The following is a collection of entries I made for myself during the John Hewitt International Festival. This was the culminating event of our stay in Ireland. It was at this event all our historical, political and experiential learning were to shared through our creative works. We knew this before getting on the plane to Ireland. I’d heard that the festival would be a blending of culture, creativity, and politics to help facilitate the move of Ireland and it’s people forward. I seriously underestimated the impact these four days would have on my final days in Armagh.
It is a Monday. It is the first day of the John Hewitt Festival and I have just finished taking in the problems and potential of a foreign political system. I am sitting in the venue’s cafe processing how this impacts me and my work as a writer when two things hit me. First, this is a really interesting mix of people here. The panels are pretty diverse and everyone here has something unique to share. Here’s the meteor that rocked my world — I am presenting at this festival. I along with all the other Armagh Project participants are presenting excerpts of our work as a result of our month long residency in a foreign country. Shit just got real. There’s a feeling in my stomach, but it’s not terror or frustration or butterflies. It’s the still hum of contentment. It’s the release of satisfaction for work well done. I check my time hop, it’s an app that takes all your social media posting from the years before and shows it to you. It’s like a daily time capsule. This is when the second thing hits me — four years ago, on this very day I was packing all the worldly possessions my Honda Civic could fit and moving to Baltimore to start my MFA in Creative Writing and Publication Arts. Four years ago, I had no idea what this life would be. I knew I had to get out of Alabama to start the next leg of my life. I had no idea in four years I would be sitting in Armagh, North Ireland having coffee and preparing to present my latest creative work. Today, I realize that I am part of a global creative community. I have achieved more than I could have ever imagined for myself and I am so thankful.
It is this day that my admiration for Maureen Boyle is solidified. I have a creative writing workshop with her which is three days long. She is a wonderful memoirist and her validation and encouragement help solidify my resolve to slip into memoire. It think she can tell that. What I think she can’t tell is that the conversation on memory and our interaction with it as humans is helping form something new in me. I am excited to finally record my life and how it’s happened.
Our presentation was beautiful. I have never collaborated with people in this way before. It is wonderful. I read my poem first and opened the performance and spent time acting in the plays of others. We did a wonderful job. This was validated afterward while we had wine and socialized with our audience. It is thrilling to have the congratulations and encouragement of people in the crowd – all accomplished writers and creatives in their own right. I blush when I am flanked by June Caldwell and Malachi O’Doherty; they are both telling me how much they enjoyed my reading and the poem. They encourage me to finish the project. They tell me it’s necessary and it’s a good idea. Terri and Nessa O’Mahoney tell me, that Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldon was in the audience and heard me read my poem. There are many sips of wine, and later whiskey. Later, in the quiet the early morning my cohorts and I remind ourselves that the job has been done and it was a good one.
I am sitting in the audience as Paul Muldon talks about regionalism, the simplicity of poems and making the unexpected connection. I feel good hearing these things again, I am happy to hear his ideas about the tools writers carry. I appreciate his laid back approach. The American connection in his work was particularly interesting. Before he’d ever arrived in America he was writing about it. I find this particularly interesting and started thinking about what locations were a part of my own writing but outside of my experience. Later, myself and a cohort are in line to thank Muldon for coming to our performance. He is pleased to see us and apologizes because he could not stay for the entire performance. He gifts us his Pulitzer Prize winning book, signs it and congratulates us on our work. As my cohort and I walk away, I offer the book to my cohort. “You should take it, Charles – it’s meant for you.” I feel content with the notes I received from the talk.
Later I laugh and cry watching Two Sore Legs. It’s a one woman show and it’s beautiful. We see Martin Lynch again, he’s produced and directed the show. We sit and have drinks with him for a time. I meet the actress and she signs my program. I am inspired. She has breathed life into a written work in a way I’d not thought about before. I tell her it was a stunning and moving performance. she is concerned about the thickness of her accent and how the large theatre may have weakened the performance. I tell her it was magnificent and I had no problem understanding her. I tell her she’s liberated my writing in a way I’d never expected. I am impressed with how she’s able to take someone’s text and bring it to life, all by herself. She blushes and her face folds in a way I am familiar with. We hug, say thank you and part ways. It was a good day.
Today is odd because it is ending. It is my last day of creative writing class and I am sad, but empowered. I leave the space for the last time, thankful and exhausted.
In all I find myself thinking of myself differently. Not in a haughty way – but in a way of gratitude and realization. I have to admit, I can’t wait to attend more residencies and literary festivals. John Hewitt gave me a final tasting of Ireland and how she’ll deal with difference. I know that the people here want the best for themselves, and it’s nice to know that accepting difference and learning to move forward is a part of North Ireland’s evolutionary plan. Living is a long road and progress is a step by step movement. It was nice to hear the dialog and be accepted as a part of the conversation.
This post was originally posted August 3, 2015 on the Armagh Project Blog.