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Stanford Report, April 26, 2000

'Finnegan’s Awake' series to kick off with Irish poetry, music

Five of Ireland's leading poets, including Eavan Boland, professor of English, will lend their voices to "A Day of Irish Poetry and Music" Thursday, May 4, in Kresge Auditorium.

Sponsored by the Stanford Humanities Center, the San Francisco Consulate of Ireland and the Irish Arts Foundation, the readings and music are part of "Finnegan's Awake: A Festival of Irish Writers" that begins at Stanford and will continue at Golden Gate University May 5-7.

All sessions are free and open to the public.

The Stanford celebration begins at 2 p.m. May 4 with a panel discussion of "Poetry and the New Ireland," chaired by Robert Harrison, professor of French and Italian.

Shea and Michael Black, members of the Dublin family of performers that includes Mary and Frances, will perform at 5:30 p.m., followed by the poets reading from their work at 6 p.m.

"I think the peace process in Ireland has brought Americans close to and empathetic with the poignance of a very small country with very powerful troubles, trying to find its way," says Boland, the Lane Chair in the Humanities and director of the Creative Writing Program.

"It's a time of reevaluation in Ireland, and very often that kind of ferment becomes a very strong, powerful world of feeling. And I think Irish writing is really splendid at the moment in all the arts ­ fiction, poetry, drama and music."

Born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, Boland is the author of 16 books, including her most recent volume of poetry, The Lost Land. For writing about such issues as war, poverty, women's struggles and family, she has earned the 1997 Irish Literature Prize, the 1997 Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum and the 1994 Lannan Award in Poetry, among others. She has published extensively in American journals, including The American Poetry Review, The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

Boland also has been invited to read from her work at the "New Yorker Festival" on Sunday, May 7, when she will join seven poets in New York City for a free afternoon of "Poetry in Bryant Park." On May 16 she will read from her work during a week-long celebration of Irish arts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The four poets who will join Boland for the readings at Stanford include Paula Meehan, an urban poet from North Dublin; Belfast writers Medbh McGuckian and Michael Longely; and Desmond O'Grady of County Cork.

"I'm very much looking forward to people hearing them," Boland says. "When I've looked at South American poetry or Eastern European poetry, it has always helped me enormously to see the poet there, in front of me.

"I think for our students here who take an interest in Ireland, to hear Irish voices saying Irish poems and speaking about them will be tremendous."

With more than 20 of Ireland's top writers attending, "Finnegan's Awake" is the largest gathering of Irish writers in the Western United States.

"Ireland is experiencing a renaissance," says Keven Conmy, Irish consul general of San Francisco. "In addition to our unprecedented economic success, we are enjoying a period of great cultural and artistic vibrancy. 'Finnegan's Awake' gives West Coast audiences the opportunity to connect with the great writing coming from the island of Ireland at the start of the new millennium."

For more information about "A Day of Irish Poetry," see the festival website at or call Elaine Gradman, events coordinator at the Humanities Center, at 725-1219. SR