I had a wonderful time at The John Hewitt Summer School

“It was full on but brilliant. I’m well lit. I wish my head hadn’t been full of mucus and slimy fog but all the same I got so much out of it.

“David Steel was a bit of a pillock. He gave out about the politicians of today, how they toe the line; how in his time, it was all different, gravitas and serious. MPs were doctors, lawyers, teachers, not like now. The majority are party workers, or parliamentary researchers. Nor did he answer any difficult questioners. I suggested he vote for Jeremy Corbyn. He appreciated Jeremy’s values, he said, but was not leadership material which I thought rather undermined his street cred.”

And so I sit at the kitchen table, French window open into the garden, roses, rain, my son cooking, he and my husband listening to me, chattering. I am regaling the tales and stories of my week afar at the John Hewitt summer school in Armagh.

“Ian Sansom, he’s a writer from England, was funny, as in amusing, very humorous. I learned a lot in the short story workshop. A good few tips. Though it was over crowded.

“I missed the memorial lecture given by Bernard O’Donoghue. It was about Heaney and O’Driscoll. I was sad to miss it. Dennis O’Driscoll is my favourite poet. But actually, maybe no longer. I am getting fickle, I find I favour in whomever last tickled my fancy. And there was a lot of tickling this week, at a price; Niall Campbell, Collette Bryce. I spent a fortune in sterling, it was lucky I was fed for free and had little libation otherwise I might have died of starvation.

“But, I deviate. I missed the lecture because I checked into the hotel. I needed a rest. I was dying, remember, sneezing and sniffling. But I went back for the book launch of ‘Northman: John Hewitt’ and enjoyed it. The speaker discussed the importance of culture, self-expression. Said we were all at it, drawing, singing, painting, story-telling. Arts is what it is to be human, no fooling.

“Mind you, we’ll be here all night if I go through it blow by blow and I’m sure you are not that interested. Will we watch an episode of True Detective instead? No, you want to know more? That’s nice. Ok, I’ll give you the highlights.

“I loved the Gallery Poets on Monday night. There were three: Eamon Grennan (Remember, I dedicated ‘Its My Poem’ to him, you know the poem I wrote about plagiarising). Aso, Alan Gillis and Sara Berkeley. I bought her book ‘What Just Happened’. Lovely poems about beach and ocean.

“The theme of the week was ‘Coming to Terms: Learning to Live with Difference’. The next morning (9.45, I was barely alive), Cahill Dallat, an academic, waxed lyrical about the impact of ThTroubles on Northern Irish poets: McNiece, Heaney, Longley, McFadden, Montegue, Paulin.  He mentioned only one woman, Medbh McGucken. Maybe other Northern women, Sinead Morrissey, Moyra Donaldson, Leontia Flynn didn’t interest him.

“But I must keep to highlights. Most certainly one of these was Hannah Lowe. She is a Londoner, well, Essex girl, definitely a blonde bombshell, and a child of a English woman and black Jamaican China man who when she was asked if he was her dad, disowned him as her taxi cab. A fantastic poet was Hannah Lowe, down right honest, moving poems.

“Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a Ugandan born British broadcaster and journalist. A woman and Muslim of short stature but tall in breadth of mind and intellect. I liked what she said, but who would not? Her point of interest was her gender, skin, religion, and profession: a female black Muslim media star. Pretty riveting.

“I liked Colum Sands. He sang funny songs. Pat McCabe went on too long, though, of course, I like him but it’s a lot of concentration, listening, for so long. Will I stop, I see you nodding off.

“Mmmn. This Shepherd’s pie looks delice. Thank you. I’ll have a glass of wine with it. Will I go on? I’ll speed up. Dr Myrtle Hill was very good. She talked about a Margaret Taylor McCoubrey born 1880 who died in fifty six having spear headed (unfortunate term) the suffragettes, peace crusades, women’s reform, the Labour and Socialist Co-operative. It’s funny how the women in Ireland, North or South, are rarely given the gong. It’s very wrong, given women are this country’s backbone.

“Sorry, you are you getting bored? I met Iggy McGovern in the bar. He had read his poems earlier.  lovely man. Like me, he likes alliteration. His father comes from Glengavlin in Cavan. I didn’t have much time to talk with him as I was at just about to read my poems at Purely Poetry’s open mic. They seemed to go down really well. I was relieved. What did I read? In the Hands of White Men and The Feed, you know the one about Roisin imbibing my wit, style, humour, cruelty all from my tit.

“But I must quickly mention Paul Muldoon. I like his poems, but was surprised by him. I found him rather intimidating. He had a ball on stage though, that evening, with the Horslips and Paul Brady. They blued and jazzed, even rapped. I have to say, it was great craic.

“I’ll finish now but I did want to say about the lecture by Prof De Medeiros. He talked about the EU attitude to immigration, the failure of its imagination to face a future and how it was laying a path to repeat mistakes of the past. He accused the Germans of hegemonic desires saying that they were forcing the Greek people to accept hell fire simply so it could punish the left wing government. And so the EU had declared itself defunct. I agree. What I didn’t get, wasn’t sure of then, was why he proposed an EU Federation, with a constitution. He said it was to deal with globalisation. Fight power with power. I imagined the clash of the Titans while you and I get trodden on.

“So finally, finally, I loved the poems of Niall Campbell and Collet Bryce from their childhood in the  Outer Hebrides and Derry, respectively. They took me into their homes and left me there. I had to buy their books to get out.

“Oh, we have finished dinner. I have missed out so much, but it’s all inside and I am richer for it, so you will be too. You know, like, if I’m happy, you’re happy and all that jazz. You’re not sure about that. So, finally would you like to hear the short story I wrote? No? Oh!

“Okay, never mind. Thanks for supper and clearing away. I seemed to have gone on a bit and finished the wine. Oh well. It’s nice to be at home. You want to watch TV? That will be nice. But I didn’t tell you about Rity Duffy’s Peas Process, Mary Costello, or enough about the Holy Ghosts or how funny Dermot Bolger was (I’d like to marry him) or John F Deane’s lecture on being ‘Too Christian for his Own Good’. He was. By the way, I really liked Christine Dwyer O’Hicky. I’m reading her book now. Yes, I bought it. And I met Anne-Marie Fyfe. She was really nice.

“Ok, I’m coming…..wait for me!”

P_20150730_215648 (3)Paul Muldoon

The Holy Ghosts and Paul Muldoon talking to Adrian Moynes


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