Lannan Literary Programs

            This year’s program of readings, seminars, and the concluding April Symposium constituted a continuation  of the vision of the Lannan Foundation, offering the Georgetown community a rich variety of writers and creative minds presenting their work and talking with students and members of the community.  The concluding Symposium was of particular significance for anyone interested in the relationship between writing and the cultural, economic, and political context from which writing emerges and which it in turn addresses.

            What follows is a record of a remarkable year: 

James Scully & Lisa Robertson

Social Practice 

James Scully’s books include Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice and Raging Beauty: Selected Poems. He is co-translator of Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound and Quechua People’s Poetry, among other titles. For many years, Lisa Robertson was a participant in the Kootenay School of Writing, an experimental utopian community based in Vancouver. She is author of Debbie: An Epic, Rousseau’s Boat, and The Men: A Lyric Book.

Brenda Hillman & Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Gender on the Lyric Edge 

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s mixed-media collaboration with artist Kiki Smith, Concordance, has been published by the Rutgers Center for Innovative Paper and Print. Her selected poems, I Love Artists, appeared in 2006. Among Brenda Hillman’s recent books are Pieces of Air in the Epic and an edition of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. She is active in the non-violent Code Pink Working Group in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Jerome McGann, Joanna Drucker, Penn Szittya, Caroline Bergvall

The Poetic Book: Medieval, Modern, Postmodern 

At this symposium devoted to illuminated manuscripts and artists’ books, keynote-speaker Jerome McGann will be joined by Penn Szittya, Caroline Bergvall, and Joanna Drucker. They discussed issues of production and reception in the “poetic” book—an artifice of word, image, and material—as it appears in culture at different historical moments. Caroline Bergvall and Joanna Drucker read and performed their poetry later that evening.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Lannan Distinguished Reader 2007

Writers, Masses, Multitudes 

“Writers, Masses, Multitudes” explored connections between anti-colonial liberation movements and the contemporary neo-liberal world order. Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, American writer Kim Stanley Robinson, Indian writers and social activists Ganesh Devy and DaKxin Bajrange Chhara, and others, despite an ice storm, gathered for readings, film screenings, and a roundtable discussion. Topics included issues of civil society, human rights, race and gender equality, and globalization. Organized in concert with the Program in Justice and Peace at Georgetown University.

Yusef Komunyaaka


Yusef Komunyakaa’s collections of poetry include Taboo, Talking Dirty to the Gods; Thieves of Paradise; and Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He is co-translator of The Insomnia of Fire by Nguyen Quang Thieu. For his service in Vietnam, where he worked as a correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.

Russell Banks and Edwidge Danticat

Memory of Affliction 

Russell Banks is author of a dozen novels and collections of short stories. Among others, Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter have been made into feature-length films. Currently the New York State Author (2004-2006), he is also President of the International Parliament of Writers and of the North American Network of Cities of Asylum. Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones is now in its tenth printing. She has edited The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States, and is author of The Dew Breaker and Breath, Eyes, Memory, a novel published when she was 24.

APRIL 17-18

Lannan Literary Symposium & Festival 2007
“Befitting Emblems of Adversity”: Lyric and Crisis in Northern Irish Poetry 1966-2006

The publication forty years ago of Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist sounded the first notes of a new generation of Irish poets. Shortly thereafter, however, these notes were challenged in the public sphere by the harsher sounds of sectarian faction. How poetry managed not only to preserve its own domain and dignity in the midst of such turmoil but by did so in a manner which gained the sympathetic attention of a worldwide audience was the topic of the 2007 Lannan literary symposium at Georgetown. In a series of readings and roundtables, the symposium examined the crucial issues raised through the work of a remarkable generation of Northern Irish poets. Among those who attended were Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson and Mebh McGuckian. Seamus Heaney participated by way of a videotaped interview.  This event proved to be a unique opportunity to reflect upon and pay tribute to the power of poetry as pulse-taker, testament and custodian of culture.

Upon the conclusion of the Symposium George OBrien the program’s principle planner had this to say in retrospective summary: “Ten poets took part -- read, spoke, socialized; in a word, lived on campus for the two days of the symposium. Among them were such highly regarded figures in Anglophone poetry as Paul Muldoon and Michael Longley. Plus we had the gracious participation via video of Seamus Heaney, in an interview recorded exclusively for us. The rather packed two days consisted of seven events on campus. Each was very well attended, not merely by our own students and faculty, but also by students and faculty from as far afield as Brown University and Indiana State as well as classes and teachers from American U and GW. Participants and attendees alike were loud in their praise for what was placed before them. And I would very much like to return the compliment to those of you in the department who managed to find time in your schedules to attend, to find room in your classes for the themes and materials of the symposium and who were kind enough to express their good wishes and thanks for the event overall. Part of the symposium's object was to focus on and examine the vitality and necessity of poetry in dark times. It is very gratifying to be reminded again that poetry and the cultural work it stimulates are alive and well within the department and on our campus. Long may imaginative energies flourish among us.”

            Department Chair Penn Szyttia then voiced his “own word of congratulations to the Lannan Committee, especially George, for showing us and the Washington community what an explosion of poetry there has been in Northern Ireland since the ‘troubles’ began in the late 1960s and how complex the intersection of lyric and violence in Belfast and environs.  I hope,” he continued,  “everyone saw the lengthy Washington Times article on the Symposium ( -- itself some measure of the interest this Symposium generated.   Jo Chapman and Jaune Evans of the Lannan Foundation were here for the entire symposium, and left impressed and thoughtfully pleased with what they saw.   On behalf of the Department, thanks are in order to George, Mark, and all who contributed to this significant event.”


This Lannan symposium was co-sponsored by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. 

The Participants 

Ciarán Carson was born in Belfast in 1948 and educated at Queen’s University there. He worked for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1998, with responsibility for Traditional Music and Literature. A musician himself, he has published two books on Irish traditional music, The Pocket Guide to Traditional Music (1986) and Last Night’s Fun (1997). In 2003 he was appointed Professor of Poetry and Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University. His collections of poetry include The Irish for No (1987); Belfast Confetti (1989), which received the Irish Times Literature Prize; First Language (1993), which was awarded the T.S. Eliot prize; and The Twelfth of Never (1998). His most recent volume of poetry is Breaking News (2003).  Among his prose works are The Star Factory (1997), Fishing for Amber (2000) and Shamrock Tea (2001). His translation of Dante’s Inferno appeared in 2002 and, from the Irish  of Brian Merrimam, Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court) in 2005. A translation of the Old Irish epic Táin  Bó Cuailgne is forthcoming. He is a member of Aosdána. 

Gerald Dawe was born in Belfast in 1952 and educated at the University of Ulster and at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He six collections of poetry include Sheltering Places (1978), Sunday School (1991), The Morning Train (1999) and Lake Geneva (2003). A recipient of a number of awards, including The Macauley Fellowship in Literature (1984) and the Ledig-Rowohlt International Writers’ Fellowship (1999), he was elected Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, where he is Director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing, Director of the Graduate Writing Programme, and Lecturer in English. He was editor of the periodical Krino from 1986 to 1996, and held the Burns Chair at Boston College in 2005. A selection of his criticism is forthcoming from Creighton University Press, and Earth Voices Whispering, an anthology of Irish war poetry, is forthcoming from Blackstaff. 

Greg Delanty was born in Cork in 1958 and educated at the National University of Ireland, Cork. He became a U.S. citizen in 1994 and was a Green Party candidate in the Vermont state elections in 2004. Publications include American Wake (1985), The Hellbox (1998), The Blind Stitch (2001) and The Ship of Birth (2003). His Collected Poems 1986-2006 was published in 2007. His anthology, Jumping Off Shadows: Selected Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, came out in 1995, and with Robert Welsh he has edited The Selected Poems of Patrick Galvin (1995). Among the awards he has received are the Patrick Kavanagh Award (1983), the Allen Dowling Poetry Fellowship (1986), and the Austin Clarke Award (1996). His translations of Aristophanes’ The Suits and Euripides’ Orestes both appeared in 1999. He is Artist in Residence at St. Michael’s College, Vermont. 

Leontia Flynn was born in 1974 in County Down, Northern Ireland and educated at Queen’s University, Belfast. In 2001 she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and in 2004 These Days won the Forward Prize for best first collection. On the basis of this work she was named one of twenty “Next Generation” poets by the Poetry Book Society. She is currently a research fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University, where she is preparing her doctoral thesis on the poetry of Medbh McGuckian for publication.  

Seamus Heaney was born at Mossbawn, County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1939 and educated at Queen’s University Belfast. His first book, Death of a Naturalist (1966), received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Cholmondeley Award and the Somerset Maugham Award. Subsequent award-winning volumes include North (1975), Station Island (1984), Seeing Things (1991) and The Spirit Level (1996); Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 appeared in 1998. His most recent collection, District and Circle (2006) received the T.S. Eliot Award. His  prose collections include Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (1980), The Government of the Tongue (1988) and The Redress of Poetry (1995). He has written two plays, The Cure at Troy (1990, a version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes) and The Burial at Thebes (2004, a version of Sophocles’ Antigone). Among his translations are Sweeney Astray (1983; from the twelfth-century Irish, Buile Suibhne) and Beowulf (2000), which received the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He has held teaching positions in Ireland and the United States, including the Boylston Chair of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. He holds the rank of Saoi in Aosdána. Seamus Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. 

Nick Laird was born in Cookstown, Country Tyrone, Northern Ireland, in 1975 and is a graduate of Cambridge University, where he won the Quiller-Couch Award for creative writing. He also studied at the College of Law, London and was a visiting Fellow at Harvard University in 2003. His first book of a poetry, To a Fault (2005), received a number of awards, including the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. His first novel, Utterly Monkey (2005), received the Society of Authors’ Betty Trask Award for best first novel. His essays and reviews have appeared in such publications as the London Review of Books, the Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. Two new books, On Purpose, a collection of poetry, and Glover’s Mistake, a novel, are forthcoming. 

Edna Longley was born in Dublin in 1940 and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. She taught for many years in the School of English at Queen’s University, Belfast, where she is now Professor Emerita. A leading critic of modern poetry, she has written on W.B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice, Edward Thomas and the Great War poets. Her criticism of Northern Irish poetry is contained in Poetry in the Wars (1986), The Living Stream (1994) and Poetry and Posterity (2000). Her other publications include Louis MacNeice: A Study (1989), and she has edited The Bloodaxe Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry from Britain and Ireland (2000). Professor Longley is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the British Academy, and is also a member of the Associated Staff of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University. 

Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939 and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and at Trinity College, Dublin. From 1970 to 1991 he worked for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland as Combined Arts Director. His collections of poetry include No Continuing City: Poems 1963-1968 (1969), Man Lying on a Wall (1976), Gorse Fires (1991), which won the Whitbread Poetry Award, The Weather in Japan (2000), which was awarded the Hawthornden Prize, the T.S. Eliot Award and the Irish Times Poetry Award, and Snow Water (2004). He was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2001. His Collected Poems was published in 2006. He has edited Causeway: The Arts in Ulster (1971), Louis MacNeice: Selected Poems (1988), W.R. Rodgers: Selected Poems (1993) and Twentieth-Century Irish Poems (2002). His prose includes Tuppeny Stung: Autobiographical Chapters (1994). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of Aosdána.   

McGuckian, Medbh was born in Belfast in 1950 and educated at Queen’s University, Belfast. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 1980 and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature as well as the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Flower Master (1982). Her other collections of poetry include On Ballycastle Beach (1984), which was awarded the Cheltenham Poetry Prize, Captain Lavender (1994) and Shelmalier (1998). Her Selected Poems 1978-1994 was published in 1997. Her most recent collection is The Currach Requires No Harbours (2006). She has edited the anthology The Big Striped Golfing Umbrella: Poems by Young People from Northern Ireland (1985), and has translated (with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin) a selection of poems from the Irish of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill entitled The Water Horse (1999). Her prose includes Horsepower Pass By! (1999), a study of the car in the poetry of Seamus Heaney.  

Sinéad Morrissey was born in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Her collections of poetry are There Was a Fire in Vancouver (1996), Between Here and There (2002) and The State of the Prisons (2005). Her awards include the Patrick Kavanagh Award (1990), the Eric Gregory Award (1996), the Rupert and Eithne Strong Trust Award (2002) and the Michael Hartnett Award for Poetry (2005). In 2002 she was the Poetry International Writer in Residence at the Royal Festival Hall, London, and took part in the Writers’ Train Project in China (2003). She has taught widely in Germany, Japan and New Zealand. She is currently a member of the faculty of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen’s University, Belfast. 

Paul Muldoon was born in County Armagh in 1951 and educated at Queen’s University, Belfast. He worked for B.B.C. Radio, Northern Ireland, from 1973 to 1986. He is Howard G.B. Clark ‘21 Professor of the Humanities and Creative Writing at Princeton University and an Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford. Among his collections of poetry are New Weather (1973), Why Brownlee Left (1980), Meeting the British (1987), Madoc: A Mystery (1990), which received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, The Annals of Chile (19994), which received the T.S. Eliot Award, Moy Sand and Gravel, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Griffin Prize for Excellence in Poetry. His most recent collection is Horse Latitudes (2006). He has also received the Shakespeare Prize (2004) and the Aspen Prize for Poetry (2005). Other works include libretti Shining Brow (1992), Bandanna (1998), Vera of Las Vegas (2001) and The Antient Concert (2005); General Admission (2006), a collection of song lyrics; the anthologies The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (1986) and The Faber Book of Beasts (1997); and translations of Aristophanes’ The Birds (1999) and of Irish poems of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, The Astrakhan Cloak (1992). His criticism has been collected in two volumes, To Ireland, I (2000) and The End of the Poem (2006). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  

Bernard O’Donoghue was born in Cullen, County Cork, in 1945 and later moved to Manchester, England. He was educated at Oxford University, where he is a Fellow of Wadham College. His collections of poetry include Gunpowder (1995), which received the Whitbread Poetry Prize, Here Nor There (1999) and Outliving (2003). Other works include an edition of the Poems of Thomas Hoccleve (1982), an anthology, The Courtly Love Tradition (1984) and a work of criticism, Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry (1994). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His most recent book is a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2006). Selected Poems is forthcoming. 

Dennis O’Driscoll was born in Thurles, County Tipperary, in 1954. He studied law at the National University of Ireland, Dublin. He has worked in the Irish Civil Service since the age of sixteen. Among his collections of poetry are Kist (1982), Hidden Extras (1987), Long Short Story (1993) and Exemplary Damages (2002); New and Selected Poems was published in 2004 and received a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. Other awards include a Lannan Literary Award (1999), the American Academy of Arts and Letters E.M. Forster Award (2005) and the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry (2006). His selected criticism, Troubled Thoughts, Majestic Dreams, was published in 2001. He has also compiled and edited The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006). He is a member of Aosdána. 

Frank Ormsby was born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, in 1947 and educated at Queen’s University, Belfast. Since 1975 he has been Head of English at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. His collections of poetry are A Store of Candles (1977), A Northern Spring (1986) and The Ghost Train (1995). He has received the Cultural Traditions Award (1992) and the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry (2002). Other publications include an edition of The Collected Poems of John Hewitt (1991), and the anthologies Poets from the North of Ireland (1979; 1990), Northern Windows: An Anthology of Ulster Autobiography (1987) and The Blackbird’s Nest: An Anthology of Poems from Queen’s University, Belfast (2006). He edited the periodical The Honest Ulsterman from 1969 to 1989. His John Hewitt: Selected Poems, co-edited with Michael Longley, is forthcoming.