My mother, who dreaded single magpies, loved black cats, never walked under ladders, and ignored her offspring when we scoffed, insisted on the existence of an angel who specialised in throwing clichéd spanners into the best-laid plans. She never even tried to hide her glee when proved right. Like many writers, however, I’m a planner, if only when trying to carve out time in which to work.
But just how difficult could it be to turn a successful, annual, one-off event into a whole weekend of poetry? I began to imagine the Fingal Poetry Festival — and I wasn’t alone; the friend and colleague with whom I’d worked on previous events was on board from the off. Going back over a decade, on alternating years she’d directed a vibrantly eclectic arts festival here in Skerries, and nothing — not even the more fanciful notions of this particular poet — fazes her. She immediately roped in the musician responsible for providing the magic added ingredient to our previous events. Two more enthusiastic poetry fans were drafted in, and with the added assistance of a techie genius we had our committee.
Poetry Ireland and our wonderfully proactive local arts office, Fingal, had supported our previous readings and committed themselves to continuing that for the new festival. I began adding poets to the list of those I had already invited and we booked our venues. On a dreary winter’s afternoon we submitted our Arts Council request for funding application and were successful.
As someone who has benefitted from an award or two over the years, I wanted to include a new poetry award. I know how the affirmation of being placed in one can help a poet grow in both confidence and networking opportunities— writing can be a lonely occupation. I set about getting the perfect judge and also succeeded in receiving generous sponsorship from a leading Irish company for the prizes. We were all set — until everything changed for everyone, everywhere.
Early in the year, when news began to circulate about a strange new virus, we decided that September was, like China, a long way away. When the lockdown began in mid-March, we imagined it would be over by the summer. In early April, ‘scenario planning’ entered the committee’s vocabulary.
And now here we are, almost into June and as unsure as to how the next few months will unfold as the rest of the country. Unless a miracle happens — and who knows, one still might — it looks as if many of our plans for early September will have to be re-visited and tweaked. We might still be able to do everything we’d hoped, but realistically, who is going to trust themselves to the dangers of a crowded room for the foreseeable future? Going by the packed attendances we’ve had for previous events, the thought of having to turn people away at the door due to the necessary limits on numbers is not appealing
We’ve considered taking everything into bigger venues with scope for more physical distancing, but then we would be back to turning people away. One of our main ambitions for the festival is that it should not only welcome the practitioners and poetry lovers, the already converted, but also draw in those who might previously not have considered themselves particularly interested. We want to reach as many people as possible.
Going online is beginning to look increasingly likely. Online being the only way in which many of us can manage to see our loved ones at the moment, even the technophobes among us have grown accustomed to life being conducted through a screen. The committee is looking at the various ways in which this particular option can be made more ‘live’, and are exploring some original ideas.
For now though, nothing definite has been decided except that we are not going to cancel. The competition has opened for entries, the poets are booked, the website is up, and the committee is busy exploring ideas that will involve both our local community and the wider poetry community beyond.
Our plan for the Fingal Poetry Festival is that it will happen. One lesson we’re all taking from this unprecedented, enforced quietness is that the arts have never been so important. The show will go on, and go on safely.
After all the uncertainty involved in the planning of this, our first ever poetry festival, next year’s should be easy… but why do I imagine I hear my mother chuckling to herself somewhere?
(c) Enda Coyle-Greene
Visit the Fingal Poetry Festival website: https://poetryatskerriesmills.com