Saturday at the festival started with a workshop lead by Fiona Sampson, a fine poet and editor of Poetry Review. The workshop was crammed to the gunnels with talented poets and it was good to meet them. But what competition! And all creeping up on the first collection milestone. Fiona went through a poem from each poet (would have been easier with copies) A couple of gems I wrote down and paraphrase:
At the beginning you have to beguile your reader who is not totally on your wavelength.
You shouldn’t have to read a poem twice to let it say what it wants to say
Beware of stapling the poem to the page with punctuation
She was full of praise for the poems but what I should have asked her whether she would take some for Poetry Review if we all submitted. I may do so anyway…
And Seamus Heaney won the Irish Times award for his collection Human Chain. A terrifically strong shortlist and some kind words. He was very humble and gracious in accepting.
Saturday 2pm Irish Times Award for a collection in the Gallery, started late as Seamus was stuck in traffic, Traffic is a feature of Dun Laoghaire, clogged streets and little parking. There were lots of poets in the room, a scary number actually when you consider these are the competition, all submitting to the same small number of magazines and awards. Seamus Heaney won for Human Chain. There was a lovely talk from Brian Lynch, one of the judges, saying it was hard to choose.
The collections were all landmarks in the poets’ development but Seamus always came out of the discussions like a man emerging from smoke, walking steadily. Seamus was gracious in accepting and read one of the poems he wrote for a grandchild.
3pm was the Poems for Our Ireland, supposed to be poets and other personalities reading poems that spoke to the current state of the country and where to go from here. Some veered away from the topic, I think. A mixed bag introduced by Vincent Woods, in alphabetical order, starting with Dermot Bolger who read his powerful poem, Neilstown Matadors which I’ve heard many times now but you still pick up new things. Michael Cronin who asked why the pyromaniacs had become the firefighters. He read a poem called Campo di Fiori by Czeslaw Milosz. Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill read her short poem called The Language Issue in Irish and in English saying that things end, things change, Ireland is still Ireland or something like that.
Probably the most hopeful poem of the set. Borbala Farago, a Hungarian poet, read a poem by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan called The Art of Letting Things Go. About the tree letting its leaves go. And some.
Diarmaid Ferriter, the historian read a Kavanagh poems 1954 and Canal Bank Walk. Alice Lee director of Trust Ireland talked about the street poet Tony Gill and then read a poem by the priest/poet Brian Power called A Sociologist Looks Back. Then an inspired guest, Jinx Lennon played Nothing But a Leprechaunon guitar. Dave Lordan followed with A Song for the Minister of Education. Brian Lynch read his poem A Distant View of the Irish Disaster. Sinead Morrissey read a poem by Alice Oswald called Various PortentsSenator David Norris only mentioned his run for the presidency once, talked about Shelley (was it?) saying that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of mankind and that the fifth province in Ireland is the Arts and then read Easter 1916 by Yeats.
Miriam O’Callaghan, the broadcaster said that it was all about life and love and death read a poem written about the death of her sister by Frank McGuinness called A Woman Untouched. Leanne O’Sullivan, one of the judges of the Irish Times Award, read her moving, new poem Safe House about a story in Scarriff, Co Clare.
Gerard Smyth, the managing Edtor of the Irish Times and poet talked about the 50th anniversary of the 1916 uprising and read “South of the Border” Joseph Woods read Old Country Awakening. Then Jinx Lennon came back with another piece called The Sumo Option is Good for Business with his megaphone. Close to the bone this one.
Vincent Woods read a poem by Mary Oliver called The Uses of Sorrow. (I think. Any mistakes here my own, memory and handwriting) I wonder is it best on these sort of occasions to read your own poem or someone else’s? 6:30 was Dave Lordan who read from his 2 collections The Boy in The Ring (including the title poem which I’m fond of) and Invitation to a Sacrifice. He’s so good at memorising and performing them.
Then Fiona Sampson, a eloquent and precise reading; she has a beautiful way with words and rhythm, which is what it’s all about I guess. Then Bloodaxe poet Jaan Kaplinski from Estonia. He hasn’t been writing recently and started with a poem that was a minute’s silence. A bit silly if you ask me. He is of the opinion that there are not only too many poems already but too many poets. Probably true. Too much competition out there. Is there anything new to say. Jaan was videoed by a guy in front of me who I realised later was Neil Astley. Wish I’d asked him to consider my collection. I’d love to be a Bloodaxe poet. Bloodaxe are working hard to build a library of their poets reading, some of which you can see on Youtube. Well worth a nose around. My head was so full of poetry, I didn’t want to dilute it and didn’t stay for Sinead Morrissey and Gerald Stern.