Poetry Ireland celebrates 30th birthday


THE IRISH College and the Irish Embassy threw a spectacular 30th birthday party for Poetry Ireland, featuring readings by leading Irish writers.

The college's first full-blown literary festival began in Irish on Thursday evening, when Dairena Ní Chinnéide read Jeaic, a tender tribute to her nine-year-old son. It shifted briefly into French, with Sorj Chalandon's Mon traître, a fictionalised account of his friendship with Denis Donaldson, the IRA man who was murdered after it was revealed that he worked for British intelligence.

The other writers participating in the festival are: Ronan Bennett, Dermot Bolger, Claire Kilroy, Deirdre Madden, Paula Meehan, Gerard Smyth, Rory Brennan, John F Deane, Theo Dorgan, Joseph Woods, Harry Clifton and Derek Mahon.

The festival is the brainchild of Sheila Pratschke, the director of the Irish College, who will chair the last session tonight. The joint reading by poets Harry Clifton and Derek Mahon is particularly special, she said: "Harry spent a number of years in Paris and the result of that sojourn is Secular Eden."

The collection won the Irish Times Poetry Now award in April.

"The pairing of Harry and Derek is very lucky," Ms Pratschke continued. "Because Derek wrote a glowing review of Harry's book for the New York Review of Books."

Ambassador Anne Anderson invited the writers to her residence for lunch yesterday, and chaired last night's session. "I'm not sure if this embassy has ever witnessed such a galaxy of talent around one table," Ms Anderson said. She recalled Seamus Heaney's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which he credited poetry for having been a help throughout his life. "To crediting poetry," Ms Anderson said as guests raised their glasses.

The embassy lunch provided an opportunity for a good-natured questioning of the role and future of literature.

One of the goals of Poetry Ireland was "to undo the harm inherited from the Victorian education system, which taught us to be slightly embarrassed by poetry," said Theo Dorgan, who was director of Poetry Ireland for 11 years. "Poetry is as natural as breathing," he added.

"If poets went on strike, nobody would notice for 300 years, and then there would be a big black hole at the heart of our culture," said Paula Meehan.

"The world is collapsing around us; Russia has bought Iceland," noted Gerard Smyth, who is a managing editor of this newspaper as well as an accomplished poet. "WH Auden said poetry is news that stays news," he said.

Poetry "will use recession and it will use boom," said Rory Brennan, who ran Poetry Ireland for eight years. But Joseph Woods, its present director, admitted to disquiet. "We're lucky in that we are regularly funded," he said. "But I think everybody is worried."