12 December 2019
The Ó Bhéal Winter Warmer Festival is celebrated every year in Cork, Ireland. It brings together poets from Cork, from across Ireland and from several other countries. The special theme of the 2019 festival was ‘Poetry-Films.’

The ó Bhéal Winter Warmer Festival has taken place in Cork for the past seven years, and has acquired a reputation as one of the most notable, cutting edge poetry festivals in the country. It is the most internationally visible event put on by the poetry organization ó Bhéal, which means ‘the word that originates from the mouth’ in Irish Gaelic. Ó Bhéal is active throughout the year. It organizes weekly open mic nights (to be reduced to one per month in 2020, due to funding cuts), poetry-film competition and the poetry competition Five Words. It was founded by poet and organizer Paul Casey in 2007 and, apart from Casey, involves one part-time member of staff and a large number of volunteers.

From 22nd to 24th November ó Bhéal put on workshops, poetry readings and performances, round table discussions, and poetry film screenings. Filmmakers Marie Craven and performer Claudia Larose-Bell from Australia ran a practice-based workshop on making poetry films, and poet Kimberley Reyes from the U.S., currently a Fulbright Fellow at University College Cork, ran a workshop on perspective in poetry. Poets, musicians and translators from different parts of Ireland, from the U.K., the U.S., Hungary and Galicia performed in seven poetry sessions with three to four poets or collectives each. The festival concluded with a monthly multilingual poetry event hosted by ó Bhéal and organized by Joanna Dukkupati under the title ‘Many Tongues of Cork’.

Multimedial and Multilingual

The festival programme was multimedial and proudly multilingual. It integrated many of the traditions which have made their presence felt in performance poetry: the oral tradition with its intersection of music, song and spoken word, the multicultural tradition with its integration of different languages and cultural markers, and the countercultural tradition through the creation of a quiet space and the refusal to charge entry fees in a context of rampant neoliberal consumerism, profiteering, the privatization of public and shared spaces, and the constant noise of digital culture.

The Winter Warmer endorsed multilingualism and resolved its challenges in multiple ways, ranging from the subtitling of poetry films to projected translation, switching between languages, and the featuring of published poetry translations across languages and across time – this year, of Philip Wilson’s translations of poems in Old High German and Middle High German into English and of Francis Jones’ translation of Miklos Radnóti’s precious Camp Notebook from Hungarian into English, both published by Arc Publications. At other times the festival program simply challenged audience members to exercise their appreciation and sensibility for the sounds of words, the musicality and rhythms of languages, and for the meaning that poems convey non-verbally. As one audience member put it to me: ‘Not all of us are proficient in Irish, but on the regular ó Bhéal events there’s always a lot of poetry in Irish. So we’re used to appreciating poetry in languages we don’t understand. We just listen and bear with it.’

This year’s festival had a special focus on the poetry film. Ó Bhéal played a vital part in introducing the genre of the poetry film to Ireland. Its Poetry-Film Competition screened at the Indie Cork film festival is now one of the most important poetry-film competitions. At the festival, filmmaker Marie Craven and performer Claudia Larose-Bell gave a practice based workshop and presented the collaborative performance The Love of the Sun, based on poetry by Matt Hetherington. The Love of the Sun was a groundbreaking live performance in that it integrated video and the life interpretation of Hetherington’s poetry by an actress who is not the author (Larose-Bell), with recordings of the poet reading the poem.

Craven also curated a selection of poetry films and both guests participated in a round table conversation with Paul Casey and Colm Scully on the poetry-film in Ireland and Australia. Their conversation explored the fine-grained and subtle complexity of the genre. The making of poetry films often entails an exploration of identity and relationality, of voice, image, and body. The expression of the intention of the poem’s author meets the visual imagination of the filmmaker and sometimes, that of the performer or illustrator who interprets and /or adapts the poem, or translates it into visuals or movement, depending on the type of collaboration. The films selected by Craven covered a wide range of such collaborations; some of them openly declared themselves adaptations or interpretations of the work of poets who could themselves not comment because they are no longer with us in their physical incarnations (T.S. Eliot and Georg Trakl), others were produced and directed by the poem’s author and would probably fall into the category of video-poems, some employed performers to read the poem whereas others featured the poets themselves, and others again were collaborations between poets and filmmakers. Some of the films worked with filmed footage or found footage, whereas a significant number of films used animation.

This diversity was also reflected in the shortlisted entries to the 2019 poetry-film competition, which were screened as part of the festival.

The Capacity to Listen

The Winter Warmer program was packed, and many audience members were present from shortly after mid-day until 10 or 11pm, with 30 minute breaks between the sessions. The format and set-up of the venue allowed people to drop in and out as they needed, and the breaks gave folks the opportunity to meet and greet, catch up with each other, and reflect on the poems. Smartphones were absent for the most part – only very rarely did flashlights interfere with the lighting in the space, and audiences engaged through their presentness and receptiveness, as distinct to mediating it through the camera on their phone as soon as it happened. As a result, attentiveness and concentration were not constantly interrupted and one did not have to constantly re-focus one’s attention after being distracted by personal devices emitting blue light. Audiences and poets alike had an uncommonly long attention span, and an unusual ability to stay receptive and responsive over long periods of time. This, Paul Casey explained, is partially a result of the regular practice of ó Bhéal events: each weekly event features one or two invited poets who between them often recite or perform for 30 minutes without break, and ó Bhéal encourages reading as well as speech. Ó Bhéal audiences are thus trained in paying close attention to complex language over significant periods of time, which set the tone for the mode of engagement throughout the festival.

Re-posted from https://poeticsofresistance.wordpress.com/2019/11/26/a-gathering-of-poetic-voices-in-cork-ireland-the-o-bheal-winter-warmer-festival/