Jessica Casey and other adventures

AWAY WITH Words - brainchild of Claude Madec of the Brothers of Charity Services - is an arts project which enables people with intellectual disabilities to explore creativity through writing.

Jessica Casey and Other Works (Salmon Poetry ) is the group’s first major publication. The book is dedicated to Mike Diskin “who opened doors…” The centre piece is the rollercoaster story of a young Mayo woman with attitude, Jessica Casey. There is also an animated version of her story on the accompanying DVD. It is written, in collaboration with tutor Mary Madec, by creative writing participants at the Duirling Centre in County Galway.

The animation was made in collaboration with visual artist Aideen Barry. It is a brilliantly hilarious tour-de-force. Jessica Casey is “from County Mayo, Castlebar in fact. She has a pink hand with long purple nails…”

Jessica is, in many ways, a quintessential child of our late lamented tiger boom: “Jessica is SOO excited. She’s going for a makeover with Xposé.” She is forever on the lookout for a get rich quick scheme: “She wakes up and she is sweating. Soaked. Worse still, she realises it was all a dream. No lotto. No money. She starts crying. Oh boy (or girl ), back to reality…”

If you ever need cheering up, buy this book and watch the accompanying DVD version of Jessica. It will not fail you.

Also here are creative writings by a number of other Away With Words groups which meet regularly at various locations around Galway city and county. The group I facilitate myself, whose participants include Eugene O’Keeffe, Angela Wilson, and Paddy McDonagh, make a fine contribution to the book.

Towards the end of last year, Away With Words participants took first, second, and third place in Inclusion Ireland’s national poetry competition, an amazing achievement by any standard. David Cormican’s winning poem ‘I am an Ash Tree’ is included here. Sadly, David died a few weeks before the prize giving ceremony.

In second place was Sharon Murray’s brilliant ‘Sad’ which is, in my view, better than many of the poems which appear in Poetry Ireland Review:

“I feel sad because my little cousin Lauren

is in hospital.

And the black crows have taken all the food

from the little robins.”

Ronan Scannell’s poem ‘Blue Paint’ starts with the beautifully cranky line: “I feel sad when people talk rubbish.” I know how he feels. This year’s Cúirt Festival, at which Jessica Casey was launched, has come in for some reactionary criticism about the number of ‘fringe’ events included in the programme. The Away With Words launch would, presumably, be thought of in that way.

Such comments are the frightened ramblings of those who want to keep the literary world small and precious and irrelevant to the vast majority. It is absolutely appropriate that writers such as those involved with Away With Words should be part of a festival such as Cúirt, and that anyone who pops up to suggest otherwise should be immediately put back in his/her box.

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