The fruit of a 10-year literary exchange


A rejuvenated Yeats School has honoured the work of a group of women writers from Strandhill, writes Carol Coulter

'What began as a small group of women writing out the meanings and imaginings of their lives has become an association of working poets and fiction writers."

This is how American poet and teacher of writing in Amherst University, Pat Schneider, described the Knocknarea writers' group - 40 women who meet in the Sancta Maria Hotel in Strandhill, Co Sligo, in the shadow on Knocknarea mountain, the legendary burial place of Queen Maeve.

The group was set up following a writers' workshop run by Ms Schneider in 1988, and has culminated in the publication of a collection of poetry and prose, entitled Badal, edited by playwright and poet Noel Monaghan.

Launching the book as part of this year's Yeats Summer School activities, Mr Monaghan said the writings had been harvested from a number of workshops. He drew attention to the "diverse subject matter and the uniqueness of each individual voice." in the collection, and listed the many literary awards the contributors had won.

These ranged from the Francis McManus Award to the Patrick Kavanagh Award, and four of the group have been short-listed for the Sunday Tribune literary awards.

The title is the Arabic word for "exchange", according to Peggy Gallagher, organiser of the group, but she added the use of Arabic had no political significance. The collection costs €10.

The Yeats Summer School, which was opened last week by poet Michael Longley, continues this week. It was the poet's 64th birthday on Sunday week, and in launching the school he referred to Frank O'Connor's description of Yeats as "an overshadowing oak tree" for Irish writers. He had not found this, he said, but rather saw Yeats as "a space of intense light." He recalled his memories of the Yeats summer school in the 1960s.

Following his speech, the audience of students and lecturers sang "happy birthday" to him from the auditorium. Mr Longley also gave a reading of his poetry last Monday night. Other veterans of the school who dropped in informally included Tom Paulin and Seamus Heaney, as well as Michael Yeats, son of the poet, who attends every year. He did so this year for the first time as a Freeman of Sligo.

At the traditional service in Drumcliffe Church last Sunday, Father Kevin Hegarty of Ballymullet spoke of the need for mutual understanding between the Protestant and Catholic traditions, and said he found that to be wanting in the Irish Catholic culture in which he grew up.

Student numbers are up to 112 this year, which is double the number of last year, which was badly affected by the aftermath of September 11th. Students from Australia, the US, Poland, Korea and Japan are attending.

The lectures delivered so far include Meg Harper on Yeats and magic; Ann Saddlemyer on (Mrs) George Yeats and W.B.; Helen Vendler on the use of trimeter in Yeats's middle and late poems; Richard Finneran on Yeats's The Tower; and Maurice Harmon on Thomas Kinsella.

Poet Eavan Boland gave a reading on Friday night and a two-day poetry workshop on Saturday and yesterday. Last night Sam and Joan McCready performed a drama, Coole Lady, based on life of Lady Gregory.

There will be readings this week by Ciaran Carson, Eoin MacNamee, Moya Cannon, Chris Agee and Nora McGillen. Lecturers next week include Mitsuko Ohno of Japan, Nicola Gordon Bowe of NCAD, and Brian Fallon on "Anne Yeats and Irish Modernism".

On behalf of the Yeats Society committee, Michael Keohane and Maura McTighe noted: "The 2003 Yeats Summer School has dramatically increased the numbers of foreign students and students overall. The society is delighted that its targeted marketing drive has resulted in higher numbers than for several years."