Saturday, June 03, 2006

White House Poetry Revival Celebrates Three Years


White House Poets Well Versed After Three Successful Years

Wednesday the 7th June 2006 will be an historic date in the lives of the White House Poets. It will be three years to the day the Barney Sheehan first began the now famous weekly poetry reading called the ‘White House Poetry Revival’ and although poetry has been well and truly revived in Limerick due to his efforts the name has taken on a new meaning over the past 156 weeks. From that first tentative effort to provide a platform for young (and not so young) poets to perform their work in public the ‘revival’ has become a by word for poetry with a bit of craic. Catering as it does for all strands of the poetic art from high academic to doggerel verse, to quote Barney Sheehan ‘ there are no hierarchies of talent or fame at the White House’. But the name, with its almost evangelical overtones, forges a path between the rock and roll of ‘slam’ poetry and a traditional reading. Here you will find in the front room of the busy White House pub an oasis of culture where poets ply their trade every Wednesday. Hosted over by the exuberant Barney Sheehan a heady mix of poetry and verse is served up to the always large crowd some of whom have come to take part in the proceedings while others just to listen, whichever, everyone is made very welcome.

Of course "they said it wouldn't last" according to Barney but single handily he has done what the doubters said could not be done and now three years down the road the event has gone from strength to strength and is the focal point for live poetry in Limerick.

The revival kicked off in dramatic fashion during the summer ofof 2003 with Limericks most famous living poet Desmond O'Grady. Desmond recalled the former great days and nights at the White House. He told the packed gathering tales of Richard Harris, Seamus O'Cinnede, the Poet Ryan, Kitty Bredin, Bernadette Mulrooney, the artist Raol Peter Jackson, politician and writer Jim Kemmy and the former proprietors of the White House Ita and Eamonn Gleeson.

The 60's and 70's were heady days at the White House. Now this great era is being re-created every Wednesday night through the energy and organisational ability of Barney Sheehan. Each week a featured poet is preceded by an open-mic session in which anyone and everyone are welcome to take part. The quality of the readings has been a particular feature, remarked upon by visitors from as far away as the US, Canada and Europe.

The featured poet each week has also been of a remarkably high standard. As well as Desmond O'Grady other headlining poets have included Knute Skinner, John Liddy, Ciaran O'Driscoll, Tim Cunningham, Cristoir O'Flynn, Conor O Callaghan, Gerard Hanberry, Paddy Bushe, Greg Delante, Mark Whelan and others. As well as the above a long list of regular open-mic poets have added handsomely to the proceedings each week.

In August of last year an anthology of 100 poets who have read at the White House Poetry Revival was published to much acclaim, called Microphone On it is now in its second printing. Other notable events in the life of the White House Poets has being their involvement in the annual Cuisle International Poetry Festival and the sponsoring, along with the local Arts Office, of the visit of internationally acclaimed Australian poet Les Murray.

Of course every event requires money and effort to keep going and keep the standards high. The whole show is put together on a voluntary basis by Barney, a few dedicated assistants and the good will of the guest poets. He would like more official bodies to recognise the tremendous benefits that can accrue from supporting such an event – benefits not just for the individual but the city as a whole. ‘the potential to make Limerick the spiritual home of poetry exists’ he said, ‘with a little investment and imagination not only could we have a thriving cultural event but the economic spin off would repay any investment ten fold’.

To mark the third anniversary of this unique event Barney promises lots of craic next Wednesday and the special guest poet is Gabriel Fitzmaurice from Kerry. Fitzmaurice is one of Irelands finest poets and a special friend of the White House, which he has supported since its beginnings. This reading takes place in association with Foras na Gaeilge.


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