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.
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.
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’.
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.
I am writing a collection of poetry on the theme of sanctuary.
But I’m not doing it alone. I’ve sought four other poets to contribute a poem each, written in collaboration with me, though originating with them. This approach is prompted by the notion of opening up a space, hosting, welcoming and also from my desire to open myself up, to learn.
I’m delighted to welcome Csilla Toldy to this collaborative venture.
Two of the Sanctuary poets are from Wales and two from Northern Ireland. Because I live in both places. All have experience of migration or a particular interest in sanctuaries.
Given the sanctuary theme, I have sought a poet in Northern Ireland and one in Wales, who has experience of having been a refugee.
Csilla Toldy 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 and I am very pleased that she is bringing her long experience of Sanctuary to this proposed book.
Csilla was born in Budapest. She lived in many European countries. She moved to the British Isles with a writer’s visa to work on films in 1995. Her writing was supported by British Screen, Media and Northern Ireland Screen, and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, National Lottery.
She received a Masters Degree in Creative Writing for Film and Television from Sheffield University in 2003. She participated in workshops lead by: Sundance, Arista, The National Film and Television School.
With her scripts she won the Katapult Prize and The Special Prize of the Motion Pictures Association as the Hungarian winner of the Hartley-Merrill Prize. In 2019 she was quarterfinalist at the Big Break Competition of Final Draft. Her film ‘Belfast Exposed’ recently won Best Street Art Film at the Berlin Underground Film Festival. She wrote ‘The Emigrant Woman’s Handbook with Fil Campbell.
“Get it up on the wall,” Des Jones says of plaster. “You can do what you like with it later.” He’s married to my husband’s cousin, Susan and he’s handled a quare few walls in his time. So I’ve got my book on Place and Displacement ‘”up on the wall’ this afternoon, tens of thousands of words, and I’ll put the finishing touches to it when I’ve had a metaphorical cup of tea. (The illustration is the cross-section of the house from the speculator’s submission to Belfast City Council. It’s the dream of the house before it became a reality, one of thousands of parlour houses built for the expanding city.)
I’ve had to go and have a bit of a lie-down too because the work has covered several years of research and preparation and centuries of event and my head is full of architectural and historical details. I received a Support for the Individual Artist Award (SIAP) from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2019 towards research for this book.
This piece of work started as ‘a bit of context’ for a set of poems I’ve written about the house of my childhood and my experiences of growing up in east Belfast in the Sixties and Seventies. It gave me the opportunity to focus the search for my paternal grandfather which I’ve been carrying out, off and on, since the Eighties when I made a TV documentary which touched on some of the material. My grandfather was almost never spoken of in my childhood and it has taken much careful research, over many years, to tease out his story. I kept everything I came across and, over time, connections have matured, as I have, and I feel I am more able, at this stage, to see the broader picture.
It also became a forensic investigation of, not only the house, but the area, the field in which it was built and the people who put up the money for it, designed it, built it and first lived in it. It’s an account of belonging, and not being allowed to belong. Continue reading On The Wall: Place and Displacement 1st draft→
Books in brief: Angela Graham’s evocative short stories
Sat, Jul 10, 2021, 00:00
A City Burning
Angela Graham Seren, £9.99
Angela Graham’s debut collection of short stories has been longlisted for the 2021 Edge Hill Short Story prize, and it’s not hard to see why. The film-maker and screenwriter’s move into fiction brings with it an eye for perspective, for the power of the vignette to momentarily depict a whole life. There is a craft in the economy of Graham’s prose, as evocative as it is sparse, and the theme of change resonates throughout the collection, as well as the inherently human fear of it. We are not always prepared for the moment when our lives change for ever, and Graham seeks to capture that sense of knowing and not knowing here, inviting us into an intimacy with her characters that is never forced, and always elegiac. BECKY LONG