Monday, November 29, 2010

Cork Spring Literary Festival 2011 Preview

Click on the poster to read the pdf of the festival brochure (2.5mb), finished just today. Photos, bio notes, poems and more.
Two Novelists
Two Workshops
Two Book Launches
Three Films
Eight Participating Countries
Eight Readings
Twenty-Five Poets
Featuring: Pat Boran, Catch the Moon, Patrick Cotter, Ian Duhig, Kristiina Ehin, Alan Garvey, James Harpur, Tomas Lieske, Dave Lordan, Lory Manrique-Hyland, Maram al-Massri, Gerry Murphy, Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh, Leanne O'Sullivan, Gabriel Rosenstock, Valerie Rouzeau, Silke Scheuermann, Catherine Smith, Matthew Sweeney, Julijana Velichkovska, William Wall, Ian Wild, Adam Wyeth, Zhao Lihong

Friday, November 12, 2010

Too School For Cool

The recent sales success of Soundings is actually a reminder of its total failure as an educational instrument.

Walk into any bricks & mortar bookshop in the country this close to Christmas and among the tottering piles of volumes ready to collapse on top of you (besides the latest Katey Price biography or Scandanavian schlock crime yarn masquerading as edgy continental literature) is the reprint of Soundings - the 1960s "interim" syllabus anthology which lazily endured for over a quarter of a century ensuring that a couple of generations of Irish school children never heard of Seamus Heaney before he won the Nobel prize or knew that poems were written by Irish women. The anthology's selection ended with two early poems by Thomas Kinsella written in the 1950s. Except for these rather daring (compared with the rest of the book) short lyrics one could be forgiven for thinking modern Ireland was all about stony grey soils and the spraying of potatoes.

In fairness to Gus Martin, it wasn't his fault that the syllabus was not updated over the course of a quarter of a century. Eavan Boland was just getting started as the anthology was published and GM possibly thought he was being revolutionary including one living poet in the entire book.

This year as the publisher of the "Best of Irish Poetry" anthology series I have had to make the painful decision to cease its publication. The anthology had very low sales and received only one review in its four year history despite being the only attempt at establishing an annual publication of record for contemporary Irish poetry. Its American and British equivalents sell in the tens of thousands. This Irish series sold in the tens. Unsupported by the country's library system, never reviewed even in Poetry Ireland's quarterly or even its newsletter, the true interest and support for contemporary poetry in Ireland is rawly exposed.

The low sales figures of Best of Irish Poetry bewray how the frenzy surrounding Soundings has more to do with nostalgia than love of poetry, snapped up as it is by thousands of individuals who have never been motivated to seek out a poem by Eavan Boland or Matthew Sweeney, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain or Thomas McCarthy.

The broadsheets and broadcasters trumpet how the sales triumph of Soundings signals what a cultured poetry-loving mob our middle-brow, middle-class bookshop-frequenting bourgeois are. Actually they're more like the fool who calls himself a cineaste or movie-buff when he refuses to watch anything made after 1967 - that's putting it in language even they should understand.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm sorry, actually, I can't tell you that or how poems can get stolen

I was having lunch today with Matthew Sweeney and Gerry Murphy in the Farmgate Cafe under their fabulous poetry wall (the great poetry wall of Cork). Last week as one of my dayjob duties I hosted a joint launch of their new books. The boys were so busy signing books for other people (over 90 books sold on the night) that they hadn't got around to exchanging books with each other, so today they finally did just that. Matthew has developed a taste for writing all his book inscriptions in German lately, a language Gerry cannot understand. I was there to assure Gerry that it was complimentary ("to a great friend and an excellent poet"). Gerry wrote "hugs and kisses" for Matthew. Yes, yes, gay in all senses of the word.

As is usual, the topics of conversation strayed far: gossip concerning an editor none of us likes; Neil Prendeville's miraculous discovery that Neurofen Plus works better than Viagra; good and bad literary festivals abroad etc. I can't remember how we got onto the subject of blindness - in spite of the old housewife's connection between that affliction and Prendeville's public past-times. Matthew suddenly said "They've discovered how to make blind people see".

So I asked, do you mean by attaching a piece of technology to the optic nerve?

He said yes. I then proceeded to tell him how there were all different causes of blindness, some where the eyes are perfect but the connection to the brain or within the brain is at fault.

"I read about all different kinds of blindness in a particular neurology book. For instance....." Fortunately my brain was working faster than my mouth and the schema for an entire new poem comparing and contrasting different types of blindness unveiled itself to my mind's inner eye before I continued with the sentence.

"Jeesuz, what am I doing, I'm not going to tell you pair. I'm writing that poem meself."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why I'm not organising anything anymore for the slam fraternity

The Cork Spring Literary Festival was incredibly successful this year. Aside from the quality of the writers and some of the amazing performances (Conal Creedon and Martin Espada especially wowed) audience figures were consistently large between 70-100 attendees at each event. We were obliged to move to a bigger venue for the fourth day to avoid breaking fire regulations on overcrowding. I believe there were multiple factors for the increased audiences this year. I believe rebranding the festival as the "Cork Spring" festival made it easier for people to mentally note where and when it was happening. This was the first year we had significant numbers of people travelling from Galway, Limerick and Dublin just to sit in the audience. We had many new younger faces and faces we had never seen at our events before. I believe the use of Facebook was crucial in attracting a different, younger demographic and many people believe holding the event in a hotel rather than a dedicated arts institution made it appear less elitist and more accessible. The generosity of so many people coming to events and buying almost 3,000 euro worth of poetry books was to be noted.
But once again the majority of the Live Mic fraternity bewrayed their total Me Fein, self-centred interests. We had many of these people turning up just for the open mic competition we organised and no other event, in spite of us bringing the best of Irish writing from home and abroad and eminent American writers from Boston and San Francisco who had never appeared at Irish festivals before. (Watch out for Martin Espada at a festival near you soon, he impressed so much he received an invitation back to Ireland from another member of the audience the night of his reading).
We put up a 200 euro prize, paid a professional thespian-poet judge a modest fee of 150 euro, we had the expense of room hire, sound equipment hire, staff time, all to cater for a group of people who, in the main, had no interest in any other writer except themselves. Were they grateful for our efforts in catering for their rarefied, self-centered interests? Were they fuck!
One complained that she wasn't allowed to read two pieces instead of one like everyone else, another person accused the time keeper of robbing her of minutes in her performance. As I said already a majority of these people attended no other event. I'm delighted to report that the prize went to John Walsh of Galway who did attend other events at the festival (not that the judge would have known).
But I'm left thinking why should I do anything for this largely selfish constituency in the future.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ethel Voynich, legendary Cork-born writer


Ethel Voynich is easily the best-selling Irish author of all time. Yet nobody knows about her in the country of her birth. Voynich's novel The Gadfly sold over 2 and half million copies in Russia and even more in China. It was adapted as a film in 1928 and again in 1955 with a specially-commissioned soundtrack by Shostakovich and made into a Chinese mini-television series in 2005. Click on the picture above to be brought to video showing her being feted in New York by members of the Bolshoi Ballet on the occasion of her 95th birthday in 1959.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Yiyun Li interviewed by Patrick Cotter

In four parts, in low resolution. Followed by a DVD quality source. If your computer does not have a good enough speaker you might do better listening on earphones.

At the 2008 Frank O'Connor Short Story Festival in Cork, Ireland, interviewed by Patrick Cotter, Yiyun Li touches on how she develops character, about her family background, dealing with political interviewers, her experience of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, her love of Irish writers and much else. 26 minutes in total.

Watch Yiyun Li interviewed by Patrick Cotter in Travel & Culture  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Bodega Gets Its Groove Back

The Bodega has its groove back! It was shut for a long time and then reopened with the decor of a nouveau richeist's Italian villa. Service was not the best. I came across acquaintances who decided to leave after waiting 45 minutes for their order. That was about six months ago. Today I'm writing this blog from the Bodega, courtesy of the welcome free wi-fi. The staff have been most courteous and attentive. The people-watching has generally improved with a drift-back of the original clientel-types, although, the more ambient light and my weakening eyesight detract from that. The music is not so loud so that it disuades conversation.
The quality of attracting arty-types of all ages and stages of life development is the great attraction of this pub. People can bring their kids in the afternoon and hang out with no hassle or friction alongside young and old singles.
The potted plants are gone and so too the original sculpture pieces. But there are new pieces and the chandeliers look like they've been designed by Jeff Koons on sedatives. But many of the references to be found in my "Bodega Sequence" no longer apply.
It makes the perfect writer's hangout again, with plenty of powerpoints around for laptops and no one staring at you as if the book you are reading is a second head.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Lore of Place

I’m excited by the upcoming Cork Spring Literary Festival February 17th to 20th (which I’m curating). The theme changes every year. In the past we’ve done love, politics, spirituality, migration and this year we are featuring writing which explores sense of place. Dinnseanchas or the lore of place is integral to the Irish literary tradition and the late Sean O Tuama has written that while place features in every literary tradition, the writers of no other European country are as obsessed with place as have Irish writers been.

We’ll have Jennifer Johnston who will be enjoyed not only by the regular attendees of literary festivals but also those bourgeois types who drag themselves out solely for a name familiar to them from the broadsheet review pages and TV culture programmes. I’m contemplating a scheme where entry to the Johnston gig will be free to anyone who regularly attends the other events but will cost 15-20 euro for those who just come to see her. Reading with Jennifer will also be an exciting young American and near namesake Adam Johnson who has published short story collections, a novel and who teaches in the writing department of Stanford. Sharing the stage with Adam and Jennifer will be Denyse Woods who has published a number of literary novels with Penguin and some potboilers under the pseudonym Devlin. Denyse has just been appointed as Artistic Director of the West Cork Literary Festival for 2010.

Other fiction writers featured this year will be Conal Creedon whose plays were recently received with glowing reviews in New York and Mary Leland who has published two novels, a story collection and who was just recently shortlisted for the Davy Byrne’s Award.

I like to feature mostly poets during this festival because of our concentration on fiction during the Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival. Derek Mahon, Paula Meehan, Bernard O’Donoghue, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain and Desmond O’Grady are all being featured, teamed with Cork City resident authors. Featured Cork authors with recent new books include Eugene O'Connell, Thomas McCarthy whose The Last Geraldine Officer has received rave and considered reviews from Maurice Harmon and Bernard O’Donoghue; Martina Evans whose Facing the Public continues to mine the Macroom of her childhood for literary gold; we are honoured that Theo Dorgan will be launching with us his first original full-length poetry collection since the last century Greek – featuring poems all of which focus on Greece and Greek culture.

Other out of town poets of note attending include big guns such as Ciaran O’Driscoll, Gerard Smyth, Patrick Moran, Mary O’Malley and Michael Coady who has just published a substantial new collection.

The younger generation of writers is being represented by such names as Matthew Geden, Liz O’Donoghue, Louis De Paor and Billy Ramsell.

Last but not least we are featuring one of the USA’s most famous of contemporary poets (one who has yet to be exported as successfully as some others) Martin Espada who has been described as the leading Latino poet writing in English. He has published in Southword a brilliant essay on sense of place. His work is noted for its political commitment without being polemical. He is very much influenced by Pablo Neruda and other Iberian-language poets. For my money, he is the only foreigner who has written successfully about Ireland in poetry without sounding like a tourist.

A timetable can be found here . A fully-downloadable programme should be available next week.