Niall MacMonagle opened up the conversation with poet/novelist Nick Laird at St John’s Theatre with the observation that poetry is a major art with a minor audience. Nick Laird, he said, increasingly establishes himself as an extraordinary talent, alerting us to the horrors of humanity, be they Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen or Northern Ireland. He reminds us also of the pleasures of domestic ease, the vital importance of relationships in love, and the joy of watching the face of the dog as she chews a carrot!
Nick started by reading ‘Fuchisa’, a poem about Donegal, a place where he has spent much time and where many of his family come from. He went on to read ‘Feel Free’, a three part poem in which he mentions his children, Catherine and Harvey, and finished with ‘Light Pollution’, about his wife, the novelist Zadie Smith.
Nick Laird has come a long way since his schoolbag was regularly searched by armed soldiers as a young boy growing up in Northern Ireland. Niall asked him to bring the audience on his journey out of that environment to Cambridge University and the beginnings of his becoming a poet.
Seamus Heaney and Yeats were big influences he said. Before that, however, his mother has a story that his first poem was from when he was three – “Bouncy bouncy on the bed, happy couple me and Ted”, which drew much laughter.
But seriously, it was Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Government of the Tongue’ which opened up the world of poetry and literature to him. Surrounded by the many very heavy narratives pressing down on him in the Northern Ireland of the time – from school, politicians and the Church, poetry, he said, opened up a second space which allowed independent thought and so he grabbed it with both hands.
Over in the Arms Hotel, Boston crime writer Dennis Lehane was interviewed by arts and music journalist Jim Carroll. Born in Massachusetts, Lehane is of Irish extraction and a good number of his extended family travelled from Cork to attend the event, which was generously supported by the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs.
Three of Lehane’s novels, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island have been adapted into award-winning films. His most recent novel World Gone By was published in 2014. When asked if he had any qualms about handing over his work for film adaptation he said he has no time for writers who, having taken the money, run to microphones to bitch about the adaptation. “You took the cheque, so shut up,” he said.
The fact he is able to make his living from writing blows his mind every day, he said. But writing is also hard work. “It should be hard. You have to crawl into spaces with your writing that you don’t want to crawl into.”
Pat Kinevane was back this year with the third in his trilogy of powerful solo performances, Underneath, a Fishamble production directed by Jim Culleton. A story of bullying, betrayal, ugliness and beauty, Pat received a standing ovation from the audience.
Meanwhile, The New Writers’ Salon was showcasing some of Ireland’s most exciting emerging writers at Scribes Coffee House.