I was whisked off at the weekend by a supportive gaggle of women (my mom and my aunts) to the Yeats Festival Weekend in Sligo. Alongside the deep poetic tradition in Sligo, my mother grew up just at the top of the Pearse Road on the edge of Sligo town. Days were spent climbing the walls of the graveyard and skipping endlessly in the yard of the National School. It was enchanting to see the view of Benbulben from the McCann childhood home and to think that my Mandolin was once there.
We spent Saturday morning and afternoon at Lisadell House and gardens. The event was opened by Senator David Norris, a totally charming and charismatic man. The gatherers were then treated to a host of Yeats poetry read by the famous faces of RTE. Although the RTE performers gave their all, and of course are wonderful public speakers, I did wonder why there were no poets reading at the opening ceremony in Lissadell. Afterall, there are hundreds of Irish poets - aren't those the people whose investment in the Irish poetic tradition is strongest? I also was pretty jaded after the sixth recital of The Lake Isle of Inishfree!
Luckily, I was able to secure last minute tickets to the Poet Laureate reading in Knocknaree Arena. That was a really interesting and well-organised event that paid respect and gave time to poetic talent, both new and old, and showcased some fantastic musicians. I saw Mary McPartland sing that night, and the previous night at the Candlelit Salon chaired by Vincent Woods. McPartland's voice has the ability to transport the mind to the places she sings of and beyond. Dr Margaret Harper is a well of knowledge on Yeats and her thoughts on his work were sharp and engaging. I have a feeling she will soon become an academic hero of mine.
But the Poet Laureates! I couldn't choose a favourite (especially because anytime Paula Meehan speaks it is my favourite thing I've ever heard - until the next time I hear her!). These poets spoke with power and poise. Sinéad Morrissey's voice has such texture. Her poem about the Moscow circus will stay with me. Carol Ann Duffy's reverse-chronology poem about knowing her mother in life and death was pure genius - the kind of poem that left me wondering how she wrote it. There were thought-provoking words on swans from Liz Lochhead, on countrywomen from Roscommon from Gillian Clarke, and on holy water vs. Bonjela from Aisling Fahey.
And as for Paula Meehan's trio of poems from her time in Leitrim during the 80s - I for one was still thinking about that dark face in the window.
I made it back to Dublin just in time to hit up Belvedere House to see Susan Howe. I simply have never seen someone read with such command and mystique. The sounds and the words she builds together are, for me, what poetry is - a movement through the mind to the thought behind the thought.
Last night, I was truly behind Susan Howe's thoughts and I hope to remain there.