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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 2009

June 03, 2010 By: Laura Category: 2009, creative writing, events, historical, journalism, memoir, novels, painters & paintings, participants, photographs, poem, poems, poet, poetry, poets, Reflections, short story, songwriting, Speaker, storytelling, theatrical plays

RECAP of Listowel Writers’ Week 2009

“Poet’s Life” by Laura Jean Zito (Photos and text) laurajeanzito@gmail.com

“Where’s your husband?” yelled the man exiting the theatre, St. John’s Church, in the main square in Listowel, Ireland.

“Do I care, if Gabriel Byrne’s about?” retorted a woman as I passed her.

Gabriel Byrne himself had expressed surprise as to just what an object of female adoration he was regarded here in Listowel, where he opened the 39th Annual Writers Week Wednesday, May 27th, 2009. Inside the theatre he had been reciting a poem he penned for the “Sunday Miscellany” program that is aired on RTE radio every Sunday morning. His oratory the night before for the opening night ceremonies made less reference to writing and more to film, as he recounted an amusing anecdote about a cab driver in Dublin who, upon recognizing him, pitched his own script about a cocaine dealer that he insisted Gabriel would be perfect for, along with fellow “gang” members Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell. “And what about Stephen Rea?” he asked. You can see this speech on You Tube.

Gabriel talked about how the only reference to 39 that came to mind was the film and recent play from John Buchan’s novel, “The 39 Steps,” about the archetypal “man who knew too much” that had launched Hitchcock’s career in 1935 and spawned several remakes, including a 2008 BBC television production.

Gabriel delighted the crowd by reminding them of the warm welcome he never forgot when he had first come to Listowel many years ago, cast as the lead in “Dev,” by GP Gallivan and directed by Peter Sheridan of the Projects Theatre in Dublin. Later I heard Gabriel elaborate on an RTE radio interview that his love affair with Listowel was deepened by an actual “romantic liaison,” as he put it, set in the town here. He went on to say how honored he felt to be asked to return to open the world-renowned literary festival on this eve when the winners of so many important literary competitions would be announced.

In his Intro, Michael Lynch had already pointed out that 2009 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bryan MacMahon, Writers’ Week founder, along with John B. Keane. John B’s play

“Sive” was enjoying via the Listowel Players the 50th anniversary of its first staging in 1959, a year before it won the All Ireland finals. 2009 also marks the 30th anniversary of the last taping of an episode of the Reardons, in which Gabriel Byrne got his start as a sheep farmer before appearing on Bracken, and the morrow would bring with it the performance of “Sive” in St. John’s Theatre on the seventh anniversary to the day of John B.’s death.

Another writer died this year, beloved by many, David Marcus, an Irish Jewish writer and editor of fiction and poetry who hailed from Cork. The ee cummings poem he loved the most that Niall MacMonagle read at his funeral, “what if a much of a which of a wind” was shared with the audience by Colm Toibin, President of the Festival.

The Euro 15,000.00 Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award was taken by Joseph O’Neill for “Netherland,” a book that Barak Obama himself was quoted in the NY Times to have said was, “wonderful,” (without specifically pinpointing what appealed to him.) Seamus Heaney’s wife even made a copy of “Netherland,” her 09 anniversary gift to her husband, adding to its aura.

Thursday morning O’Neill read from his tome, followed by others.

David Park, although a Protestant from Belfast, by developing the Sinn Fein character in his novel, “The Truth Commissioner”, noted that he developed sympathies he didn’t know he had. To paraphrase, he said something like ‘Truth is relative to whoever is considering it.’ When you seek out truth some of it is probably going to be damaging to one’s own political point of view. When his teenage daughter asked him “Are the troubles coming back in?” he said “No,” as the groundswell against the atrocities had grown so big that it was hard to conceive such a notion. He failed to mention the most recent atrocities, those of the night previous, in which an innocent Catholic man was beaten to death by eight Protestants, who then targeted the dead man’s son.

The themes of love and death seemed to carry all through the festival, right up to the reading of Colm Toibin from his recent novel, “Brooklyn.” He drew inspiration for the novel’s main character, a female emigrant to Brooklyn from Wexford in the fifties, from a woman who came to visit at his house after his father died when Colm was 12. She spoke about her one daughter who had also died, and another who had emigrated to Brooklyn, a word that then took on mythical proportion.

After was heard a witty interview by Billy Keane of George Kimball,


American sports writer for the Boston Herald, who now writes the “America At Large” column for the Irish Times. He read excerpts from his best-seller 2008 boxing classic, “Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing.”

Rebecca Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and photographer Inge Morath, read from her first novel, “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” published in 2008, currently being filmed. She won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for a screenplay adaptation of her own short story collection “Personal Velocity.” She also directed Daniel Day Lewis, her husband, in her film “The Ballad of Jack & Rose.” The film is screened in the Festival’s film club in its nightly screenings at the Classic Cinema.

“All About Eve” was performed by the Classic Revival Theatre fromDublin in a remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic directed by Pegeen Coleman.

After a spectacular recitation of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” byConor Lovett of the Gare St. Lazare Players, I was filled with admiration for the actor’s talent at interpreting the text as well as expressing it. This performance is not to be missed.

Other theatre pieces in the nightly lineup of plays included a treatise on incest that is bounding continents, “On Raftery’s Hill” written byMarina Carr and performed by the Allen Little Theatre from County Kildare.

Also noteworthy, I found Ballinrobe’s Benny McDonnell’s

“Bondi Beach Boy Blue,” about attaining goals in the sports world, and other worlds, as two hurling teens hurl themselves Australia to represent Kilkenny.

After a wonderful art exhibition opening reception at the St. John’sTheatre of splendidly painted landscapes by ,

Joanna Keane O’Flynn, the daughter of Ireland’s most celebrated playwright,

John B. Keane, introduced John Montague, who announced it was his birthday. The audience received the presents of many of his poems read aloud by himself, and then his books readily signed thereafter.

Dermot Bolger, famous for his plays, poetry volumes and nine novels, as well as his associations with Trinity College and the Abbey Theatre, rounded things out on Sunday, the final day of the Festival.

The last word was had by Carol Drinkwater, known as Helen Herriot in the BBC’s “All Creatures Great and Small.” She wrote a best-selling award-winning children’s novel, “The Haunted School.” She is filming a documentary series around the Mediterranean Basin with UNESCO about the history and culture of the Olive Tree, based on her series of memoirs.

Most everyone could be found after at the “Healing Party” in John B’s Pub, anannual tradition to top off the oratory on the last day of Writers’ Week. The last

night was filled till the wee hours with memorable melodies, several by James Sheehan of the Dubliners,

sung and strummed by the Listowel Arms Hotel stayers and savourers of every last crumb of culture of the 2009 festival.

Certainly this all bodes well for the life of the Listowel Writers’ Week and for the celebrations of its 2010 40th Annual.

All inquiries can be directed to info@writersweek.ie or by calling 011 353 68 21074

“Poet’s Life” Copyright 2009 Laura Jean Zito All Rights Reserved For use of any photos and/or text contact laurajeanzito@gmail.com


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”.

One aftermath of Listowel Writers’ Week

June 03, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: connections, events, organisers, participants, poet, preparations, starting up

There can be no one aftermath.

I sat upstairs in the English Market this afternoon, going back through my “Moleskine notebook (lined).

I used a green highlighting pen. Put names in hand-drawn boxes, and circles around intentions. Every time I carry through something I planned, I give myself a big tick (fulfilling my bottomless love of positive feedback).

I put the date on every page, the place I was, the time…

Now it looks like a live animal.

I’d forgotten how rich the notebook became during Writers’ Week. There are drawings and prose contributed by others – people willing to take up my book and mark the page.

I was incredibly excited going to Listowel.

I was incredibly tired leaving for home. The journey to and the road home are part of my LWW09 experience.

First Moleskine entry reads

Listowel Arms Hotel @ 1450 on Wed. 27 May.

  • Booked in to the hotel (put name on list) for 2010
  • The family manage the hotel between them.
  • Met George Rowley & James McGrath sitting in bar.
  • George’s story of mental illness [all in his book]
  • Met Colm Toibin, told him of blog – he listened, I shook his hand.

The last entry [43 pages, 4 days & 4 hours later] reads:

M Sweeney – reading with…

The End.

For me now, the challenge is to walk the space between being an archivist (valuing the Moleskine as a document of record) and an artist (stretching, moulding & sculpting the Moleskine, so that it reaches out to the imagination of others).

I’m a hoarder and long-winded. I talk&write and write&talk and sense&listen.

I wonder how others are processing the experience?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people who read this immediately write a comment & share insight into the joy of ending

- flashing on the inward eye… (pardon me William Wordsworth)

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.

Progress Report: interviews we hope to get with authors

May 21, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: journalism, organisers, tutors

Today, we’ve made real progress.

Generously, the marketing & administration team of Writers’ Week have agreed to arrange for our journalists to interview Colm Toibin, Terry Jones & Rebecca Miller.

Although they are not scheduled to be at this year’s festival, I harbour a hope that Fergal Keane & Joseph O’Connor will be found wandering round Listowel, or willing to down a pint with me in one of the famous pubs.

We’re still working on the technology to enable us to shoot short video interviews. The big media will be after the big names, but we’d like to broadcast the voice of the ordinary punter. So we’ll be talking to Mary from Dunlow, Seamus from Leitrim & Michael from Dublin.

I’m going to make a point of featuring the voice and opinions of young writers and listeners. They’re the seeds of the future.

Is there anyone you’d especially like us to feature?

Mary Kenny writes about Listowel

May 18, 2009 By: Mary Category: connections, historical, journalism, storytelling, tutors, workshop

My first ambition, as a young girl, was to be a ballet dancer, a profession for which I was in almost every respect wholly unsuited, but for which I entertained (and still entertain) a romantic attachment. Apart from the gossamer beauty of the dance, I also liked the traditions of the great ballet schools: the endless practice, the demanding disciplines, the ensemble of working together with a company: and above all the notion of having a ballet master – or mistress – who taught the younger dancers, and who had, in turn, been taught by classical teachers when she was young, who had, in turn, been taught by their classical teachers: so that every performer is part of a chain of past, present and future, of seamless continuity in the performance of a great profession.

Later in life, I also encountered classical and orchestral musicians, who explained to me that a good musician should always have both a teacher and a pupil: you should always be learning, and what you have learned, and practiced, you should also teach and transmit.

And that, today, is very much my attitude to writing. A seasoned writer should have both students to teach, and masters – and mistresses – to follow. You are learning the craft that you practice until the day you die; and where there is a chance to teach it, it is part of your craft to pass it on. And in any case, by teaching – and by reflecting on teaching – you also learn more.

There has been some discussion in the press, recently – notably, in the letters’ column of The Irish Times – as to whether writing can be taught; or, more specifically, whether “creative writing” can be taught. I would say that genius cannot be taught: and yet, was it Einstein who said that even genius was ninety per cent inspiration and ten per cent perspiration? Let me go back to the example of the ballet-dancer: the dancer must have some innate ability to dance. But what you see in the finished performance on stage is the result of work, work, work: of hours and hours of rehearsal every day: of an exacting teacher who demands perfection, and sometimes beyond, from this poetic expression of the human body.

In writing, too, whatever talent that exists in the writer can be developed, honed, improved, worked upon. In his recent book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell looked at what it was that made people in a number of fields outstandingly successful. In the building of a fortune, he found, there was an element of luck – especially, in the luck of being born at the right time, when there were fortunes to be made. And yet the common denominator among those who achieve their ambitions was this: they worked much, much harder than others.

An interview with Colm Tóibín, too, in the May issue of Image magazine (by Bridget Hourican) also brought out that theme: writing, said Tóibín, is just hard work. You sit down at it and you do and then you do it again and again and again; and you work at it until it is right. Yeats, whose gold and silver phrasing slips off the page with swan-like ease, said – perhaps more fancifully – that he would rather be scrubbing floors than working at words. I don’t quite believe that W.B. scrubbed many floors – there were servants, otherwise called “women” to do that kind of thing! – but he was reaching for an apt metaphor of hard labour.

So, while the genius of writing obviously cannot be taught – nobody can be taught to be a James Joyce or a W.B. Yeats – the craft of writing certainly can be. And like any other craft it is improved by practice, application and helpful mentoring.

One of my favourite metaphors for the craft of writing is one that Yeats certainly would not have experienced: writing is like breast-feeding. Breast-feeding is “natural”, and yet, many first-time mothers need some mentoring to get the knack. In order to be successful at breast-feeding, you must keep doing it regularly – otherwise the flow of milk will dry up. However, you mustn’t do it too much; otherwise the milk will get thin.

Good breastfeeding depends on good nourishment of the mother: so to get a high-quality milk yield, you must also have some high-quality input. And here is the parallel: to write, you need to keep writing – Virginia Woolf could sometimes only manage 50 words a day, but it was allowing the juices to flow. (Beckett sometimes managed nothing, and to me, that says a lot about the sainted Beckett, and the element of nihilism in his work.) However, if you write too much, the work may deteriorate and become sub-standard. Some very successful authors wrote too much: and of the prolific output perhaps only one text is remembered.

And as for the input – the nourishment that must go into the body to produce high standard milk, or into the imagination to produce high-standard writing: a writer has to keep reading, and to keep reading good writers.And good writers of one’s own choice, too, I’d say. You are not obliged to like Beckett, say, just because he is revered by many. You can like a writer who is totally out of fashion: I am extremely fond of Somerset Maugham’s short stories, although it is practically social death to say so among some literary folk. But he feeds my imagination. And whatever works for you – use it.

I have attended workshops in Listowel as a student and I have given one as a seasoned writer: this year being my second experience teaching. And like the veterans at the Bolshoi, I hope to go on learning and teaching until I drop.

www.mary-kenny.com


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