I was delighted to read from my poetry collection at arts space, The Green Room above Sustainable Wales’s colourful, intriguing shop, SUSSED Wales. This is an ethical community co-operative selling fair trade local and international goods in James Street, Porthcawl. Commitment to a just food policy is a major focus. What better time than the start of
As soon as I learned about Poetry as Commemoration I wanted to write something for it.
2022-2023 marks the centenary of one of the most challenging periods in Irish history including the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the establishment of the Free State and the ensuing Civil War. As we embark on this difficult phase of the Decade of Centenaries, Poetry as Commemoration invites communities to turn to poetry as a mode of understanding and expression.
It is an all-island initiative, organised by the Irish Poetry Reading Archive at University College Dublin and the Irish Government’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
I’m a big fan of initiatives that connect people and enable sharing so I was very pleased to be interviewed by Carys Bradley-Roberts of Creative Cardiff.
Creative Cardiff is a network which connects people working in any creative organisation, business or job in the Cardiff region. By encouraging people to work together we believe that we can make Cardiff the most creative place it can be.
Creative Firsts puts the spotlight on people’s first ventures into creativity in a particular field. My Creative First has been moving from film and TV into the world of books via Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere my poetry collection, and my short story collection A City Burning. I had a lot to learn.
I was delighted to be invited by Alan Roderick to read at The Murenger pub in Newport’s High Street. The name is memorable. The original murenger collected taxes that maintained the city’s defences in the medieval period. This monthly gathering is one of the most popular gigs for writers in south Wales and, of course, to add to its fame there is Jon Gower’s short story collection, The Murenger .
It is wonderful to be among people who really love writing. There’s no mistaking the genuine commitment to the written word. In the Open Mic session we heard from regulars and a newcomer. The audience was attentive and responsive. and Alan Roderick is a generous and arm host. He gave me a copy of his poetry colleciton, ‘After You’d Gone’. At the station on my way home, I was engrossed in it and missed my train! Apart from that, what more could a writer want?
It was a great pleasure to be awarded an Honorary Life Fellowship by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. The citation reads:
For supporting our shared objective of a strong, confident democracy in Wales by chairing and leading our media policy work to foster robust debate in Welsh society, laying the groundwork for our current citizen-centred media and democracy work.
Moving beyond ‘home’ to the concept of ‘sanctuary’ is this collection, Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere, in which author Graham also includes/invites poems from five other contributors. The theme of the book is that, in these turbulent times, sanctuary can be quite hard to find. Where does it lie? Well, here are poems which explore that query and attempt to find out, evoking ideas and evincing emotions along the way as we traverse bombed cities and chapels, evacuation sites and shrines, lakes, holy wells, and even the body itself which, in the poem Chronic is no longer a refuge but a place in which “pain expels me from myself”. Eventually, the book leads to a hopeful conclusion, in which the poet affirms, “We are a home for one another”. This is the bottom line and, fittingly, the final line of the collection.
I found the poems in this book finely written and thoughtful. Despite the intelligence and philosophical loftiness, which I sometimes feel prohibits poets from delving into the dirt via language and image, Graham is a poet who doesn’t shy away from this, delivering, as well as literal bombs, the ‘f-bomb’ in one poem; neither is she one who is unable to explore or touch on concepts of divinity and use of the word ‘God’, which I find more f-bomb prone, gritty poets perhaps feel their own fear of and are less likely to address. Therefore, this comes across as an open-minded collection, and the poems, as mentioned, are very finely wrought, whether by Graham or by her guests. This is a generous inclusion, of course, but Graham is a poet who is skilled and sublime enough, I imagine, not to feel any threat from it or, indeed, from anyone or anything at all.
Bookshop owner, Elin Edwards introduced me to the intriguing Dance Studio in King’s Road Yard. One whole wall is mirror, or gold curtaining, if you prefer that. Very atmospheric.
The audience had great questions after the reading and there was a sense of dialogue because of the contributions people made, bringing their own experience or reflections to the issues that included war, migration, the role of women in conflict, the fate of the environment and the creation of peace and security.
I felt very fortunate to have such an attentive and engaged audience who allowed me to feel that the poems ‘worked’ and communicated well.
What rises in our imagination? The holy or the helpless; the planet we live on together or the contested part of it that is the goal of desperate migrants? Is sanctuary a place, a person or a state of mind? Sanctuary is incontestably a key issue of our time and a major driver of politics. These Welsh writers create together a new stage in our poetic engagement with sanctuary.
NODDFA − A SUT MAE BYW YNDDI?
Beth sy’n codi yn ein dychymyg? Y sanctaidd neu’r digymorth; y blaned yr ydym yn byw arni gyda’n gilydd neu’r rhan ddadleuol ohoni sef nod mudwyr? Ai lle, unigolyn neu ffordd o feddwl yw noddfa? Heb os nac oni bai, noddfa yw broblem ein cyfnod ac yn bwnc llosg mewn gwleidyddiaeth. Dyma’r ysgrifenwyr hyn o Gymru yn mynd ati gyda’i gilydd i greu cam newydd yn ein hymgysylltiad barddonol â’r testun noddfa.
The panel members in this bilingual (Welsh/English) session were former National Poet of Wales, Gwyneth Lewis; co-architect of the Nation of Sanctuary movement, Rev Aled Edwards; novelist of migration and social activist, Dylan Moore and Joseph Gnagbo, a former refugee from the Ivory Coast now living in Wales.
I had never been to Sentry Hill, near Larne, before going there to be interviewed by Liam Logan for his series on Ulster-Scots writing for Belfast cable channel Northern Visions (NVTV).
The house was built in 1835 , improved in the 1880s, and owned by the McKinney family until 1996. William Fee McKinney (born 1832) collected farm implements and objects from rural life. The house’s interior and contents survive remarkably intact and give a good impression of a farm interior from the earlier twentieth century. It is run by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.
Liam interviewed me in a small room where many guns and weapons (are those assegais on the ceiling?) are on display, alongside stuffed birds andmaybe an armadillo!
Liam asked me how I came to write in Ulster-Scots. Both my grandparents on my father’s side came from communities with this speech and it has remained in my inner ear, as it were. I have had a lot of help in foregrounding it from people such as Liam and from the indispensable Ulster-Scots Grammar by Philip Robinson; The Hamely Tongue by the late James Fenton (both Ullans Press) and Ulster-Scots Writers’ Guide (Ulster-Scots Academy Press) and comments from the Ulster-Scots Language Society.
I read some of my poems for the camera. I find it a great pleasure to work in Ulster-Scots and would like to do more.
Other contemporary writers featured in the series are Alan Millar, Angeline King and Gary Morgan. All four of us are featured in the booklet produced as a follow-up to the Linen Hall LIbrary’s inaugural Ulster-Scots Writing Competition 2021 (supported by the Ulster-Scots Agency) in which we were all prize-winners.
Dr Pauline Holland, co-author of a biogrpahy of early eighteenth century poet, Sarah Leech, will also appear and Barbara Gray, singer and lyricist. Academics Dr Ivan Herbison and Dr Frank Ferguson are on the roster too.