I have just returned to Cavan from three days and three nights at the Listowel writers week. It is a festival of wannabe, successful and dead (John B Keane features greatly), mostly middle aged, writers and celebrities. There is theatre, talks, interviews, trails, readings, classic conversation between hotel armchairs, glad handing and gossip in bars, music and workshops. Sun hats off to the Listowel Committee.
I enjoyed my three morning advanced poetry workshops with Tom McCarthy, a wonderful, erudite, and well read poet. I definitely benefited from his advice. He gave me a four year publication strategy which certainly will help guide me through the morass of the submitting process.
I stayed in McMahons in the centre of town. It was a tiny room but it became my nest, safe from all the strangers thronging the sunny streets outside. They weren’t all strangers, I saw a few familiar faces, and everyone was friendly and full of smiles before moving on, wishing me well. At a festival, everyone has somewhere to go, someone to see.
I enjoyed the poems, the readings, the river, the town park, watching the people on Ballyheigue beach. There were seven boys, half grown, giggling like girls, full of curses, treading gingerly in the break of the wave, beneath cobalt skies and mountains. They were beautiful. I watched them teeter out, waist high, arms out stretched, laughing and shouting instructions to each other. They formed a circle, holding hands and took the plunge, together as a man. And they raised their faces into a spray of silver salty sparkles, bubbles, waves, like mermaids, though they wouldn’t thank me for that description.
I didn’t write though. In fact most of the time, I felt awkward, like the smallest fish in the shoal. I tried to live in the moment, relish the minutes, but each one felt like a rather long a time. It is an exhausting business, mingling, talking to strangers, going into pubs alone, sitting next to town statues, eating, being convivial, alone. Next time I’ll bring a friend to share .
I did wonder if my age had anything to do with my feeling of loneliness. Yes, I thought, when I was young I wouldn’t have had the confidence or courage to go to a festival alone. It wouldn’t have happened. It’s not that I don’t like being alone. I do enjoy solitude. It’s being alone in a crowd that is a challenge.
By the way, Tom advised me on how to attract men to my next poetry workshop. Colm Keegan, are you reading this? You may be interested. Tom told me a tale about a chef friend of his who ran cookery classes in the evening. They were full of women. He decided to call his next workshop a Master Class and all the participants turned into men. There and then, I decided to call my next workshop a ‘Master Class’ but I thought better of it. I can’t imagine a workshop of men. Men! Think about it! Honestly, it would be really bizarre. An all men workshop. I might write a story about it.
There…Listowel gave me inspiration after all!