Meeting

Kevin MacNeil

Scottish writer Kevin MacNeil, an internationally published writer of poetry, prose and drama who placed first in the 2000 edition of the prestigious Tivoli Prize for Young European Poets, will be in Malta between 26 and 31 July 2001. Kevin MacNeil has been invited to Malta by Inizjamed in collaboration with the British Council.

In Malta, MacNeil will lead a series of four workshops in creative writing at the MITP in Valletta and he will take part in a public discussion on cultural identity at the Bay Street Theatre on Friday 27 July and a literary performance called “Gżejjer” (Islands) on 31 July at the University of Malta as part of the Evenings on Campus summer festival.

Poets and Rock Stars

Kevin MacNeil (in Gaelic Caoimhin MacNčill) was born on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis (Scotland) and and writes in English and Gaelic. He was educated at the Nicolson Institute, University of Edinburgh and Sabhal Mňr Ostaig. He is the first person from Scotland to win the prestigious Tivoli Europa Giovani International Poetry Prize. He is currently living on the Isle of Skye, where he is employed as the inaugural Iain Crichton Smith Writing Fellow (writer in residence for the Highlands area of Scotland). He is a founder member of the trip-hop poetry band Tomorrowscope. His work has been translated into 10 languages.

Despite his young age, MacNeil is an experienced creative writing tutor and he has taught writing skills all over the UK to people of all backgrounds and ages. He is a performer of poetry and prose readings who has read in a number of countries and venues from a small bookshop to the Royal Festival Hall, from a tiny café to an Italian amphitheatre. He has also read at many festivals including the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Clerkenwell Literary Festival, the Ledbury Poetry Festival, and the Brighton Do Tongues Festival. He has toured Ireland on the Cuairt Nam Bŕrd poetry and music tour and has already read in the US, Canada, and Colombia this year.

 In June MacNeil was invited to Colombia to take part in one of the world's most important poetry festivals. The two-week International Poetry Festival of Medellin, funded by the Colombian Promoteo organisation, was set up to give hope to a people whose lives are tainted by violence, drugs and corruption. MacNeil is the only Scottish poet invited to join the best poets from five continents spreading a message of hope.

"This is a huge honour for me," said MacNeil. "This festival shows just how poetry can make a difference to people's lives. Many tens of thousands of people attend the festival, which proves how meaningful it is to them. In a statement published before his departure for Colombia, MacNeil stated that he loves and was “looking forward to a memorable and life-enriching fortnight. It is very inspiring to me as a writer that poetry has the strength to bring people together in this way and generate a lasting optimism."

The festival came into being in 1991 and has hosted the finest poets from 67 countries, including Nobel Prize winning writers. According to the festival's director, Fernando Rendon: "The festival arose from a proposal to overthrow the wall of terror and fear imposed by the internal feuds of our country. Among other things, poetry is an act of profound communication. When this communication occurs in a community, very strong connections are possible: it's a ritual in which people's dreams and hopes are shared as well as their deepest and most pressing needs."

On his return to Scotland, MacNeil described his visit to Colombia as “unforgettable - an incredible experience.” People are “beautiful and friendly” and “poets are treated like rock stars in Colombia - on Sunday 10 June I read to 10,000 people in an amphitheatre. They shower you with presents after each reading e.g. flowers, rings, bracelets, etc.”

Defying the Poet Stereotype

 In the fields of television and film, he wrote and presented a special feature about the arts in Scotland for the BBC television programme “Eorpa”; he designed, researched, shot, directed and edited a weekly strand on a children’s programme; he has researched, translated scripts (with suggested improvements), operated puppet and assistant floor managed on a pre-school children’s programme; and he has played the lead male role in a groundbreaking Gaelic short film. He has also appeared in an Italian film and a Gaelic drama and many times on television (BBC 2, STV, Grampian) either to promote his work or to discuss literature. He wrote and presented a radio programme about Gaelic poetry for Radio Scotland and was commissioned to write a story for BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal for the millennium, which was broadcast in December 1999.

Kevin MacNeil’s publications include his prize-winning book of poetry Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides  (Canongate Books 1998); Wish I Was Here (ed. by Kevin MacNeil and Alec Finlay, Pocketbooks 2000), a book of poems by Scots of bicultural and/or bilingual background, like Gaels and Asian-Scots, with a large number of specially-commissioned photographs and a free c.d.; Baile Beag Gun Chrěochan/A Little Borderless Village (ed. by Kevin MacNeil, Highland Council 2000); Dalle Ebridi A Malta (main contributor, Sensibili alle Foglie 2000); Be Wise Be Otherwise (Canongate Books, Summer 2001), a book which MacNeil himself describes as "a semi-serious and semi-funny book of thoughts, ideas, suggestions and advice"; Singing for the Blue Men (forthcoming), a novel; and The Collected Stories of Iain Crichton Smith (ed. By Kevin MacNeil - Birlinn Publications, summer 2001).

“Responses to my work have been - so far, gratifyingly favourable!” writes MacNeil. “I had no idea what kind of reaction Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides would get when it was first published. Obviously I hoped it would do well. It was not particularly widely reviewed, but it has sold very well - mainly due to word of mouth and I'm pleased about that. I find it amusing - but not surprising - that its greatest recognition has come from another country.  I'm quite sure that there are people who do not like my work. Gaels, for example, can be very traditional and there are some people who do not like Gaelic poetry unless it is in a traditional, singable form. But I want to add to the Highland literary tradition, not rely on it.”

 About his latest book, Be Wise Be Otherwise (Canongate, 2001), what MacNeil describes as a “very different book to Love and
Zen in the Outer Hebrides
, a semi-serious and semi-funny book of thoughts, ideas, suggestions and advice”, this is what Michael Palin, ex-Monty Python, has to say: "I don't know if it's his living in the Outer Hebrides that does it, but Kevin MacNeil's work gives me that good bracing feeling you get from exposure to the elements. It has a freshness that sharpens and invigorates. He can be crisp and cool, and funny and warm, but he always hits the spot."

Kevin MacNeil has also published articles on creative writing, literary criticism and current events in many diverse journals, newspapers and other publications.

More information about Kevin MacNeil and his works and about his public commitments in Malta are available from the Inizjamed website at www.inizjamed.cjb.net. One can also write to inizjamed@email.com.

Adrian Grima

July 2001

 


Kevin MacNeil

English

Kevin MacNeil in Colombia

Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides

Be Wise Be Otherwise

Wish I Was Here

A Little Borderless Village/Baile Beag Gun Chrěochan

Zen and the Art of Poetry

words, seahorses

 

 

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