’t be cattle starring and drovers selling. It’ll be girls and fellas driving their writing into new places. I have a dream John that’ll go out from this parish, watered by the streams of the hinterland. I dream John, therefore I am, in Listowel on a damp dark night.

J B : I’m with you. If you’re going on the long road, and putting in writers to this pub, so that we can listen, and fill the town with the music of stories, I’ll walk the road with you. We’ll have one for the road together.

Mary Keane: Yee better hurry up boys.

Brian: You’re right Mary, we better hurry up. John, I hear the twittering of birds, a face-book of voices, your tube of toothpaste refilled, even the inter-netting of artist’s from Listowel with the wanderers from abroad this parish.

J B : Jaysus, that’s virtually a feast.

Brian: Yes John, a feast for sore eyes. They’ll be up fierce late in Listowel that week. Let’s make a “writers’ week”, and make a meal of it.

J B : Be Jaysus Brian, you’re some dreamer for a teacher.

Mary Keane: Good night Brian, safe home.

Brian: Good night to you both.

J B : Tis indeed Brian.

Book launch at The Seanchai, Saturday 30th

May 30, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: events, poetry, poets

I’m sitting next to Thomas P. Gilmartin Snr. from Ohio on the first row of the audience. Mary Lavery Carrig had introduced me to him when I was passing the stone seat opposite the statue of Bryan MacMahon as I came in. She had told him that the poem he was handing out to every and anyone for the past couple of days had been posted on the blog. He was a little startled I think, but pleased.

At the table in front to my right are seated three women which turn out to be Marian Relihan of the Writers’ Week Committee, Joan McBreen who birthed the anthology “The watchful Heart” which is about to be launched and who is the author of the collection of poetry, “Heather Island“, which is about to be launched.
Marian gets up to welcome us.
She introduces Prof. Patricia Coughlan of the School of English, UCD who is launching both books in conjunction with Joan McBreen of Salmon Poetry.
She tells us that the proceeds are going towards Cancer Care West.
“The Watchful Heart” is an anthology of new Irish poets. Reading it prompted her to think of George Herbert, the English Metaphysical poet.
She lauds a previous collection of women writers brought out in 1999 by Joan, and hopes we are all feminists.
This anthology gives “sense of room to … wander with enough from each poet to give you a sense of what they are like” and contains contributions from 10 women and 14 men. The anthology also contains prose pieces from each poet which gives an interesting counterpoint to the poetry. She thinks there is a Dublin bias [in Irish poetry], but that is not evident in this anthology. She talks about the “looser forms” in some of the Irish poems by for example Louis de Paor. Also stuff from performance poets. Leontia Flynn‘s essay about having to write – She gives a special mention to the oral poetry of Kevin Higgins which is “sassy“.
She quotes from a poem by Cherri Smith.
Joan is a poet of place – the place being the West and the North West. Her collection has 3 sections, many of the poems are place poems. “The central long section is personal experiences used as material
She ends by reading one Haiku from the 10 at the centre of the book.

Ivory
A wedding gift
The ivory handled knives
warmed by your fingers.

Joan McBreen reads. She’s been coming to Writers’ Week since 1986 and thanks Proff C. for a wonderful introduction.
She will read a few poems from her own book and then ask 4 contributors to the anthology present in the audience to read.
She reads “Mobretia on the Road to …” – ‘When you left absence and distance became companions” – a poem of loss.
She thanks Writers’ Week for the inclusion of workshops from which all writers can learn.
Loss is the tobacco smoke recalled in the lilac garden where we met”
Winter Light, Lissadell” – “The ghosts of my parents pick flowers at Lissadell
A poem at the grave of Pablo Neruda in Chile – a pilgrimage she and her husband made there.
The last poem in the volume – from her time spent living in Switzerland where the rain was what she missed most about Ireland

Cherri Smith from Co. Derry now living in London reads – she says that “we as poets are especially attuned to the changes the climate“.
About being in Spain, walking inland from the ruined shore, hearing a horrible noise from somewhere – “These Arts” – “some surgery the mountains had a taste for
John McAuliff from Listowel now working at University of Edinburgh. “Return” – about looking for destruction and enjoying it
Who is Anne Kennedy I ask myself?
Eileen Sheehan from Co. Kerry. “Where you are ” which is about displacement.
Paul Perry, originally from Dublin. “Dawn Sun” about visiting his father living in Budapest in the early 90s, with whom he had had a difference of opinion.

The four poets are asked to sit at the top so they can see the faces of those who will be asking the questions. John McGrath asks Joan to tell us about Ann Kennedy. When she died, Ann left a vacuum for a while in Galway cafe society and was terribly missed. John McAuliff adds that she was an American poet published by Salmon – she had a brightness about her as a person and a poet.

Joan is asked about putting the anthology together. She praises the professionalism of all the contributors and the ease with which it all came together thanks to them.
Cherri Smith tells how writing poetry has changed from an emotional response (writing to find out what you feel) to an intellectual response (writing to find out what you think). It’s a very mysterious thing – about transmission, heart and head.
John McAuliff talks of the danger of nostalgia when writing about Irish material while living in England.
Gabriel FitzMaurice mentions the “internal exile” of all poets.
A lady asks why publishers don’t include a CD of the poet reading. Joan McBreen says doing this is a very complicated and expensive exercise given that you need a recording studio and a recording engineer sensitive to the medium and audience of poetry. A man in the audience disagrees, pointing out the ease with which you can record on a laptop and burn to CD. Prof. C adds that lots of poetry clips are available on YouTube.

Meet the bloggers at Lynch’s Bakery and Cafe

May 30, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: events, journalism, participants, poems, poetry, poets

We’re in Lynch’s Bakery and Cafe. Lynn Roberts, winner of this year’s Poetry Collection competition has just come in and sat down at Paul O’Mahony‘s invitation. Jeremy Gould is seated to my left with Phillip Byrne (a concrete poet). The room is reasonably full.
Earlier, Cathy Desmond, a music teacher based in Ennis, wandered in, having just arrived for the weekend. She had a choice of going to see “6 yachts tied up on pier” (her words) in Galway no doubt ogled over by thousands of land-lubbers (my words), the Iniscealtra festival in Mountshannon, Clare, or Writers’ Week. She opted for Writers’ week. She rushes off after a few minutes to catch as much culture as possible in the limited time left.
Mary Lavery Carrig comes in. The funeral of a local Sister passes – she was a great age, Sister Anne was, Mary tells us.
Ronan Tynan has just arrived and sits down. Paul stops recording to give his full attention to the growing assembly of poets – a couple of more and the current stanza of poets will have become a canto of poets.

Kay Donnelly, another writer, arrives – and sits. I met Kay yesterday – she’s based in Waterford.I catch the end of a story Paul is recounting that involves de Valera, poets and Poland. It’s taken from a play he (Paul) is writing in his head.
The discussion swings around to how good the story Gabriel Byrne told at the opening on Wednesday {LINK to POST}. I remark that his piece for Sunday Miscellany (to be broadcast tomorrow morning at 9.10am on RTE Radio 1) was brilliantly written.
The head Librarian from Mayo, whose first name is Austen (or is that Austin?), makes his appearance. I miss the critical bits of the conversation that ensues due to Jeremy and Kay mentioning the 6 degrees of separation theory. Headage payments comes up when Pat McCannon (from Meath) wanders in and gives Paul a copy of a story he wrote for the Special Olympics about his son Niall 12 years ago. Niall played on the basketball team for Ireland at the Special Olympics. The piece was published because of that he tells us. Pat’s grandfather wrote the song “The turf man from Ardee” – Kay knows it.

It’s the 100th anniversary of Brian MacMahon‘s birth, somebody comments and wonders why there isn’t a special event to commemorate it.

One of the multiple interweaving mini-conversations involves spelling. There is too much emphasis on spelling Kay says. Spelling wasn’t standardized until the 1700s (?) I remark.
Mary’s second boy is 13 today – he’s playing football right now.
I learn that Mary Lavery Carrig is a descendent of Sir John Lavery whose painting of Lady Lavery was on one of the old Irish currency notes.
Pauline Frayne and Teri Murray arrive in and sit at the next table.
I spy a gorgeous painting on Jeremy’s laptop and enquire about it. Jeremy tells me he took it at the exhibition in the Lartigue – he bemoans the fact that there was nobody there, as it’s a beautiful space.
Mary reads the first poem from her new collection which she wrote for her son, into Paul’s mobile, for subsequent upload.
Mary tells me that John Sheehan wrote the piece her sons played at the launch of her book yesterday – it’s called “The Marino Waltz” – and was used in the Peat Briquette (of Bord na Mona – not Boomtown Rats – fame) advert on TV.
More than an hour has passed already and it’s time to separate. Teri Murray is kind enough to read one of her poems into my mobile phone for posting on the blog. I’ll be posting it here as soon as I can get an amr to wav or mp3 converter.

Colm Toibin reads from “Brooklyn”

May 29, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: events, novels

queue_for_colm_toibinDespite getting to St. John’s Theatre with more than 10 minutes to spare, the room is already nearly full, with a dearth of free adjoining seats which means that I’m forced to reneigue on my promise to Rosaleen Glennon that I’d hold a seat for her. I’m safely ensconced at the back and have the laptop open and booted up. There is an announcement from one of the committee that the reading will transfer to the Listowel Arms Hotel due to the huge queue outside the door. As usual, a large swathe of the crowd, contrary to “orders”, gets up and makes for the exits as if to escape a particularly nasty stink. The man seated next to me remarks that it’s typical. Twenty minutes later we are all seated comfortably in the large conference room in the Arms Hotel.
Joanna Keane starts the proceedings by delivering a well put together introduction and a short bio of Colm Tóibín which includes a cryptic (at least to me) reference to “Paradise“. As Colm approaches the podium to start, he and Joanna embrace.
Colm begins by informing us that “Brooklyn” originated as a short story. He talks at length about where the story came from.
He taught Jane Austen (not literally of course!) – she doesn’t use flashbacks which are a “form of laziness“. He remarks that a large number of Irish short stories deal with returned immigrants. He mentions a story called Nightfall by Daniel Corkery, one by Benedict Kiely and another by Brian MacMahon.

The holding of a dance can have an electrifying effect on a group of people“.

The novel started with five sentences. Seasickness played an important part, as did a shared toilet which idea he gleaned from an experience he had with his wife on a trip up the red sea. He reads from the point where Eilish is back in her cabin after the dinner on the boat to America. There follows a very vivid description of bladder and bowel movements under duress, completed by a graphic description of vomiting that has a large number of the audience laughing, and the rest caught in that uncomfortable tornness between wanting to laugh, feeling embarrassed and memories of private humiliation that are too close for comfort.
He struggles to get Miss MacAdam’s slightly northern accent.
He mentions that the best early recordings of traditional Irish music were made in New York.
The last section he reads is from the dance at Christmas.
Colm reads beautifully: his voice conveys all the tenderness, pathos, pain and conflict of the character he is describing .

There follows a Question and Answer session which unearths some nuggets:
There is “something in your system that guides the narrative” at crucial points in the novel writing process.
The Wexford coast appears with its place names in all Colm’s books, because it must. “You write out of your spirit, you DNA in terms of subject and style“; “You write from the self
you try and have the feelings, you try and render them while you’re working
It’s finding things in memory … memory is no good to you: you need to imagine it ….

He has just described the process of writing poetry I remark.
What is the link between memory and imagination I ask myself.

Notes from Sunday Miscellany at St. John’s Theatre

May 28, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: events, participants, photographs, workshop

I begin to worry that I’ve left it too late when I see the long queue snake out around the old Protestant Church that is now St. John’s Theatre. I relax in the bright sunshine and have an impromptu conversation with a novelist called Ann(e) whose second name escapes me, and a nice Scottish gentleman who tells us that it’s his first time in Listowel. His wife, on the other hand, has been coming for four years and is at a workshop elsewhere in town.

Once inside the old building, I manage to get a seat near enough to the back where I feel comfortable. There is confusion with a woman two seats down keeping seats for friends who have already arrived and are seated at the far end of the row!

The audience hushes and the guitarist (Redmond O’Toole) and violinist (Elizabeth Cooney) play us in with some beautiful classical music. The guitarist is holding his instrument like a cello – only later do I notice that it has a black plastic spike just like a cello, sticking out the base to hold it steady on the floor between his knees. Beside them on stage are a box player and an accordionist, father and son we are told at the end Seamus and [didn't catch the name] Begley.

A la mujer a mi lado no le gusta que tecleo durante la música y me lo ha dicho, – que le distrae – lo que es una mentira: el ruido no es del tecleo sino de los botones de mi chaqueta que dan contra el laptop. I could have done without that as it makes me self-conscious.

Cyril Kelly begins with a journey into the imagination sparking off memories many and varied in the massed audience with an evocative visit to his primary school days at the feet of the master himself, Brian MacMahon.

Joseph O’Neill, novelist reads two of his poems. The first entitled The Eleventh Year of Marriage, wanders in and out of what is and isn’t leaving my mind’s eye cross-eyed and confused – perhaps that is the intention. The second is about golfing with his father in Ballybunion where he escaped to from the prison of Aughanish where he worked, beginning and ending with bats.

The recording of Joseph Murphy is interrupted by a hammering sound coming from outside the old walls at the back. The builders are making their presence felt. The audience bursts into laughter and is transformed for a moment into thousands of mud-flatted geese on the Shannon.

One Christine Dwyer-Hickey reads a fond piece on driving from Inchicore to Listowel with Michael Hartnett – “a virtuous man”.

John Montague recounts his argument with Ted Hughes Poet Laureate in the Listowel Arms.

Gabriel Byrne remembers going to the cinema to see his first ever picture with his grandmother.

Oh what gorgeous flights into memory these touchstones from the past, these literary giants long gone to the summer lands, bring.

Who founded Listowel Writers’ Week?

May 11, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: historical, organisers, participants, poet

The history of Writers’ Week…

Bryan MacMahon, reputed to be the first person to link writers’ workshops with a literary festival.

I wonder if this is true?

Who else was involved?

As you can see there’s not much I know about the history. I’m starting this post in order to give us a place where we can collaboratively build up the story.

Know anyone who know something relevant to the story of how the fesival was germinated, conceived, born and developed ?

Most of all wouldn’t it be grand to hear from someone who was involved in the first Writers’ Week… to hear from the horse’s mouth…

My links with Listowel

May 06, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: connections, historical, organisers, poets

I grew up in George FitzMaurice country, in the village of Duagh, 8km (5 miles) from Listowel on the Abbeyfeale road. It was natural then to attend St. Michael’s College in Listowel where I counted Billy Keane, eldest son of John B., and now manager of the playwright’s famous bar, as one of my class mates.
The school bus dropped us off in the big square each morning between 8.15 and 8.30, from where we walked the mile or so up Church St. past the Listowel Printing Works, Flavin’s bookshop, Brian MacMahon‘s house, and Listowel Library to the College.
Lunchtime saw me rush down town to Sandy Fitzgerald’s for a hot nutritious dinner, followed by a quick, or, time permitting, leisurely poke through the second-hand books in Flavin’s which consisted of an assortment of cheap paperback romances, the odd Zane Gray, and a liberal sprinkling of decades-old hard-cover treatises on Ancient Greek and Latin grammar and poetics, several of which I acquired in my first three years at St. Michael’s. In those days the A classes did Greek with Mr. Given while the B classes had to make do with “old” Mr. Molyneaux for the rather less exotic and therefore less desirable (at least to my mind) Latin. Being in the A class I was fortunate to have Mr. Given for both Greek and English as he was an excellent pedagogue.

It must have been in my first year that I came across a slim volume of Mr. Given’s poetry during one of my frequent forays to the nearby Library. This made a big impression on me, though I was somewhat puzzled by his insistent use of the archaic “thee”, “thy” and “thou” forms in his love poems. Nevertheless, having recently begun to write verse myself, I proceeded to ape him by liberally peppering my clumsy schoolboy poems with archaic forms. It was sometime after this discovery that my father, much to my surprise, asked if I’d like Brian MacMahon to look at my poems. I, of course, assented and there followed several visits to Brian’s house for advice. The very first piece of advice he gave me was to avoid using archaic forms! The second was to read as much as I could of good contemporary poetry. He specifically recommended Heaney‘s “Death of a Naturalist“, and if memory serves me, the work of Michael Hartnet.

But what sticks out most in my mind from those days was being in the presence of one of my favourite poets on the Leaving Cert syllabus, namely Thomas Kinsella. I particularly liked his “Another September” and “Hen Woman“. It must have been the year before (1975) I sat the Leaving that he talked about his poetry for the benefit of the LC students from all the schools around. This seminal event in my poetic life took place in one of the large classrooms at Presentation Convent Listowel, and may well have been organised in parallel with Writers’ Week. I can’t imagine him coming just to talk to us LC students, though I may be wrong on this point. Seeing and hearing a real live famous poet up close and in the flesh had an enormous impact on me. I even plucked up the courage to ask him a question!

Having successfully sat my Leaving Certificate I read French and English at Dublin University, Trinity College (TCD) where I was fortunate to have another North Kerry poet in the shape of Brendan Kennelly as one of my professors. Brendan was a fabulous lecturer with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject that rubbed off on all his listeners. This, combined with his quick and gentle wit ensured that his lectures were always packed out. He was also very approachable on a human level and always had a kind word to say when needed.

Artistotle's Poetics

Artistotle's Poetics

That first year in Trinity I also had his then American wife, Dr. Peggy O’Brien, for tutorials. I remember we started with Longinus’ “On the Sublime” and Aristotle’s “Poetics“, both of which I found rather difficult having had no exposure to many of the concepts therein discussed. One of the first written assignments Dr. O’Brien gave us was an essay on what we understood catharsis to be. At the following week’s tutorial each student (there were no more than seven of us) was asked to read his/her essay aloud. My likening of catharsis to rhubarb in the very first line of my essay caused shock, surprise and much hilarity, prompting Dr. O’Brien to enquire if I was from George FitzMaurice country. Upon hearing that I was, she stated that George FitzMaurice could well have written that line himself, which I took as a great compliment!


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