Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene
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122 recorded pieces from Listowel Writers’ Week

June 02, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: audio podcast, participants, photographs, Song

I’ve come away with about 122 digitally recorded pieces. Patrick Stack also has recordings.

Songs, interviews, personal reflections and reports, extracts from readings…

An archive eh…

History, to quote Billy Keane, who told me he thought what we were doing by blogging was recording history …

["Pub Theatre entertainment can be found in some of Listowel’s finest hostelries during July & August. Tuesday & Thursday nights the place to be is John B. Keane’s Bar featuring the inimitable Billy Keane presenting is distinctive one-man comedy show & Lartigue Theatre Company presenting the works of the great playwright including the famous “Letters” series – Letters of a Matchmaker, Letters of a Successful T.D."]

What am I (what are we) to do with them?

I’m no podcaster but I suspect I shall be before I’ve finished with all these recordings. I have no intention of wasting a drop.

Dishing the Dirt on a Listowel Writers’ Week Workshop (chapter 1)

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

Listowel Writers’ Week has a menu of workshops for aspiring writers.

You can download details of this year’s workshops here.

If you’re going to a workshop, you’re surely wondering what it’ll be like? Like me in 2007, you may never have been to a Listowel workshop.

Well do I remember the curiosity and trepidation.

The purpose of this post is to offer you an insider’s view of what it was like for me. I owe nothing to anyone, and it’s time I told the full story, the unexpurgated version…

Entering the workshop:

I was late. Everyone else was in the room when I arrived – thinking I was about three minutes ‘late’. (In Ireland, that is not late.) Immediately I knocked, entered and sat down, I decided I must be 33 minutes late. Everyone was in the middle of writing something.

For years, I’ve earned my living running workshops for managers (anyone who needs to achieve results through others). Always taken the start of any event slowly. That day I assumed I must have missed the personal introductions, the objectives of the workshop, the ground rules and certainly the timetable for each day. That’s why I assumed I was very late. Talk about being back-footed. I felt lost.

Some background:

After I applied for the Advanced Poetry workshop with Nuala NiDhomhnaill, I suspected I might be going on the wrong one. Perhaps I should be on the beginner’s one? After all, I’d only been writing poetry since 22 June 1995 @ 1620.

Before setting off from Cork, I’d bought one of Nuala’s books, The Astrakhan Cloak (1992), and read a few poems. Otherwise her work was unknown to me. My excuse is that I lived in UK from 1975-2005, and only began reading poetry in 1994.

I’d been mad enough to write a blogpost analysis of one of Nuala’s poems. Did this to put down a marker, so I’d have something to remind me of what I was like before I fell under her influence.

I knew no one in the room…

(except for one person from Cork. I’d not seen her in ages, and wasn’t on speaking terms with her.)

There was reason for me to think I was a fish out of water…

- to be continued…

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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