Tag Archives: Strokestown Poetry Festival

May I?

Tubbercurry Writing May 2018sSo, what’s the best thing to do when you’re really, really busy? Yep, that’s it – find something else to do as well.

So here I am, just surfacing after the head-wrecking weekend that was Strokestown International Poetry Festival, participating in a social media training course. (Don’t laugh. And no, I probably shouldn’t have responded to my terror of Facebook by deleting my page recently, but that’s another story.)

While I’m at it, I could have a go at developing my memoir-writing skills with the legend that is Michael Harding, couldn’t I?  Roscommon Arts Centre’s Bealtaine course this year.

And what about running a series of creative writing classes for beginners in Tubbercurry? OK, I’ll do that too.

Strokestown International Poetry Festival was an absolute blast – a hectic five days in which I met some wonderful writers and got to launch my collection, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’ alongside poets Majella Cullinane (who was over from New Zealand for the occasion) and Erin Fornoff.

The sun shone, words flowed and good humour abounded, and I had a really great (if exhausting) time. I even got to sign a few copies of my new book and read at the launch of the 2018 Strokestown Anthology, and did a street performance with the Hermit Collective.

Strokestown 20th Logo jpeg2As a member of the organising committee, I hadn’t before appreciated how much time and effort goes into setting up a world-class poetry festival – and how much still has to be done after everyone goes home. This was the 20th Strokestown Poetry Festival, so everyone pulled out all the stops to make it a memorable occasion. It was certainly that (in a good way!). Check out what happened  here: 20th Festival Highlights

So now I’m hoping to have enough people to join me in doing some creative writing on Thursday evenings in Tubbercurry, County Sligo, just for ten weeks.

I’m hoping I can inspire a few new writers with some of the enthusiasm I still have for the craft – not just poetry, but short stories, flash fiction, memoir, journal keeping (one of my favourites), and other forms of the written word. I’ll be able to pass on some insider tips and information about publication opportunities and writing competitions, but will also encourage newbies to just have a go.

Anyone can be a writer if they want to be.

A good writer, though, that’s a bit trickier. Writing is like any form of culture, it is subjective. It takes practice of course. And luck. A thick skin. A support network.  And pink pyjamas and a ping-pong ball. Oops! Look at me, I’m giving everything away already.

If you want to know more, you’ll have to book a place on the course. At a fiver a session (because it is supported by the MSLETB Community Education Scheme) I think it’s a snip…

 

 

 

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Watching the Dust Settle

The sadly missed Ashley Cole, who could always be called upon to investigate things lurking under the sofa

I’ve been busy lately coaxing dust bunnies from under the sofa, not least because I’m mad for cleaning when I’m stressed or sad.  When I’m laid back and cheery, I can’t see dust, so my house is a mess. But right now, there are lots of things going on and I’m trying to fix them with a (faux) feather duster.

When I’m not waving a microfibre cloth at dirty skirtings, waiting for the phone to ring with more sad news (long story), I’m getting ready for my book launch at Strokestown International Poetry Festival. Less than two weeks to go (quick, fetch the mop, that floor needs attention). I wrote an article about the Festival and its background, which has appeared in the Irish Times – you can read it here. 

It even includes a picture of the late Seamus Heaney at the Festival in 2006, an image I share with you here. Just because I can 🙂

This year’s festival is certainly going to be an interesting few days – May 3rd to 7th –  when 70 poets, from schoolchildren to international celebrities, are going to descend on Strokestown in County Roscommon to do their thing. I’m particularly looking forward to the Poetry Divas on the first night – Kate Dempsey, Tríona Walsh and Barbara Smith, who will be ‘blurring the wobbly edge between page and stage’. They perform their own work at events around Ireland and have appeared at Electric Picnic. You can buy tickets here.

The official opening of the 20th Strokestown International Poetry Festival takes place on Friday evening (May 4th), but before that ceremony, Roscommon author Gerry Boland will be launching the new Strokestown Poetry Anthology in the Percy French Hotel at 7pm. I’m very honoured to have been asked to read out my poem ‘Watermarked’ from the anthology, thrilled to have been included in this year’s 20th anniversary book. And in a wonderful twist, because it’s all in alphabetical order, I share a two-page spread with Harry Clifton!

The following day, Saturday May 5th, is going to be a busy one. I’ll be in Bawn Street at 12 noon, making an appearance with my friends from the Hermit Collective – eclectic words and music in the open air (free of charge!). Then I’ll be hot-footing it back to Strokestown Park House for 2pm to see the indomitable Rita Ann Higgins, ahead of the 4.30pm launch (also in Strokestown Park House) of my first book, a limited-edition collection of 60 poems, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’. (Hopefully, the stickers proclaiming my Hennessy win will be ready by then. Not that they’re taking ages to materialise or anything.) Anyway, I’m lucky to be squeezed into a launch slot alongside Majella Cullinane and Erin Fornoff – the weekend’s programme is packed to the gills with readings and book launches.

Saturday evening is one to look forward to as well – Jane Clarke is doing a reading alongside Lemn Sissay, with music by Danny Diamond,  buy tickets here, and then James Harpur leads everyone into an evening of nostalgia, looking back at the highlights of 20 years of festivals.

There are two more frantic days of poetry themed events after that, but I’m not thinking that far ahead just yet because I’ve other stuff going on this week. Like the launch of ROPES 2018 in Galway on Tuesday (April 24th). I’ve a story in it (yes, I know, I’m claiming to be a poet lately, but I scribble other stuff too). ‘Sparks’ will be launched in the Town Hall Theatre Galway as part of the Cuirt International Festival of Literature.

And Poetry Day Ireland on Thursday, April 26th is not to be missed, either. Lots going on that day. If you’re even remotely interested in poetry there’ll be something for you, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Here’s all you need to know.

Now. Where did I put that can of Pledge? And another thing, why are dusters no longer yellow?

Creative Thinking?

brollies s
I’m being creative here. Just be glad I’m not ranting about the awful weather…

I’m riding a particularly delicious literary wave after winning the Hennessy Award two weeks ago – my feet have hardly touched the ground, but in a nice way.

I shouldn’t really have had any time for thinking, let alone writing, should I? What with radio interviews, trips to Dublin, and all those Facebook and Twitter messages to respond to (and I was the reluctant social media participant a while back. Ha!).

But here’s a surprise, I’ve been as busy writing as ever, scribbling away, plucking poems from the ether and wondering where such creativity comes from.

I like to think I’ve always been a creative person, someone who makes their own greetings cards (too mean to give Hallmark my business), and I’ve made some very inspired birthday cakes in my time (penguin, cat, dinosaur anyone?). And of course, I’ve written reams of journalism, poetry and short stories over the years.

But I still don’t know where creativity comes from, how a random idea suddenly becomes a poem which someone else understands and likes. I wish I could bottle this recent rush of inspiration for the times when I’m staring at a blank notebook wondering what to write.

Strokestown 20th Logo jpeg2Meanwhile, I’m still part of the organising committee of the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, getting excited as May Bank Holiday gets nearer.

sliabh bawn 2s
This is what a bunch of poetry enthusiasts on a a mountain treasure hunt looks like…

We launched the festival on the side of a mountain on Easter Monday (as you do), with a poetry-themed treasure hunt. Now, we’re spreading the word about everything going on during the festival – including readings by no less than 70 poets, from well-known international names to first timers and local schoolchildren.

There will be pub poetry, and a recitation competition where visitors can read a much-loved poem, perhaps one from their schooldays. There’s a cracking line-up for the weekend, starting on May 3rd – check out the Strokestown Poetry website for more info here.

If you missed me on the radio, gabbling like a mad woman, talking to Mary Claire Grealy on Shannonside FM, and reading my poem ‘Dirty Little Dresses’, I’ll be reading it again this coming weekend (but not on the radio).

Along with other members of our creative writing group, I’ll be reading some poems at the launch of a new pop-up art exhibition by local artists in Charlestown Arts Centre (County Mayo) on Sunday next (April 8th), between 2pm and 4pm. Its free admission and everyone is welcome – call in and say ‘hello’ if you’re in the neighbourhood.

We can spend some time marveling at the wonderful creativity on display!

Twenty Years and Counting

Strokestown Park House

Here’s news of something close to my heart (right now, serving as a distraction for me, #HennessyLitAwards): Strokestown International Poetry Festival, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The programme has been announced and tickets are on sale (hurry, they’re going fast!), with an eclectic mix of all things poetry-related taking place over the May Bank Holiday weekend, May 3rd– 7th.

As a member of the organising committee, I have a vested interest in spreading the word about the festival, so here goes: Strokestown is one of only a handful of POETRY festivals in the country, and well worth a visit for both writers and readers, trust me!

There’s a must-see line up of international and Irish poets, with around 70 readings over the weekend, from newbies to old-hands. There’ll be the results of six competitions, readings, exhibitions, film screenings, book launches*, workshops, plus street entertainment and music – you won’t want to miss any of it!

If you don’t know, Strokestown is a quiet little Georgian town in rural County Roscommon, on the N5 Dublin to Westport road. Its main tourist attraction is the lovely Strokestown Park House (home of the harrowing but important National Famine Museum). The house is the venue for many of the Poetry Festival’s events.

Poets Moya Cannon and Harry Clifton have sifted through more than 1,200 entries to Strokestown’s International Poetry Competition, and the shortlisted poets have been invited to read their work at the festival, and their poems will be included in this year’s anthology**.

Jane Clarke

It’s unlikely you’ll get many opportunities to see poets Jane Clarke and Lemn Sissay on the same stage, but that’s what’s planned for Saturday evening, May 5th, in the Percy French Hotel, Strokestown. Jane Clarke’s award-winning first collection, ‘The River’, is full of bucolic images of rural Roscommon where she grew up; Lemn Sissay is known

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Lemn Sissay

for writing about his life as a black teenager growing up in a white foster home in northern England. Irish fiddle player Danny Diamond will be on hand to provide the evening’s music.

Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh, best known as a community activist and slam poet from Manchester, will be performing to local schools in Strokestown on Friday, May 4th. His poem, ‘This Is the Place’, captured

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Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh

the response of Mancunians after the terror attack last year in which 22 people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert. He will read at the official opening of the Festival at the Percy French Hotel on May 4th.

There’s lots more going on, most of it free of charge; doubtless I’ll mention the festival again before the day! Meanwhile, check out the website here.

*I’m launching my first poetry collection, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’, during the festival – on Saturday, May 5th, 4.30pm, in Strokestown House.

**Yay! I also have work included in this year’s anthology…

The Numbers Game

Bit of a tenuous link, but this kitty’s name was Seven…

I’ve been crunching numbers over the past few days, trying to figure (excuse the pun) if I should take up a new pastime. This writing lark has cost me a lot of money one way or another (residential poetry masterclasses don’t come cheap), and I’ve managed to crawl to my 100th submission this year.

That averages out at less than nine submissions a month, which doesn’t sound too excessive. And included in ‘submissions’ are applications for grants, pitches for freelance articles, and several other writing activities.

I enter a lot of free writing competitions (there are a lot about), and  journals and magazines are free to send to. But there are a good few competitions with a hefty entry fee which I’ve succumbed to. Like the Moth Poetry Prize – I wasn’t going to bother because it is €12 a pop, but the prize is a cool €10,000 (for ONE poem, yes you read right!). So I view it rather like buying a lottery ticket, you’ve got to be in it to win it, although the odds on me winning are slim – not because my poem is rubbish (well, I don’t think so), but because there’s so much (ahem) competition.

The kudos of winning, or being placed in competitions, is what drives most writers to enter – but the cash prizes can be significant, too. I’m writing this on a laptop I bought with the winnings from a short story competition 18 months ago.

I was helping to number the entries in the Strokestown International Poetry Competition at the beginning of December.  Poacher turned gamekeeper, I found the behind-the-scenes activities a real eye-opener. Until then, I’d never really thought much about what happens after I hit the ‘send’ button.

In the case of Strokestown, the original poems are kept on file and two copies of each are printed to be sent to the judges. Before the poems leave the office, they are made anonymous, save for a reference number. It makes for a level playing field, so it doesn’t matter who you are or who you know, it’s the poem that counts.

The sheer volume of poems –  sadly, I didn’t have time to read any of them – was mind-blowing. The competition attracts entries from all over the world, including India, Japan, Canada, USA, the UK, and of course, Ireland.

And get this, there were 1,261 poems vying for the top prize of €2,000, a writer’s retreat at Anam Cara, and publication in the Strokestown Poetry Anthology. That’s five reams of paper…

If you missed the annual Strokestown competitions (there was the Percy French competition for comic verse and an Irish language poetry competition, too), there’s another just opened to mark the Festival’s 20th anniversary. That’s in addition to the Roscommon Poet’s Prize and the School Poetry Prizes. Phew, that’s a lot of poems!

Count the petals? Or be inspired to write a poem – this is one of the prompts.

This new on-line only competition offers 20 picture prompts, and suitably inspired writers are invited to create up to 20 lines of poetry. There will be 20 prizes – a first of €100 and 19 of €20. And all 20 poems will be displayed alongside the images during Strokestown Poetry Festival, May 3rd – 7th 2018.

The judge is poet Noelle Lynskey, and details are on the website here.

Now, what’s there not to like about those numbers?

Oh, and for the day that’s in it (as they say around here): “Happy Christmas!”

May Day, May Day? Can’t Remember…

I nearly forgot to boast about my recent win at Strokestown Poetry Festival – I took first prize in the Roscommon Poets’ Prize, a competition in which I came third the previous two years. That was certainly a good start to May!

Of course I’m delighted. The poem is about memory, a theme that keeps coming up to bite me on the bum, to remind me what to write about when I’m stuck for ideas. You can read it here.

The competition was judged by a friend of mine, Sligo poet Jessamine O’Connor, who would know my style and usual themes (my elderly mother crops up a good deal, and fanciful broken love affairs). So after almost not entering at all because it felt kind of awkward, I went ahead anyway and wrote something new and different. It was one of those poems that arrived on the paper pretty well fully formed. No idea how that works, I’m just happy to go along with it.

And of course, I had no hint that I was even in the running (although I knew I’d been shortlisted, along with six others). Jessamine, of course, was very professional about it all and although she’d judged the competition blind, didn’t know mine was her favourite until a number matched my name. She sounded just as shocked as me in the end. And I discovered the reason she’d been avoiding me since Christmas was so she didn’t give the game away. Ha!

This year my friend Catherine Ryan from Castlerea came second (she won the first year) and Laurence Henson from Strokestown came third (he won last year). Turn and turn about! All three of us are Hermit Collective poets.

Strokestown Poetry Festival is Ireland’s longest running poetry festival and last year they had their Arts Council funding withdrawn. This time around the funding was back in place, and the festival seemed to be flourishing. It is all about competitions, and I attended the prizegivings for the Percy French comic verse, and the main international poetry competitions.  Paddy Bushe and Maura Dooley adjudicated the latter, and it was fascinating to hear their comments on the ten shortlisted poems.

There was an anthology published this year. I’d recommend it – it has work from all the poets associated with the weekend, plus the shortlisted international competition entries (but  sadly, not any from the Roscommon shortlist). But worth a look if you can get your hands on a copy.

You could have picked one up from me as I manned the bookstall for an exhausting hour on the Saturday afternoon. Such a chore having to sit in the distinguished old dining room in Strokestown Park House, log fire blazing, dozens of poetry books scattered across the table, but I like to do my bit.

Of course, I’m just getting into character for some time in the future when my own collection of poetry gets put on sale there…

I Started Early – Didn’t Take My Dog (or Visit the Sea)

If you happened to be listening to yesterday afternoon’s  Drive Time programme on RTE Radio One, you  might have heard a segment about Poetry Day Ireland (April 27th 2017), about a whole day of poetry, in all sorts of places throughout Ireland. (Listen here, starting about 1:58 in).

The over-excited voice commenting about getting up at 5.30am in County Roscommon in order to get to Dublin in/on time – well, that was ME! I was interviewed about my favourite poet/poems, and of course I had to mention my devotion to Seamus Heaney (forgot to mention Emily!).  I also gave a shout out to Jane Clarke, who was the reason I was there at Poetry Ireland in Parnell Square East.

I’d heard that Jane would be giving a talk at a seminar, and I was curious to hear if she’d reveal her modus operandi  – I wasn’t disappointed. All the ‘Mind Your Own Business!’ speakers had fascinating insider information to share, and I learnt a lot. I now have a better idea from Paul Perry as to why my grant applications are never successful; Jane Clarke gave some clues as to the publicity lead time for a poetry collection (absolutely ages); Don Paterson, Poetry Editor at Picador, was refreshing in his views about tightly themed first collections (avoid, they’re usually contrived and boring. Phew!); Alexander Technique practitioner Tomás Hardiman made me aware of how heavy my head is; and Poetry Ireland’s Communications Manager Muireann Sheahan made me realise how I should be more into Social Media (oh dear).  All information that was well worth getting up early for. And I even missed an opportunity to read with the Hermits in Strokestown so I could be there…

Before I got to Poetry Ireland, I’d spent a restful hour in the sanctuary that is the Irish Writers’ Centre, just around the corner.  I’m a member there, so I thought, why not?

Before that, I’d been shopping. For books, of course. Poetry books.

I’d entered the Books Upstairs Poetry Competition and was curious to see who’d won. Not me, sadly, but what a lovely shop:  loadsa books, literary magazines and a coffee shop with window seats – oh joy!

And I’d got my Confirmation money to spend. No, no I mean my Christmas money. Or was it my Birthday dosh?  Ah, sod it, I might as well come clean (the chancellor of the family exchequer doesn’t read this blog anyway):  I spent a whole week’s grocery money on books, OK?

What a thrill! I bought Emily Dickinson’s complete works in one volume (and it later opened straight to ‘Hope is the feathered thing…’).  I also bought Africk McGlinchey’s ‘Ghost of the Fisher Cat’,  Mike McCormack’s ‘Solar Bones’ (which is said to be something of a poetic novel),  ‘Ballistics’ by Billy Collins, ‘The Travels of Sorrow’ by Dermot Healy, and ‘Mountains for Breakfast’ by Geraldine Mitchell (which I hope to hear more of at Stroketown  Poetry Festival this coming weekend). I also bought a copy of The Moth magazine, wondering if it has changed much since I gave up being a subscriber a while ago (the jury’s out on that one).

I had to lug my cache everywhere for the rest of the day, but hefting great weights is supposed to be a boost for fitness.  I now have one arm longer than the other, but hey!

And now I’m hoping I haven’t missed the opportunity to see the recent film about Emily Dickinson, ‘A Quiet Passion’, with ‘Sex and the City’ star Cynthia Nixon in the title role. Read the review  that made me want to see it here.