Cúirting with words and poetry


TWO YEARS AGO, the infamous ash cloud of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull came between the Cúirt International Festival of Literature in Galway and its programming. Several participants were stranded at the other side of the Atlantic, and the programme inevitably suffered.

Last year, Dani Gill, Cúirt’s current director, was only a few months in her new role when the festival took place. Inheriting an arts festival of any kind midway through a cycle is complicated: programming is often done far in advance, so the chance to put one’s own imprint on it is minimised.

So this year is the first time in three years that Cúirt will be firing on all of its shiny literary cylinders. The programme doesn’t have the wow factor that some other years have had, with really big international names, but it’s a solid line-up that is sure to deliver quality.

The official opening was yesterday, with the first event being a joint reading with poets Paul Durcan and Rita Ann Higgins.

Today, there will be a Canadian-themed event, with novelist Linda Spalding reading from her forthcoming novel, followed by a discussion about Canadian literature by Geoffrey Taylor, the director of Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. Novelists John Banville and Richard Beard read together on Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, books publicist Cormac Kinsella chairs a panel discussion on the subject, “E-book versus real books”. On Friday, the panel discussion “The practice of writing, words and their readers” will be chaired by Joseph Woods, director of Poetry Ireland.

Among the poets at Cúirt will be Lavinia Greenlaw and Fiona Sampson reading on Thursday, followed by Christopher Reid and Ruth Padel. On Friday, the former American poet laureate Billy Collins reads with poet Tess Gallagher. Saturday is the turn of Brian Turner and Jacob Sam-La Rose.

First-time novelist Kathleen MacMahon, who made headlines last year when she received £600,000 (€733,000) for a two-book deal, gives her first public reading from her debut novel, This Is How It Ends on Saturday. Later that day, novelists Amy Bloom and Lydia Davis also read. The topic of translation, communication and language will be discussed by linguists and translators, Jay Rubin, Jonathan Dunne, Brian Holton and Bill Herbert.

The author of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell, will read with novelist and essayist Simon Van Booy.

Among the many other events are poetry slams for adults and children; several book launches; masterclasses in poetry, drama, fiction and memoir; a short story by Louise Stern presented via sign language and drama, described as “spatial perspective”; an open-mic showcase session, Over the Edge; a history discussion with three young historians; and a number of events that “explore the links between music and poetry”. One such event is traditional musician Ronan Browne and Irish language poet Louis de Paor collaborating in a performance on Friday.

Throughout the week there are a number of events that attempt to bring literature out of the stage-and-audience format, and to the public in informal ways. Thus, the Poetry Depot, a “pop-up collaborative poetry studio”, with a rota of six poets, will be offering to “create a poem” with members of the public one-on-one. One of the poetry studios takes place in a pub, Tigh Neachtain.

Cúirt originally began as purely as a poetry festival, and purists will undoubtedly be applying their craniums with vigour to the nearest wall at the prospect of this event, but the Poetry Depot is on the official programme, and it’s happening twice. Here’s your chance to have a poem written about you. For free. Just don’t expect Seamus Heaney to be the author.