Tag Archives: Peace poetry

A Poetic Celebration

“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.

Me with Tara Lynne O'Neill

Me with Tara Lynne O’Neill

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.

Me and Tina Burke of the Jane Ross Writers Group

Me and Tina Burke of the Jane Ross Writers Group

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 Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands

The Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands

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.”



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Stand and stare

Leisure (W H Davies)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth canIMG_1753
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

This was today’s poem of the day in my Poem for the Day book and, given it is Easter Sunday and a time where we traditionally take stock, celebrate life and spend time ‘at leisure’, it seems rather fitting. I had ambitious writing plans for my few days off over the Easter break but I have, instead, seemingly embraced the essence of this poem and, well, have taken the time to ‘stand and stare’. In a manner of speaking.

Inspiration comes from soaking up the richness of our surroundings – consciously and unconsciously – and when better to indulge than when you have a little less timetabling (i.e. work) to distract you?

IMG_1766My peace poems have finally been submitted to the Reading and Writing for Peace project and I have made progress with this month’s short story during my time off, but mostly, I’ve been engaged in non-literary related things – that is, caring for my wee dog after a little procedure at the vets. If there has to be a point to this all, it is that, experiences shape us for the better or for the worse and, inevitably, will often seep out into our writing in some shape or form. I certainly attribute much of my inspiration for stories and poems to my aforementioned pup – those with dogs in their lives will understand the wealth of inspiration they can bring – both directly and indirectly – and walking helps to clear the head and fill it with fresh ideas.

Perhaps this Easter break will lead to some ingenious new material, perhaps not. But it has given me time to stand and stare, do a little writing, a little thinking and to take things at a leisurely pace before the wheels of work begin to grind again and I enter the arena once more…

CC33-35sPS Some poetic news which I meant to mention last week… Those with an inclination towards Ulster Scots poetry will be no stranger to the work of Wilson Burgess (Derry-based; living in Derry), who I have mentioned on this blog before as someone who has inspired me in my writing with his tales of wit and wisdom! Well, aside from having his Ulster Scots poetry books on the required reading list at Queen’s University, Belfast… Mr Burgess is now also available in Dublin, having made it onto the bookshelves of two well-known bookstores in the Irish capital. Read the story here. Well done Wilson!

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Poets and painters

‘The English sonnet has the simplest and most flexible pattern of all sonnets…’

So began the third and final week of my peace poetry workshop in Derry, which saw us take on the sonnet and free verse to inspire our submissions for the project. As it turns out, most of the poems I write are in these two forms, and it was nice to look at some professional examples, including Shakespeare and Christina Rossetti.

An interesting way in which we have begun a few sessions, is doing 10 minutes of free writing before we start – i.e. this week, we wrote about a favourite place before using the writing to inspire a subsequent sonnet. It’s a good way of getting ideas onto the page before you begin, and is different to my usual method of writing on the hoof – refining and reshaping as I go.

In terms of the free verse, there was a bit if a debate over what constitutes poetry, when we were presented with Charles Bukowski’s ‘gamblers all’ piece. Most of us loved it, but there was a little contention as to whether it should be called poetry or prose – what made it poetic? True, if you put it into the style of a story, it reads more prose-like than some poems, but, my theory was just that – it is laid out poetically, and it evokes a wealth of imagery which prose would perhaps take longer to do. My favourite explanation of what poetry is, however, came from Catherine, our facilitator (and, I summarise):

‘Poetry makes you consider something you see on a daily basis (or are so used to, you don’t give it a second glance) in a more meaningful way – it makes you see it afresh, through new eyes – as if you’ve never seen it before. That’s why poetry often appears difficult or abstract.’Ewagorals

I love this description – and it’s worth being reminded of. Poetry refines our senses – it can take a simple moment or a seemingly unimportant object and elevate them to something beautiful and wonderful and fresh and new. Seamus Heaney of course, is one such example of a poet who captured ordinary moments perfectly in his writing by doing just this.

Poetry makes us think of things in a different way – presenting the world to us more creatively and more potent with energy.

I liked ‘gamblers all’, as it provides a perfect snapshot into the mundane drudgery of a 9-5 lifestyle – where we are all sucked into the inevitable rat race whether we like it or not, and have no choice but to ‘enter the arena once more’. This line in particular, is perfect poetry – it says so much in just five words about the state of so many people’s working lives…

I similarly loved the next poem we studied – Advice to a Discarded Lover by Fleur Adcock, which was deemed a little harsh by some, but was, I thought, a wonderful description of how someone felt about – well, a discarded lover. Comparing them to a dead bird – ‘eaten up by self-pity/crawling with unlovable pathos’? The imagery is just brilliant!

I won’t include any of my own offerings this week, as they are being refined ahead of being sent into the project co-ordinator, Leon Litvak, but suffice it to say – I gained a lot from the workshops and have plenty of inspiration for writing my own peace poetry…

Staying on the subject of poetry, I was delighted to discover this week that a poem I submitted to the Community Arts Partnership in Northern Ireland on the theme of ‘still’, is to be included in an upcoming anthology. The book launch is on March 23 in Belfast, so I am looking forward to that! I only hope my peace poem is as successful…

Cherry Smyth

Cherry Smyth

Meanwhile, at the end of a rather busy week, yesterday, I enjoyed a book reading by the lovely Cherry Smyth at Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart. A talented poet, her debut novel, Hold Still, is my current reading material, and it was particularly interesting to learn more about the painters she refers to in the novel, in between the extracts she read. Well worth checking out…

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Trying triolets and villanelles…

In terms of writing over the past week, it’s been all go with poetry and journalism, so I’ve decided to reflect on the second of three peace poetry workshops at the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry.

Last week saw a visit from the project director, Leon Litvack of Queen’s University, who dropped in to see how things were panning out and… I would say things are going fairly well. Our group facilitator, Catherine McGrotty, directed our attention towards two different poetry writing styles – the triolet and the villanelle, of which I had some little experience, thanks to last year’s National Poetry Writing Month challenge. The idea was, of course, to oil our pens, so to speak, and get stuck into the future task at hand – which is inevitably, to create a poem reflective of our thoughts on peace here in Northern Ireland.

And so, I present my triolet as it appeared on Wednesday… although, do excuse its rawness!

The earthiness of fresh-cut peat

moist, rich brown – sliced into clumps.

Heavy arms to accomplish such a feat,

The earthiness of fresh-cut peat.

A sense of satisfaction at a job complete,

Driving over tussocks and mountain bumps

The earthiness of fresh-cut peat

moist, rich brown – sliced into clumps.

Ok, granted, it isn’t about peace, but this was a warm-up exercise, so I’m overlooking that…

Peace poetry group members, with Catherine McGrotty (front centre)

Peace poetry group members, with Catherine McGrotty (front centre)

Next up, was the villanelle – shunned and I’m afraid, abhorred, by many poets (I recall some JHISS writers protesting against it last summer!). For this, we read the brilliant ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas, along with Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ and, my favourite of the three – Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ for a little inspiration.

I won’t reveal my own ‘masterpiece’ yet, as we were to refine it during the week and it awaits completion… Suffice it to say, however, that some beautiful poetry was produced by our little assemble (some of whom are pictured here) and it certainly limbered us up for what is to come… This week: sonnets and freestyle.

The mind boggles.

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