Feature Articles

THE LITTLE BOOK OF PI NEWSLETTERS: PART ONE by Kevin Kiely

(PI News July/August 2006)

Read it now in colour on high-gloss paper, or downloaded as a PDF; yet, the PI News began life as a single sheet of A4 with the masthead ‘Poetry Ireland ’ shadowed in black lettering. In September 1978, the editorial address based itself at 89 Carrick Kevin KielyCourt, Portmarnock (Co. Dublin). One year’s membership cost £6. The George Washington of the enterprise was John F Deane who announced in the second newsletter (Oct. ’78; two pages stapled): ‘Poetry Ireland has been well inaugurated.’ John Montague: president; Paul Durcan: vice-president, alongside John Jordan, Robert Greacen and Tomás Mac Síomóin.

In 1979, Deane rattled the begging bowl: ‘One of the aims of PI is to find premises in Dublin to house a Poetry Centre for Ireland’. Many changes of address might portray PI as a travelling circus rather than an integrated organisation. Future rigours would usually include this fear of becoming homeless. But with headquarters established (Jack Deane’s house) and later at Rory Brennan’s, the newsletter consistently appeared – somewhat Zozimus-like, broadsheet-like. John Jordan’s lecture billed for the James Ussher Theatre TCD, 9 Jan 1979. An eyewitness account follows. ‘Jordan arrived wrapped against the chilly weather, script in pocket. He approached the lectern, dropped his stick, knocked over the water jug and began repeating, ‘Patrick Kavanagh. After a third utterance of this, which increased the expectation of the audience, Jordan became silent. Eventually, the evening was abandoned for a retreat to Grogan’s pub.’

‘Poetry Ireland Poems’ (hand printed, limited to 160 copies) was a feature discontinued from June, 1980. No. 1 unveiled Montague’s ‘Shadow’: ‘Night after night / we lay, embracing, / under the shadow / of Sir John’s castle’. Magazines sprouted: The Stony Thursday Book, Innti, Timbre, Tracks, The Beau, The Salmon, The Gorey Detail, Prospice, even the Poetry Ireland Review – ‘we must not let Cyphers ever go to the wall.’ Business as usual: listings of poetry prizes, readings, reading tours and book launches; ‘Poet of the Month’, ‘Poetry Ireland Book Choice’ and the constant rejoinder to Merrion Square: ‘Poetry Ireland acknowledges the generous assistance of An Comhairle Ealaíonn.’

By Jan 1979 reading circuits had established themselves (don’t forget the legwork behind the scenes). Dublin venues: United Arts Club, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Bewley’s, The Peacock, The Project, The Grapevine Arts Centre, and Nationwide: Triskel Arts Centre (Cork) plus links to Belfast’s The Linenhall and way out west to Achill. From across the Irish Sea, poets visited: Danny Abse, Ewart Milne, John Heath-Stubbs. Stalwarts: Kennelly, Mahon and Heaney throve at readings betwixt other nutritive foreign influences: Anne Stevenson, Tony Harrison, George Macbeth, Norman MacCaig, Denise Levertov, Tomas Tranströmer, Michael Hamburger, Franco Loi, Fabio Doplicher…

PI showcased Munster, Leinster, Connaught & Ulster poets: a wag parodying McGuinness’s play wrote, ‘Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards Faber & Faber’. John Hewitt ’s The Rain Dance (Blackstaff Press) Poetry Book Society Choice in UK – ‘he has written his life into his poetry,’ John Jordan commented. Peter Fallon’s Gallery Press launched Hartnett’s A Farewell to English with Heno Magee’s Hatchet and Desmond O’Grady’s A Limerick Rake in TCD – a paradigm of the decade, perhaps.

Newsletter 1979 July/August (4 pages), the print is far clearer – Poetry Ireland armed with an IBM/Irish Independent Write-On competition-winning IBM Selectric golf-ball typewriter. Among the readings: Kinsella’s Fifteen Dead and One and Other Poems.

Jan 1980 (change of address: ‘The Nook’ Mornington, Co. Meath). Deane announces (April 1980) Austin Clarke library acquired for £5,000; 6,500 books. Arts Council gave the cost as loan (interest - free).’Please, BE WITH US NOW’ – a plea for attendance at readings. May 1980, the Clarke Library in place, Dardis Clarke, son of the poet, given Award. (The occult influence of Austin Clarke might be said to be the ghostly patron of PI). Sept 1980 (2 pages), Hartnett’s reading to aid Clarke library fund, ‘at present up to £762.’ Heaney and Richard Murphy to do fundraiser (tickets £2). September 22nd: Happy Birthday Poetry Ireland: 2 Years Old. Montague, president; chairman John F Deane. Council: Gerald Dawe, Seán Dunne, John Ennis, Gabriel Rosenstock.

Feb 1982, Ruth Brandt’s logo of a female phoenix appeared on the masthead– christened ‘The Bird with the Tits’ by Jean O’Brien. PI a limited company: John F Deane secretary, Rory Brennan chairman. June 1982, Joyce Centenary Reading in the Mansion House (a night to remember): Borges, Enzensberger, Empson, David Wright et al. Oct 1982: 106 Tritonville Rd, Sandymount. Rory Brennan & John F Deane in charge. Readings at Project : Nuala Archer and Medbh McGuckian.

Oct. 1983 another change of address: 35 North Great Georges St, where a section of the Clarke library was moved in. Readings in Dingle: Michael Davitt/Seán Dunne at An Café Liteartha. Clifden Public Library: Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. And in Blackrock (Co. Dublin):Valentin Iremonger/Aidan Mathews. Brennan at the Austin Clarke Library in North Great Georges premises ‘awaiting a further report from our architect’ about the accommodation. PI almost on the run seeking a safe house. The Field Day pamphlets from Seamus Deane, Tom Paulin, one in verse by Heaney.
June 1984: Listowel Writers’ Week PI Readings: Gabriel Fitzmaurice/Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Montague’s The Dead Kingdom (Dolmen) a ‘PI Choice’. National Gallery (Merrion Sq, Dublin), Eavan Boland reading for PI.
Further Highlights: With the Poetry Ireland Review TEN years a-going, editors Jordan & Thomas McCarthy launch their issue at Joyce Tower, Sandycove. PI Newsletter Oct 1984: dense listing of events (2 pages still stapled). June 1985:Austin Clarke Memorial Library housed at 44 Upper Mount Street – thanks to both Arts Councils; seating for 60 people (circa) at readings.

Sept/Oct 1988: Rory Brennan resigning, Theo Dorgan taking over. Newsletter Nov/Dec 1989 heralds a New Apple SE computer ‘to manage our subscription list, to typeset the Review, Newsletter and posters, and also we hope by mid-1990s to start producing limited edition pamphlets by emerging and established poets.’ Dorgan at the helm about to steer the ship. Would PI survive another decade? Would ‘The Bird with the Tits’ change her nest? In next issue’s final instalment from ‘The Little Book of PI Newsletters’, all will be revealed.

Kevin Kiely’s A Horse Called El Dorado (O’Brien Press) won an Honour Award at the CBI Bisto Book of the Year Awards 2006.

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