Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Turn of Events

Since returning from my travels, I have begun a PhD at the University of Limerick, Ireland. This post involves a mixture of teaching (undergraduate psychology students) and conducting my own social-cognition research. Being back at university has certainly been a shock to the system and lying on the beaches of Costa Rica seems like a million miles from here. I am, however, enjoying the experience, albeit slightly overwhelming. The balance of my time is leaning heavily towards my work at the moment, which is understandable and expected. As a consequence, I have decided that blogging must play a very minor role in my life at the present time, and most likely for the coming three years. It has been one incredible and wonderful journey since leaving London in October 2008, almost one year ago. Thank you for reading and sharing my adventures!

You never know, I might find a few moments here and there to blog about my PhD experiences and Limerick-life.......

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

50th Anniversary Yeats International Summer School, Sligo

Firstly, I must begin with thanking Sligo VEC, in particular Leo J. Regan, from whom I received a scholarship to attend this year's 50th Anniversary Yeats International Summer School. I applied for a place in June, outlining why I would like to attend the course and what I might gain in the form of an essay. A few weeks of waiting and a phone call later, I learn that my application has been successful!
Yeats sculpture, Sligo

The Opening of the Yeats Summer School 2009
The unofficial opening of the school takes place on Saturday 25th July, where there is a buffet dinner and ever-flowing glasses of wine. The official opening of the school begins with a welcoming chorus of uilleann pipes outside The Hawk's Well theatre. The school is officially opened by Helen Vendler, the current Professor of Poetry at Harvard University, during a ceremony hosted by the Mayor of Sligo.
Sligo, my hometown & a source of inspiration for Yeats

Following the ceremony, there is a scenic tour of the Yeats Country concluding with Evensong at Drumcliffe Church, where W. B. Yeats is buried.

Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliffe churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, On death.
Horseman, pass by!

- Under Ben Bulben, W.B.Yeats
Ben Bulben Mountain
Knocknarea Mountain (as viewed from Rosses Point)
Drumcliffe Church
Sligo 'trad' session underway
Daily Programme
The Yeats summer school and festival is spread across two weeks, running from Sunday 26th July until Friday 7th August. Each weekday morning there are lectures at 9.30 am and 11.15am in the Hawk's Well Theatre, with a 15 minute intermission in between for a well-deserved mug of coffee. Most students sign up for seminars which take place from 4.30pm-6pm daily, comprising up to 15 students.

I decide to sign up for the famous Drama Workshop, run by Sam and Joan McCready, founders and artistic directors of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Sam and Joan have acted in and directed plays all over the world, including casts with Kevin Spacey, Liam Neeson and Danny Boyle (director of Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire). The literature states that 'the workshop provides students with an experiential approach to Yeats's drama; in addition to rehearsing a play for public presentation, students receive training in verse speaking, choral speech, characterisation, masks and basic stage movement". Maddie Tongue is a professional choreographer who will be taking classes in movement and dance. Sounds good to me, although given that the workshop will culminate in the production of a Yeats play in two short weeks time (and the fact that I have never done any drama or read a Yeats play in my life!)....I am feeling slightly apprehensive. The drama group will meet from 2.30pm-6.30pm every weekday - a total of forty hours of drama in two weeks!

At lunch-time and most evenings there are special presentations by distinguished writers, poets and musicians (not to mention quite a few pub-outings!).

Given that I have received a scholarship to attend, I am feeling extremely grateful and have personally committed to attending every event that is on offer - an exhausting schedule!!

The lectures, seminars and other educational events total more than forty-five hours of work, the equivalent of most unit or three-credit courses at university. By the looks of my diary, it is looking more eighty-plus hours of work spread across the next couple of weeks. Here is my account of the lectures, workshops, poetry readings, theatre, music, dancing, art exhibitions and parties that I attend over the two weeks of summer school.

Week One

Day 1: Monday 27th July

I'm sitting here in my local theatre, The Hawk's Well, which has been transformed into a lecture hall. I look across to see Seamus Heaney sitting a few seats along my row with his wife Marie. Dotted around the audience there is a blend of famous writers, poets, critics, and students of an assortment of ages (17-86 years) and nationalities (I later count at least eighteen nationalities). Today, the theatre is almost full to capacity and there is a great buzz of excitement. I'm feeling excited too, partly to do with lectures and partly to do with my new notebook and colourful pens - something about new stationary really makes me happy! Okay, no more distractions. Let the lectures commence.

Day 1, Lecture 1: The Old Moon-Phaser: Yeats, Auden and MacNeice
Jonathan Allison (University of Kentucky)

Jonathan Allison is this year's Academic Director and he kicks off the school with an interesting account of the interplay and relationships between Yeats, Auden and MacNeice. This detailed and academic lecture is a pretty heavy start to the morning, emphasised by the speed at which Allison is speaking! Afterwards, I feel I need a strong coffee to get me back into scholarly mode.

Day 1, Lecture 2: Lily and Lolly Yeats: The American Dimension
Maureen Murphy (Hofstra University)

Maureen Murphy is the Assistant Academic Director of the school this year. A more accessible lecture on this Monday morning I feel. She provides a lively account of Lily, Lolly and their father, John Butler Yeats, in the United States. She shares sections of the letters exchanged between the girls and their father, and their subsequent attempts to encourage their father to return to Ireland. The letters provide lovely character details about these talented ladies, making the factual and historical accounts richer and more meaningful.

Evening Entertainment: Poetry Reading by Seamus Heaney
This event has been completely sold-out for a few weeks - I heard one student remark 'What on earth is going on? This is a poetry reading, not a U2 concert!'. Jonathan Allison amusingly informs when introducing the poet to the stage that a 'Seamus Heaney' is now rhyming-slang for a 'bikini' - both concealing and revealing hidden treasures!


Reading old and new poems, Seamus Heaney provides us with interesting nuggets of information and humour about his life and work. He closes the evening with two favourites, Midterm Break and St. Kevin and the Blackbird. I studied this poetry for my Leaving Certificate, so it was fascinating to hear familiar poems read aloud by the creator himself. He certainly has a powerful presence in a room, but yet is friendly and approachable. So approachable, that for the next four days of school he is surrounded by people constantly. Since having a stroke two years ago, Seamus no longer signs books but he is available for a quick chat between lectures.
Leaving the podium after a poetry reading that was humorous & moving

Day 2: Tuesday 28th July

Three Presences: Yeats, Elliot and Pound
Denis Donoghue (New York University)

The Yeats Society is taping each of the morning lectures so that anyone can drop into the Yeats Memorial Building to watch a DVD on a particular topic. This lecture is one that I will be watching again - fascinating and infiltrated with wonderful quotes from Ezra Pound and T.S.Eliot about Yeats.

Vacillation: The Yeatsian Contraries
Helen Vendler (Harvard University)

It is great to get 'stuck into' a poem, have it dissected in minute detail and then put back together with grace by Harvard's Professor of Poetry. It is this lecture that makes me want to sign up for a BA/MA in English Literature immediately! Helen is the type of scholar that dances between topics, abstract and concrete, effortlessly and with elegance.

Lunchtime Theatre: Irish Writers Entertain
Actor Neil O'Shea performs what is described as a 'warm and witty feast' of short scenes from the work of Yeats, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Christy Brown. Needless to say, the material is fantastic but the acting left a little to be desired today. Neil's performance may have been affected by his current state of unwellness, but the performance appeared over-rehearsed and the dialogue between scenes was somewhat patronising given the levels of scholarship within the audience.

Evening Entertainment: Poetry reading with Gerald Dawe and Bernard O'Donoghue

This evening's poetry reading is located in the newly rennovated Methodist Church in Sligo.

It cannot be easy to read one's own poetry to an audience of this calibre, especially when Seamus Heaney, Helen Vendler and your teacher, Sam McCready are all sitting in the front row. This was the scene for Gerald Dawe and despite a few nervous twitches, he shares some interesting and plain-language poems. I particularly like the one about moving from Belfast city to the rugged landscape of Galway as a child and seeing a white bath sitting out in a field.

The highlight of the evening is the reading of the Cork poet, Bernard O'Donoghue's new poem, Ascent of Ben Bulben, which has been commissioned by the Yeats Society to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Bernard has got a lovely lilting Cork accent which seems to accentuate the beauty of his poetry and storytelling. He also seems like such a gentleman, incredibly humble and unassuming.

Day 3: Wednesday 29th July

Yeats's Early Vision: Lost and Regained, 1903 - 1917
Ronald Schuchard (Emory University)

Yeats, Edward Walsh and the Gathering of Folklore
Bernard O'Donoghue (Wadham College Oxford)

Yeats and O'Casey in the Abbey Theatre
Colbert Kearney (University College Cork)

This is another busy and stimulating morning. I find Colbert Kearney's dissection of the public rejection and hysteria between W.B.Yeats and Sean O'Casey particularly fascinating - all the drama!

Evening entertainment: Poems from Eavan Boland and Music with Claire Roche

I'm a fan of Eavan Boland's poetry and have been looking forward to her reading and indeed curious to meet her. She gives a beautiful and highly professional reading. I find her poems provoking, sensitive and sincere. It is refreshing to hear a female voice on topics such as Irishness, myth and history. Here is The Pomegranate which deals with a mother's anxieties and understanding of her teenage daughter.

The Pomegranate

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then
and I knew
winter was in store
for every leaf
on every tree on that
road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate!How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry.I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

The harpist and singer, Claire Roche shares the evening. She plays beautiful music of her own composition and sings some of Yeats's poetry. Her voice reminds me of Kate Bush.

Day 4: Thursday 20th July

Oisin Comes Home: The Young Yeats and Irish Literary tradition in the 19th Century
Roy Foster (Hertford College, Oxford)

Roy Foster appears to be a God-like figure in the Yeats field and is best known for his heavy-weight biographies of Yeats, providing us with a thoroughly engaging account of Yeats in the early stages of his career.

Inheriting a philosophy of life: W.B.Yeats debt to his Father
John Kelly (St. John's College, Oxford)

I thoroughly enjoyed this lecture about John Butler Yeats and his influence on his son. The idea that they 'rediscovered' each other when they were apart, seeking each other's views and respecting those opinions more openly later on in life. John Butler Yeats sounds like an interesting character, with many (I think) profound insights into society. He states that "spite is to Ireland what selfishness is to England" and "Americans are the most promising in the world, if half their commissions come through"! His fascination with subtle nuances between words and their meaning - oratory/rhetoric, joy/pleasure, opinion/idea - later influences his son's writing greatly. By all accounts, John Butler Yeats had a distrust of any personal success, hating egoism ("egoism inspires commerce") with a passion and lived his life more aimlessly making very little money for his beautiful portrait paintings. This lecture makes me curious about the role of Yeats's mother in his life.

The Great Yeats
An excellent monologue play written and performed by Sam McCready (the same Sam who is directing our drama workshop) on the life of John B. Yeats. A highlight of the school for me - Sam is a wonderful actor and really 'brings to life' the complicated and interesting fellow that was John Butler Yeats (father of W.B.Yeats). The play is extremely informative and plays a huge tribute to the learned and gifted painter and writer. The play consolidated and complimented the information learned in the lecture given by John Kelly.

Céilidh Dancing
As if the day hasn't been busy enough already, students and lecturers are invited to Sligo City Hotel for some lessons in céilidh dancing. We have so much fun - another highlight of the school - but we nearly passed out from the heat and exhaustion! There is something amusing (even satisfying) about seeing Oxford (etc.) professors inebriated, singing and dancing! Céilidh might not be the sexiest type of dancing (no Colombian hip-action) but it is certainly one of the most sociable and fun!
Learning the moves
The most experienced dancers show us how to dance in pairs
Rosy cheeks after a night on the dance floor

Day 5: Friday 20th July

Yeats and Symbolism
Warwick Gould (University of London)

Lots of history about symbolism during this lecture, some of which went over my head. I would have enjoyed it more if he had focused more on specific symbols within Yeats poetry.

'Send out naked on the roads': Yeats's Phatasmagoria from 'The Cold Heaven' to 'Cuchulain comforted'. Deirdre Toomey (University of London)

Unfortunately I seemed to have drifted off during this lecture (I blame last night's dancing)..nothing to report from me, other than a big doodle on my notebook. Feeling a little guilty afterwards, I drop by a nearby bookshop and consider buying one of Toomey's books until I find it priced at over one hundred Euro -well above my book-buying budget.

Evening entertainment: Poetry reading from Sinéad Morrissey and Moya Cannon
It is particularly great this evening to have two female poets who are entirely different in style, subject matter and approach. I really liked some of Moya's poetry although a few people complained that her poems were too short!

Overview of the Drama Workshop, Week One
During the first week of drama we get to know each other as a group, playing lots of games and ice-breaker exercises. We learn a little about each other's backgrounds, interests and personalities. Sam and Joan explain their experimental approach to theatre and highlight important and unusual aspects of Yeats's drama. We are becoming a close-knit group who are sensitive to each other and are beginning to function as part of a team. The drama group consists of Mary (Arizona, US), Maureen (Houston, US), Beau (London, UK), Michael (Devon, UK), Maria (Bavaria, Germany), Suzanne (Bavaria, Germany), Gloria (Belfast, UK), Bridget (Belfast, UK), Arthur (Sligo, Ireland), Lucia (Italy), Yuka (Tokyo, Japan), Kyoko (Tokyo, Japan), Lorraine (Sligo, Ireland), Hilary (Sligo, Ireland) and myself (Sligo, Ireland).

Joan orchestrates daily concentration and memory games, sometimes using props such as balls, keys and chewing gum packets. We read the play, 'The Words upon the Window-Pane' every day, discussing it and considering ideas for production. We practice reading poetry, vocal exercises, tongue-twisters, improvisation, dance, stage movement and experiment with wearing masks (Yeats incorporated various aspects of Japanese Noh theatre into his drama). Sam gives us a lesson in the ritualistic elements of Japanese Noh and we are given the opportunity to explore the use of masks. I am amazed at the transformational process that it involved in mask-wearing, 'let the mask lead you' Sam encourages. I find myself acting in ways that I would ordinarily not, I am quite literally a different being and detachment from self, insecurities and social norms (this gets me thinking about the use of balaclava & masks in crime). Maddie, our choreographer, makes us aware of our bodies and how the smallest changes in posture and position can make a significant impact on the stage.

We sing, play the piano and practice different types of walking (apparently David Suchet could not perfect his performance as Poirot until he mastered 'his' walk) - we practice walking like children (Lulu), flirtatious women (Miss McKenna) and boastful academics (John Corbet). We act-out various scenes from the play, experimenting with different people and different sets. Half-way through our four-hour sessions we enjoy a mug of tea (Barry's, of course) and numerous biscuits. All this hard work and fun takes place in the Friary Hall, Sligo. By Friday, we know our roles in the play and have got the weekend to practice and learn our lines. Unfortunately, Mary and Beau are leaving the drama group today as they have only signed up for one week of summer school - we are all very sorry to see them leave, both have been wonderful and creative influences on the group.
Concentration games with balls, masks & numerous other distractions...
The sober faces of concentration
Free-style stage movement with Maddie
This concentration game is called "Zip, Zap, Zop" !!
We laugh....a lot!
Getting the right note for the hymn"Sun of my Soul"
Hilary & Yuka
Exploring the world of masks
Yuka & Suzanne
Friary Hall - choreography with Maddie
Lucia
Group photo - last day of week one
Tea in the yard with Mary & Maria
Tea & Biscuits, hmmmm (Yuka, Bridget, Maureen & Mary)
Oh the excitement at 4 o'clock teatime!
Ending the week on a good note (L-R: Maria, Mary, Lorraine & Tom)

Exhibition of Jack B. Yeats: The Sligo Paintings

Sligo was my school, and the sky above it

Jack B. Yeats (the brother of W.B.Yeats) is widely considered one of Ireland’s most important twentieth century painters. Reared in Sligo by his maternal grandparents, the young Yeats spent much of his time travelling about the town and county with his grandfather who owned a shipping business. The landscape and the characters he encountered during this time made a deep and lasting impression on the young artist, and he returned to the memories of his Sligo days for inspiration for his work again and again throughout his life. In his later years Yeats acknowledged the deep influence of Sligo on his work in the words “Sligo was my school, and the sky above it” This exhibition celebrates the influence of Sligo on Yeats’ work and brings together many of his finest paintings from the Niland Collection.

We are eagerly awaiting the re-opening of the Model Niland Gallery in Sligo, where there will be a major retrospective exhibiton of the painter in June 2010.

On Sunday 2nd August, there is a book launch - 'The Only Art of Jack B. Yeats', a beautiful collection of letters and essays, edited by Declan Foley.

Week 2
Feeling somewhat revived after the weekend, I am ready for week two. I am curious to see whether the general feelings of excitement and energy will continue during the second week. I know myself that I am still exhausted, and I am sleeping in my own bed and operating in my mother-language. The weather has been miserable and all those eager sight-seeing students have been almost washed away during attempts to climb Knocknarea. Although a few students (mainly from dry, arid regions) tell me they are enjoying the constant downpours immensely. Ah but we Irish like to grumble, in particular about the weather. There are fewer students at lectures this morning, perhaps a few too many Guinness last night?

Day 1: Monday 3rd August

The Winding Stair and Other Poems
George Bornstein (University of Michigan)

George Bornstein discussion this particular volume of Yeats's poetry, considering the thematic ordering (rather than chronological). He mentions how initial poems in each volume are often critiqued by subsequent poems. Yeats was known for his excessive revisions of ordering, continuing after publication. He continues to discuss themes throughout the volume, focusing on particular poems. He notes that Yeats was particularly interested in learning the reactions to his poems, in particular his females acquaintances. In a diary, Lady Gregory writes that she is not sure how to respond to the poem that mentions her 'yellow hair'. When Yeats reads the poem to her first, she is unsure what would be an acceptable reply so she encourages him to 'read it again'. Yeats seems pleased and reads the poem again. After the second reading, Lady Gregory gets up to leave stating 'now I must wash my hair'!

Cuchulain's Only Son
Elizabeth Butler Cullingford (University of Texas)

This lecture is fascinating, drawing together strands from literature, popular culture, high culture, art, mythology and feminism about only children -raising issues such as 'it is a disease in itself', loneliness, maladjustion, fear of loss, putting 'all eggs in one basket', triangular structure, gender structure (2:1), intensity of relationships and differences between representations in literature and the media. Elizabeth then cleverly linking the discussion back to Yeats and his obsession with the heroic figure, Cuchulain - discussing in particular themes of risk and fear of loss. She pays particular attention to when poems and plays first appear and how revised editions change in later years. l look forward to Elizabeth's forthcoming book, Representing the Only Child.

Evening entertainment: Brock McGuire Band
Paul Brock and Manus McGuire, two of Ireland's most acclaimed musicians, lead the Irish folk band, Brock McGuire band. Enda Scahill plays banjo like I've never seen anyone play before! Denis Carey is a piano-player and composer, who has composed music for a number of films. My Mum's first cousin, Paul and his wife, Kay are visiting us from Australia at the moment, and they also really enjoy the show.
Great music - particularly enjoyed the banjo player!
video
I'm not clapping - Video
Kay, Anne & Paul - notice the glorious summer's eve

Day 2: Tuesday 4th August

Yeats' Other Island
Edna Longley (Queen's University, Belfast)

Edna Longley is generally thought of as one of the most influential critics writing on modern Irish and British poetry, and is one of the most powerful voices in contemporary Irish culture. This is a highly thought-provoking lecture, raising many questions about Irish and English influences on Yeats.

Yeats's Canons
Peter McDonald (Christ Church Oxford)

I am particularly interested in the idea of Yeats compulsively 'remaking' himself through his poetry, as raised by McDonald in this lecture. Yeats is quoted as saying "it is myself that I remake" and he became angry if anyone tampered with this remaking, such as changing the order of his canons - the idea that he who moves my poems will be cursed! Yeats believed there is always an opportunity for further revisions - believing this process of revisiting and revising as positive, 'a version of myself in certain moods'. He describes an excitement from re-reading his own poems that matches the delight of first composition ("my body a sudden blaze"). The transience of permanence and impermanence, in particular the difficulties of textual permanence. For Warwick Gould, the publication of Yeats's poetry was simply 'a moment of composition'.

Evening entertainment: Poetry reading by Michael Longley
Michael Longley is celebrating his 70th birthday this week and the RTÉ have broadcast an interesting programme on The Arts Show about his life and work to commemorate. Tonight is an eventful evening with one woman collapsing and then an issue with the lights inside the Church, Longley deals with each unexpected situation with sensitivity and appropriate humour. My Mother, who joins me at the reading, feels that he is 'the kind of man who makes me feel safer being in his presence'. What strikes me about his poetry is his delicacy with words and yet brutal honesty. His wife and muse, Edna, plays a tremendous role in his life - both individuals are famous and highly-acclaimed, he as a poet and she as a critic. I notice that they don't sit beside each other in lectures; I like to think that they grant each other professional space and lime-light while loving and supporting each other in private. Tonight, he reads poems about his grandchildren, flowers, lost friends, Shetland ponies and horrific war themes. Longley ends the reading by saying that we were a great audience, sitting in pure silence without coughing - a rare treat.

Day 3: Wednesday 5th August

Yeats: The Colour of Poetry
Terence Brown (Trinity College, Dublin)

Professor Brown traces the evolution of the use of colour throughout the history of the poet. Beginning with examples of early poetry that were rich in colours, and discussing the use of colour as symbols. Whereas later poetry is deliberately barren in colour terms. Yeats changes his view and approach to colour significantly, expressing his dissatisfaction with overcharged colour, and focusing more fully on the presence of a pervasive light. Brown continues to discuss the poet's fascination with female hair colour. His later poetry contains greater narrative descriptions, dependent of line and form with limited colouration. Fascinating also is the use of 'grey' as a means of symbolic expression.

Yeats and the Idea of Tradition
Edward Larrissy (Queen's University, Belfast)

The lecture discusses Yeats interactions with "tradition" - Classical literature, societal, philosophy, ethical and political conservatism.

Observing Jack Yeats
Nicholas Allen (NUI Galway)

Focusing mainly on the manuscripts, life drawings, letters, maps and children's books/puppets of Jack B. Yeats, Allen provides us with some interesting insights into the life and personality of Jack. Allen reminds us that it is important to consider from where the artist looks (artist's location) not just the subject matter. The slides shown are beautiful. The lecture reminds me that Jack was a wonderful writer as well as an exceptional artist. It also makes me think I could quite happily live a life similar to that of Jack - writing, painting, riding horses and fiddling around with boats......

Day 4: Thursday 6th August

Yeats and Sligo
David Fitzpatrick (Trinity College Dublin)

It is interesting to get a historian's perspective on the Yeats's connection to Sligo, this is a work-in-progress, and David opens the floor to the audience for comment and correction. It is great to break down the formal boundaries and listen to others questions and comments. The debate opens up the idea of having a physical home and/or a spiritual home - a place where one returns to become grounded and source their creative power? Fitzpatrick says Yeats spent roughly a time-period of seven years in Sligo in total. One local woman says 'Yeats claimed Sligo as his home, so we return the gesture and claim Yeats as our poet'.

Cuchulain the American
Meg Harper (Georgia State University)

Harper takes an interesting slant on the Irish mythical character of Cuchulain and draws similarities between the symbolism and cultural purpose of the cowboy mythology of the American (Wild) West - themes such as cultural identity, geographical representations, ideas of masculinity (Cuchulain - the ideal male citizen of Ireland) and autonomy interactions with native people and the escapism of story-telling (particularly during times of economic and political uncertainty).

Lunchtime theatre: The Cat and the Moon
Perhaps the most famous of Yeats’ mask plays, The Cat and the Moon is a comedy about two symbiotically dependent beggars; one blind, the other lame - and their mutual torment of one another as they search out a holy well and resident supernatural saint whom it’s reputed can cure both their afflictions. The Cat and The Moon was first premiered at The Abbey Theatre on September 21st, 1931.
This Blue Raincoat’s production of “The Cat and the Moon” is directed by Ciaran McCauley, a member of Blue Raincoat who has focused exclusively on Yeats in his career as a Director. The play features the well-known actor and writer Michael Harding (Winner “Best Actor Award”, Dublin Fringe Festival, 2003) and Michael Roper in the roles of the Blind Man and the Lame Man. The chorus is made up of Sandra O’Malley, Barbara Ryan, and Kellie Hughes.
The play is outstanding - the set, the movement, the use of mask, music, timing, voice projection and interaction between the characters. Attending the drama workshop has fine-tuned my appreciation of the production, in particular the elements and themes that are common in Yeats's plays.

Evening entertainment: Dinner provided by "Sligo Tourist Development Association"
The drama gang - being noisy and doing drama-things
I've just spotted the cake.....
Yum Yum

Day 5: Friday 7th August

Yeats The Literary Hero
Anne Margaret Daniel (New School, New York)

I am particularly interested to hear that Anne Margaret Daniel is currently writing a book about Redheads! This lecture is based on the first edition of the novel 'Evelyn Innes' (1898) by George Moore and the idea that central characters are based on W.B.Yeats, Olivia Shakespeare and Maud Gome. The speaker discusses the interactions between protagonists with humour and drama, a sort of Yeats meets 'Sex and the City' discussion!

A Family Affair: The Yeatses and the Cuala Press
Declan Kiely (Morgan Library, New York)

It is interesting to hear the history of the Cuala Press whose mission it was to 'make beautiful things by Irish hands'. Kiely shares images from the digital library of the handmade books with close ups of the woodcuts, binding, layout and design during the history of the Cuala Press.
One of the famous woodcut prints of the Cuala Press

Time for a quick 'class photo' & then, it is off to rehearsal

Overview of the Drama Workshop, Week Two
The rain does not seem to stop for the first few days, we all get drenched on the way to drama and then steam up the windows of the Friary Hall. At least the hall is warmer this week with the addition of two electric heaters. Incidentally, since arriving back from Latin America I cannot seem to get warm (unless induced by exercise or electric blankets) - does anyone know how long it takes for ones internal body heating regulation system to catch up with one's physical location in the world? At this rate, I fear that if I remain in Ireland I may have perished before the end of September.

Returning to drama this week, there is a more serious atmosphere. There is a realisation by us students that we have five days until our performance in The Hawk's Well theatre. Sam is looking a little stressed and sleep-deprived, although manages to stay patient. Given that in addition to getting us lot into shape, he is also playing the leading role of Purgatory, he has got a lot on his plate. This is where the positive and calming influence of Joan shines even more brightly (behind every great man there is a great woman...etc.).

This week the structure of our day is slightly different. We spend a few minutes warming up our bodies and voices and then launch straight into rehearsals. We practice our lines, as well as the hymn and poems contained within the play. There are fleeting moments where I think 'aargh I'm tired and want to go home' but then those frustrated feelings are replaced by wonder at the progress and evolution of our play. We work long hours. By Thursday the play is really beginning to come together, Sam shares his relief and his lack of sleep earlier in the week. It amazes me how much a performance can improve from one rehearsal to the next, within a couple of hours.

There are two plays being performed tonight. Firstly, there is a production of Purgatory, performed by Sam McCready, Maddie Tongue and Michael Fish. Secondly, the play that we have been rehearsing for the past two weeks, The Words upon the Window Pane.

Purgatory
This tells of a family saga of decline and fall through its two remaining members: an Old Man (the father, Sam) and a Boy (his sixteen year old son, Michael). It was first presented in at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on 19 August 1938, a few months before Yeats's death. It is set outside the former family home, which the Old Man's father had drunkenly burned down, leading him to kill his father as the building perished. The Boy is skeptical about tales of his family's former grandeur, and is repelled by the Old Man's story of losing his own mother as she gave birth to him, and the decline subsequent events wrought on the family. Tonight, the Old Man tells the Boy, is the anniversary of his mother's wedding night. This was the night on which he was conceived after a bout of drunken carousing by his father, and thus when his mother's fate was sealed. At this point a ghostly figure appears illuminated in a window of the wrecked house. In an attempt to wrest his mother's soul from purgatory, he suddenly stabs and kills the Boy. However it appears to be in vain: approaching hoof beats of his ghostly father returning to the bridal bed signal that no spirits have left the place, and the grim cycle begins again.

This production is outstanding. As well as directing our play, Sam has been rehearsing this play. Michael, who plays the role of the Boy in this play also plays a leading role in The Words Upon the Window-Pane. Maddie's plays out the Mother's grief in a meaningful and beautiful way.
The Old Man shares the grim story with the Boy
The mother, a soul locked in her own misery

The Words upon the Window-Pane
This W.B.Yeats play concerns another great figure from Irish literature, Jonathan Swift, whose spirit, with those of his two lovers, Stella and Vanessa, and the torment felt by by each. Swift's torment and ultimately Stella's revenge are enacted by Mrs.Henderson when she and group of others gather together for a séance. What is particularly interesting is that each of the characters attending the séance have their own personal agenda for being there. Richard Allen Cave (1997) notes that "this play is not easily forgotten: it fulfils Yeats's desire that a play should 'engross the present and the dominate memory' in the most potent and challenging way". The play is powerful when read, but of course much more so when acted out at the theatre.


Before we go on stage, we have a group-hug in the dressing room and Sam says 'now the work is done, go out there and have fun!' That is exactly what we do. The energy between each of us performers on stage is electric - at various points during the play, particularly when the supernatural occurrences began to take place, I can feel the hairs on my neck stand up! We are all so engrossed in our characters and the séance that it actually feels real - I am experiencing the emotions of the ghost of Johnathan Swift!!
It was great to have the talented Sligo-woman, Lorraine Maloney, playing the challenging role of Mrs. Henderson (that's me in the background as a ghost of J.Swift!)
Mrs. Mallet (Brigid), Cornelius Patterson (Arthur) & Minister Abraham Johnson (Suzanne)
"Lulu is going to scream....."
Mr. Corbet (Michael) & Miss McKenna (Hilary): "I feel something is going to happen"
"I am by profession a Minister of the Gospel......I shall be able to communicate with the great Evangelist Moody."
John Corbet (Michael) shows Dr.Trench (Kyoko) the words upon the window-pane
Dr. Trench, who once was a sceptic....
You taught how I might youth prolong
By knowing what is right and wrong,
How from my heart to bring supplies
Of lustre to my fading eyes.

Farewell parties: The Glasshouse, Sligo
We are all giddy and delighted when we come off stage, dancing around and cheering spontaneously! We get out of our costumes and head over to The Glasshouse where the party is in full swing. Most of the people who were in the audience are here and they tell us how great we are and that they were truly mesmerised by the performance! We have a few glasses of wine, play a few last drama games, such as 'I'm a bunny rabbit' and then it is time to say goodbye with reluctance.
Gloria, Brigid, Sam & Stella Mew (CEO of the school)
Camellia, (a Romanian student with her husband, along with Margaret Raftery (my secondary-school English teacher who encouraged me to attend the school) & her husband, Noel
Mum & friends - Anne, Sheila & Sandy
More cake....!!
Suzanne & Maria
Japanese expression of Irish music
Michael & Hilary
Maddie (choreographer), Joan (actress & director) & Maddie's husband
Playing 'Who's a bunny rabbit?'
Experimental theatre leads to many great things, including experimental dancing!

Closing thoughts
The two weeks have been a phenomenonal success for me personally and based on the feedback I have heard from fellow students, lecturers and organisers. I have learned a great deal about W.B.Yeats, the man, the poet and the dramatist - but also I have expanded by knowledge about the talented Yeats family, the Pollexfens and their connections to Sligo. It has been wonderful to make new friends and share the experience with people from all over the world. I would go so far as to say that the drama workshop has been life-changing, most certainly it has been a life-enriching experience. Who would have thought that twelve absolute strangers could develop such a close bond and produce such a fantastic performance? Certainly not without Sam and Joan McCready! I will always look back upon the Yeats Summer School 2009 as two weeks that were filled with learning, laughter, friendship and fun! I heard one lady in her forties on the phone telling her partner that 'this is the best thing I have ever done'.

For future years it would be great to see younger lecturers and more female lecturers - looking at the cast of lecturers, many of whom had grey beards, it did make me wonder who is going to carry on this tradition? Perhaps this year due to the 50th anniversary they called in the "heavy-weights" as I heard someone describe them! However, it was wonderful to see four young Sligo people attending the summer school and taking part in the drama workshop. The lectures were very formal and it would be nice to encourage more spontaneous discussions, opinions and feedback. There have been complaints that the two-week programme is too tiring and intensive, however, people can opt to attend for one-week if they chose. I would like to see the Yeats Summer School being marketed more effectively and represented in the National (and International) media. The fact that the only newspapers reporting the events were The Sligo Champion and a German broadsheet is disgraceful - why are the Irish Times or the Irish Independent not jumping on the story (they were invited by the Yeats Society)? This is one of the many great annual events in Ireland where we can raise awareness of Irish literary talent and take pride in Irish culture and achievement.
Some students are staying in Sligo for a few more days so myself & Lorraine bring them along to the Tobergal Lane Cafe for jazz
Eddie Lee (another Sligo talent) & his fellow jazz musicians