IN A very real sense Gerald Dawe and Salmon Poetry’ Jessie Lendennie - the publisher of Dawe’s new book Catching the Light: Views & Interviews by Gerald Dawe - were the pioneers locally who showed us that literature is born in the here and now rather than in some misty idealised past.
Poems are written by living breathing people who need a meaningful context in which to operate. Poets need inspiration and to learn their craft, absolutely. They also need to find a way of getting their poems heard and into print.
It would be fair to say that, these days, emerging poets in Galway have never had it so good. There are more outlets than ever before where they can read their own work: North Beach Poetry Nights, Over The Edge and the Cúirt Poetry Grand Slam.
There are poetry workshops, creative writing classes, and writers groups of every variety. There are publications - Crannóg, West 47, and the Cúirt Annual - where a new-to-the-business poet can try his or her hand at publishing those first few poems. There is an excellent new publisher, Wordsonthestreet. Every April there is Cúirt.
We have, indeed, never had it so good. Of course it wasn’t always so. In the essay, ‘Moon’s Corner’, Dawe brings to life the cultural landscape that was the Galway in which he arrived from war torn Belfast in 1974: “Kenny’s was the backdrop; the fulcrum. My books were launched there, numbers of magazines edited were sent on their way.”
He talks about his friendship with playwright Thomas Kilroy: “I met Tom Kilroy as he was preparing the ground for what was to become the inaugural Arts Council National Writers Workshop, which would be based at University College Galway. Tom as moderator was fascinated by what each of the individual writers, of whom I was one, could do with his or her own talent.”
Those early days are always, for any writer, the best of times. Dawe makes it clear that Kilroy was a very rigorous teacher; no advocate of the ‘Well isn’t that very nice now’ school of literary criticism. Kilroy was always interested in opening rather than closing doors for fledgling writers.
It is the only approach for a creative writing teacher to take because, in my experience, in almost every poem or story a student shows you there is at least one image, one line, one paragraph which just might be the beginning of something really great.
There are many other fine essays here such as ‘A Giant At My Shoulder’, about Dawe’s association with Van Morrison, and ‘Chronicles of Americana’, in which he talks, among other things, about the way his personal Belfast of the late sixties and early seventies was changed utterly by the likes of Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac.
If you have any interest at all in the origins of the Galway literary species get your hands on this book and turn immediately to page 29; then let Gerry Dawe take you for a walk “by Moon’s Corner, the post office, down to the Law Court and Library and over the Salmon Weir Bridge”.