A lovely start to the year – a writerly celebration of Nollaig na mBan (Christmas of the Women). It was an Irish tradition that women had a day off household work on the feast of the Epiphany, the 6th January, the last day of the Christmas season).
On Wednesday 5th January at 17.30 ET/10.30pm UK time) the Irish Network DC has arranged a zoom reading of work from North Star, an anthology of work by female writers from Northern Ireland. This was published by Women Aloud NI, a burgeoning network of women writers.
Angeline King, Gráinne Tobin, Shelley Tracey and I will be reading our work from the anthology.
The event is supported by the Irish Embassy in the USA, the Northern Ireland Bureau (the Northern Ireland Executive’s diplomatic arm in the USA) and the Irish American Partnership.
I’m particularly pleased to be reading a poem which has a link to America. As for many Irish people, emigration has resulted in my having relatives across the United States and this poem is about an appearance of my grandfather at his great-grand-daughter’s wedding, all the way from America.
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.’
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.
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.
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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.
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.
“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→