Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene

Emerging Writer publicises Competitions

February 03, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010, blogs, competition

New blogpost from Emerging Writer.

Time to get ready to enter your writing for Listowel Writers’ Week competitions…

Joy of Writing too…

The first time I went into J B Keane’s pub in Listowel in 2009

June 06, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: connections, localinfo, novels, participants, preparations, storytelling

I wasn’t looking for drink, I was looking for company.

The woman from the Vodafone shop was sorting out a dongle for me. I had to wait, pass the time somewhere, and J B’s is only across the road.

This was mid afternoon on Wednesday 27 May.

Alone I went in, wondering what would be going on. From previous experience, I suspected there would be something up. I might even interrupt Billy Keane in song or story.

Pushing open the door, I looked round the pub, hardly anyone there. First thought was where to put myself so that I could watch & overhear conversations?

The man in the corner caught my eye. He wouldn’t let go of it. Insisted I sit down with his friends, Sean Devine & Paula Tormey. I know their names because I took out my book, said I’d outsourced my memory to it, and took notes.

[I did this all through Writers' Week.]

Bert Griffin pointed me to his friend Tony Guerin, who wasn’t in the pub. On the wall was a poster advertising a play written by him. He said Tony’s novel, Tomorrow is a lovely day, would be launched on Saturday @1300.

You’ll not meet a more engaging man this week…” (Bert’s words on Tony, I scribbled).

I can’t remember what I drank, so I guess it wasn’t a pint of Guinness.

They were good to me, those three. I found out the J B Keane anniversary mass was @ 1030 on Saturday. I thought of going to pay my respects, and because I’m a bit of an anthropologist.

For the first time, I met Mary Keane, John B’s widow, from Castleisland, came to Listowel 54 years ago, 1955. Took this photograph of Mary & Bert.


I met a couple who’d driven from Greystones, near Dublin, to be at a performance of Sive, and said it was worth every mile.

I found out Brendan Kennelly and Matt Munroe had both been London bus conductors, like me.

And then Bert invited me to his house for steak…

Amazing, astonishing, bloodyfantastic, hypermarvellous, superphenomenal, eh.

I had a short vigorous time with them in Bert’s house. I left Grace’s [my 3.9 year old treasure] car seat there when I drove them all back into Listowel in time for the opening ceremony. Grace’s seat is still there.

If there’s anyone driving from Listowel to Cork soon, please contact me, so I can ask you a small favour…

That’s meant to be a flavour of the life to be had in Listowel during Writers’ Week.

Dishing the dirt on a Listowel Workshop (chapter 3)

May 15, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: historical, participants, poets, tutors, workshop

Over the first teabreak, I found out I hadn’t been late.

The workshop had started dead on time. I’d been three minutes late into the room. Shows how nervous I was, that I let that upset & disorient me.

(You can read the first two episodes here & here.)

James McGrath had come to the workshop from New Mexico. He turned out to be an extraordinary individual and poet (author of “At the edgelessness of Light“), but I didn’t realise that straightaway. My first impression was his accent. It was different and fresh.

Philip Byrne was from the Irish east coast. He’d been sitting across the table from me, and also sounded different: his poem had shape to it. It made a picture on the page. Gradually I found out he had loads of ‘concrete’ poems, and a litany of other talents.

I forget the name of the man from Clare, the Burrenman. He read out his poem, and it sounded as if it came from deep within segmented rock. My first impression with that I was in the presence of a mythvoice.

As I recall that first 90 minutes with our leader, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, I remember my disgruntlement at her lack of apparent organisation. Soft voiced, she had no interest or investment in being in control. She simple asked us to pick postcards, write and read. No other introductions. I don’t think she even introduced herself. She had no ego on display.

What a marvellous way to get introduced to poets.

No preamble. No spoof. Simply a poem that spoke for the DNA of the author.

I can think of no better way to begin working with a poet than hearing them read one of their poems, so fresh, that if it was an egg, you’d lay it aside before cracking the shell.

I can’t find my notebook (the place where I wrote my thoughts and inspirations.

Shit, bollocks, feck…

I’ll have to go on exposing my imaginative memory…

(to be continued)

Dishing the dirt on a Listowel Workshop (chapter 2)

May 13, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: historical, participants, poem, poems, poet, starting up

At least I was in a seat at the Workshop. (You can read the story so far here.)

No time for wondering whether I was in the right place. The first thing I noticed was that there were only five blokes. I always clock the gender ratio.

There were many postcards on the rectangular table.

People were picking them up, looking closey, discarding and selecting. Someone (probably Nuala NiDhomhnaill : listen to her read here) told me I was meant to pick three, and write a poem based on them.

I remember liking the poem I wrote, but I can’t find it.

Somewhere in this office in Glanmire is hiding my notebook. It doesn’t want to be rehandled. It’s been quietly minding its own business through four housemoves. But I vow to expose it to fresh air soon.

We got on with composing...

I was distracted by questions:

  • what the hell’s going on?
  • what are the rules?
  • who are these people?
  • when’s time for tea?

I’m a writer. I was doing what I do. I’m used to writing without thinking, and letting whatever comes up flow out. It was good to be doing that, rather than sitting talking in a group while I was so distracted by being late for the start.

We read. Everyone read out their piece.

There was one woman who read out a poem in Irish. Couldn’t understand a word. Or couldn’t trust my understanding. (I’d only studied Irish for about 13 years at school.) She was beautiful. A musician with the sound of syllables. I was thrilled to listen. And then she went and buggered off. Never came back for day two. She expected there would be others writing in Irish, I think. I really missed her.

And, if she’s reading this, I’d like to say thank you for that poem – whatever it meant.

It was a bit tough sitting there listening to about 15 strangers reading their poem.

At least half of them were very good, I thought. Two or three were fairly awesome, I thought. One of them had won the single poem prize. I was sat between two women whose work I did nothing but admire.

What about the men?

Yes. There was a man from the Burren, a man from the desert in New Mexico, USA, and a man who wrote concrete poems (I think that’s the technical term for a poem that has shape on the page represented by an image made from letters.)…

I’m writing from memory.

No notes. I better warn you that anything based on my memory is suspect. The only thing I trust is my notebook.

I’ll have more to say about the men, and the women, after tea… We did eventually take a break.

(to be continued)

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…

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