Since Thursday the 2nd of August I’ve been in Ireland, more specifically in Fermoy at their first International Poetry Festival. The festival organisers decided to run a Facebook Poetry Competition, and I was one of three winners. The other winners were Michele Vassal from France and Fahredin Shehu from Kosovo. The prize was a flight to Ireland and a reading at the festival.
When I left on Thursday I was quite apprehensive. I was staying for the duration of the festival at a committee member’s house and I was quite nervous. After all, there are a lot of strange people in the poetry world!
I was met by Pat O’Connor, a local poet, painter and musician. We talked (or to be more accurate – I talked and poor Pat probably struggled to get a word in edgeways) all the way from Cork Airport to Fermoy, a good 45 minute drive.
Pat was to become one of my favourites over the weekend – a lovely, talented, unassuming man. He dropped me off at Ita Dempsey’s house in Fermoy. The first thing Ita said to me was ‘oh, you’re very young!’ in a suprised kind of way. I think she may have thought that I would be up carousing all night. I promised that I was very well behaved. Pat stayed for some of Ita’s cake and a cup of tea, and then he ambled off. I went for a much needed shower and to get changed, and then it was straight off to a civic reception by the mayor at the Grand Hotel in Fermoy.
I knew that I was going to be alright in Fermoy when Ita took great delight in introducing me to everyone as ‘the prize winning poet’. I’ve been to one festival recently where the organisers barely managed to say hello (and I’m not talking about Ledbury here!) so it was lovely to be treated so well, and straight away, I was overwhelmed by how friendly everyone was.
After the civic reception with food and free wine it was over to the Elbow Lane pub for an informal open mic where everybody just stood up and read, or sang when they felt like it. I met Billy, the owner of the pub, who is possibly the loudest person I’ve ever met. He is absolutely lovely, and apparently, donated the back room of the pub to be used by the festival without hesitation, and then proceeded to paint the pub and re-upholster the chairs and seats ready for the festival.
The festival was dreamed up by Gene Barry, an unstoppable poetry force in Fermoy. All the events were free, including workshops by the likes of Matthew Sweeney. There were readings from mid-afternoon onwards into the small hours of the morning. The theme of the festival was ‘Inclusion’ and I thought Gene carried this off beautifully – there was an anthology launch from school children in Fermoy one day and the next day an anthology launch of the Active Retirement Group. One day we all went off on the ‘Poetry Bus’ and went for a tour and a meal in Lismore, and this was for poets and audience members.
I wanted to write some of this down to explain why there was no Sunday poem this week but I’m starting to realise there is too much to tell. Me and Ita got on great, it was like hanging out with someone I’d known for 20 years. There were two dutch poets there, Tsead Brunja and Jan Glass – I’m hoping to post a poem each from them up here on a sunday as they should definately be more widely known over here – truly exciting poets who use language in such a fresh way.
On the last day, Gene Barry asked me if I would come back and headline the festival next year in Fermoy. I was absolutely overwhelmed, and my first thought was ‘are you sure you want ME to do it?’ However, straight away I said I’d love to. I’m so happy that I’m going back next year, as I’m already missing all my new Irish friends. My only request was that Jan and Tsead could come back too! Luckily, it had already been arranged that they will be coming back to do some translation projects which sounds really exciting, and I’ll definately be sitting in on their workshops.
I always feel like I’m gushing on this blog, I think my enthusiasm carries me away, so I normally try and rein myself in. However, after being in Elbow Lane all weekend, where everybody seemed to be brimming with enthusiasm, I am now thinking sod it, I’ll just go with it!
I’ll try and post some photos on here later maybe – there is so much I haven’t said about the weekend. And if you are considering going to a poetry festival, I would definately recommend Fermoy. It’s an hour away on the plane, very cheap to get to, and all the events are free!