Category Archives: Portfolio

NVTV documentary series on Ulster-Scots writers

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.

The programmes will be screened in the autumn.

 

 

Belfast Book Festival ‘Sanctuary…’ Launch

Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere had its Northern Irish launch on Saturday 18th June at Belfast Book Festival.

The technical team at the Crescent Arts Centre prevented covid from doing its worst by facilitating Csilla Toldy (who’d tested positive that morning) to join us via zoom. We missed Viviana Fiorentino who wasn’t well enough to appear.

A key feature of this poetry collection is that four poets, two living in N Ireland and two living in Wales, wrote a poem each with me and my mentor for the collection, Glen Wilson contributed a poem of his own. The bulk of the collection is my work.

Csilla Toldy reading via zoom

I was very pleased that the eminent, British-Hungarian poet, George Szirtes has written of the collection:

“Sanctuary is primarily physical but it is more than that. It offers a spiritual place of safety too. It is a token of generosity from the giver and a source of inner comfort for the receiver. Beyond that, the experience depends on much else in the long run but that first act is invaluable and restorative.

“In this book, the poet Angela Graham has generously invited Italian-born poet and novelist, Viviana Fiorentino; the Welsh writer, Phil Cope; the Hungarian- born poet and translator Csilla Toldy; Irish poet Glen Wilson; and an Iranian poet living in Wales to offer a poem each on the theme of Sanctuary.

The collection is full of moving, serious poems and individual voices. This too is sanctuary.”

That is exactly what I was aiming for: a book that would embody, to some degree, the hosting aspect of sanctuary.

Phil Cope reading

But sanctuary has many facets: the environment, the spiritual, the body and the self, the goal of some migration, the refuge of those in peril…

These themes are explored in the collection.

In the launch some of the other talents of the contributing poets came to the fore.

Glen Wilson performing his song ‘There Must Be Somewhere’

Glen Wilson composed and performed a song prompted by the collection: There Must Be Somewhere; Phil Cope illustrated his reading of his poem with his own fine photographs; we saw a film by Csilla and Viviana on their  experience of coming to live in Northern Ireland from, respectively, Italy and Hungary.

I loved the fact that the audience joined in near the end. They had been invited to add a leaf to the ‘Sanctuary Tree’. Just as, near holy wells and sacred sites, a tree is sometimes held to be a special means of communication with something beyond the ordinary, so we had a tree to which people added their aspiraitons, hopes, prayers. Some of the audience read out their leaf message. This underlined our common  being in the world.

Viviana Fiorentino (left) and Csilla Toldy with the Sanctuary Tree earlier in the Festival

And we heard an experience that had taken place on the bus en route to the venue – of encountering anti-immigrant feeling and summoning instead a sanctuary mindset, a refusal to let ht enegative dominate. This stressed how sanctuary can be experienced in the everyday. How we can each be a sanctuary.

The poets shared their poems and the audience shared something of their own lives. The leaves on the tree burgeoned.

Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere is available from Seren Books,

Homepage

No Alibis Book Shop, Belfast, Amazon and many book stores

Praise for ‘Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere’

with Phil Cope, Viviana Fiorentino, Mahyar, Csilla Toldy and Glen Wilson

“A necessary and urgent response to the world’s increasing crises…” – Robert Minhinnick

Sanctuary is – urgent. The pandemic has made people crave it; political crises 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.

Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere 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. Alongside her own work, she has designed this collection to embody the hosting, welcoming aspect of Sanctuary by inviting five other poets from Wales and Northern Ireland to contribute a poem each. In Wales, Phil Cope from the Garw Valley is an expert on the holy wells and shrines of the British Isles and Mahyar is an Iranian writer who has made a new home in Wales. In Northern Ireland, poet and novelist, Viviana Fiorentino is an economic migrant from Italy, working with migrants and prisoners of conscience, while 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. Continue reading Praise for ‘Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere’

SANCTUARY Poetry

SANCTUARY: There Must Be Somewhere

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.”

Poetry 9781781726785  £6.00pbk Seren Books

 

 

Celebration in Washington of Northern Irish female writers

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.

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.