A Gentle Anarchy
Literary Revew run by the University Of Missouri, USA
Literary Revew run by the University Of Missouri, USA
In anticipation of the upcoming event in which I’ll be participating on Culture Night, 18 September 2015, I’ve written a piece for Writing.ie which discusses the idea of fiction that is inspired by reality, or in this particular case, by a photograph.
The photograph I received was a moving portrait of a South Sudanese refugee taken by conflict and field photographer Kieran Doherty, who was named earlier this year by TIME Magazine as “one of nine Irish photographers to look out for”.
Kuir Mayem Atem, who lives in a shelter in the Mingkaman refugee camp with her husband, their five childen her mother and other siblings, said, “Here we feel safe but it’s tough living like this.”
Since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013, Sudan remains one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. Over 2 million people have fled their homes, of which over half a million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. To read the article, click here; for coverage in The Irish Times, click here; information on the event itself, you can read my previous blog post here.
Most of all – don’t forget to donate to Oxfam if you can, to actively support refugees like Kuir.
The current crisis of refugees in the Mediterranean has crowded our screens over the last few weeks with heartbreaking press images of refugee families, children sodden with seawater, clamouring aboard rescue vessels, sitting in holding camps and worse.
Oxfam’s DONATE page gives an opportunity for Irish people to help out, but its outreach efforts recently took an new and innovative turn when they produced a handsome pamphlet featuring work by fifteen Irish writers, who were asked to each write a short piece inspired by an individual photograph depicting a refugee or refugees, taken by international field photographers.
Colum McCann, Ella Griffin, Eoin Macnamee, Kate Kerrigan, Belinda McKeon, Gerald Dawe, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Theo Dorgan, Rita Ann Higgins, Helen Falconer, Jan Carsen, Michael Harding, Bethany Dawson, Gavin Corbett and myself all contributed.
This project will be presented at a very special event on Culture Night, in Dublin’s Oxfam Bookshop on Parliament Street, with an exhibition of image by contributing photographers Kieran Doherty, Gabrielle Piquot, Pablo Tosco, Sam Tarling, Vincent Tremeau, MacKenzie Knowles and Oriol Gallard.
Please join us on Culture Night in Oxfam, Parliament Street for this event – and if you can’t go, be sure to check on as many of the links above as you can, to see the work of contributing writers and photographers. For those in Belfast, an exhibition of work by Kieran Doherty on the theme, “Make Them Visible” will take place on 12 November, at the Linen Hall in Belfast, for full details see here
And of course – don’t forget to donate to Oxfam’s crucial work HERE.
Last week, as Uncle Boris Yeltsin posed for happy snaps on the lawn with George and Barbara at the Whitehouse, and Sarajevo shuddered under Serbian mortar fire, a whole microcosm of Western youth culture carried on regardless, at the popular music industry’s annual “New Music Seminar” in New York City.
Emerging from the subway in Manhattan’s Times Square, the brief stretch from the underground exit to the hotel hosting the seminar exposes the walker to the buzz of New York’s glitz and grime. To the backdrop of expensive Broadway theatres and department stores, yellow cabs jostle whizzing messenger-cyclists, teenage homeless pan-handle sullenly on corners and street hawkers flash fake Rolex watches at passers-by.
Once inside the Mariott Marquis, however, umbrage is assured. It is a standard-issue American luxury hotel, futuristic in form, efficient in its operation and designed to accomodate the comfort requisites of both tourist and convention-goer. Normally, family vacationers in pastel-casuals ride the elevator with gray-suited businessmen carrying briefcases. The latter might wear a badge that says “John Doe – National Insurance Representatives Convention”. For the week of the music seminar however, the Insurance reps are upstaged flamboyantly by Babylon’s most shameless upstart, Rock’n’roll. The seminar effectively provides a forum for the big business side of the music scene, becoming the hunting grounds of managers, publishers, promoters, lawyers and other sharks. But it is also an annual chance for performers of all shapes and hues to party and to be seen, as a brief stint of people-watching will prove. Post-punk Japanese Divas in day-glo mini-skirts and platform shoes ride the escalators. Pale Rock’n’roll animals from America’s East Coast contrast starkly with suntanned, muscular surf-babies from Northern California. Rap brothers in spandex and gold jewellery flank slick latino-beat masters from Miami or Seville.
The most interesting thing about the “New Music Seminar” is that its very concept is essentially a contradiction in terms: it is a Rock’n’roll Convention. While traditionally Rock’n’Roll claims to be the voice of youthful rebellion, and an alternative artistic force, it is also big business, so you have the rather hilarious situation where hip and trendy managers or members of bands like “The Toiling Midgets”, “Goober And The Peas” or “77 Lucious Babes” have to walk around the lobby of this conservative hotel (complete with Chanel/Waterford glass gift shops) wearing name-tagged convention badges!
The some 50 Irish delagates and musicians, coordinated by The Irish Export Board, convened on a stand among the hundreds of business “boothes” in a main exhibition hall. Most adopted a healthy attitude that combined the seminar’s business challenge with the more easy-going pace of the rock world. Deals would be initially instigated by a form of chat known as “schmoozing”, or initial contact-making, a process which has lead to a whole new vocabulary. For instance, the hotel’s lobby became the “schmoozatorium”, the bar was the “schmoozer”. A certain irrepressible band manager from Dublin earned the title “King Of Schmooze”, and since the field of operations was not confined to the convention hall, it was not unusual to hear one delegate ask another, at a late night rock gig, “will you have a drink or are you schmoozing?” The schmoozing, needless to say, got arguably better as the evenings went on, and indeed, it is not unheard of that a quick schmooze at the back of the hall has led to greater things. Like “doing lunch”, perhaps, another great New York convention.
If the seminar’s daylight ethic is taking care of business (as Elvis himself used to say), the night time idea is slightly different. With literally thousands of acts from all over the world performing in clubs around the city, the idea is basically to see who can who can catch the most gigs, who can meet the most people, who can drink the most alcohol, and who can remain coherently vertical the longest in any of the after-hours bashes that inevitably follow the night of serious music. It’s a serious rock’n’roll challenge, and one which frequently leads to a sorry malady known unofficially as “schmoozeritis”.
Symptoms include extreme fatigue, involuntary exclamations of epithets such as “Jayzus, I’m wrecked. Musicians suffer temporary lapses of memory: as they crawl offstage they will announce their immediate intention to withdraw to the hotel room, and yet will be spotted four hours later in an after-hours watering hole waxing lyrical on the glories of New York City.
Irish rock hounds tended to descend mainly on two venues for the post-seminar hanging out (“hanging out”, as opposed to schmoozing, involves no business element, and a deal more liquid refreshments). Brownies, once a notorious after-hours bar on Avenue A in the East Village, has become (along with Paddy Reilly’s bar on 28th), Manhattan’s home to the alternative Irish music scene, and it hosted several excellent gigs featuring Irish and Irish American musicians. For post-gig intimacy and atmosphere, however, Sine-é café on St. Mark’s Place probably topped the list, with one post-gig seisúin involving the impromptu talents of no less than The Four Of Us, Marianne Faithful, Sinead O’Connor and the erstwhile king of coffee house performance, Allan Ginsberg.
Yes, it was there in the dawn’s early hours that one and all miraculously forgot about six figure record company deals, national tours and music publishing contracts, and converged into a generous, universal musical community. Schmooze-free, timeless and often slightly out of tune, musicians would play with great abandon and without set lists in that great traditional seisúin spirit, and not a name-tag in sight. “Badges?” As one wit pronounced on the sidewalk outside Sin-é early Saturday morning, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!!”
And the party just went on.
Last month, I had the good fortune to meet with Turkey’s best selling woman author, Elif Shafak in London. Author of 13 books (9 novels), please see my interview with her in the Irish Times HERE or click on the image below.
Going to Listowel Writers’ Week has been on the wish list for years. Like seeing Paris before you die, it’s a given that if you’re interested in literature or arts festivals, or both, at some point you’ve got to treat yourself to a trip into the green lushness of Kerry in early summer to one of the longest standing festivals in the country: Listowel.
Some people say once you go, you’ll be back every year: Irish Arts stalwart Seamus Hosey, for example, was celebrating his 40th Anniversary at the festival this 2105. My own reason mostly had to do with the fact that the festival had co-sponsored a week’s wonderful stay at the Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat Centre near Ballinskelligs – and it was at that retreat that I largely finalised the first draft of my short story collection, Waiting for the Rain. My ambition was to read a something from that collection somehow, somewhere – at Listowel Writers’ week this year.
Happily, friend and author Susan Lanigan had also decided to travel down, and so with Susan in the driver’s seat for the road trip, we braved busy Bank Holiday weekend traffic and I read through the event’s schedule.
The programme for 2015 was a broad-reaching offering that hosted not only readings and interviews, but live theatre and valuable writing workshops in almost every aspect of literature, given by top novelists , short story writers, poets and dramatists. There were also musican and drama performances.
Dennis Lehane provided a welcome, high-octane shot of Irish American wit and wisdom on Friday night during his interview with Jim Carroll, something I really miss from my New York days. What I really wanted to ask him was, “who gave Seán Penn the line about Barry’s Tea in Mystic River,” but I tackled him instead on a reference he had made to the stereotyped image of Ireland as a nation in the U.S. instead.
Recognising the refreshing influence of the “New Irish” that invaded in the late eighties in early nineties, and the fusion of old and new Irish American culture that resulted on both sides, Lehane succinctly let us in on the fact that for bog standard middle America, we are still living with the Leprechauns. Sigh …
Lehane’s new book, World Gone By, is set in Cuba during WW2 and sounds like classic Lehane: bloody, complex, with gang rivalries and personal conflicts at its heart.
No stranger to cutting edge television crime drama (e.g. The Wire), Lehane’s latest project is a very amazing sounding adaptation of Love Hate for the U.S. market: this time it’s set in Hawaii. Can you see Nidge with a tan and mirror shades?
The charm of Listowel as a festival quickly becomes evident: with everything very immediately available from the nucleus of the town square (theatre in the old church in the centre, events/hanging out at the Listowel Arms Hotel, etc) it’s got a very snug feel. You’ll see backpackers and old timers side by side in the street, as well as the writers and performers that are part of the programme. The range of events are attended by discerning audiences that provide the speakers with usually cogent and interesting questions.
There was so much going on, it was hard to get to see everything, but I really enjoyed the lecture by seasoned war journalist Patrick Cockburn. Originally from Cork and currently Middle East Correspondent with The Independent, he spoke of life under Islamic State, where currently citizens living under their regime are being controlled literally in all aspects of their lives, from women being forced to marry ISIS soldiers to even the very rules of children’s games.
Describing how the tightly-knit, highly organised power of ISIS overcame a dysfunctional State in Iraq and a weakened State in Syria, his first-hand accounts were bone chilling. More can be read in his many books, the latest of which being The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution from Verso Books
The Irish Writers’ Centre has been broadening its parameters of late, and one of the more interesting discussions was one called Mindshift: Introduction to the Business of Being a Writer event on Saturday, supported by WORDS Ireland. Moderated by Valerie Bistany (Director of the Irish Writers’ Centre), the panel, comprised of Noelle Campbell Sharpe (of Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat), Audrey Keane (of the Arts Council of Ireland), Kate Kennelly (Arts Officer, Kerry Co Council) and Noel O’Regan (former Kerry County Council Writer-in-Residence), discussed the more practical aspects of being a writer, with specific reference to funding and marketing.
So far, so good – but what about my quest to read at Listowel Writer’s Week, after all? As it turns out, on both Friday and Saturday night, The New Writers’ Salon, curated by Kerry Co Council’s former Writer in Residence, Noel O’Regan, provided the very opportunity.
Taking place at the excellent Scribes’ Café, owned and run by the very hospitable Mr Namir Karim from Iraq, the event presented readings from a line up of invited emerging writers: Sally Rooney, Michael Naghten Shanks, Hugh Fulham-McQuillan, Roisin Kelly followed an open mic session, which on Saturday night – among others – featured slam poetry from Stephen Murphy, a passionate reading from White Feathers by author Susan Lanigan, and yes – a brief section from Waiting for the Rain by yours truly. And that was a very long sentence. Time perhaps to wrap it up.
The festival had other charms, of course, some being the sheer fun of meeting up with old friends often long after the events of the day were done, in one of the town’s worthy watering holes, or in the beautiful and old-worldly elegance of the Listowel Arms Hotel. The seisúin on Saturday night is famous, and suffice to say that while you will have the honour of hearing some classic Sean Nós renditions, there is also a splendid tradition of rude ditties and sung or recited verses full of political satire and humour. For a gallery of photos of the event, click here and for more details at the festival’s own website, click to: www.writersweek.ie