Culture vulture: The Literary Festival

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It’s coming up to the two year anniversary of the marriage equality referendum. In what is becoming a minor annual tradition, I updated my Facebook profile picture to a snap taken of me the day before the vote. I had just come home from an afternoon of haranguing passers-by ,encouraging them to vote in favour of equal civil rights for their fellow citizens, on the streets of Limerick. I sported a hi-viz orange vest which proclaimed ‘Yes Quality’. At the time, I didn’t bother telling anyone that, as I’d been out of he country for fifteen years I was not allowed to vote. My voting card still arrived at the Mammy’s address however. What should I do with that I wondered? In time honoured ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ tradition I exercised my forbidden democratic right.

I woke this morning to parallel news feeds on my timeline. On the one side was a series of news stories about how, within two weeks Ireland may have its first gay prime minister (still no female PM mind) in Mr Leo Varadkar. He is in the Fine Gael party – a party I will never vote for (I have taken the decision that any parties that were around during the civil war will never get my vote – they are all too well acquainted with brown envelops stuffed with used banknotes.) A gay PM though. That would be quite something.

On the other side of my timeline were reports about how Ireland’s oldest gay bar – The George – was daubed in swastikas and faggot graffiti overnight. The graffiti was written in chalk – so easy to remove. It’s a touch unsettling. I thought allowing people to vote for gay marriage was meant to cure all society’s homophobic ills?

Ahem.

It’s not up to me to cure the ills of society though. Today I was going to be cultured.

One of the benefits of Facebook is how it informs you what some of your hundreds of close personal friends are up to at any given time.

For the next week Dublin is hosting the International Literature Festival Dublin. At 2pm there was a discussion in Belvedere House, hosted by the GCN newspaper called ‘When Love Comes to Town: Queer Representations in Irish Writing’. Being an avid (if sporadic) reader, this looked like my cup of char.

As its starting point it took the novel ‘When love comes to town’ by Tom Lennon, which was written in the early 1990s. Lennon was a pseudonym (he worked as a school teacher) and told the tale of a gay teenager in Ireland just as sodomy was decriminalised. He wrote another novel called ‘Crazy Love’ about a gay married man. I read them both back in the day. The writer’s identity has never been revealed, and I was sad to hear that he died of cancer, aged 42 in the year 2002.

Members of the panel included Mary Dorcey – a novelist (I read her book ‘A biography of desire’ about the love affair between a lesbian and a previously straight woman several years ago) and poet.  She was very smart and funny. And I am eternally jealous of her job title. Lesbian poetess is such a wonderful self descriptor.

Also present was Denis Kehoe, whose book ‘NIghts beneath the nation’ told the story of a 67 year old man returning to Dublin in 1996, and reminiscing about gay life in the shadows in Dublin in the 1950s. I remember enjoying that book when it came out.

I had heard the name John Boyne previously but I’ve never read his work. He wrote the bestseller ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’. His new book ‘The heart’s invisible furies’ sounds hysterical. I had deliberately only brought the entrance fee with me however. That bookshelf of doom in the corner is sneering at me again. I don’t want to add to its fury by loading more unread books on it. His book is on my horizon though.

Claire Hennessy writes Young Adult fiction and she described her new book ‘Unlike other girls’. Most interesting about her talk was how our every expanding acronym is causing damage.  She likes the identifier ‘queer’. I have a slight issue with that word – not personally, but I know that many gay people find it offensive. I don’t. While I am not a massive fans of the every growing alphabet soup of LGBTQQIAPP+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, Polyamorous), at least is strives to be inclusive. Queer I am not so sure about.

It was an interesting event. It was marred a lot at the beginning by the photographer who kept snapping pictures. It was disconcerting trying to listen to the writers and being unable to do so because of the constant clicking. Thankfully he stopped after about twenty minutes. Which was just as well.

A most cultural afternoon. Well worth the walk.

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