The Cork International Poetry Festival — the biggest of its kind in the country — rolled into Leeside this week, bringing a host of local, national and international poets to venues across the city centre.
There was a tinge of regret about this year’s event, as John Montague, who had been scheduled to round off the festival tonight passed away last December, meaning the slot will now be filled with a tribute to the poet who taught at UCC from 1972 to 1988, where he found a receptive audience of young and eager poets who, under his influence, went on to become household names. A selection of those poets, alongside his daughters Oonagh and Sybil, will take to the stage at the Cork Arts Theatre to read from Second Childhood, the new collection Montague did not live to see published.
For one of his former students, festival organiser Pat Cotter, the event will be a tribute to a man who helped prove Cork’s literary credentials. He explains, “John Montague was the first writer with an international reputation who chose to come to Cork and make it his home, the place he continued to work from. Montague demonstrated that Cork City wasn’t just a place a writer of talent left — a successful writing life could be forged here.”
There have been full houses at Cork Arts Theatre all week, and at book launches in the City Library. Among the highlights was the launch of an Irish edition of The Enchanting Verses, an Indian-based international magazine, and The Well Review, a Cork-based journal named after Sunday’s Well in the city.
Two female poets were among the many stand-out readings: Maram Al-Masri and Katie Donovan. Al-Masri is a Syrian whose latest work, Liberty Walks Naked, provides a defiant voice for her war-torn homeland, while Donovan’s emotional verses from her new collection, Off Duty, chart her late husband’s battle with throat cancer.
Donovan is one of four poets at the festival nominated for this year’s Irish Times Poetry Now Award. Thomas McCarthy’s Pandemonium published by Carcanet, Paddy Bushe’s On a Turning Wing, and Paula Meehan’s Geomantic — both published by Dedalus, are also on the shortlist.