This morning fifty or sixty people gathered on the stone bridge over the Corrib River for the unveiling of a bronze plaque with a poem by Moya Cannon. This is the sixth year that a poetry plaque has been installed around Galway during the Cuirt Festival of Literature. The first was of a poem by Seamus Heaney.
There have been a few excellent readings so far. Fiction writers Claire Keegan and Kevin Barry, who read in different programs at the Town Hall Theatre, were two of my favorites. Claire Keegan read an excerpt from her story “Foster”, which won the Davy Byrne Irish Writing Award, offered by the Dublin pub made famous by its place in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Five women writers were among the six short-listed for the 25,000 euro prize. Richard Ford was the judge. Keegan’s story is about a young girl who is sent to live with an older couple, the Kinsellas, for a time. The complexity of the relationships in this coming-of-age story are defined by Keegan’s beautifully discriminating prose and the tension and anxiety which are threaded through the story. In the Q & A after, she described her slow, meticulous writing process, which has seen her go through as many as thirty drafts on a story.
Kevin Barry’s story, “Fjord of Killary” is told by a character who has bought an old hotel on Ireland’s only fjord, in a remote quarter of the west coast. The narrator had hoped to balance the pleasant life of a hotelier with his efforts to work on his poetry, but a recalcitrant Byelorussian staff and the needs of a cast of curious locals frustrate him. And disaster looms when a furious storm unleashes fabulous amounts of rain and the fjord threatens to engulf the hotel. Barry had a way of dramatizing his fiction when I saw him read a few years ago when his collection There Are Little Kingdoms was published, but his presentation was really hilarious when he read this comic piece, which appeared in February in The New Yorker. It was wonderful but it did sort of raise the question for some of whether, because Barry is obviously aware of and enjoys his performative strengths, he doesn’t risk turning the act of writing into the production of a script for performance. Whatever, he’s very talented and he’ll sort that out.
Keegan’s stories have appeared in two collections–Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields. “Foster” appeared in The New Yorker and is in a recently published anthology of the shortlisted stories from the Davy Byrnes contest. That book doesn’t seem to have appeared in the U.S. yet, but you can read both “Foster” and “Fjord of Killary” in their entirety on The New Yorker website.