An eclectic mix of established Irish writers, musicians and artists has gathered in Newcastle West, County Limerick, for Éigse Michael Hartnett 2016, the annual festival dedicated to the late local poet Michael Hartnett.
Participants including internationally acclaimed and award winning author Colum McCann, Donal Ryan, Rita Ann Higgins and Mike Mac Domhnaill attended the festival launch last evening.
Hundreds of literary enthusiasts from all over Ireland have descended on the town to attend the three-day event in the very streets that shaped Hartnett’s poetry. This year’s festival, which is an initiative of Limerick Arts Office and supported by The Arts Council, once again offers a mix of poetry, music, literature, drama, visual arts and dance.
This year’s headline act is the reading by internationally acclaimed and award winning author Colum McCann on Saturday night. He will be joined on stage by singer/musician Colm Mac Con Iomaire. Throughout the weekend meanwhile, an exhibition of photographs inspired by Hartnett’s Inchicore Haikus will take place in Newcastle West Library.
Also on Saturday, award-winning novelist and short story writer Donal Ryan will deliver this year’s Michael Hartnett Memorial Lecture. His talk, called “Saving Words” will look at language and how we use it and also how we have subverted the English language imposed on us and elevated it to an art. Saturday afternoon’s walkabout will be led by Des Healy, a close friend of Hartnett from the time they went to school together.
The Poetry Slam is an important element of Éigse and starts as always with a Hartnett ballad. The prize money for an original poem is €300 while there is also a €100 prize for best-recited Hartnett poem.
Speaking at Thursday evening’s launch, Mayor of Limerick Cllr. Liam Galvin said, “Éigse is a festival of words, in many guises, poetry, song, drama, dance and storytelling. And as one strolls around the town of Newcastle West to each of the events, we are reminded of Michael Hartnett’s poetry in the shop windows which provides an appropriate literary backdrop to the weekend.”
“Michael Hartnett is a name and figure that will forever be associated with some of the best Irish and English language poetry works produced in Ireland. The people of West Limerick is proud to call him one of their own. Éigse is Limerick’s ode to Michael and his lasting poetic legacy,” added Mayor Galvin.
The festival launch also featured the presentation of the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award 2016, which is this year being shared by John McAuliffe from Listowel, County Kerry for his collection ‘The Way In’ and to Doireann Ní Ghríofa from Kilnamona, Co Clare, for her collection ‘Clasp’.
Gerard Smyth, Poetry Editor of The Irish Times, was, along with Rita Ann Higgins, one of the judges of this year’s Michael Hartnett Poetry Award and he delivered the citations to this year’s joint winners. The Limerick Arts Office and The Arts Council jointly fund the €4,000 annual prize to honour the poetic legacy of the late Michael Hartnett (1941-1999).
“When the submissions for this award arrived, both Rita Ann and myself were confronted with, not only a sizeable number of publications, but also books of high quality from familiar and some less familiar names,” said Gerard Smyth.
“We had an abundance from which to make our choice. Indeed the number of books contradicts premature reports of the death of poetry publishing in the old style, and the quality of the work reaffirmed that the pulse of contemporary Irish poetry is beating in steady measure and with consistent strength. Nor is it, as is sometimes suggested, addressing a select audience,” he added.
“In poetry, in any art form, there are advances and throwbacks. Our poets show themselves to be in the advance guard. In both books, we found examples of what poetry can and should be in our present age. The Way In consolidates the promise of John McAuliffe’s three previous collections, books in which he created his own space in Irish poetry. Keenly tuned in to particular experiences of his own generation, he is sharp-eyed and alert, a poet who catches the moods of domestic spaces and revels in the daily quotidian. Nothing seems to escape his observant eye. Doireann Ní Ghríofa too is a poet pushing boundaries, uncovering news ways of expressing the flux of the modern world and doing so with a daring and sometimes unsettling lyricism. Her versatility, vitality and emotional range are hugely impressive. Like John, she gives us that sense of being in the moment,” said Mr. Smyth.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa commented, “This is a wonderful moment for me. Hartnett is a hero of mine, so this is such a delight for me. I am so pleased to accept an award in his name and to wear his ‘muince dreoilíní / necklace of wrens’.”
She continued, “Hartnett is a writer who has become very dear to me, and I feel such a deep resonance with Hartnett’s work in both languages. As I wrote ‘Clasp’ (my first book in English following two books as Gaeilge), those lines from Hartnett’s ‘Inchicore Haiku’ felt particularly resonant: “My English dam bursts/and out stroll all my bastards./Irish shakes its head.”
Accepting his award, John McAuliffe referred to growing up in Listowel with its own literary heritage.
“Michael Hartnett’s poems were part of what I started with as a writer,” he said. “In his poem ‘Struts’, Michael Hartnett describes creatures who abide alone, each on their own ‘ledge, / seldom seeing each other — / hearing an occasional shout / above or below / and sometimes and most welcome / seeing fires like silver spirals / jump along the crevices.” The poem could be describing poets, who work alone (on their own ledges) and, every so often, hear good news and celebrate it at events like Éigse in Newcastle West in April.”
“This award is like one of those spiral-like fires. It’s both a confirmation and a great encouragement to receive the award, especially since I’ve been reading and thinking and talking about Michael Hartnett’s poems — the lyrics, the narratives, the ballads — for as long as I’ve been writing,” stated Mr McAuliffe.
Éigse Michael Hartnett 2016 continues until tomorrow night (Saturday, April 16th). Visit www.eigsemichaelhartnett.ie for more details.