April 01, 2019

Teaching (& Festival-ing!) in Cork

Strange to navigate the busy waters of the Cork International Poetry Festival, and then the very next week--from a distance, via social media--watch writers navigate the even busier waters of the AWP Conference in Portland, Oregon. I managed to photograph every reader I saw in the Cork Arts Theater, except for closing night when my phone died. (Note that this happened mid-email. So I spent an agonizing twenty minutes wondering if I was standing up Kim Addonizio. Luckily, she got the message and made her way to Cask to meet up for dinner.) The downside of the phone dying is that I can't show you Kim's awesome shoes, or the sweet interplay between Billy Collins and Leanne O'Sullivan, a rising star of Irish poetry who had received the Farmgate Café National Poetry Award earlier in the week. The upside is that I was able to relax and fully inhabit those moments. 

The festival was an extraordinary event overall, and I particularly praise the organizing efforts of Patrick Cotter, Director of the Munster Literature Centre, and MLC administrator James O'Leary. One of the notable features is the commitment to cross-cultural exchange, with several multi-lingual readings. The pleasure of hearing Polish poet Tomasz Różycki (right) was heightened by knowing that a stateside friend, Mira Rosenthal, had done the artful translations of his sonnets. Copies of Colonies sold out almost immediately, but I snagged one and had him sign it; I'm hoping to have Mira sign it, too, at some future AWP. 

Festival photos aren't the most exciting material; they take place in a monotonous setting. I take them to lock in the remembered experience. But I knew I wanted to post a few photos, and that includes snapshots of my co-reader Kim Moore (left)--what terrific company of smart, funny, feminist poems, including the "All the Men I Never Married" series--and of Shangyang Fang (top), winner of the Southword Journal's Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Competition, whose work showed daring and exuberance in its intimacies of image, with intriguing choices of when to dart like a diving bird and when to meander along the stream of consciousness. Another favorite was Sasha Dugdale, who read an astonishing title poem from her collection Joy that channels the voice of Catherine Blake (William's wife and collaborator on his printmaking); I bought the book and devoured the whole thing later that night. I was thrilled to see students from both University College Cork and MLC mentees present at the Cork Public Library, which is also where Cumbrian poet Katie Hale read from Assembly Instruction, winner of this year's Fool for Poetry Chapbook Competition. Her "Teaching Grammar in a Poetry Lesson" is an instantly satisfying ars poetica, a bit like Billy Collins' "Introduction to Poetry." But unlike the Collins poem it ultimately yields to celebrating the creative instincts skills of the students, rather than disdaining their attachment to meaning. An immense, endearing compassion pervades Hale's work. 

I took a little downtime this past weekend to update my teaching files. Since I'm not working toward some future tenure application, it's important to pause periodically and do my own self-archiving of the lessons I've created, including fine-tuning of handouts and syllabi. My commitments in Cork include a graduate-level workshop at University College Cork, where we used the sonnet as a recurring building block of formal engagement; two community menteeships with accomplished students, tailored to their needs on such topics as sequence-building and manuscript organization; and a standalone meeting with the women's group of the Cork Migrant Centre, housed at Nano Nagle Place, where we discussed poems of origin and heritage. As part of the festival time, I offered a four-day seminar class on "Bringing the World to the Poem" that ended up filling to capacity.  

As has happened at every turn in Ireland, I was delighted by the curiosity and sophistication brought to the close readings. Each day I turned up with eight to ten possible poems, then went with the five that felt right for the pacing and interests of the group. I thought it'd be fun to share here--links to texts where available--along with photos of the prompts I offered. (If you're reading this with a screen reader and want access, email me at earthlink.net and I'll transcribe.) They're organized by theme, which is how we progressed day by day. One of the decisions I had to make was whether to try and feature Irish poets, but I decided to play to my strengths of familiarity and shared culture. As I told the group, they didn't need an American poet barging in to teach them about Seamus Heaney. 


Mark Doty - "Golden Retrievals"
Ada Limón - "How to Triumph Like a Girl"
Jamaal May - "There Are Birds Here"
Lucia Perillo - "Shrike Tree"
Dan Chiasson - "The Elephant"


Elton Glaser - "Shucking"
Henry Taylor - "Artichoke"
Wisława Szymborska - "The Onion"
Kevin Young - "Ode to Pork"
Naomi Shihab Nye - "My Uncle's Favorite Coffee Shop"


Richard Blanco - "Looking for the Gulf Motel" 
Cyrus Cassells - "Return to Florence"
Beth Ann Fennelly - "Souvenir"
Sally Wen Mao - "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" 
Megan Fernandes - "Amsterdam" 


Camille T. Dungy - "The Blue"
Kimiko Hahn - "Maude"
Jane Hirshfield - "For the Lobaria, Usnea, Witches Hair, Map Lichen, Beard Lichen, Ground Lichen, Shield Lichen"
A. Van Jordan - "Einstein Defining Special Relativity"
Alberto Ríos - "Some Extensions on the Sovereignty of Science"

Turns out that in addition to wrapping up finals grading at UCC and working with my community mentees, I have one more unexpected teaching opportunity on the docket. As part of the daily prep and handout-making for the festival workshop, I made friends with the good folks at Mouse Internet Cafe. So when I found out that an instructor had cancelled on them for an event scheduled as part of the Cork Lifelong Learning Festival, I offered to step in. If you happen to be in Cork on Monday, April 8, come hang out with us at 7 PM (location on Barracks Street near the Southgate Bridge). We'll be discussing "Three Poems for People Who Really Dislike Poetry."

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