Festival time again. The thirteenth Poetry Now Festival takes place in Dún Laoghaire from 3 to 6 April ‘and this year it once more brings together poets of many nationalities – Irish, English, American, Jamacian, Italian, Iranian – and many styles, many languages and many concerns, for what promises to be a deeply stimulating and satisfying four days. Workshops, talks, debates and The Irish Times and Strong Awards will complement the programme of readings by a gathering of exceptional Irish and international poets.’ Poets taking part include Bernard O’Donoghue, Antonella Anedda, Jamie McKendrick, Seamus Heaney, C.D. Wright, Alan Gillis, Meghan O’Rourke, Daljit Nagra, George Szirtes, Henri Cole and Mimi Khalvati. Before the festival proper gets going there’s a panel discussion, ‘The Quarrel With Ourselves’ – Who Reads Poetry, Anyway?, in association with Poetry Ireland chaired by Michael Cronin with guests Peter Fallon, Meghan O’Rourke, Alice Lyons, Mary Shine Thompson, Maurice Scully and The Cat Flap. I’m greatly in favour of panel discussions and anything else that gets us away from the liturgical solemnity of the poetry reading but I admit to a certain dread of this one only because the subject as advertised is one of those automatic topics that festival machines and radio station computers routinely spit out to exercise the populace. What is poetry at all at all and who needs it in anyway? This is possibly unfair. The questions to be addressed are:
Who reads poetry? For whom is poetry published? Of whom do poetry audiences in Ireland, and elsewhere, consist? How important to the life of poetry is the existence of strong poetry criticism, and what is the state of play in Irish criticism at the moment? What’s needed in the Irish poetry scene? What’s working? What’s alive, and what’s in need of change? Join these artists and thinkers as they put the poetry scene through its paces, and feel free to put a question or two their way.
There’s probably only one answerable question in there, and that’s the one about criticism. Poetry criticism is essential to the life of poetry in the same way that every other kind of art criticism is important to the art concerned. Otherwise, everyone’s a poet and no-one is a poet. Otherwise, that is, there is a culture of complacency in which no makes judgements of any kind. There’s plenty of that already, plenty of bland reviewing which is content to describe rather than evaluate. There is little enough real criticism and few enough outlets for it. What do we need? More critics, more real criticism, more journals, websites, more vigour. And less worry about audience, readership, the mass market, all that blather.