Poet Moya Cannon's words set in stone


THE MORNING light can turn “canal, river and estuary to mercury”, according to Donegal poet Moya Cannon, whose impressions of Galway were literally set in stone yesterday as part of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature.

A commemorative plaque bearing the words of Cannon’s Bright Citywas unveiled by poet and fellow Aosdána member Gerard Smyth on Galway’s Wolfe Tone Bridge.

Cast by Leo Higgins, the bronze plaque is the latest in a series installed along the city’s coastal fringe as part of an initiative between Cúirt and Galway City Council’s arts office. It is also the first plaque in the series honouring the work of a female poet. The previous installations capture the verse of Seamus Heaney, Louis MacNeice, Walter Macken, Mairtín Ó Direáin and Roger McGough.

Coincidentally, it was a short story of the same name by Ó Direáin that inspired Bright City,Cannon said yesterday as she expressed delight at the tribute.

“I live in Henry Street [in Galway], and one cannot but be aware of it when one walks down here towards the Claddagh and out to the sea,” she said.

“When the sun is at a particular angle, it lights up the entire estuary and one can see very ordinary things quite differently.

“One can hear the swans, those white birds that embody hope, and one can see the bunches of flowers placed to remember those who didn’t find it to be such a bright city.”

She alluded to environmental writer Barry Lopez, who referred to the calming influence of birds and how it “draws the irritation right out of you”.

Speaking at the unveiling, Smyth described Cannon as having “the kind of contemplative eye that rewards” what Dubliner Thomas Kinsella referred to as “local watchfulness”.

Smyth recalled how Dylan Thomas had described a poem as being “like a city” with “many entrances”, and noted that it might be a good idea if gateways to all cities were marked with the words of a poet or writer. The initiative in Galway “reinforces the value of poetry and the need for it”, Smyth said.

Among those attending yesterday were Labour Party president Michael D Higgins, Galway Arts Centre director Páraic Breathnach, Galway city arts officer James Harrold and gallery director Tom Kenny.

Cannon is due to read at 5pm tomorrow at Galway’s Town Hall Theatre as part of a celebration of 25 years of the Cúirt festival, along with Mary O’Malley, Fred Johnston, Rita Ann Higgins and, travel plans permitting, Eva Bourke. The festival continues this weekend, with full details at www.cuirt.ie.