Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene


June 06, 2010 By: Laura Category: 2008, creative writing, events, historical, journalism, memoir, novels, organisers, painters & paintings, participants, photographs, poet, poetry, poets, Reflections, short story, Speaker, theatrical plays

Listowel Writers’ Week 2008 “Writing by Feale”Photos and Text by Laura Jean Zito

Seamus Heaney opened the festivities of the Listowel Writers’ Week 2008. And what a draw he is! Of course, the house was packed to the rafters and out onto the streets as he read from his latest volume, “District and Circle.” He presided over the awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award going to Anne Enright for “The Gathering,” her novel about a dysfunctional family that also won the Man Booker Prize in 07. The author, TV director and producer and mother from Wicklow County took the distinction over Joseph O’Connor’s “Redemption Falls,” James Ryan’s “South of the Border,” David Park’s “The Truth Commissioner,” and Julia Kelly’s “With My Lazy Eye.”

Nuala O Faolain, who died a few weeks before on May 9,was given a wonderful tribute by her many friends in attendance. Just last year I took this pic of her here in Listowel, where she was teaching a workshop, and was judge for the MemoirPrize, set up in her honor. She awarded it to Jennifer Farrell as the inaugural recipient. I remember when we met at Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr a few years back now as she was signing “Are you Somebody?” She was the somebody who validated so many people’s personal experiences with her example, including my own.

The doting audience got the real prizes, the living presence of these important authors among them, just milling about the Listowel Arms, always the setting for the hub of Writers’ Week, having conversations left and right as the evening wore on. I remember the first time I came here, and Bryan McMahon stopped me in the street and said, “Never feel shy!”I promised I wouldn’t and then he hired me to fill in for a lecturer that had failed to show up!

Cliodhna Ni Anluain topped off the morning with the annual Sunday Miscellany event for which she is famous as the RTE Radio program’s producer, and editor of several of its anthologies in book form. Another one is due out in October featuring 2006-20008 excerpts from Seamus Heaney, Anne Enright, Colm Toibin, and Joseph O’Connor, mixing anecdotal tales and topical treatises with their compatriots in a potpourri of texts for readers to savour.

Readers got readings galore as the day progressed. I entered the hushed ballroom of the Arms, and was drawn to sit by an artist, sketching John Banville as he spoke about identities in a new global and technological synthesis of culture that we are all subject to of late.

I found his simple old-fashioned method of depiction refreshing. So few people draw or paint from life anymore. As a photographer I find it much more interesting than sketching from photos, where one’s viewpoint is already formed. So often I am disappointed at art galleries lately where artists just seem to be copying information from photographs rather than creating something completely different. Seems techno tools cause laziness!

Gemma Billington’s expansive Kerry landscapes display none of those downfalls. On exhibition at the St. John’s Theatre I enjoyed them with a glass of wine, and that was something I could identify with. They were amorphous, undetailed, foggy, vibrant in color, suggestions of fences and rooftops scratched into the fields of hue. Her favorite was “Through the Gap,” she said about the gap between Southand North Kerry, or the gap between one level of consciousness and a higher one. Or was that a stroke to the festival organizers and attendees? After her vernissage, Joe Murphy made the customary announcements in customary good humor, and then introduced Martin Lynch, who put on a one-man

show, “The Humours of the Troubles,” about the North, of course.

Julien Gough read next, writing from two points of view, in “The Orphan and the Mob,” a prologue to his novel “Jude: Level One.” He won the BBC Short Story Competition with this first person and third person perspective, about a guy who had two penises apparently. Having it both ways? Losing identity? Deliberately? Seems to be the theme this year. Defining identity and its importance in the larger scheme of things.

In the audience I met my flat –mate, an English teacher from Sydney, who invited me for an apple tart and a glass of Merlot at the Arms. She speaks fluent French and Italian, is 67 and has the body of a teenager, running a mile every morning. She told me she’d whispered in Julian Gough’s ear he had to take responsibility for his characters. He didn’t like that and immediately got up from the signing table, flicking the ankle length thin silver scarf over his shoulder as he departed.

Later outside, I asked for his autograph I had missed, and he signed with tongue in cheek the polaroid his father had given me as we chatted there, that he took of an orange sunset, “To Laura Jean Zito, We will always have our memories of those sweet Morocco nights…..Love, Julian” Maybe the teacher was right, but the organizers were giving out about her remarks to him. All stroking, no poking for them, I guess. The American hostess, our mutual landlady, had already gotten wind of it through her grapevine by the time I got home after midnight. The Australian said through the wine, “When going to the opera, expect the Italians to have the best parts.” She doesn’t understand why everyone wants so badly to homogenize. Why they are building a highway through the hill of Tara? Why Julien is pissing on the past, writing about orphans without identities pissing on monuments of historical figures from generations back as they make their way to traditional celebrations? It annoyed her that the young Irish girls in the audience were laughing along with him, and that she felt they didn’t know what they were laughing at.

Our landlady, on the other hand, doesn’t go to the literary events, calling them incestuous. She seems lonely and needs attention as I type. I was writing to my sweetie about everything that was going on, my only chance being after midnight since every day at Listowel is so jam-packed with events. I was trying to find another love poem to send him.

After that glass of wine earlier with the teacher from Sydney I had met Galway poetess Caroline Lynch at the Arms. Turned out she knew Elizabeth Spires,

had been her protégé of sorts, as we discovered when I sought her advice about which poem I should send my new amour for flirts. She recognized the lines of the one he sent me as Elizabeth’s “In Heaven It Is Always Autumn” in seconds, and then I revealed that my heartthrob had studied under her at Vassar. She didn’t have any love poems of her own in her repertoire that I could send off though…not yet, anyway…Off we went to her launch at the Plaza for her new book “Lost in the GaelTeacht.”

Later that evening, at St. John’s Theatre, I saw “The Faith Healer,” by Brian Friel, performed by members of AC Productions, also about point of view. Friel’s intriguing play, some say his most transcendant, is built on four monologues by three characters, the husband, Frank Hardy, his wife, Grace Hardy, and his agent, Teddy. Each monologue is a different view of the same life path. By not meeting up on stage, the characters reinforce the isolation that each human’s mental and emotional life must by definition abide, despite all effort to be connected to each other. I got curious and discovered that Ralph Fiennes had made this part his own and was said to be remarkable in it.

Here is a still from another drama I saw during the lunchtime theatre agenda at

St. John’s. Can anyone tell me which one it is? O.K. Admittedly, Listowel Writers Week is known for its late nights, where people might stay up in the lobby of the Arms till five in the morning, singing and reading aloud and playing the piano and all sorts of special performances taking place…all with great quantities of alcohol imbibed by almost all…

Points of view abounded in the Film Club’s offering of Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” in which Bob Dylan tells his life story through the renderings of a variety of characters, most touchingly Cate Blanchett.

Saturday David McWilliams spoke about an altogether different point of view,how important it is for Ireland to wake up and sniff out its own genetic progeny in whatever country they emigrated to and grant them Irish passports, before the offspring of Chinese immigrants get granted more rights in Ireland than someone who is actually Irish by blood. He has many important economic points to make and I will have a look at his books, “The Pope’s Children,” “Follow the Money,” and “The Generation Game,” which he obligingly signed for all those interested.

Paddy Bushe, living locally in Kerry after years in Australia, read from his recently published, “To Ring In Silence: New and Selected Poems” in which he had translated his own poems from his previous collections as well as classic Irish poems.

poems. He has won the Listowel Writers Week Poetry Prize, the Strokestown Poetry Prize and the Michael Hartnett Award, among others. He’s known for setting up poetry workshops in foreign locales for all those interested in combining their writing desires with gadding about the planet.

Weeshie Fogarty launched “The Essential Gabriel Fitzmaurice” at the Plaza.

Gabriel is known for leading historical tours about the local area. Until I have time to develop the actual film I shot of Seamus Heaney strolling about the Square with Gabriel, a Listowel native, here is the only pic I have digitally from the Healing Party at John B’s in 2007. There’s that technology, taking over again, just like John Banville said!O.K. It was after another very late night! That’s why it’s called a healing party after all! There is a lot more to expound about Writers’ Week 2008 but I will beg off until I have developed all the film. Please return again here and I will update this article with more pics and text! For more about Listowel Writers’ Week in general, please read my recap of Listowel Writers’ Week 2007 and 2009 on this blogsite,

“Writing By Feale” Copyright 2008 Laura Jean Zito All Rights Reserved For use of any photos and/or text contact

Heaney and Lisbon – What Gives?

June 22, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: poet

My jaw dropped last night when I saw on the news that the Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney is weighing in on the Yes side in the upcoming Lisbon Referendum rerun.
I find the temerity of the man galling for the following reasons:

  1. All during the “troubles” up North, Mr. Heaney was noticeably silent, when it behooved him, as a poet, to speak out against atrocity, and injustice, it being a poet’s obligation to do. What more important function does the poet serve in society if not to ask the “hard” questions, even if – especially if – that means putting him/herself at risk?
    Yet, now Mr Heaney sees fit to lend his considerable clout, at no personal risk to himself, to one side in what will no doubt be a very divisive rerun of the Lisbon referendum.
  2. As a citizen of this country, I find it highly objectionable that a poet of his stature should row in behind the Status Quo thereby lending it credibility, given the absolute shambles the said Status Quo has made of our country and economy in the past decade, and the contempt with which it regards the wishes of the people.
  3. Rerunning the Lisbon Referendum when a sizeable majority of the electorate voted against the Lisbon Treaty only a year ago is an insult to the electorate and makes an absolute mockery of our democracy. By siding with the Status Quo on this issue Mr. Heaney is in effect adding to the insult.

For all of the above reasons I would therefore ask Mr Heaney to kindly refrain from taking sides on this issue in an official capacity. He is, of course, entitled to give his views as a private citizen, as we all are. But to use the prestige of his poetic standing in an official capacity to bolster the campaign of one side or the other is not acceptable.

John Montague Reading at St John’s Theatre (4.00pm Thursday)

May 28, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: events, poems, poetry, poets

I’ve arrived with plenty of time to spare this time. There is still a queue outside the door but it’s much shorter than this morning and I’ve managed to grab a corner seat on the raised section at the back of the room which affords a great view of the proceedings. I’ve removed my jacket because it’s very warm and I don’t want the buttons on the sleeves making a racket against laptop as I type. At the Sunday Miscellany recording this morning in the same venue the woman seated next to me told me not to type during the music as it was distracting her – I noted down the occurrence in Spanish as she was sitting next to me and had a perfect view of what I was typing. Having the algunas palabras comes in handy from time to time.

Joanne Keane welcomes us and gives a brief intro to John Montague, listing his literary awards while John readies himself by removing a couple of things from his jacket pockets before taking it off, putting it on the back of the chair and sitting gingerly down.
With a quote from Thomas MacCarthy Joanne finishes. John begins by saying he almost feels like clapping himself!

He then reads a few poems on the Leaving Certificate syllabus – “Killing the Pig” reminds me of the time in my childhood when a pig was killed in our backyard – “The walls of the farmyard still hold that scream / are built around it“. “The Cage” and “The Locket” – also on the Leaving.
Wind Harp” came to him from looking at an exhibition by Patrick Collins.

He mentions the row he had with Ted Hughes in the Listowel Arms again, and says Ted “really did think that the laureateship was part of the psyche of England“. John then reads “The Trout” in deference to Ted Hughes’ “The Pike“.

The Dolmens” – “into that dark permanence of ancient forms

John takes questions from the audience.
He is doing a sequence about his own grandfather who “is after me” because he’s done too much on other members of the family and not enough on his grandfather. He recalls his mother as an old woman taking snuff “which was the coke of the time!“. Instead of being normal he became a poet. John is a Pisces. A note received from Heaney – “we should think about 90!“.

John finishes off with “My Grandfather’s Library“, which he prefaces by recommending we read the Bible, “not for Mr.Paisley’s reason, but because it contains great stories.

At Joanne Keane’s suggestion, the entire audience sings a few bars of Happy Birthday for John who has turned 80 recently. It brings a tear or two to his eye.

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!

Creative Commons License
This work by various authors is licensed under a Creative Commons License.