“If we write, we have to enter another world… A poem is that space we can inhabit.”
So said Ciaran Carson at the recent performance event of Reading and Writing for Peace: A Poetic Celebration, which saw a collection of participants from the peace poetry workshops attend the Brian Friel Theatre at Queen’s University to celebrate the poetry produced from workshops throughout the past year.
I was delighted that my own poem, Awakening, was chosen amongst those being performed by local actors for the event, and let’s just say – for anyone who has never experienced hearing someone else read their work before – it’s quite surreal. The actor who read my poem (Tara Lynne O’Neill) – although ‘performed’ is a better word for it, as all the actors read with suitable emotion attached – did so differently from how I would have read it, proving the theory that once released into the world, poetry takes on a life of its own… I was, however, very pleased with how she read it and interested to see how someone else had interpreted my words.
Meanwhile, with the John Hewitt International Summer School fast approaching, it was also great to catch up with Tina Burke from last year’s school, as well as Mary Ellen Hayward, both from the Jane Ross Writers Group in Limavady.
The event was, of course, all thanks to the work of Leon Litvak of Queen’s University who, with the support of the NI Community Relations Council (CRC), brought the peace project initiative to Northern Ireland. The good news is – they are now able to continue the project for another year, so other writers in NI will have the opportunity to participate in the new upcoming workshops.
As Jacqueline Irwin, CEO of the CRC said: “This project is a point of light.” With the following day, June 21, the official Day of Reflection, when the hurt caused by conflict is acknowledged and remembered, she added that the event was “a very fitting tribute” to this.
“Poetry is the product and catalyst of reflection,” she added. “Poetry reaches into you and captures our shared community.”
The evening also included readings from Moyra Donaldson and Ciaran Carson, along with a post-show discussion at the end, which the audience was invited to take part in. The question inevitably asked during this, was: ‘Does poetry make a difference in the pursuit of peace?’
The answer was overwhelmingly that yes, poetry did have an impact, as it provided an outlet for people to express hitherto hidden thoughts, feelings and emotions and to share these, if desired, with others. It offered them a way, in many cases, to deal with issues they weren’t able to deal with before.
Ciaran Carson added: “Auden said, ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. I say, everything happens in a small back room. I also have a notion of the word ‘stanza’. It means ‘a room’ and comes from the Italian ‘to stand’. So, a stanza in a poem is a space where the poet stands. You can enter into that space in your own manner.
“A poem is to allow the space where a reader can enter in his or her own way. What we want in a poem is accuracy in language… how you feel. If a poem operates as a poem, it speaks in its own terms.”