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2008 Festival Report

The twelfth BAFFLE festival that took place over the weekend of 24th-26th October 2008 was nothing less than glorious, and we are not blowing our own trumpet in saying that. A varied programme was on offer to poets and poetry lovers alike (often one and the same!) and the proceedings were carried out in the spirit of true poetic appreciation laced with a healthy sense of irreverence, which is very much the spirit of all BAFFLE occasions.

On Friday night in Loughrea library, a crowd assembled to raise a glass of wine to one another and to listen to the poems of Kerryman Simon O’Faolain, which he read in Irish, before offering a translation into English. Simon gave us a selection of precise, thoughtful poems, with the odd dash of humour, and we were delighted to announce that he is shortly to receive the Glen Dimplex Award 2008 for Anam Mhadra, his first poetry collection.

Peggie Gallagher followed with her own work, including The Magician, the poem dealing with death and new life that was shortlisted for the Strokestown International Poetry Festival 2008.

Saturday morning saw a group of us back in the library for a poetry workshop with James Harpur. Those of us who attended the 2007 workshop with James were eager to return, as he is not only a poet of immense merit, with several well received poetry collections to his name, the latest of which is The Dark Age, published by the Anvil Press, but also a much sought-after tutor.

Despite weather that seemed to be coming straight off the Arctic Circle, a few doughty souls braved the lashing rain and set off on Saturday afternoon on the BAFFLE ramble, led by former BAFFLE Bard Ray Gately, notably Simon O’Faolain and his wife Zoë, and Peggie Gallagher. (Poets seem to be made of rugged stuff.) Less brave festivalgoers met them in the Teach Beag for a wonderful session of stew (both Irish and a vegetarian version) and story-telling.

As Rab Swannock Fulton, the Glaswegian storyteller who has now made his home in Galway, remarked, we were all lined up in the Green Room like children waiting to be tucked in to bed before being told a bedtime story. Rab managed to weave a real magic spell over us adults, with stories of witches and magic porridge, of mermaids and doomed sailors, all told with great energy, lots of suspense and, you’ve guessed it, a healthy dose of humour.

The heats of the poetry competition took place on Saturday night in three venues, each provided with a compere and an incorruptible judge. Entries were high this year, with some fifty poets submitting poems on the festival theme The First Time.

Emcee Brian Nolan told his audience in O’Dea’s Hotel some of the history of Loughrea, while James Harpur whittled down the entries to a shortlist of five. Over in Finnigan’s, a bow-tied Joe Barrett, ever witty and humorous charmed the crowds while Mark Conroy had an agonising job of choosing his shortlist from a fine crowd of contenders. And in Harney’s the craic was mighty as emcee Paddy Cleary entertained the throng during the deliberations of the two judges, Kate McMahon and Peggie Gallagher.

The icing on the cake was delivered by that towering genius, Declan O’Brien, who visited a couple of the venues to treat the eager crowds to a few of his wittiest recitals and a chance to buy his latest CD, Declan O’Brien – Live in Loughrea.

Sunday dawned fine and the bus delivered the crowd to Slatefort House for the BAFFLE Brunch on a bright autumn day with the trees all in golden and red leaf. Greeted at the door with a glass of Buck’s Fizz, the brunchers showed little sign of any hangover, and tucked into a terrific buffet lunch before composing themselves for the entertainment.

The three young winners of the School Students Competition, all from St Raphael’s School, Loughrea, were announced and invited to read their winning entries, written on the same theme, The First Time. Third place went to Claire Colman, whose poem dealt with unrequited young love; in second place came Alan Cormican’s observation of a fledgling’s first attempt to fly, with the first prize going to Eoin Gallagher and his fresh reworking of a theme that is often clichéd and hackneyed – his view of a tree throughout the four seasons.

The outgoing BAFFLE Bard, Micheal Kearney, recited the poem that won last year and we were sad that Geraldine Bane, hugely popular winner of last year’s People’s Choice award was not able to appear through ill health.

The main speaker at the brunch had appeared at BAFFLE once before and she came back by popular request – Rita Ann Higgins, poet, playwright, Galway woman and member of Aosdana. She pulls no punches in her poetry and addresses contemporary themes with wit, with devastating honesty and verbal inventiveness. Reading from her latest collection, Throw in the Vowels, published by Bloodaxe, she was a great hit with the crowd.

And if that wasn’t enough, the brunch finished with a reading from a short story collection by a Dublin writer and longtime BAFFLE favourite, Vinnie Caprani. His account of the misadventures of Jem in London during a period of republican activity had to be heard to be believed and I saw several people nearly ill with laughter.

The culmination of the festival was the Sunday night in O’Dea’s Hotel, where the 16 finalists assembled to contest for the title of BAFFLE Bard 2008 and to have their names inscribed on the BAFFLE Trophy, a bronze turnip sculpted for us by John Behan. (For more information about the reason we have a turnip as our trophy, see The About BAFFLE page.) Master of Ceremonies Declan O’Brien announced the evening’s entertainment, beginning with a lively, witty set by Tony Callinan, musician and composer, who formerly played with Stockton’s Wing. His song about the helpful carpet layer had us rocking with merriment and his powerful guitar accompaniment set us in the mood for a night to remember.

Chief judge for the evening was Iggy McGovern, whose first poetry collection The King of Suburbia, published by Dedalus, won the Glen Dimplex Award for Poetry. He treated us to a selection of poems, including his lively list poem, for which he was shortlisted for the Strokestown International Poetry Competition 2008.

Iggy, who is Associate Professor of Physics at Trinity College when he is not writing poetry, was assisted in the judging by Simon O’Faolain, and an immensely difficult job they had of it, as the standard of entry this year was the highest anyone can remember.

All sixteen finalists read or recited their poems, ranging hugely in style and content, although there was a fair smattering of humorous and saucy poems throughout, which was perhaps predictable, given the theme!

Finally the moment of truth arrived, and after a masterly summing up of each individual poem by the two judges, the results of the competition were announced and the winners came up to the pulpit (literally!) to receive their inscribed silver photograph frames, their cheques and hearty congratulations.

In third place was The First Time by Cathleen Callinan, sister of Tony Callinan, who had so greatly entertained us earlier. Hers was a witty take on ‘the first time’, leading the listener into a trap before letting us in on the twist.

In second place was Lorg Méire, a poem in Irish by Seán Ó Flannagáin (John Flanagan), translated into English as Finger prints. This tender and beautifully crafted poem impressed the judges immediately and since John won third prize in last year’s competition, he is known to BAFFLE audiences as a fine poet.

And the winner was also, appropriately, appearing in the BAFFLE final for the first time. Lorna Brown’s poem The First Time was very concise and condensed, demanding on first hearing, and dealt in a most delicate and truly poetic way with a highly sensitive topic.

The evening would not be complete without giving the crowd a chance to make their voices heard, and when the votes were tallied up, the outright winner of the People’s Choice was Eamonn McNally with his hilarious poem that examined the plight of Ancient Man.

(Note: The winning poems can be read in the Archive page on the Festival section of this site)

Another BAFFLE festival had just finished, although not before the capacity crowd had retreated to the bar!


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