JHISS Highlights

Hopefully, from my first post on the matter, you got a taste for how great the John Hewitt International Summer School is. If you’re a writer who has never experienced it first-hand, I hope the jealously these posts no doubt engender within you push you to go next year. If you’re a sponsor of one (or more) of the bursary places, I hope you see what a wonderful thing it is you’ve enabled. And, if you’re a prospective funder, I hope this convinces you to invest in the arts. It is sorely needed.

Already, I’ve talked a little about what the summer school has taught me and shared some of the work it has helped me produce – I plan to share more on both those topics in the coming weeks – but what I want to do in this post is shine a light on specific events within the programme that particularly blew me away.

So, without further ado…

Day one, for me, started with an Ulster Fry at the Charlemont Arms. So far, so good. You’ve got to get a decent breakfast in you if you’re to make it through twelve hours of programming in a single stretch. Each day I ate lunch and dinner in a different place, trying to experience as much of what the city had to offer as possible.

I was not disappointed. The ice cream, in particular, was a favourite.

As someone who often finds themselves lacking in energy, I had a game plan when it came to the week. This was two-fold:

  1. I was going to pace myself, aiming to attend the recommended 80% of events but not stressing if I came in at 79% by the end of it all.
  2. I was going to avoid going back to my room during breaktimes, knowing full well that if I did I would get comfortable and fall asleep, despite my best intentions.

On both these counts, I was successful – as successful as I hoped but rather more successful than I actually realistically expected. I’m genuinely proud of how much I threw myself into everything.

I started strong as day one turned out to be the busiest of the whole week. After the aforementioned breakfast, I checked out of my room at the Charlemont, walked over to the Royal School and checked in there before heading over to the Market Place Theatre to register my attendance, get my pack and badge, and marvel at the beautiful No Alibis bookstall.

There was a brief welcome from Tony Kennedy, chair of the John Hewitt Society, then it was time for the official opening address by former politician Martin Mansergh. Both this talk and the following event of Patrick Gale in conversation with C.L. Dallat were not things I would have gone to of my own accord, without being a bursary student, but both were poignant and nuanced and I was left feeling impressed and more open-minded.

I could not speak highly enough of Bernie McGill and her workshops so will instead point to the small pieces of flash and microfiction I completed under her three-day tutelage, trusting they speak for themselves instead. The first of these pieces I have already linked to and, as I’ve said, there are more to come if you keep an eye on this blog during the rest of August.

On both the Monday and Friday, there were lovely evening meals provided during receptions for the opening of photography exhibitions and the closing of the main proceedings after the mayor handed out certificates to everyone who completed the week.

Twice I thought I had done all of my book-buying only to attend an event and suddenly find myself needing to purchase yet another work. Such was the case with Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park and To Sweeten Bitter by Raymond Antrobus.

It’s hard to pick, but I think the poetry event with Raymond and Rachel Long was the highlight of my highlights.

It was great to see well-known, long-established poets (Michael Longley) and authors (Liz Nugent) share the stage with fresh voices.

I will not forget the words of poets Imtiaz Dharker and Kim Moore in a hurry, and I believe the performances of Michael Murfi during his two one-man shows will stay with me forever. If you’re able to catch The Man in the Woman’s Shoes or the sequel (I Hear You and Rejoice) on tour, I urge you to jump at the chance.

And I will stop there because I could go on forever and it would still end up only being a summary of all that happened. Further thoughts to follow.

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