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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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’→