SoundEye Festival

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The SoundEye Festival of the Arts of the Word is an annual festival dedicated to poetry and other artistic practices predicated on the power of word and text. It is held in Cork City, taking up the best part of a week in late-June to mid-July. It is one of Ireland’s largest poetry events, with up to 40 poets reading and a major international contingent at recent festivals.


To a great extent the festival originates with, and continues to be directed by, the experience of poet Trevor Joyce (b. Dublin 1947), about whose house in the historic Shandon district of Cork City the festival revolves. Joyce, who co-founded New Writers’ Press with Michael Smith in 1967, with whom he had published a number of collections of poetry, went through a period of almost twenty years silence from the late seventies. His return to writing corresponded with an invitation to a literary conference in the U.S. In Joyce’s own words: "In '96 I was invited to a huge Assembling Alternatives conference in New Hampshire. There I met a number of Irish poets for the first time, though I did already know some by name. There were Maurice Scully, Catherine Walsh, Billy Mills, Randolph Healy and Geoffrey Squires. I also met Tom Raworth, and learned that he travelled under an Irish passport. These Irish connections, while they might seem trivial to some, were of great importance to me, since I had long given up hope of any new wave of exploratory poetry coming out of Ireland. Their presence in New Hampshire among the hundred-plus poets there from the wider anglophone world indicated the existence of a living meshwork of poets, informed readerships and intelligent critics, which I hadn't suspected. The following year I was approached by Catriona Ryan, a post-grad student in Cork. She wanted to talk to me about my work, and how I seemed a lone voice in Ireland. I told her, and Matthew Geden, a fellow post-grad whom she'd enlisted, about the Irish poets I'd heard read in the U.S., but who were almost never invited to read in Ireland. We added in the name of Michael Smith, with whom I'd founded New Writers Press in Dublin in '67, and preparations for the first Cork Alternative Poetry Festival kicked off. I provided names and contact details, Catriona and Matthew did the work. That first year, we started with brief papers by Billy Mills, Alex Davis and myself, and had two sessions of readings. It was small, but seemed already perfectly formed." [1]

The festival’s initial impetus petered out in 2000, with its gradual separation from University College Cork, but its subsequent revival was greatly boosted by European Capital of Culture funding in 2005, the year in which it also began to collaborate with contiguous arts events through the involvement of Fergal Gaynor, who was then co-curating the Cork Caucus. A cabaret event and involvement with local initiatives like The Avant and Sonic Vigil continue this line of development. In 2010 James Cummins and Rachel Warriner, who had programmed a section of the festival linked with their Default magazine, took over the largest part of the festival’s organisational duties, and in 2013 the organisational team expanded further to include Sarah Hayden.


In keeping with its initial purpose of creating a forum for serious writers consigned to the margins for reasons of the adventurousness or innovative quality of their work, SoundEye has tended to be associated with ‘modernist’ or ‘avant-garde’ poetry. The festival has, indeed, embraced its liminal associations, to the point of including textual art on the very edges of the poetic: e.g. video art, performance, sound poetry, conceptual art. It also sees itself, however, as part of an Irish poetry tradition stretching back to New Writers’ Press and the journal The Lace Curtain in the late-sixties, institutions that provided space for emerging poets of all kinds (Paul Durcan, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Michael Hartnett, for instance), as well as the representatives of Ireland’s thirties modernists (Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin and Samuel Beckett).[2]

Accordingly, SoundEye has hosted readings by a wide range of poets across the years, from Ireland, the anglophone world in general, and even occasionally from non-anglophone nations.[3]


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