TWENTY YEARS OF WINDOWS ENDEAVOURS by Noel Monahan
I can’t help thinking about that enduring Ashanti symbol, the Sankofa, that depicts a bird twisting its head to retrieve an egg. We look back so we can go forward with renewed vigour. This year’s celebration is not an end in itself. More like the sentiments expressed in “Little Gidding” by T. S. Eliot: “To make an end is to make a beginning”.
OUR BACKGROUNDS: Our backgrounds seemed to feature most when Windows Publications was set up in 1992. We hailed from diverse cultural backgrounds: Canadian born poet, Heather Brett, Noel Monahan, Secondary teacher, poet and playwright, originally from Granard, Co. Longford and now living in Cavan and Simion D. (Simion Dumitrache) a Romanian novelist. It all began when Heather Brett arrived in St. Clare’s College, Ballyjamesduff, to give a reading as part of the Writers In Schools scheme with Poetry Ireland. I was teaching there at the time and I suggested to Heather we should set up a small publishing outlet to further the interest in poetry in the area. Heather was living in Annaghmakerrig at the time. Heather knew Simion D. who was also staying at Annaghmakerrig and the triumvirate was set up.
WHERE WERE WE HEADING? The three of us believed there was an urgent need to establish a group to nurture literature in the Midlands in the early 90s. We got on well together and we set out to share our enthusiasm and develop and extend the poetry community outside Dublin. We sought the assistance of various organizations. Monaghan County Arts Officer was first to offer support. Counties Cavan and Longford Arts officers followed as did The Arts Council and Foras na Gaeilge. We set up a small publishing outlet to promote and publish the best of contemporary literature from home and abroad, with emphasis on giving voice to young and emerging writers.
CROSS-GENRE ACTIVITIES: Attendance at poetry gatherings was thin on the ground then. We placed an emphasis on the visual arts and music. To liven up the poetry readings we incorporated Art Exhibitions and musical performances. We experimented with cross-genre activities. We collaborated with Temenos Theatre Group. I compiled a play “Half A Vegetable”, based on the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and it was performed in a hayshed in Ballyhaise, Co. Cavan by Temenos Theatre. Further productions followed in The Patrick Kavanagh Centre, Inniskeen and The William Carleton Summer School in Co. Tyrone.
PLAYING THE TRANSLATION CARD: Ireland was then wakening up to the possibility of poetry in translation. We wanted to show a wider range of poetry to the community. Within a year of Windows establishment, we extended our policy of publication to include English Translations of poets and writers like Mariana Marin, Mircea Cartarescu, Marius Daniel Popescu … This was most challenging and we quickly became aware of the difficulties of translation, taking away one poet’s language and giving it another. At all times we had an eye out for emerging poets, writers and painters and we published the now established writers Joe Woods, Nessa O’Mahony, Gerry Hull in our Author & Artists series.
TO CHAMPION THE YOUNG VOICE: From the start we realized the role of youth in poetry is crucial. We organised a National Poetry Competition in English and Irish for students in Primary Schools and Second Level Education which is now in its 20th. Year. We received staggering numbers of entries (over two thousand in some cases ) from all over Ireland and with an impressively high standard. Occasionally, we organised National Adult Poetry Competitions to mark special events.
NATIONAL READING TOURS: Over the years we travelled the length and breadth of Ireland visiting places like: The Blasket Centre, Dun Chaoin, Hope Castle, Castleblaney, Bewley’s Café, Dublin, The Irish Writers Centre, Dublin, Verbal Arts Centre, Derry, OMAC and the Cultúrlann, Belfast, Kilkenny...
THE IRISH LANGUAGE: In keeping with our commitment to the Irish language, Windows have published many writers in the Irish language including Máire Mhac An tSaoi, Nuala Ní Dhómhnaill, Michael D. Higgins and Gréagóir Ó Dúill.
Simion D. returned to Romania in 1999 but Heather and myself were determined to keep Windows going. Recently, our National Poetry Awards took place in Cavan Crystal Hotel with over three hundred in attendance from all over Ireland. Joe Woods, Director of Poetry Ireland was present and he paid tribute to the resilience and endurance of Windows. We have further plans for celebration this year and on August 15th.we are launching our Windows 20 Years Anthology. This Anthology promises to be something special with poems from many of the major poets writing in Ireland today. A full exhibition of Windows work and activities will be on display. Further reading tours are planned for Dublin, Longford and The Patrick Kavanagh Centre will host a launch as part of The Kavanagh Yearly in September 2012. Looking back at Windows egg basket over the last twenty years gives Heather Brett and myself that sustainable energy to face the future.
Noel Monahan is the co-editor of Windows Publications and has had five collections of poetry published by Salmon. His poetry has been translated into Italian, Romanian, French and Russian and he has read his work and given workshops at numerous summer schools and festivals throughout Ireland.