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,

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