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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 22, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

    A-Cúirtin’

    Fiona McCann

    Cúirt‘s kicked off, and I’m not there – yet. Anybody catch Joseph O’Neill on Monday? Or Colm Toibin and D.R.  MacDonald? Any upcoming highlights to, er, highlight? Anyone have an opinion on this year’s programme (too many readings? not enough?), and whether discussions (Joseph O’Connor with Philip King, Aidan Higgins with Neil Donnelly) work as a format, or whether the element of chemistry experiment is too risky to replace a reading, or indeed, whether questions should EVER be taken from the audience?

    • John Self says:

      I think discussions *can* work really well, though of course it depends on the chemistry. At last year’s Edinburgh Book Festival, friends of mine agreed that the pairing of Colm Tóibín and Patrick McGrath was a triumph – loads of banter and craic between them, whereas Tóibín for one is a writer whose sense of humour can easily be missed in solo outings (see the recent and much-reported interview for Manchester University, where most reported his comments as entirely straight).

      It also helps attract better crowds for writers – say, Gerard Donovan here – who might struggle to get many attendees alone. That cuts both ways of course – I’d pay to see Tim Parks but his pairing with Louis de Bernieres puts me right off.

    • Fiona says:

      John: Good points all. I think if the chemistry works, they can be really enjoyable. It’s a gamble though – I do prefer it to the straight up journo & writer format, though, in terms of a two-hander. I too was curious at the pairing of Tim Parks with Louis De Bernieres, though am probably more kindly disposed towards the latter than you appear to be! I’ll definitely go, regardless. Any recommendations from yourself? Will you be there?

    • John Self says:

      No I won’t sadly (as usual): am working by day and still under baby-based house arrest between 6pm and 8am, so no outings for me. I have a ticket to see Daljit Nagra (his debut collection Look We Have Coming to Dover! is very good) at the Belfast Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival next month, but it’s touch and go whether I’ll even make it the 20 minutes across town to that.

    • John Self says:

      Oh and: I’m not actually that unkindly disposed toward Louis de Bernieres; I just wouldn’t especially want to see him, particularly as he’s much more popular than Tim Parks and therefore would probably hog the attention of the audience and host, to Parks’ detriment.

      In fact I did go – and pay – to see de Bernieres about ten years ago at the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. It was during that long hiatus after Captain Corelli’s Mandolin when he didn’t publish another book for ten years, having produced four in four years culminating in Corelli. (I did like the pre-Corelli trilogy, and Corelli itself, but haven’t read his two novels published since.) I didn’t find him a particularly engaging speaker or reader, but I suppose one could say that about any number of writers. Writers, most alive when alone, are often a disappointment in the flesh.

    • Fiona says:

      John: Saw him read at last year’s DLR Poetry Now festival, and it was an incredible experience. The poems came alive – it was an unmissable performance, and one of the highlights of the event. Hope you get to hear him read.

    • Fiona says:

      John: Comments crossed in cyber space there.. On Corelli, I agree – I particularly ilked that trilogy, but was unconvinced by Birds Without Wings, and parked him there. You’re right: many writers just aren’t great performers, and are best encountered on the page rather than in the flesh. Not so Daljit Nagra though – he’s a hoot!

    • John Self says:

      Oh well I shall make an especial effort then to make it. Leave the baby to fend for himself for a change. There’s the fish fingers, there’s the grill: get on with it.

    • Fred Johnston says:

      I founded the Cúirt festival in 1986 as an exclusively poetry festival, as the name suggests. I am not happy that it has become such a commercial venture, expanding into areas that are beyond the remit of poetry, but I am not in charge of it and am not invited to any of its events by the current organisers. I think that some of the remarks made by Arts Council Director Mary Cloake as the festival kicked off, all about how the arts brings employment to people, were a bit rich in a year when she has virtuallly seen off the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin and withdrawn the Programming Grant from Galway’s Western Writers’ Centre (www.twwc.ie)


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