CONSCIOUS OF the fact that Galway’s literary festival, Cúirt, was becoming somewhat estranged from the people of Galway, for whom it was inaugurated, it was decided four years ago to organise a number of events in and for local communities, to bring the festival back to the people.
Perhaps the most interesting of these events are the Kitchen Readings. In this instance the directors of Cúirt got in touch with the staff of the Westside and Ballybane branches of Galway County Library, and through the enthusiastic co-operation of the library staff, identified several households in the neighbourhood who would be interested in, and able to accommodate, readings by visiting authors in the kitchen.
These informal gatherings are free and open to all. The guests gather in the kitchen with the overflow finding seating in the hallway or, weather permitting, in the garden, are served the tea and scones provided by the hosts, and then listen to the reading.
The event has a wonderful, warm, neighbourly feel to it and is evocative of the old Irish tradition of the ceilí where, during the winter months, people would gather nightly at a designated house to hear the news and listen to the wonderful tales of the local seanachaí.
There is an added local interest this year in that one of the poets reading in the kitchen is the Athenry poet Elaine Feeney. What makes her participation all the more interesting is that at first glance her poetry suggests she wouldn’t spend five minutes in a kitchen if she could help
it, not to mind read poetry there:
“‘We are laying hens – be done with it’/She said, bloody cheek of her. But then Teresa spoke/ over cold cheap coffee,/of female mutilations,/of tribal kings taking/ Virgins to cure a virus./So while the West’s awake,/ten year olds die with choking children/ Stuck in immature canals. Women of the World Unite!/Fight the quiet”.
The impression given here, of a flag waving feminist, is not however what Feeney’s work is about. As suggested in another poem - “I am a farmer’s daughter./Bad sessht to them/twas a terrible ordeal/sure twas terrible/ arra shtop, shtop entirely,/poor fuckereens” - her rural background underlines the earthiness, not to say rawness, of her writing and what emerges is a writer imbued with a warm humanity and a wonderful sense of humour that is a far cry from a ranting radical shouting slogans from the treetops.
Born in 1979, Feeney’s poetry bears witness to the female experience in an Ireland where social, religious, and political values seemed to be disintegrating. There is anger and frustration evident in the work which finds expression in a powerful invective that is savage, even visceral, but this is balanced with a fine sense of humour constantly simmering within the text and it is this ability to laugh that gives the poems their generous humanity.
Her poetry is a full blooded assertion of womanhood with no holds barred and definitely no apology. Here we have the growing girl, the teenager, the young woman, wife and mother debunking the male myths:
“But they weren’t to be trusted./ Horsemen/ Dealers/ With their swaggering big fingers./ With their eyes wild to the wind,/ with their foot shuffling language,/ their unsettled eyes darting./ Their coarse fearless souls/ as they spat words to the dry earth,/ every beast was the same,/ once it obeyed.”
The sheer rhythm, the undoubted sincerity, and down to earth energy of these verses, the passion and power of their utterance, ensure that those few who are to have the privilege of witnessing and hearing Elaine Feeney reading her poetry in the kitchen are in for a rare treat indeed.