The rest of my week at the Cork Poetry Festival was brilliant – I want to say that right away as a few people were worried about me after my last blog post – thank you so much for the messages of support/understanding!
I think it took me a day or two to tune into what I’ll call the shape or thread of the place I found myself in. It’s a funny thing to try to make sense of. Finding myself walking a route between venues and remembering it from the day before, thinking ‘oh yes, I noticed that shop yesterday’ and ‘ah, that’s an interesting detail I’m discovering today’. Going down to breakfast and knowing what food there is but trying something different. Getting the feel of each venue and whether to arrive 15 minutes before the start or 5. Realising I do find it hard to concentrate after 10pm and not beating myself up for missing an event if I was too tired. Starting not only to understand the cadences of Cork, and the vernacular of the event in general, but enjoying it too. It was wonderful to meet up with Grainne Tobin, down from Northern Ireland, quick to take me under her wing and a mine of knowledge, ideas and energy. And speaking of energy, I was also lucky to spend time in the company of Abigail Parry: frighteningly talented, generous, modest, funny and one of the hardcore crowd still going strong at 3am on Saturday morning.
And the poetry of course! I heard poets reading in Irish (Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh), and in Chinese (Jidi Majia) – nothing I’ve experienced before and it felt such a privilege to be there. Both Friday and Saturday nights were corkers: Jonathan Edwards read alongside Abigail Parry, followed by Sasha Dugdale with Theo Dorgan, who stood in for Karen McCarthy Woolf. The third session that night featured Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and David Harsent who read a series of poems with no titles, and he asked people not to look at him ‘so you don’t know when the next poem is going to begin.’ It created a kind of meditative atmosphere. Saturday night was a sell-out, with Kim Addonizio (btw I think this is the coolest poet webpage photo I’ve ever seen) and Kathryn Maris proving to be an inspired pairing, followed by Leanne O’Sullivan introducing Billy Collins, former US poet laureate and such a pro – his timing and deadpan delivery were perfect, here’s an example.
I’m sorry I seem to have reduced so many fine readings to more or less a list of names. I deliberately didn’t take notes, and now almost a week later it feels like a decade ago. It was an inspirational week for me; I did some good writing while I was there, had some eye-opening conversations and felt I’d glimpsed something of the country/culture in a way that rarely happens when you’re simply a tourist.
I also want to say a huge thank you to the Munster Literature Centre, organisers of the festival, particularly Director Patrick Cotter and Administrator James O’Leary, who appeared to work non-stop and always with an air of calm. Despite a number of readers dropping out through illness, everything was so well organised and on a human-friendly scale. Recommended!