Best wishes for a Happy New Year to all our members, present and past.
This year many of you will be relieved that I’m not going to talk about the falling standards in grammar or spelling or punctuation. I’m not going to talk about how outrageous it is that writers’ groups don’t appear to concern themselves with these matters. I’m not going to talk about how it’s teachers, and not just pupils, who are getting worse and worse at grammar. I’m not going to talk about the ridiculously low standard of English writing among university students and graduates. I’m not even going to mention the fact that it may not matter a damn that these standards are falling because we seem to be able to communicate with each other in spite of this.
I’m not going to blame texting for the fall in these standards because that would be too simplistic – although I can see the day coming when the semi-colon and colon will be dropped from the standard keyboard of mobile phones and computers. This won’t mean the end of civilisation as we know it, but it will make the world a poorer place.
I am going to speak about how wonderful you people are, how you come along to meetings and help to create the feelgood factor that I experience (and I’m sure you experience too) on being with other writers (even if most of them are poets!). I want to thank you all for exerting influence over me and, by fostering an environment of critical encouragement, allowing me to develop further in my writing skills.
I’m mightily impressed with the range of approaches we take to writing, everything from novels to memoir, plays to poems, and all things in between. But I would urge our members to try something different during this coming year, as a means of further development of one’s writing skills. And I don’t mean that, say, the novelists should try their hand at poetry and vice versa – though maybe that’s not a bad idea – but that people who thrive on angst and torment should have a go at jolly, jovial and cheery material for a change, and vice versa.
I’m a big fan of Joe Duffy on RTE Radio 1 but every now and again I just turn him off because there’s only so much distress and suffering I can take. On the other side of the coin, I listen to Derek Mooney an odd time and I turn him off occasionally too because there’s only so much hearty enthusiasm I can manage at one sitting.
Back to our little group. Where are the poems about potholes on our roads or about what it’s like to be a member of the first human settlement on Mars or about the slow pace of funding for the arts in this country? (That latter issue, I’m convinced, is at the core of the recent controversy over Limerick City of Culture.) Where is the material that deals with the taking over of the world by accountants? Or where’s the stuff that’s a lively commentary on RTE television programmes? Or that’s against Women Bishops! Depression and melancholy are not enough in our writing; we must be contrary too!
When was the last time I gasped in excitement, or horror, at something that somebody read at our fortnightly meetings? Or giggled with a tinge of nervousness at the daring of another piece? Have we become a little comfortable in what we do?
And I needn’t turn to Boyne Berries for relief! If it’s not a catalogue of mere misery, it’s wallowing in floral language about colourful autumns and sunsets or bathing in nostalgia about ancestors. Maybe when our new Editor takes over Boyne Berries it will undergo a fundamental change! Interesting times ahead, I hope!
Okay, I’m being deliberately provocative in some of my material here, but I do like a little bit of excitement, a thrill, some intellectual stimulation, in my life. And where else would I come to get it (legally!) but at a gathering of writers? I’m frequently disappointed by the results of my search so far!
And there's more!