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One of the things that held me back from being a poet was that I had thought one could only be a poet after they die. Why I had this idea, I am not sure. Perhaps, it was due to the fact that at school the poems and books we read were all written by poets and writers who were already dead.
Since crossing the ocean and arriving in Ireland to live among a different culture and language, of all the things I have been learning about this country, I have observed that Irish poets are not just alive, but they are also walking among us and leading this country.
The day I discovered that the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is a poet (whether this is a coincidence or destiny) I realised that I had come to the right place.
One day I was going to an event in Harold’s Cross. I always carry a book in my bag, and that day I had “The Other Now”, by Catherine Ann Cullen. When I arrived, I was parking my bicycle when the poet who was featuring that night locked her bicycle beside mine. It was Catherine Ann Cullen, herself.
Another time, I read in the newspaper that a short story by Niall McArdle won a prize. He had been my Creative Writing teacher a few months before. One more story of a time I was in a pub, smoking a cigarette, a guy came to ask me for a lighter and sparked a conversation. He then took out a book from his back pocket, as if he was a magician, and handed it to me. I hadn’t even mentioned that I am a poet. The book was ‘Poems by Walt Whitman’.
Even though Walt Whitman is an American writer (not Irish) and dead for over a hundred years, he had been around Ireland. Walt Whitman was the physical model for Dracula, created by Bram Stoker, an Irish writer and admirer of Whitman’s work.
This is not the only interesting ‘coincidence’. A Limerick man called Peter George Doyle had an inseparable relationship with Walt Whitman and the well-known poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, had met him and whispered that they had had a flirtatious moment.
“I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips.”
You probably know who Oscar Wilde is, or at least heard of him, and have also seen his statue over a rock in Merrion Square, so I am sure you have also seen poetry all around Ireland by stepping on quotes written in brass plates somewhere in town or even passed by some Irish poet’s statue. You may not know it, but you probably could have been seated in a bunch beside Emmet Kirwan; you could have slept on a bed made by Róisín Jenkinson; you could also have bought a book by James Joyce and the book next to it was ‘Don’t Go There’, by Colm Keegan or you might have asked for a coffee to someone who happens to be a poet. Life is full of possibilities and ‘coincidences’ that are all around you. The trick is to pay attention and observe and start a conversation, because you never know who you might be talking to.
“Historically, Ireland has always been the land of saints and scholars. There are a lot of dead poets on tea towels in tourist shops – this is about live poetry ” – Colm Keegan about Lingo Festival that he organizes.
Ireland has always had a wealth of great writers and poets, including four of them who won the Nobel Prize in Literature: William Butler Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Séamus Heaney (1995).
Poets alive today also have the opportunity to win prizes, as Ireland holds countless literature festivals and events to promote artists and writers all year round. To mention some of them that happened this year: International Literature Festival Dublin, Poetry Day Ireland, Bloomsday and Dublin One City One Book, an event that paid tribute to the controversial book “Country Girls”, written by an important writer who is still around; Edna O’Brien.
Maybe one day you will cross her path without recognising her face, even though you could recognise some of her words.
“You have to be lonely to be a writer” – Edna O’Brien
The truth is you will never be alone, especially if your wish is to become a writer. As I heard from a poet saying to another “we are cannibalising ourselves”. If you find yourself in a pub with a terrace, a basement of some shop or a writer’s centre, you will find aspiring and renowned writers together reading, reciting or just listening to words, and perhaps 200 hundreds years later, you will be known as a friend of one of them.
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