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Back from Ireland

River Lee, Cork

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!

Billy Collins reading at Cork Poetry Festival
Billy Collins


A furtive photo taken from the Farmgate Cafe in the English Market…


Abigail Parry & Robin Houghton
With Abigail Parry


Published inBlogEventsInspirationPlacesReadings


  1. Grainne Tobin Grainne Tobin

    Thanks, Robin. I love the photo of that shop with the red front. It was full-on, wasnt it? I felt knackered and invigorated by all tbose readings. There are events here in the north of Ireland at the moment to mark the 20 years since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I’ve been to one last night and am reading at one tomorrow in the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy, which is a wonderful place to visit. Then away again for ten days to the Cill Rialaig artists’ retreat in Kerry. I think that’s when the Cork experience will download properly.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Grainne – ten days in an artists’ retreat – wow! I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of that. Thanks again for everything.

  2. Cheryl Capaldo Traylor Cheryl Capaldo Traylor

    Sounds like a lovely time! Sometimes, it takes me a while to get acclimated in new places, so I understand. Billy Collins is a favorite. I saw him and Mary Oliver a few years back. I’ve heard Kim Addonizio is a great speaker. Your post has inspired me to pull out her book, Ordinary Genius, and reread it!

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Cheryl – thanks for stopping by – yes, I’m a bit of a fan of Kim Addonizio, having seen read at Aldeburgh a couple of years ago. I bought her ‘new & selected’ ‘Wild Nights’ which I’m really enjoying.

  3. Wow, this sounds fantastic! What incredible festival programming. I’ve really enjoyed your Letters from Cork, Robin, and appreciate your honesty about travelling alone, learning a new place, etc. You were brave to make this trip alone but your posts have been inspiring.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thank you Josephine, that means a lot. So glad you enjoyed the posts.

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