This week I was in the audience at five different events. On Sunday I listened to poets Afric Mc Glinchey and Mary O’Malley with the Donegal Camerata at the Abbey Centre in Ballyshannon . The reading was part of the Donegal Bay and Bluestacks Festival. The same evening I went to Century Cinemas with John and some in-laws to see Rush, Ron Howards splendid film about the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda that culminated in the 1976 season. On Thursday Ann and I went to the Verbal Arts centre in Derry to listen to Colette Bryce read. Friday I brought my mum to the Balor theatre in Ballybofey to see North West Opera’s fabulous Merry Widow. Last night I was in the audience at St Cecelia’s school in Derry to hear Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson.
On each occasion when the lights dimmed and the mobile phones were silenced (or not) I knew I was in for a treat. I first heard Afric read at NWW when she and Paul Casey made the trip north from Cork in 2012. Her Lucky Star of Hidden Things had just been published and she read from that. It’s a gorgeous book of Africa, of motherhood. Last week she shared some poems from that collection and some new poems. I hadn’t heard Mary O’Malley before and when she finished her set I was eager to hear more. The audience was quite small and the intimacy of the wee auditorium (which has a name but I can’t remember it) at the Abbey Centre made listening an intense experience where there was little respite for reader or listener and the musical interludes were welcome.
I picked up Collette Bryce’s last collection Self-Portrait in the Dark in Kilkenny a few years ago and loved it instantly. The title poem from that collection has made its way onto the Leaving Cert ordinary level and Higher Students working with it as an unseen poem (a tough audience, if ever there was one) liked it a lot when I used it last year. Collette had the home crowd in Derry charmed and responsive by the time the Q and A came around on Thursday and read The Full Indian Rope Trick by request from the audience for her encore. It was that kind of reading, she is one of the coolest poets I have ever listened to and I’m looking forward to her new book next year.
Carol Ann Duffy is another poet I first met in the classroom through her poem, Valentine, which is high among my top ten poems I have taught that I hate. (Future blog post?) What made me a fan then? Why do I have four of her books? Short answer: book shops in Donegal stock so few non local, living poets that when I began looking and found her on the poetry shelves, reader I grabbed her. Reviews and news of Duffy drew me to my subsequent purchases of the The World’s Wife and a collected, The Bees was a gift. Her reading last night was the most measured performance, as I might have expected, of the poets I heard this week. In the reading Carol Ann gave witty performances of Mrs Midas and Mrs Tiresius, read some poems from Rapture, loads from The Bees and a few Laureate poems the most powerful of which was Liverpool. There is a strong identification with the Hillsborough families in Derry and the loudest applause was certainly after that poem. My cultural highlight of the year so far remains hearing Ron Rash at Cúirt but this is a close second.
Even if the bookshops in Donegal could stock a lot more poetry, geography hasn’t prevented me hearing some great poets in the North West this week. With North West Words, the Poets House Poetry Series and the Regional Cultural Centre all bringing writers to Donegal and the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry I feel very lucky.