Guest post: From 57th Yeats International Summer School

I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. I met Michael Whelan at an Irish Network-DC event earlier this year. His writing on Ireland has appeared in Irish Central and éirways magazine. His latest poetry collection is After God, an Irish Catholic American memoir available on Amazon. He sent this correspondence from Sligo. MH.

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“Come away oh human child
To the waters and the wild … “

So wrote W. B. Yeats in Stolen Child in the voice of the fairies luring a little one to swap him with their farie changeling. So came we under mythic Benbulbin mountain, close to Yeats’ grave, to the very waterfall of Glencar made iconic by his beloved poem. It is first stop of the first day at the Yeats International  Summer School, 2016.

I am among the 50 here from some dozen countries to delve deep into the world of Yeats. We range from newly graduated English majors to doctoral students and university-level teachers of literature to just plain souls who read Yeats for the fun or the challenge of it. Mostly everyone here is a poet, to some degree, as am I.

Mornings at the Hawks Well theater are spent listening to world experts lecture on Yeats from every conceivable angle. This year, much attention is focused on his Easter, 1916, given the 100th anniversary of the Dublin uprising and Yeats’ conflicts with the poem. Much is fascinating, too, in the talks and illustrations on Yeats’ surreal dimension in approach to theater.

Four charcoal renderings of Yeats. Photos of women below him are the wives of leaders executed after the 1916 Rising.

Four charcoal renderings of Yeats. Photos of women below him are the wives of leaders executed after the 1916 Rising.

Afternoons are for seminars, held at the Victorian-style Yeats Society building in the center of Sligo City. You choose a topic for a week. Mine is Yeats & Heaney, a compelling class led by Dr. Rand Brandes, of Lenoir-Rhyne University. He is rich with remarkable anecdotes from his 30 years working closely with Seamus Heaney. We uncover revealing parallels and telling differences between the two poets. I come away with a sharpened eye such that I won’t read Yeats or Heaney again without drawing from the class.

Another amazing experience in awaking the creative imagination comes in an intensive two-day poetry workshop by Vona Groarke, editor of the Poetry Ireland Review.

It’s not just what happens in class that makes the summer school experience.  It’s the everywhere-around spell of Yeats that still hypnotizes all of Sligo. Here everything is just around the corner from everything else — creating the feel you are walking the buzzing streets as in a stage set for the likes of Yeats theater, the wild river rushing under the bridge next to the Yeats Society building and the sky flipping theatrically, constantly–Irishly–between showers and sunny spots.