Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Coolmine Regatta for the Appreciation of Poetry

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. In the last week, I wrote a lengthy ballad composed of rhyming couplets, three haiku and a meandering free verse about the “dappled sky that o’er the slumbering earth now breaks.”
Confession they say is good for the soul. And it is therefore with a certain lightening of mind and heart that I bare my soul to the readers of Community Voice and admit, “Yea verily, I too have been a poet.”
It has always been thus. As a morose and frankly insufferable teenager, I was always prone to scribbling down maudlin and introspective verse into well-thumbed copybooks, perhaps with the hope that my genius would one day be discovered after my tragic death from consumption at an early age. Unsurprisingly, I survived and my teenage efforts are sadly lost to the literary world for ever (at least I hope they are!)
As I matured, so did my poetry, though, in truth, it couldn’t really have got any worse. Instead of angst and tortured hearts, I wrote humorous light-hearted verse, often with a witty pun at the end, again with the hope that my genius would one day be discovered after my not-quite-so-tragic death from consumption in middle age.
Nowadays I write poetry about football and current affairs and, well, anything that comes to mind. I find it more satisfying than watching “Big Brother” or “Emmerdale” and whereas Seamus Heaney might not be shaking in his boots at the thought of competition, I have started to branch out and discover the real world of poetry in Ireland today.
As part of my self-education, I began to enter a few of the poetry competitions that appear on the Poetry Ireland website. After a while it became clear to me that every little town in Ireland, as a way of raising revenue in its local hostelries, seems to have organised some kind of literary festival associated with a famous writer from the area. Listowel has a week long programme of events which celebrates new writing and the legacy of John B. Keane. Kiltimagh in Mayo has a festival celebrating the blind Irish poet Raftery, Celbridge has grabbed Aidan Higgins, Donegal has gone for Allingham – the list is endless.
The basic premise of these weekends is that the local writers’ group organises the festival. This consists of readings in local pubs – it is something different to loud wailing rock music for the pub clientele and it also gives poets the opportunity to read their work in public. The White House pub in Limerick is a famous poetic pub where scribblers of all shapes and sizes grab the mike and strut their stuff. Poetry is the new rock’n’roll. Yeah! The landlords are happy as more people are attracted in, the poets are happy and the public enjoy the craic. Everybody is happy, except perhaps the tiny minority that recognise bloody awful poetry when they hear it.
Aligned to the festival, the smart towns organise a writing competition. Basically, like myself, there are thousands of hopeful scribblers out there who just know that they are the next Paul Durcan if only someone would discover them. So they set up a writing competition and a closing date and charge €5 a piece to enter. It can be free verse, rhyming couplets, limericks, tanka, descriptive prose – whatever you want. The World Haiku Championship in Donegal recently – I kid you not – was charging €10 per three line verse submitted. It can be themed or open. People like me, dreaming of our big break and perhaps a crack at the Booker Prize, then send in four of our poems for consideration ands a nice crisp €20 note.
The local writing group then nominates a well-known local poet to do the judging and, because all writing is subjective, nobody will argue with his final choice. In the meantime, those shortlisted travel to the town for the weekend of the festival and so help bolster the town’s economy. The monies raised can help fund a Festival Anthology, perhaps, or the local writing group’s new publication, or maybe it can simply be spent on more drink, as the organising committee think fit.
Actually, I’m being a bit harsh here on these festivals. When you go along, they actually are a huge amount of fun, they can be very inspirational and they do introduce you to the best proponents of the poet’s art. And of course you’re away for the weekend!
Historically, my attempts to bolster Dublin 15 tourism in the August 2004 edition of Community Voice appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Seemingly the proposal to build a blue flag beach in Blanchardstown is impractical, although I do think it could have become a reality with a little lateral thinking.
However, I do believe this scheme could be a winner. An application could be made to the Arts Department of Fingal County Council, who I’m sure would be delighted to support such a worthy and cultural enterprise. There could be an ‘open mike’ poetry competition with the heats being held in local pubs and the final at DraĆ­ocht. Local poets could do readings and thus raise the profile of their own writing groups. We could give it a catchy title like the Coolmine Regatta for the Appreciation of Poetry, or maybe use an acronym if that title was deemed too long.
The only setback is that we don’t really have a famous poet associated with the Dublin 15 area. (Forgive me if I have offended anybody living or dead – I am sure there must have been some poet out there who has achieved a degree of recognition who we might claim as “one of our own” but unfortunately, in my unread state, I am not aware of him or her) But all we have to do is invent one. We can call him Blind Michael O’Grady, the wandering poet from Tyrrelstown, who used to roam the highways and byways of the Greater Dublin 15 area, reciting his free-flowing verse and looking for his home. A well-known figure in the locality, he became a firm friend of Jonathan Swift who he bumped into at a cheese and wine party in Porterstown and the two spent a great evening swapping poetical anecdotes. Sadly, we can say, none of his verse has survived to this day but his legacy lives on through this festival etc.
I would suggest that we hold the Festival in the middle of summer and have a special showcase evening with invited poets from around the world waxing lyrical on magical sunsets and grizzled old men with careworn eyes. And hold it in the specially erected marquee on the blue flag beach.

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