The book lovers

Eoin Keenan retells and reviews his experience of Dublin Book Festival 2023

As the days begin to shorten, the Dublin Book Festival offers its annual boost to literature lovers across the city. The festival, spanning over the course of five days from November 8-12, scattered throughout many different venues, with the majority  of the festival aptly situated in the Printworks at Dublin Castle. This year’s festival was the biggest to date, with over 80 events, from children’s workshops to critically acclaimed authors talks, showcases of emerging and established writers, introductions to local and foreign fiction, and nonfiction, readings aloud of poetry and prose in several languages. Providing a warm invitation to readers both accustomed to and unfamiliar to the city’s vibrant literary scene, Dublin Book Festival 2023 catered to a fantastic range of book obsessives.

“These were artists assured of their talent, releasing a contagious, pensive stream of energy which swallowed the room.”

Falling under the aforementioned category, I went to explore what this year’s festival had to offer.  After surveying this year’s delectable menu, I chose a Thursday event and brought a pal along with me for the spectacle in the Glass Mask Theatre on Dawson Street. Taking place in a room dimly lit by sparse amber light bulbs, it was one of the many events which introduced up and coming writers to the masses, more specifically poets. In partnership with Poetry Ireland, Introductions Céadlínte intended to shed light on poets coming to the fore that “represent the electrifying future of Irish poetry”.  This year’s introductory poets were selected by Irish poet, Tara Bergin and include Sam Furlong Tighe, Colm Brennan, Siobhan Flynn, Maeve McKenna, Rafael Mendes, Stephen de Búrca, Eoin Rogers, Susanna Galbraith, Olha Matso and David Nash. This enclosed space, packed to the brim with attentive onlookers swigging beer and wine, or sipping tea and coffee, between walls lined with bookshelves and paintings, ostensibly more of a cafe than a theatre, served as the best venue I experienced at this year’s festival. An array of voices were heard onstage, some speaking in English, others in Irish, voicing a plethora of subject matter through poetry and music. The fantastic audience contributed to the atmosphere:  you could make out the slightest clink of a cup nestling in its saucer as everyone sat enraptured by an array of  Irish and English voices cast under the light. If I can say I found a common threadline in the poetry, I would note the defiance with which language was uttered. These were artists assured of their talent, releasing a contagious, pensive stream of energy which swallowed the room . Following the last crescendo of song or the silence falling after the last line of poetry, we found ourselves jolted back to life from that floating realm to a rapturous applause.

For the remainder of the festival I went to events taking place in Dublin Castle, which  proved a fitting hub with stalls galore of books to leaf through and purchase. A great buzz enveloped the densely populated lobby and when I arrived, everyone was chatting away in this assemblage of fiction fanatics. Takin’ the Mic, an open-mic event in partnership with the brilliant Irish Writers Centre, promised to be a bilingual event featuring poetry, prose and music in English and Irish. Taking place in the main hall for events, I must admit the setting wasn’t as atmospheric as the previous night’s aesthetic. Nonetheless, those onstage filled that airy space with flair, condensing the room as the audience latched onto every word. This unpredictable showcase of talent featured inspirational art from foreign and native artists. Special guest author, Declan Toohey sparked humour and intrigue from the audience, whilst host, Ciara Ní É maintained a jovial spirit in between acts. Some of the poets onstage performed during the previous night and continued to flourish under the spotlight. After listening to these songs and spirited poetry we left the hour of emotion with a newfound appreciation for art which exceeds ourselves.

“Joanna Donnelly, Lorna Gold and Éanna Ní Lamhna provided insights on how we as individuals can do our bit to save the environment.”

For the last day of DBF23 I returned once more to The Printworks in Dublin Castle to attend a talk completely different to the previous poetry performances. Tackling the Climate and Ecological Crisis, a panel event with climate emergency experts, Joanna Donnelly, Lorna Gold and Éanna Ní Lamhna reflected their views on the aforementioned topic with insights on how we as individuals can do our bit to save the environment. As someone who is pretty much wholly uneducated on climate change, aside from the constant reminder of our forthcoming demise from the news and climate activism online, I found this talk enjoyable as the speakers did a great job of making the complex topics they spoke of accessible. Although the conversation invoked grave matters, the interview was tinged with lightheartedness, ensuring the talk was not a doom and gloom fest. I can understand that better-informed attendees may not have enjoyed the discussion as much as I did, since it was more general than relating to specific issues. If you wished to witness a thorough analysis of climate change, this event would disappoint your expectations, but it was effective as a simple chat mirroring the positive mood of the festival. 

Dublin Book Festival 2023, celebrating the city’s diverse literary culture and providing a platform for a new generation of writers, has succeeded beyond expectations. With a wide itinerary reflecting the massive scope of writers in the city, DBF23 managed to cover so many bases one can only live in eager anticipation for the sequel.