I’m delighted that this 48-page pamphlet of poetry will be published by Seren Books on the 11th April 2022.
Phil Cope, Viviana Fiorentino, ‘Moon’ and Csilla Toldy worked with me to write a poem each on the theme. Glen Wilson was my mentor and contributes a poem.
Sanctuary is – urgent. The pandemic has made people crave it; political crises and war are denying it to millions; the earth is no longer our haven. This theme has enormous traction at a time of existential fear − especially among the young − that nowhere is safe. Even our minds and our bodies are not refuges we can rely on. Truth itself is on shaky ground.
This pamphlet of 31 poems addresses these critical situations from the inside. How we can save the earth, ourselves and others? How valid is the concept of a ‘holy’ place these days? Are any values still sacrosanct? We all deserve peace and security, but can these be achieved without exploitation?
Belfast-born Angela Graham divides her time between Wales and Northern Ireland. She has designed this collection to embody the hosting, welcoming aspect of Sanctuary. Alongside her own poems she invited four other poets, two from Wales and two from Northern Ireland, to work with her in writing a poem each.
‘Moon’ is the pseudonym for an Iranian poet now living in Wales. Writer and photographer, Phil Cope from the Garw Valley in Glamorgan is an expert on the holy wells and shrines of the British Isles. In Northern Ireland, poet and novelist, Viviana Fiorentino is an economic migrant from Italy who works with migrants and prisoners of conscience; film maker and poet, Csilla Toldy fled communist Hungary for a ‘free’ life in the West. The fifth poet, Glen Wilson (winner of the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing), acted as mentor for Angela’s work and contributes a poem on migration.
Angela Graham is a distinguished producer for TV. She was Development Producer on the BBC series The Story of Wales presented by Huw Edwards (2 BAFTA Cymru Awards). She was producer and co-writer of the Oscar entrant cinema feature Branwen (6 BAFTA Cymru nominations and Best Film at the Celtic Media Festival). Her short story collection A City Burning (Seren 2020) was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. Her poems have been published widely in journals such as The North, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House; and often anthologised, most recently in Local Wonders (Dedalus Press), Words From The Brink and A470 (Arachne Press) and Washing Windows Too (Arlen House).
Angela says: “Before this work I thought of Sanctuary as a place but now I understand it’s something I have to be.”
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
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.
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.