Victoria Kennefick is a poet, writer and teacher from Shanagarry, Co Cork, now based in Kerry.

Her acclaimed debut collection Eat or We Both Starve (Carcanet Press) is shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Costa Poetry Award 2022 and the Dalkey Emerging Writer Award. It was also a Book of the Year in The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Independent and The White Review.

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This May, she hosts The RTÉ Concert Orchestra Celebrates Emily Dickinson at Dublin's National Concert Hall, exploring the legacy of Emily Dickinson's poetry and the music it inspired, featuring readings and performances by Stephen Rea, Naomi Louisa O’Connell, Susannah de Wrixon and Ryan O’Shaughnessy, accompanied by the RTÉ CO.

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We asked Victoria for her choice cultural picks...

FILM

My film-viewing is often dictated by my just turned five-year-old who finally deigned to watch Encanto with me for movie night. Her preference is for anthropomorphised animal cartoons, so it was a big ask. It doesn't take much for me to cry but I must admit I was weeping by the end. It is a very refreshing, honest take on the roles we adopt in families and how these can hinder our development and diminish us. Also, I very much enjoyed my little one’s rendition of We Don’t Talk About Bruno for days afterwards. We’ve decided on Turning Red for our next movie night, where fingers crossed, our tastes seem to converge!

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In order to further immerse myself in Emily Dickinson’s world, I have recently revisited A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies, 2016) starring Cynthia Dixon as Emily. Her performance is extraordinary, and the film is elegant, intense and utterly engrossing. In antithesis to this, but no less enjoyable because of it, is Wild Nights with Emily (Madeleine Olnek, 2018). It’s smart and funny, and approaches Emily’s life from an original and unexpected perspective, particularly her relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert. At the heart of both films, despite their very different approaches, is a deep love of Emily and a respect for the intensity, genius and humour of her work.

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MUSIC

I have been listening to the music that will feature in The RTÉ Concert Orchestra Presents a Celebration of Emily Dickinson on a loop! The playlist, expertly selected by Brian Connor, is intoxicating and so reminiscent of Dickinson’s world that I am compelled to re-listen. It includes Ronald Perera’s Five Summer Songs, Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring, John Cage’s In a Landscape, and songs by Carla Bruni and Billie Eilish performed in ways you haven’t encountered before! I can’t wait to hear it all come together.

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I am also hugely enjoying listening to the new Florence + The Machine album, Dance Fever which will be released on May 13. I am excited too that Lykke Li has announced details of a new album, EYEYE, described as her "most intimate project to date" and an "immersive audiovisual album" due for release in May 20. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to emerging Irish female music talent and I am a fan of Cherym, Aby Coulibaly, Fears and Kynsy. Check them out!

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ART

I was lucky enough to view Martina Furlong’s fresh, exciting and dynamic first solo exhibition, The Whole World Lives Inside Us, at the Kenny Art Gallery in Galway during the Cúirt Literary Festival. The paintings in the exhibition range from heavily textured oil paintings to delicate ink drawings, inspired by Martina’s research into spiritual hunger, the mystery of being human, looking internally and connecting to nature. So much of the work resonated with me and I didn’t want to leave.

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More locally in Co. Kerry, THIS IS ME is an interactive art installation on show at the Kerry County Museum in Tralee until June 28. The art installation is accompanied by a documentary style video in the Museum’s audio-visual room. The 23 children involved in the project and whose work is on view (between the ages of 2 and 13 years), are living in two accommodation centres in Kerry. The work, facilitated by Me + The Moon, focuses on art and the process of art-making where the trying, the rough work, the creations, both finished and unfinished, are valued and inform a learning outcome. The installation features incomplete and finished work and it is a riot of colour and energy. It is such an inspiring, immersive experience that I came away smiling.

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Dutch artist, Henk Heideveld’s God’s First Name exhibition has just finished in the gallery in Siamsa Tíre, The National Folk Theatre of Ireland in Tralee. Up next is the Kerry College Showcase, where students of the Art Portfolio course exhibit their end of year projects – it’s exciting to have the opportunity to view the work of up-and-coming artists in such a beautiful space on the skirts of Tralee Town Park.

To satisfy the resurgence of my Emily Dickinson obsession I’ve been viewing pieces inspired by the poet. I am a huge fan of Alice Tippit and her minimal artworks that have been described by the Los Angeles Times as ‘wickedly efficient’ – a phrase that perfectly encapsulates Dickinson’s poems, I think. I particularly like ‘Peer’ and ‘Dress’. I also can’t stop looking at Judy Chicago’s iconic The Dinner Party in the permanent installation in the Brooklyn Museum, the blowsy flurry of intricately folded lace at its centre is playful in a way I’m sure Emily would appreciate.

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BOOK

What a brilliant year for poetry! I am very much enjoying Jessica Traynor’s third collection, Pit Lullabies (Bloodaxe, 2022) which is witty, wicked and moving in equal measure. I am also looking forward to In Her Jaws (Banshee Press, 2022) Rosamund Taylor’s much anticipated debut on May 19, Beast (Arlen House, 2022) by Luke Morgan due out in June, and Molly Twomey’s debut from Gallery Press, Raised Among Vultures, published on May 12. I am a massive fan of the UK based poet, Emily Berry and am waiting for my order of her third collection, Unexhausted Time (Faber, 2022) to arrive in my post box any day now.

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I gobbled up My Phantoms, the sixth book by Gwendoline Riley, it was so immersive and compulsive in its portrayal of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. Next on my to-be-read pile is Pure Colour by Sheila Heti and Poguemahone by Patrick McCabe.

THEATRE

I am looking forward to seeing Druid Theatre Company’s The Cavalcaders, a comic, wistful portrait of life in small town pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland and the men who lived there at Siamse Tíre (as part of a national tour) on June 18. St. John’s Theatre in Listowel is also a brilliant venue that always has an innovative and unexpected programme of events for all ages. I hope to get to see the The Importance of Being Oscar, a one-man show starring Michael Judd which runs for two nights, May 5 and 6.

TV

I was charmed, delighted and utterly amused by Dickinson on Apple TV starring Hailee Steinfeld who is a very engaging Emily Dickinson. The show is so clever, managing to embed so many of Dickinson’s poems while also turning the Dickinson myth on its head. This Emily is no hermit, her life, though confined by her gender and the age, is rich, exciting and makes for compulsive viewing. Jane Krakowski, who I think might be a genius, is superb and hilarious as Emily’s unstable yet subservient mother. A must-watch!

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I am so sad to see Derry Girls go but the final season is hilarious so far. I wait for it with bated breath every week and haven’t been disappointed. The cast are an incredible ensemble and Siobhán McSweeney’s deadpan Sr. George Michael is an iconic character that will endure in the Irish consciousness like Fr. Ted. More Irish and Northern Irish drama and comedy on our screens, please!

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GIG

St. John’s on Ashe Street is a lovely venue in the heart of Tralee, most recently it hosted Kerry Chamber Choir and their performance of Handel’s Messiah on April 18. Next up is the astounding Junior Brother, supported by Gwenifer Raymond, who will play on Sunday, May 8. The event is organised by nonfaction who are making exciting things happen in Tralee. More power to them!

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I am going to try to get to Ham Sandwich in Mike the Pies, Listowel on May 6, and to Emma Langford on 12 May who really is one of our brightest musical talents on the folk scene.

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TECH

I am a late adopter of all technology. I like to wait to see what sticks! Lately, I’ve been experimenting with the app, Otter.ai. It provides real-time transcription notes that are shareable, searchable, accessible and secure. It’s another way to write when you’re on the move. I am still experimenting with it! Otherwise, I am so glad that Zoom exists because I got to ‘attend’ readings, gigs and events that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to me over the pandemic, and beyond. I am glad to see that some festivals are still incorporating this aspect in their programmes. I think its something we really need to include in our planning from now on to ensure accessibility for all.

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THE NEXT BIG THING...

Former Kerry County Council Writer-in-Residence and winner of the Seán Dunne Award, Noel O’Regan’s debut novel, Though the Bodies Fall, is due to be published by Granta Books in autumn 2023 and it can’t come soon enough. It’s an extraordinary book, the story of a man who finds himself drawn back to his family home at the end of Kerry Head to revive his family’s unusual and unsettling role in the community there. It is a haunting book, so original and atmospheric, I can’t wait for everyone to read it.

Seán Hewitt is one of my favourite contemporary poets, and his book Tongues of Fire (Cape, 2020) got me through lockdown. I am very excited to read his first non-fiction book, All Down Darkness Wide (Cape, 2022) out this July. The reviews are glowing, it sounds like a very special book indeed.

Finally, Listowel Writers’ Week is back in-person and live from the bright and beautiful streets of Listowel, Co. Kerry from June 1-5. I always think of it as the gateway to the summer! There are so many exciting events planned and so many brilliant guests. Kerry journalist and CNN sensation Donie O’Sullivan will be there on Sat 4th June with Pulitzer Prize winning Malachy Brown in an event called Irish Journalists on the American Frontline, which sounds utterly compelling. Jeanine Cummins, the author of American Dirt will also be reading on June 4th. I am very excited to find out who wins the Pigott Poetry Prize, from a very impressive shortlist including books by Martina Evans, Maurice Riordan and Paul Muldoon. For more details on this year’s programme go here and follow them on Twitter.

Victoria Kennefick hosts The RTÉ Concert Orchestra Celebrates Emily Dickinson, featuring Stephen Rea, Naomi Louisa O'Connell, Susannah de Wrixon and Ryan O’Shaughnessy, at the National Concert Hall, Dublin on May 25th 2022 - find out more here.