The expression “legends in their own lunchtime” wouldn’t come close to summing up the gathering of literary luminaries at the Artisan Restaurant above Tigh Neachtain on Galway’s Cross Street yesterday.
Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley were there ahead of their joint reading at the Town Hall Theatre, the official opening event of the 2013 Cúirt International Festival of Literature. So was Ron Rash, the acclaimed Appalachian poet, short story writer and novelist; and the cool young French novelist Laurent Binet. And that was just for starters.
So what do famous writers talk about over a lively lunch? On the evidence of this outing, all sorts. The migration patterns of geese. The unlikely stuff people bring to poetry readings. (Curry chips, apparently, on one occasion. A collection of spoons – which a woman in the front row removed from her bag and proceeded to count in full view of the participating poets – on another.) How to skin an eel.
For Cúirt's young director Dani Gill, now in her third year at the helm, it is precisely this kind of wide-ranging impromptu discussion which her programme aims to stimulate.
"Cuirt began as a three-day poetry event in Galway and has evolved to become an international festival, not just of poetry but also of fiction – and sometimes theatre and other bits and pieces as well," she said. "One of the things I believe in is a full programme: six days of events, and every one is thought out. There are no filler events at Cúirt. You're dealing with a very cerebral audience and you need to give them something challenging."
At teatime President Michael D Higgins arrived at the Meyrick hotel on Eyre Square to declare Cúirt 2013 officially open. Would he agree that literature in general – and poetry in particular – has a particular resonance in these difficult times?
"Well," he told The Irish Times , "it is of the nature of poetry that it distils experience. What one has to do is select the image to fit into the music – and then, in turn, find it delivered in such a way that it resonates. It is a process of distillation of what is essential. So there's a kind of concentration in the literary mind that is very important."Judging by the buzz of excitement at the opening ceremony, there is still a great appetite in Ireland for high-end literary fare.