Feature Articles

The Little Book of PI Newsletters: Part 2 by Kevin Kiely

(September/October 2006)

''The bird with the tits’? Replaced with a new logo in Jan 1989 that is still used – the P with a spiral inside, and a zigzag line from its foot. Poetry kicking against the pricks! Theo Dorgan on the progress of PI (Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann Jan/Feb 1990,Kevin Kiely
with membership 12 punts):‘[L]ast year we were involved in organising more than 55 events…’ (such as a French poetry week, Jean Orizot and Yves Broussard reading at Alliance Française),‘…as we face the Nineties, the organisation is poised for major growth.’ Readings abound: Bewleys, Ilac Library, among the poets (too many to mention): Jimmy Simmons, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Tom McIntyre, James J McAuley, Eavan Boland.Theo’s cri de coeur that summer:‘Experience has shown that, over the years, audiences for readings in July are as thin on the ground as imaginative politicians’, and laments that over half the members haven’t renewed their subs.

Play readings:Yeats Festival, McGuinness, Barry, Friel. Derek Walcott, Mario Luzi poetry readings (Autumn 1990) while Durcan toured with Daddy, Daddy.

1991 Dublin City of Culture: Fintan O’Toole on Playwrights 1970–90, Kennelly
packs out the Project. The Great Book of Ireland nearly complete – 256 pages bound in TCD, case made from an elm tree planted by Yeats at Thoor Ballylee, on exhibition at IMMA from 26 June.And wait for it: The 2nd International Writers Conference, 1991 (Lar Cassidy presiding) plus sponsors:Arts Council, Aer Lingus. Gala Conference Reading at IMMA with the blow-ins: Louis Simpson, A S Byatt,Tony Harrison,Anne Stevenson, R S Thomas, Mario Vargas Llosa, Derek Walcott, Marinam Warner and Edmund White, with local poets/writers also on at the NCH.

Spring 1993, PI from 44 Upper Mount St, D2 announce ‘International Woman’s Day’, 7 March at The Abbey Theatre – patron and Guest of Honour to be President Mary Robinson. Proceeds to Women’s Aid. Bardwell, Boland, Mary Dorcey, McGuckian, Joan McBreen, Mhac an tSaoi, Meehan, Wyley, Rita Ann Higgins all take the stand. Cúirt listings: McGahern, Heaney, Beryl Bainbridge, Les Murray, Banville,Wendy Cope, Glyn Maxwell, Richard Murphy.That summer Bewleys going strong: Benedict Kiely among the veterans. Other venues: Dublin Public Library, and Belfast Linenhall Library hosting McGuckian, Ó Searcaigh, Carson, Pól Ó Muirí, Simmons, Rumens, Roy McFadden, Robert Greacen.

April, May, June 1994:Theo assisted (ably) by Niamh Morris and Isabelle Cartwright. Get upper the yard PI – what a snazzy new address! Bermingham Tower, Upper Yard, Dublin Castle, D2. Cúirt includes Linton Kwesi Johnson, Roger McGough, Denise Levertov, Derek Walcott, C K Williams. Pat Boran edits Poetry Ireland Review 41 on the theme of Sex and Sexuality.

More poets from 1994: Sean Hutton, Vona Groarke, Sharon Olds, Alan Titley, Heather Brett, Craig Raine,Thomas Lynch, Les Murray, Dermot Healy, Jessie Lendennie, Caitriona Clutterbuck, Ruth Graham, Neil Greig, Michael D. Higgins. Heaney and Liam Ó Floinn at St Anne’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin in November.

PI Newsletter summer 1995: Gallery Press 25th Anniversary readings at the Abbey Theatre with Heaney, Christy Moore, Carson, Fallon, Hartnett, Mahon, McGuckian, Meehan, Montague, Ní Chuilleanáin and Ní Dhomhnaill. PI Newsletter Front Page Headline Nov/Dec 1995: Seamus Heaney wins Nobel Prize. Dublin reading for the Nobel Laureate with Liam Ó Floinn on the publication of Jan Kochanowski’s Laments.

PI begins compiling a Writers Groups database for 32 counties. 1996 sees the arrival of the Writers-in-Schools Directory. PI Newsletter July/Aug 1996,Theo and Niamh Morris soldier on. A fine crop of festivals and summer schools announced: Joyce, Hewitt, Kerry International Summer School, Galway Arts, Boyle Arts,Yeats Summer School, Parnell Summer School, Patrick MacGill Summer School, Kilkenny
Arts Week, Merriman Summer School – a record? Perhaps.This newsletter celebrates
the 50th Issue of Poetry Ireland Review; guest editor is Michael Longley. More front page news: Ireland and its Diaspora, Frankfurt book Fair 1996, ‘the biggest cultural event of its kind in the world’, then back home for a KISS – Kerry International Summer School of Living Authors.

Jan/Feb 1998 PI Newsletter goes photographic for the first time: a thumbnail of Catherine Phil MacCarthy and page three poets include Evelyn Conlon + Robert Service (who? – ask your grandparents). The team is Theo Dorgan, Niamh Morris, Kieran Nolan (Admin), Sheila Phelan (Ed. Assistant.), Noel Duffy (Admin. Assistant)
and Claire Ranson (Writers in Schools).

July/August 1998: John Montague first poet appointed to The Ireland Chair of Poetry. Nov/Dec 1998: Reading by Donald Hall. Hughes’s Birthday Letters wins Forward Prize. PI Newsletter Jan/Feb 1999 gives 5 popular titles (compiled by Cormac Kinsella of Waterstones): The Singing Tree (Kennelly) Opened Ground (Heaney) The Illustrated Favourite Poems We Learned At School (ed.Thomas F Walsh); Rich and Rare Land (ed. Joseph McMinn); The Man Made of Rain (Kennelly). 1999 website update – ‘the number of visitors to our web site since its publication just after Christmas continues to increase.’ Web input from bard and ‘tecky’, Philip Casey. June 1999, a bawk at the Arts Council by Theo:‘[W]e have to postpone the 2nd Dublin Writers Festival for a year, after a grant offer of £10,000 from the Arts Council … bear in mind that the Arts Council in 1992 were able to find more than £70,000 for a similar festival … We feel let down.’ August 1999, Bestselling Irish Poetry (Books Upstairs Survey): The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Verse, eds. Fallon & Mahon; Selected Poems, Kavanagh; Beautiful Cracked Eyes, Ingoldsby; Other People’s Houses, Groarke; Pillow Talk, Meehan.The Passing of Hartnett, ‘the Aodhagán O’Rathaille of our times’: ‘A Night for Michael Hartnett’, Jury’s Hotel, Ballsbridge, 14 November 1999.

Theo in the Tower, Arthur of the Poets of the Round Table at Camelot as The Shop
opens, plus The Stinging Fly (2nd year airborne), plus other magazines, readings,
festivals ad aeternam.Theo’s reign in King John’s 13th-Century tower ends in November 2000. Acting director Joseph Woods puts on the royal robes as Director, May 2001.The move from Bermingham Tower effected successfully
(not one bard lost en route).

August 2003: PI resettled with its newest patron,The Royal College of Surgeons, at
120 St Stephen’s Green, facing the ultrapoetical Luas. But not for long. Joe raised the Jolly Roger in July 2005 and led his cohorts towards their present port in a storm, 2 Proud’s Lane (off Stephen’s Green). Too proud? And humble? Still hosted by the surgeons, so far so good. Oliver St John Gogarty on the Green, poet and surgeon, a ghostly patron in the present era? Him and others, in a glorious frieze.

Kevin Kiely’s A Horse Called El Dorado (O’Brien Press) was the recipient of a Bisto Honour Award in 2006; his latest poetry collection is Breakfast with Sylvia (Lapwing Press).

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