Cork – Coventry                   Cork – San Francisco

with photos and reviews from

Jane Commane, Peter Raynard, Michelle Delea and Ali Bracken.

[L-R] Jane Commane, Peter Raynard, Michelle Delea, Ali Bracken & Leanne O’Sullivan

In 2018 Ó Bhéal welcomed Coventry poets Jane Commane and Peter Raynard to Cork, then Cork poets Michelle Delea and Ali Bracken made their way over to Coventry for the Peace festival. With thanks to St. Mary’s College, California we were able to assist Leanne O’Sullivan’s visit to San Francisco.
This year’s twinning activities were funded by the Cork & Coventry City Councils and St.Mary’s College, California.

Cork (Jan 17th-30th) and San Francisco (12th-25th Oct) 2018

Leanne O’Sullivan

Cork poet Leanne O’Sullivan represented Cork in San Francisco for a 10-day programme including readings, seminars and workshops during October 2018. The programme was mostly devised by poet and professor Raina J Léon, Ó Bhéal’s partner liaison at St.Mary’s college CA. Leanne’s visit included:

Participation in the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival (Oct 13th) and in the Los Gatos Irish Writers Festival (Oct 14th), a visit to Saint Mary’s College of California to hold creative writing classes and a workshop with the Intercultural Center, a reading with Cleave Bay Area Women Writers (Ayodele Nzinga, Carolyn Wysinger, Lena Blackmon) at Nomadic Press (Oct 18th), a reading with Giovanni Singleton, Eanlai Cronin, and Audrey Williams at the Institute of Advanced Uncertainty in San Francisco (Black and Green: African American and Irish Women Writers in Conversation) (Oct 19th), and a reading and panel with Rosemary Graham at Saint Mary’s College of California (Oct 24th).

St.Mary’s College Students visit Cork

In January 2018, Professor Raina J León from St. Mary’s College California, along with colleague and writer Sarah Rafael García, brought sixteen of their arts students to Cork for a series of arts workshops and cultural excursions. Ó Bhéal provided a number of these, mostly centered around poetry films. The students also volunteered at Ó Bhéal during their time here.

This marks the fourth leg of poetry exchanges between Ó Bhéal in Cork and St.Mary’s College in San Francisco, since April 2016, In 2019 Ó Bhéal is hoping to continue this relationship and invite a San Francisco poet to read in Cork, at the Winter Warmer festival or at Ó Bhéal.

Here’s a glimpse into Ó Bhéal’s weekly poetry night, created by Natalie Leduc, Castro, Abigail Grace and Dylan Connell, visiting arts students from twinning partner St.Mary’s College, California. Thanks!! And special thanks to Prof/Poets Raina J. León and Sarah Rafael García, for making the student visit to Cork possible.

Cork (6th-8th Aug) and Coventry (6th-8th Nov) 2018

Jane Commane

I was hugely fortunate to have been chosen for the 2018 Cork-Coventry Twin City Poetry Exchange, a brilliant opportunity for poets from both cities to be sent to (and from) Coventry, and a chance to travel and share our common literary connection with writers in other cities and countries. It felt poignant to be invited in the year of my poetry book, Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe Books, 2018) being published, not least because I can claim to have a connection to this poetry exchange going back more than ten years.

I used to do some part time work for the Heaventree Press, which had been based in Coventry, and I remember receiving the email that had initially proposed the possible exchange in around 2007, and later met the organiser of the exchange, and Ó Bhéal’s host, Paul Casey in the spoken-word tent at the Godiva Festival in Coventry in 2008, something Paul kindly reminded me of when he came to meet me at Cork airport! Also, I was fortunate to be joined by fellow Coventrian poet Peter Raynard (and creator of the excellent Proletarian Poetry blogsite) on this trip, and it felt fortuitous to be joining him to read our poems together in Ireland.

Paul and I went from the airport into Cork, and our first stop was to collect Peter and his wife Maya and take in the views over Cork from a beautiful balcony of the café at a hotel, perched high above the city. Paul pointed out the major landmarks and told us some of the history of the city over a good coffee. It was striking how much Coventry and Cork have in common, and how their identities as historic, industrial cities had such a resonance between them. After a short stop to drop off things at the hotel, we headed into the city centre, grabbed a spot of lunch, and took some time out to walk about and see a bit more for ourselves. We took a walk through the city that looped around the riverside and university, before a bit of a break and time to refresh ourselves and get ready for our readings that night.

And so to the evening, and the legendary Ó Bhéal poetry night. We met up at The Long Valley bar in the city and prepared ourselves, with a pint of Murphy’s to steady our reading nerves.

Ó Bhéal is unique as a poetry night in many ways – it is a weekly poetry night, and runs fifty times a year which is in itself pretty astonishing and shows the real thirst and respect for poetry in Cork. It also begins with writing – and the famous Five Words challenge where five randomly chosen words are given to the audience and poems are written on the spot that must contain those five words. Poets are then invited up to read their poems – this is such a great way to break the ice and makes for a good start to this convivial and lively evening.

After this came the open mic, which again demonstrated many talented voices. And then, after a short break, onto our own readings. Pete and I read a selection of poems from our books, and it was noticeable what a warm, appreciative and attentive audience we had. The audience at Ó Bhéal are not only very good listeners and talented readers themselves, it turns out some of them are wonderful artists too – a lady approached Peter and I at the end with a sketch book of portraits she penned of us both whilst we read!

Midnight had struck, so we left the Long Valley, and headed for a nightcap and a bite to eat (delicious cheese and bread) at another nearby bar, then as the early hours approached, and many new writerly friends had been made, we headed back to our B&B to get some rest. Morning, and after a lovely breakfast we headed off to city hall to meet the Lord Mayor of Cork.

It was wonderful to meet him and to talk about poetry, Cork’s lively literary scene and how poetry is a part of people’s lives here, and to talk of our hometown too. We headed for lunch and a further wander about, before meeting again to leave Cork for the coast. This evening, we’d be reading in the famous De Barra folk club in Clonakilty, but before then Paul and fellow poets and Ó Bhéal regulars Stanley Notte and Rab Urquhart joined us for a scenic drive a little further up the coast.

We stopped at the beautiful Drombeg stone circle, a place where folklore and history seemed to meet as we looked over the rolling landscape and the coastline. On our way back, we pulled into a beautiful bay, and Paul fetched the hurley sticks from the car so we also enjoyed an impromptu introduction to Ireland’s inimitable fast-paced sport! After sea air and exertion, we headed back on our journey to Clonakilty and De Barra for the evening’s reading.

De Barra’s is a wonderful place to read poetry, one that feels both full of history and surprises – what looks like a small pub venue from the front gives way to a venue, an atrium full of light and greenery, an outdoor terraced garden… We meet our host for the evening, and after another strong round of open mic readers, Peter and I read from our new collections, including Peter reading a selection from his newly-published rewriting / coupling of the Communist Manifesto. It was an appreciative and thoughtful audience, and many of the conversations were moving and thought-provoking afterwards as we talked about almost everything, from Brexit to the health of poetry in our respective hometowns. We headed back to Cork after another wonderful evening of sharing poems in good company.

And our final day in Cork came around… We rendezvoused for a morning coffee at a hotel nearby which also had a beautiful natural waterfall in the courtyard – something which seemed to sum up Cork’s nature as a city of charm and hidden delights. Peter and I felt that it would be fitting, before our final bus ride back to the airport, to make at least an hour or so of the memorial service for poet Matthew Sweeney, which was being held in the city that morning. We found the Triskel Arts Centre where this was taking place to pay our respects at what was a very moving service, featuring memories, tributes and more than a few of Sweeney’s poems. Then, we headed back to the airport, taking with us a suitcase of memorable experiences of the kindness, hospitality and lively scene of Cork that will stay with us for a long time to come. Much gratitude is owed to Adam Steiner, who organizes the UK leg of the Cork-Coventry Poetry Exchange, and to Paul Casey in Cork – the poetry exchange is such a brilliant chance to exchange literary cultures, find common ground and to celebrate all the best of poetry, and we were so fortunate to be part of it in 2018 – long may it thrive!


Peter Raynard

On arriving in Cork on the Monday morning, we were taken by Paul Casey of Ó Bhéal to a restaurant view overlooking the city, which literally set the scene for what lay ahead during our three day visit. I had spent the weekend in the city with my wife and felt excited about meeting some of the people.

Our first reading was at Ó Bhéal’s legendary Monday night poetry event at the Long Valley Bar. Treated to a series of film poems, there then followed the Five Word challenge. Generating a poem out of five words, and then have many of the people in the packed bar go up and read their versions felt so inclusive and added a little extra to the usual open mic. The deputy mayor welcomed us after the break, and we both read from our respective collections before a final open mic.

In the UK, poetry nights are often tame affairs – no bar, finish by 9pm. In Cork we left the Long Valley Bar at midnight, with many of the people from the reading, to follow up on conversations until two or three in the morning (by then time had somewhat warped).

The next day we met the Lord Mayor of Cork, Mick Finn. Over a cup of tea, we discussed many of the ways in which poetry can help young people, whether just in their learning or if they have mental health problems. Late afternoon, Paul and two other compadres (Stan & Rab) whisked us off to the coast where we kicked a football and hit a hurling stick on a windy but sunny beach (which we practically had to ourselves).

We also visited the Drombeg Stone Circle. We then went on to De Barra’s Folk Club. This was a more intimate experience (but no less enjoyable) where we both read but also answered questions about our writing.

The following morning, we felt privileged to be able to attend the memorial for Matthew Sweeney, in a large church full of his friends, family and admirers. I came away from Cork with a new set of friends who I am in touch with. I will also be helping edit a collection of Ali Bracken, who is one of the poets who came over to Coventry this November, with whom I read with at the Royal Oak in Earlsdon. Ali and Michelle Delea both impressed the sizeable crowd packed in to the back bar. There is no doubt that the Cork visit was the best poetry experience I have had.


Peter Raynard


Michelle Delea

This November, I was humbled to take part in the Cork-Coventry twin cities poetry exchange, alongside local poet, Ali Bracken, whose work I have been enamoured by since my first exposure to it.

Prior to the exchange, Cork’s culture night featured a Cork-Coventry exhibition in its city hall, this celebrated our historical city ties and above all, an un-wilted friendship between the two for decades. It was an honour to be involved in the cultural thread of this relationship, which, thanks to Ó Bhéal, is regularly nourished and sustained.

Shortly after arriving, we were introduced to Councillor John Blundell, the Lord Mayor of Coventry. Enjoying a beautifully crafted room in the Council House, we were welcomed with an essential cup of tea as we began to acquaint. We were very happy to give Cllr. Blundell a copy of the Twin Cities publication, Exhaling Ink (Ó Bhéal Press, 2018), containing a small selection of our work. We also received gifts including a beautiful inscribed pen, note book, a neck scarf and a neck tie. We discussed matters of native language, culture, sport, housing, education, and of course, poetry. He requested to take a selfie together, before directing us to our next port of call.

In the evening we made our way to the Royal Oak, where we were guest readers for a Coventry Peace Festival event, celebrating the 9th year of the Coventry Cork poetry exchange. This was a thoroughly enjoyable night steered by the wickedly charming MC, Aysar Ghassan. The people and poetry of Coventry enabled us to feel right at home, and suddenly our decades of alliance seemed evident in every little chat.

A lingering highlight, was hearing a poem by Barry Pattson, entitled “An English Man in Cork”. He spoke in admiration of the ‘paint-peeled houses’ and ‘spirals of the Cape Clear stone’. His enthusiasm succeeded in really shortening the distance between us. Our host, Andrea Mbarushimana, a delicate writer and soft-spoken woman, kindly toured us around the historic

city. It was inspiring to visit the three eras of the Coventry Cathedral, particularly the most recent St. Michael’s Cathedral, designed by Scottish architect Basil Spence. We enjoyed a variety of exhibitions at the city gallery, including artistic depictions of T.S. Eliot’s work, a Cezanne painting & a full exhibit on the work Anselm Keifer. Later we performed again at the PGR Treehouse Bookshop in Kenilworth, which hosts a monthly poetry open mic night. It was great to see an established yet ever morphing community of poets sharing their work, and it was something special to be a part of. We hope to re-visit Coventry during its year as the European City of Culture in 2021. A sincere thanks to Ó Bhéal, Silhouette Press, the Cork Coventry Exchange Partnership, and especially to each individual that welcomed us.

Ali Bracken

We flew from Cork to Birmingham on Wednesday the 7th of November on a very nice morning flight. On arrival we travelled from Birmingham to Coventry by train and taxi. We left our bags with reception in the Premier Inn and then set forth peregrinating around Coventry City. The rain instantly helped us feel at home. At noon we walked over to the Council House in order to meet the Lord Mayor. We sat and spoke for about an hour in the parlour. John Blundell, the Lord Mayor, was a rather charming man. He gave us both some gifts and we gave him a copy of our book Spoken Worlds: Exhaling Ink. We sat and spoke for about an hour on the subjects of poetry, history, and the rain each time it fell on the old single-paned windows of the Council House.

Afterwards we returned to the hotel and prepared for the night ahead. On arrival at The Royal Oak we were greeted by several poets. We immediately hit it off and the night continued to get even better as things proceeded. I personally got the opportunity to speak to Peter Raynard in person again, a man that is becoming quite a good friend of mine since I met him first when he came to Cork as one of the Coventrian poets on the exchange.

The next day Andrea, another fantastic poet and kind person, gave Michelle Delea and I a mini tour of Coventry. We visited the remnants of the old cathedral and the new one built alongside it. We then went to the Herbert Museum, where we found some incredible works of art on a variety of different subjects, however with a particular emphasis on peace and war. It struck me as oddly conflicted to see a shop on the high street where one could go in to join the army, juxtaposed with the gallery’s celebration of peace. Later that evening Andrea brought us to the Tree House Bookshop in Kenilworth for our second reading. The bookshop was a delightful place to read, and we met several more very interesting poets.

What was clearly evident from both readings was the great respect and intrigue given to Michelle Delea and I as poets speaking as part of the Twinned City exchange. I believe greater deference is given to the poets and the events due to the nature of it being an exchange, rather than the conventional nature of poets coming from abroad to read. Moreover, culture shared is always more exciting than culture that is imported. I believe the presence of having the cultural exchange in the background served to bolster the events.

There were many poets that we met who had been on the exchange in the past. They often said this before reciting their work. This sense of a shared tradition and shared culture gave the events something that most cultural events do not have. I believe this exchange serves to create a bed on which many other forms of transaction can occur between our cities. I should hope that this cultural tradition continues long into the future, especially in such times that it looks likely, and terribly unfortunate, that we will no longer share membership of the European Union with England.