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Restore the Poetry Now Festival as part of dlr Mountains to Sea

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We are a group of poets and poetry readers who would like to express our disappointment that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have discontinued Poetry Now as a strand within the Mountains to Sea Festival. This year, no Poetry Now curator has been appointed. Though the DLR website claims that there will still be ‘a dedicated poetry programme’ in the 2018 Festival, the Poetry Now name has disappeared as an independent strand from the Mountains to Sea programme. This constitutes the loss of Dublin’s only dedicated poetry festival.

While we greatly admire the work that the new curator of Mountains to Sea has done to incorporate poetry events within the umbrella of the Mountains to Sea Festival, there are notably fewer poetry events in the schedule this year and no mention of the Poetry Now brand.

Poetry Now began as a grassroots festival in the 1980s, run by volunteers in a community that was hungry for poetry. It gained funding from DLR County Council and ran for many years as a stand-alone festival. When it was subsumed into the Mountains to Sea Festival, many were anxious that the festival should maintain its own identity.

The festival was given its own curator as a strand within Mountains to Sea and began to find its place within the bigger festival, again becoming a highlight in Ireland’s poetry calendar. The success of last year’s Poetry Now strand, curated by Alice Lyons, was a testament to what a difference investing in a dedicated poetry curator can make. The festival was revived, and we are disappointed to see that the council are not capitalising on this fact.

Discussions with poetry fans reveal what a vital cultural event Poetry Now has been. Events for Poetry Now attracted poetry lovers from all over the world, and poets would converge on the streets of Dún Laoghaire every Spring, bringing large audiences, and a real buzz. The festival attracted high profile overseas readers, such as Sharon Olds, Jane Hirshfield, Robert Hass alongside the best Irish poets. It has also introduced new voices such as Sarah Howe, Vahni Capildeo and Maram al-Masri in recent years. The workshops and back to back poetry events at the festival provided opportunities for emerging poets to mix with their more established counterparts. Publishers such as Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books would come talent-spotting every year. The presence of the late great Seamus Heaney as a sort of presiding angel made the festival special too. At last year’s festival, a packed house in the Pavilion Theatre was moved to tears by Michael Longley’s reading.

Of the four Nobel prizes we have garnered as a nation, two have gone to poets and yet, we have a shameful dearth of festivals dedicated to poetry. In the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Arts Development Plan 2016-2022, Poetry Now is specifically mentioned as one of the county council’s achievements: “By celebrating the County’s literary heritage through Mountains to Sea, dlr Book Festival including dlr Poetry Now, and hosting an annual Writer in Residence in partnership with dlr Library Service, the Arts Office has supported the development of individual writer’s careers, created engaging public programmes to inspire and entertain, and encouraged emerging talent.” We are calling for this support be continued.

We the undersigned are calling for Poetry Now to be reinstated, either as a stand alone festival or as a curated strand within Mountains to Sea. We feel that the minimal investment that reinstating the PN Festival will require is an important statement of intent on the part of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on its commitment to supporting contemporary poetry.

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