Vital Signs saw Martin Dyar, Victoria Kennefick, and Karen J. McDonnell share their poems on healing and illness in University Concert Hall
By Caleb Brennan
The atrium of University Concert Hall, Limerick played host to a wealth of poetry on Thursday afternoon, as Vital Signs, Poems of Healing and Illness took place.
The event, organised by Poetry Ireland in collaboration with the University of Limerick’s Creative Writing programme, saw poets take the stage to promote the new anthology Vital Signs.
The event featured readings from Vital Signs editor Martin Dyar, alongside contributors Victoria Kennefick, Karen J McDonnell and Eoin Devereux. There were also guest readings from local author Donal Ryan and university president, Professor Kerstin Mey.
Vital Signs is an anthology of poetry on the personal accounts and human experiences of healing, illness and recovery. It features writers both contemporary and classic, with topics ranging from public health and eating disorders to the coronavirus pandemic.
In his opening address, Mr Dyar said of the collection, “The poets provide an illumination of human experience, and a setting down of insight and sensitivity and narrative substance that are I believe a gift to every reader. To the editor, they have brought joy, which is doubled by the honour of sharing the poems, and by witnessing the book in the world.”
Victoria Kennefick gave a grim but honest account of the declining health and eventual loss of a parent in her poem DIET, which she dedicated to her late father, who passed in 2010.
Speaking to Limerick Voice, after the event Miss Kennefick said “I think it’s always very special when we collectively make space for human experience beyond going to work, brushing your teeth and tying your shoelaces, and all of those essential things that we need to do on a daily basis.
“The poems that Martin has selected are really, really special. They allow your self to enter into the complexity of what it is to be an emotional feeling person in the world, and acknowledge our individual and collective suffering and move hopefully through it together – through poetry.”
Limerick City was a key setting for the other contributors on Thursday afternoon. Karen J McDonnell’s poem My Grandfather Battles Death took place, according to the poet, “A mile in and around the Island (St. Mary’s Park)”. Author Donal Ryan’s contribution I Saw You also featured many Limerick locations and was born from an experience he had as a young student in the city.
St Joseph’s Hospital featured in The Bullfield by Eoin Devereux; the poem gave a harrowing historic depiction of patients forced to work the fields behind the psychiatric hospital.
“It sounds almost cliche, but there is space, I think, amongst the poems for us all to confront and think about the things we don’t spend too much time thinking about,” Eoin Devereux said of the book’s theme.
“I think that’s a great comfort, ironically, in the book, confronting these kinds of issues. That’s why I think the book is important.”
Find out more about Vital Signs or pick up a copy.