Yearly Archives: 2021

KINTRA BBC Radio Ulster

My Ulster-Scots poem A Heerd Tha Sodjer on Tha Radio was featured on BBC Radio Ulster’s KINTRA

The poem won first prize in the inaugural  Linen Hall Ulster-Scots Writing Competition. It’s about the evacuations from Kabul in August. A person in Ulster hearing a British soldier talking on the radio about preventing people from accessing the airport. His vivid account sweeps the listener up into a tragic event and into the trauma suffered by the soldier. Listening in the safety of home, thousands of miles away, how can one react to such circumstances?

It isn’t often a poet gets to listen in on a discussion of a poem and, thankfully, this one was entirely positive. I was particularly struck by co-presenter, Rab Lennox’s reaction. He made the point that every time he’d heard about that evacuation situation it was always reported in English ‘but tae hear it in yer ain tongue, it maks it all tha mair real.. It shakes ye.’

Poet, Anne McMaster commented on the strong emotional current in the poem and said that when she writes in Ulster-Scots she is going ‘tae tha wurds that lift frae yer hairt’, as though writing in Ulster-Scots drives the process down a layer, deeper into her emotion.

Presenter, Helen Mark, in an interview with me, said that I had used, ‘rich, strong Ulster-Scots… for a very just-happened, modern-day’ story. Ulster-Scots is, to me, very much about ‘present experience and everyday life.’

It was a pleasure to hear Gary Morgan, who won second prize for poetry, in an interview with Jonny Crawford. Gary is from Carnlough , or ‘Carnla’, as locals say. He talked about growing up in a Catholic background and what that meant ‘tae us weans’. HIs poem, ‘The Confeshion’ is about a child’s experience of recounting his sins and the interaction between parish and home. He said that ‘sometimes Ulstèr-Scots has, maybe unfairly, been seen as a Presbyterian language and  that’s not a hundred percent true… where I live it would be quite a diverse community an everybody wud engage in speakin in wurds o Ulster-Scots at some time o the day an I just wanted tae maybe inspire ither people tae show an interest an express themelves through tha Ulster-Scots.’

 

1st Prize Poetry – Linen Hall Ulster-Scots Writing Competition

I’m very, very pleased to have won 1st Prize for Poetry in the inaugural Linen Hall Ulster-Scots Writing Competition. It’s a tremendous encouragement.
The 1st Prize for Prose was won by Alan Millar. Second prize for Poetry went to Gary Morgan, and in Prose to Angeline King. The competitions were supported by the Ulster-Scots Agency.
The Linen Hall Library is opposite the city hall in Belfast. It was founded in 1788 and remains an independent library.
In the words of the late Seamus Heaney, former Patron and Honorary Member of the Library, “…the very words ’the Linen Hall Library’ represent not just books, but better hopes for the way we live.”
My poem is about the evacuations of people from Kabul in August 2021. The judges’ adjudication includes these comments:
This is a really touching & heartfelt piece of work made even stronger by the Ulster Scots in which it speaks truths in a non-narcisstic & open way to which many could relate… in the modern world it speaks of.

Continue reading 1st Prize Poetry – Linen Hall Ulster-Scots Writing Competition

Derry Launch of Local Wonders 3 Dec

The pedigree of Dedalus Press is enviable. Founded in 1985, it is one of the leading publishers of poetry in Ireland.  Its editor, Pat Boran has selected the contents of this new anthology.

Dedalus invited poets to contribute to

a poetry map of the island of Ireland, south and north, a map like no other.

‘We want to recognise and celebrate the power of poetry to guide, to heal, to console and to reassure, to offer a necessary glimpse of otherness and elsewhere in troubling times such as these.

‘By Local Wonders we mean the things, places and experiences (the smaller the better) that, over the past year or so … have kept us connected to and inspired by the world immediately around us… we’re interested in seeing the country on a truly local scale, as if through a zoomed-in lens, and in seeing that seeing happening. Which is not to say we want to retreat from the wider world or shut it out of our minds. On the contrary; as in ecology so too in poetry – think global, act local.’
I immediately wanted to offer a poem. Lockdown for me meant Ballycastle, County Antrim. My daily walk was the Carrickmore Road, behind my house. This little road skirts the last cliffs before the land gives way to the Sea of Moyle – very much a place on the edge of the island.
Just after lockdown ended I was walking there as usual when I had a kind of vision. I saw the cliffs and hedges and bushes as though in a new light. I saw, radiating from beneath – from within –  the familiar scene a quality that must always have been present but not perceived by me. It was a gift.
I wondered if the sequestration of lockdown had rinsed my eyes of some customary film and allowed me new sight. Perhaps it was, as Dedalus says, ‘a necessary glimpse of otherness’ but, though I can see that element in the experience, it seemed rather that my surroundings were revealing, not so much otherness (stressing a gap between us) but rather something of their genuine nature alongside my own.
Perhaps,  I had shed some preoccupations or been re-set, to some degree, by the pandemic circumstances and was more capable of ‘reading’ my surroundings as they really are.

DERRY LAUNCH

 

Poets featured in the anthology appeared either in person or virtually at the Centre for Contemporary Art in the heart of Derry city.  Hosted by Cat Brogan

Little Acorns bookstore has the anthology available to buy. Online purchase via Local Wonders – Dedalus Press

Local Wonders can be ordered here

VISION, NORTH ANTRIM

The Carrickmore Road hems my parish of Culfeightrin

where its townlands − Broughanlea, Drumaroan, Tornabodagh, Tornaroan −

dip their skirts into the Sea of Moyle

(with a last flounce of grassy clefts, precarious caravans

and a beading of white houses)

before relinquishing themselves

to waves that take the colour of the sky, a jumbled grey.

 

Here all is profusely, wetly, Irishly grey or green;

even the light arrives through a dampened veil yet

pagoda roofs, crimson

− the hedges are full of them.

Each dangles a furl of imperial purple,

a firework spurting tiny comets

down to a mossy sky.

 

That veil’s dissolving. I see

sulphur-yellow sunbursts in the ditch;

hard globes of military red strung on the bushes

for a brash tattoo; cockades – vermilion –

tossed up among the brambles by a hidden crowd;

medals of cerise pinned to the ferny cliffs; corsages of

hot lavender, burnt orange, the colour lucifer…

 

Is it because I’ve reached this edge

that I have eyes at last to see

what has been burning always

within my coolest day?

 

After these months of paring down, let me keep

my vision stripped,

here where there is no further north.

YARNS contemporary writing in Ulster-Scots

In time for Ulster-Scots Language Week (22nd – 27th November) the Ulster-Scots Community Network has brought out a very welcome collection of prose and poetry. The work of 25 writers, a few writing in Scots, is represented here.  It bills itself as ‘celebrating contemporary writing’ in both tongues.

I am very pleased to have 2 poems and an extract from my novel-in-progress Thoarn included.

The significance of this publication is that it sets today’s writers in Ulster-Scots firmly under the spotlight. Is the writing genuinely ‘contemporary’? How wide is the range of style and of subject-matter? What is the gender balance? What hope does it give that there is more high-calibre work to follow on?

The main editor, Dr Frank Ferguson stresses in his introduction that he sees the book as a spring-board.

‘Evidence of so many committed to their work begs the question of how we might work towards fanning single poems to pamphlets and collection…’

‘Such creative verve, as displayed in this collection requires recognition, support and nurturing from tha mainstream.’

Indeed, it does need such support and this collection demonstrates why such help is deserved.

Such support from the mainstream presumably means that Ulster-Scots will want to enter that mainstream,  claiming its place – or rather re-claiming its place – in the literature of the island and beyond. This means taking advantage of a developing openness to multi-lingual publication.

The last two years have seen a marked increase in the publication of new Ulster-Scots work. For instance, a year ago, Steve Dornan’s stylistically ambitious Tha Jaa Banes was brought out  by the Ulster-Scots Language Society.

The  Ulster-Scots elements in Anne McMaster’s moving poetry collection Walking Off The Land were rightly welcomed by her publisher Hedgehog Press. One of my poems in ‘Yarns’ was first published (in an earlier version) in the English-language Bangor Literary Journal. I found no editorial barrier to submitting in Ulster-Scots.  In my collection of short stories, A City Burning the Welsh publisher did not baulk at including a story with an Ulster-Scots-speaking character.

The resistance to multi-lingualism has lessened. For instance, I notice poems in Irish appearing in collections from Welsh publisher Black Bough Poems. I see a welcome drive towards fostering the creative expression of  writers who are among our newer citizens, bringing non-European languages to our cultural life. Today’s editor is increasingly likely to be presented with work in languages other than English.

A striking example is Arachne Press’s bilingual Welsh/English poetry anthologies such as the upcoming  A470 

A470

and its anthology What Meets The Eye poems, short fiction and scripts from UK Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing writers in which another language, British Sign Language, shares the stage.

Multi-lingual publishing requires, of course, additional editorial expertise and it demands more of critics, and readers. It’s not too much to expect publishing to reflect the society – the writers and readers – it springs from.

It’s heartening that during Ulster-Scots Langauge Week 22 – 27th November the theme of the workshop for writers in Ulster-Scots is Future Tense

That is, Scots / Ulster-Scots as a language of the now, of evolution of all its speakers of all ages, and its words and relation to the modern world.

Yarns is available from yarns@ulster-scots.com or info@ulster-scots.com

Christmas & Winter 2 edition from Black Bough Poetry

Black Bough Poetry/Barddoniaeth Y Gangen Ddu has produced its second Christmas and Winter-themed anthology and it would be an ideal Christmas gift. Over sixty short poems by poets from around the world are beautifully enhanced by linocuts from Gower-based artist Emma Bissonnet .

Black Bough specialises in imagist micro poems: short, and sharp or sweet, with the emphasis on the visual. These poems take the reader on a tour of the feast and the  season. Perfect for dipping into.

Available here

Edited by Matthew C. Smith and colleagues, Damien B. Donnelly and M.S.Evans.

I’m delighted to have this poem included.

CHRISTMAS

The smallest words mean the most

Joy

Hope

Love

These things

Not things

May you receive them all

A star              of particular promise

A light             that has sought and found you

The child         of your heart

Arrived

Waiting beyond the door.

copyright Angela Graham

Reimagining Rabbie – Reimagining Myself

How did I first encounter the poetry of Burns? I wouldn’t have been able to tell you till a few days ago. I came across a small school exercise book, carefully covered in brown paper, on which I’d written the word ‘Songs’ on one cover and ‘Poems’ on the other. I would have been seven years old and the teacher must have written on the blackboard for us to copy down texts in our very best handwriting.

The poems are a mixed bag. The first, I have carefully noted, is by ‘Lord Tennyson’,  and I will pass over it because I wasn’t impressed. One of his weaker ones. Didn’t he have better things to do, I wondered. Among the poems was a long one by Thomas Campbell, The Irish Harper. It’s a lament for ‘poor dog Tray’. I know now that Campbell was a Glaswegian (1777 – 1846) who despite a very small poetic output managed to exert much influence on the poetic scene of his day.

Here I’m making a wee aside to recommend Duke Special’s rendition of  On Account of My Dog Fido (” oh my dog what have you done? and why have you forsaken me?”). This is a genuinely affecting dog lament  from the Francis J.  Bigger collection in Belfast Central Library. It’s on A Note Let Go, a marvellous album made with Ulaidh which includes some poem/song work and mines the Bigger collection .

Ulaid & Duke Special – A Note Let Go CD & LP

I’ve blogged previously about other aspects of the album here.

The poems in my school jotter are not the best nor the worst examples of the art but it wasn’t among them that Burns appears. He is in the Songs section. Following on from Puff The Magic Dragon is: Ye banks and braes…  (two songs of loss!). There are several Scottish songs in this homemade anthology and a couple in Irish, written conventionally and phonetically. This is how it should be: one language alongside the other.

It was through the song versions of Burns’s poems that I got to know his work. I seem always to have known My luve is like a red red rose… And a Scottish friend singing For a’ that blew me away. Simply delivered, with conviction, the refrain convinces us that the truth is simple: it’s not outward show or possessions that count because every individual is inherently worthy by virtue of being human. The poem, or song, makes its confident assertion that, ultimately, right values will prevail.

Then let us pray that come it may,
         As come it will for a’ that,
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
         May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        It’s coming yet, for a’ that,
                That man to man, the warld o’er,
                        Shall brothers be for a’ that.
I also heard a punchy version of this from a group of young men with the rough sea off Portstewart prom as their background. They had few listeners in inasupicous weather and the singer was battling against the odds but that performance has stayed with me because it was encountered unexpectedly and it gave no ground in asserting Burns’s proclamation.
The fashion in poetry today leans towards free verse which doesn’t lend itself to singing as a predictable rhyme scheme does. The poem that works as a song acquires an extra lease of life and a wider audience and, crucially,  delivery in common. The refrain, in which the onlookers join the performer, to become part of the performance, heightens the sense of experience shared.
The poet, Ben Okri in an article in The Guardian 12th November, called for ‘existential creativity’.  ‘We must write as if these are the last days.’ He states, ‘Faced with the state of the world and the depth of denial…’ artists have to find ‘new forms of creativity and human imagination.’  He believes that, ‘As a writer, everything I write should be directed towards the immediate end of drawing attention to the dire position we are in as a species.’
Burns and his contemporaries faced crises and Burns responded by asserting a humanity held in common and the ‘political’ responsibilities that follow from that. Yes, he’s a bard of passion and good company but he is also political. He saw that the individual is not separate from society.
For myself, as a poet, to reimagine Rabbie means letting his work inspire me to reimagine myself,  my society and my role in that society. As a writer, what am I for? What is my purpose? I won’t ignore the lesson Burns offers that poetry as singable lyric extends the poem’s reach and expands it beyond poet and solitary reader.
I was asked by The Linen Hall Library in Belfast to record a Burns poem for their event celebrating the 120th anniversary of their acquisition of the Gibson Collection of Burns material, Rabbie Reimagined

Rabbie Reimagined: Gibson, Burns, and Belfast

I’ve chosen another poem that is also a song, John Anderson, my jo, John.

This is a poignant yet celebratory account of a long relationship. And a lovely song.

Angela Graham is a film maker, writer and poet. Her short story collection A City Burning (Seren Books) was longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2021. Her poetry is widely published.

 

BALLYCASTLE POETRY TOWN

BALLYCASTLE – POETRY TOWN 10th – 18th September 2021

 

This is a town with a Diamond at its heart

and the sea at its feet.

Here opposites marry –

harbour and headland; townland and street;

the Sea of Moyle, mercurial, flaunting

and Fair Head, a stoic, Knocklayd, a sentinel;

always a northness in the air,

always the whole island at your back;

Rathlin beckoning, Scotland a wet step away

and the moiling Atlantic unseen but westering.

 

This week, words went a wee dander round the town,

were flung – flaithulach − to the seafront breeze,

were reverenced, teased and treasured

for don’t they marry us to one another

time and again, tieing and undoing knots

to meet our needs, if we will let them.

A poem gets the thing said

that might have stayed unspoken,

puts love and rage, rapture and heartbreak

on the one page that we can focus on together.

 

Poetry Ireland selected Ballycastle, County Antrim as one of its Poetry Towns for the week of 10th – 18th September 2021. I’ve written this poem in tribute to the varied programme and participative spirit of the week

Kate Newmann is Ballycastle Poetry Poetry Laureate throughout.

Ballycastle Writers’ Group facilitated and hosted, and launched their anthology ‘An Unfinished Thought’.

Quotidian – Word On The Street brought Poetry Jukebox to the seafront @poetryjukebox #Quotidian

Supported by Poetry Ireland, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Flowerfield Arts Centre and Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

 

Literature Wales blog – Sanctuary

Open Gate photo © Phil Cope.
https://www.literaturewales.org/lw-blog/sanctuary/
A collaborative approach to creating a poetry collection on this theme with poets from Wales and N. Ireland

I am delighted that my debut collection of short stories A City Burning (Seren Books, 2020) has been longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. The collection was developed with the support of a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary.

The long-listed collections for the Edge Hill Short Story prize

I am currently writing my second collection of poetry while my first is under consideration for publication. Its theme is Sanctuary. In times of peril we crave a place where we feel secure enough to let down our guard and open up to being restored so that we can start afresh. But a sanctuary that we’re not free to leave at will is a prison.

The pandemic has given all of us experiences of sanctuary and of ways in which we are, or are not, sanctuaries for each other. We are also touched by the great movements of migration as people flee danger, hoping to find somewhere safe to make a home.

Our planet itself has never looked more like a threatened sanctuary. And the ‘sanctuary’ of the human person is pressurized between a legitimate wish to be inviolable and a longing to be open and connected.

How could I make this collection exemplify the aspects of hosting and sharing which sanctuary, for me, has always had? An authored collection is usually the work of a single poet but could I open this one up? I decided to look for two poets in Wales and two in Northern Ireland to work collaboratively with me and contribute a poem each.

I came to live in Wales from Northern Ireland forty years ago when I married a Welshman. That was only a matter of crossing the Irish Sea but I still felt very out of place for a long time. How challenging it must be to be forced to leave one’s home. If I were in that position, I’d hope that the local poets would welcome me. So, maybe I could offer the welcome I’d hope to receive, even to a tiny degree.

I could look for a poet in each place who has had experience of being a refugee and another pair with expertise in other aspects of ‘sanctuary’.

The Swansea poet and publisher, Matthew M.C. Smith put me in touch with Swansea Asylum Seekers Support. Since 2003, this group’s Hafan imprint has published impressive work by asylum-seekers and former refugees. Through them I was introduced to an Iranian poet. His pseudonym is ‘Moon’.

Photo: Stephen Clarkson

The other poet from Wales is Phil Cope, a writer and photographer who’s an expert on holy wells and sacred places across Britain and Ireland. We met years ago on the housing estate near the ancient shrine of Penrhys in the Rhondda. His latest book The Golden Valley: A Visual Biography of the Garw is just out.

In Northern Ireland I found Italian economic migrant, Viviana Fiorentino, a novelist, poet and cultural activist. Some of her work brings incomers and locals together around common experiences of displacement. (The Troubles ensured that many people know what it’s like to be forcibly moved.)

I have been searching in Northern Ireland for a female poet who has been a refugee. It doesn’t surprise me that it has been hard to find this person. The experience of seeking asylum, of having been a refugee, can demand much energy and there may be anxiety that going ‘on the record’ will lead to problems with the authorities. People may prefer to put the experience behind them.

I am delighted that Csilla Toldy is joining us. She is a Hungarian now living in Northern Ireland. She escaped Communist Hungary in 1981, looking for freedom in the West. She is a European who has experienced being a refugee within Europe. As a film maker and writer she has explored themes of arrival and departure, severance and belonging. Now she’s going deeper via this project.

Three poets have completed their work with me. The collaboration has been close and harmonious, though different in each case. With Moon I had an experience of absorption. His gently expressed comments were unusually penetrating and they have emerged in some poems by me – an osmotic kind of collaboration. His own poem, ‘YOU’, is in rhyming couplets, a substantial technical achievement. It is a tumbling progress through the chaotic stages of his break with his native land and the disorientation of arriving in Wales, knowing no one. It crescendos to a moving epiphany about what sanctuary is.

Phil Cope’s poem, ‘Another Lake Another Land’ is expansive. It takes us to many sanctuaries, from the Garw Valley to the Bosphorus, Iran, India and back to the Valley as a site of the transcendent.

Viviana’s poem is technically experimental, especially in its use of punctuation, and beautifully concentrated. It has an ecological theme.

It’s a pleasure to have the Northern Irish poet, Glen Wilson  as mentor for my own work. In 2020 he mentored my first collection.

I received a Support for the Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland towards the costs of this undertaking. The book will be finished by the end of the year.

I hope an eventual book will link Wales and Northern Ireland and other parts of the world through experiences of sanctuary: what it is; where it is; who it is.

Information on the poets involved can be found here

Angela Graham is a film maker and writer from Belfast who has lived in Wales for decades.

http://angelagraham.org/  @angelagraham8

 

Garw Valley Cairn, Wales © Phil Cope
St Mullin’s Well, Ireland © Phil Cope