Coast to Coast to Coast Irish Issue launches at @BelfastBookFest (9 June, 7-8.30pm)

Coast to Coast to Coast Journal designed and created by Maria Isakova-Bennett, and edited by Maria and Michael Brown, is a hand-stitched publication designed to be both a small piece of artwork, and a poetry journal. Each issue contains the work of a maximum of twenty poets, is a unique numbered artefact produced as a limited edition.

I am thrilled to  have a poem  in the Irish edition of this  beautiful  journal which also features new work from the poets including John Mee, Keith Payne, Heather Richardson, Stephanie Conn, Nessa O’Mahony, Michael Ray, Therese Kieran, Michael Farry, Annette Skade, Moyra Donaldson, James Meredith, Attracta Fahy, Paul Jeffcutt, Michael Sheehan, Karen McDonnell, Georgi Gill, Daragh Breen, Jane Robinson and Emma McKervey.

Really looking foward to the launch of the journal taking place as part of this year’s edition of the Belfast Book Festival. The launch takes place from 7-8.30pm on the 9th June with readings from poets included in the edition and an opportunity for open  mic. Further details and book HERE.

Find full BBF programme details HERE.

 

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Night Divers – first launched #OTD at Keats House @TemplarPoetry

Night flight would be triumph enough / even if we never made it back to the surface. (Northlands – Part IV extract)

Can’t let the day go by wihout celebrating the 1st anniversary of the launch of Night Divers at Keats House! Lovely memories of this day last year and many thanks to those who supported this and subsequent launches of the collection. It’s also the birthday of one of those remembered in the book and can be sad day – and I’m glad now, hands of the clock moved forward, to go back to it as being a day to celebrate.  Link to more information and online purchase HERE

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#TakeMeHome …. @labellit surprises for #PoetryDayIrl 2018

Luggage labels ready to be written

Delighted to be one of 60 or so poets who are marking this year’s Poetry Day Ireland (26 April) by leaving literary labels to be found and kept by the unsuspecting – to surprise, to delight, engage and gladden the hearts of those who come upon them.

If you find a label, it’s yours to keep. If you are on Twitter check out @labellit and @poetryireland for updates. Do feel free to tag them if you would like to share your find.

NaPoWriMo

Now global, of course. Continuing my tendency to produce daily tristichs to mark April as poetry writing month, I have a nine-piece (each with three lines) interlocking poem prepared for the labels. One tristich of which I will share via Instagram for nine days (17-25 April) in the run up to Poetry Day itself. Inst: pearldiver32

Wherever you are, and whosoever the poet, may the most delightful label find its way to you.

Speaking for Myself: #confessionalism , waving at imperialism & #selfie sticks – #lettersfromladyn

Who do we talk about when we don’t talk about ourselves?

“I’m with you in Rockland / where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter.”
Beyond Telegraph Phones - screen grab from iPhone control panel

Telegraph Poles?*

Us? Them? You? The original purpose of Letters From Lady Nakatomi was to record preoccupations that occur behind the scenes of my poetry writing exercise. A sort of b/log of decisions ongoing. Winter/Spring 2018 has been mostly brought to me a review of ‘confessionalism’. A word,  I confess, I hadn’t heard in some time.

 

 

Confessions of an unapologetic confessionalist

After not having heard the ‘c’ word for quite a few years, here it is in my world. For me, it’s always been a bit of personal desciption somebody else gives you and it’s mostly not a compliment. It feels to me like a word to create distance to put a person in the ‘them’ box. However, like ‘feminism’ – another word I wouldn’t probably use to describe myself if I was left to roll along as myself-unwitnessed – I would be horrified entirely if I thought anybody believed that I were the things that a not-feminist or a not-confessionalist are. In other words, if you need to call me names – let confessionalist and feminist be among them, please. If I appear to not be these things, please let me know and I’ll see what I can adjust. (Note: Rolling along works for me too and my name is Olive).

Small Examples and the Production of Knowledge

I had three returns of the poetic impulse before I took it seriously (by which I mean submitting poems for publication). The third, extended, turn began when I was doing a masters thesis which spanned strategic management theory (yes business..) and women’s place in the workforce (private/public sectors). It was a time of enlightment. I’m hoping both professors would like it if I said we were a bit renegade and rock’n’roll – talking in the off hours about how you only needed to split one atom.. It’s like the dark ages now but small sample, generally, to be fair, qualitative methodolgy based, research was still fighting to be taken seriously as a means of acceptable academic enquiry.

One arrived all excited to wear academic language suits, to be part of a workforce where very large invisible ‘I’s watched with a peculiar detached fascination tiny ants walking up a wall and wondered in a kind of eternal unidentified voice, how could these small creatures get around.

What I left with was an understanding of how the act of being watched influences the relationship between those who enquire and those who are enquired about. I learned to identify myself as a baseline in any kind of opinion I offered.

I came away persuaded to never again use the passive voice.

With the Best Will in the World..

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necesssary?

But I didn’t get it right first time. For good reasons. I went on to work in the world of equal rights campaigning. I was no great heroine in the whole thing but I had gone through that fire of actually understanding that things were not right in the world of women, and from there to position in society, community background, sexual preference, intellectual and physical ability, religious belief. Access all areas denied for not very life affirming reasons.

I loved the work of Adrienne Rich and was (still am) a little drunk on the fumes of the french philosophers…I am the I

I tried to write poetry that would contribute to making this world a better place for the folk that live in it, celebrating the diversity of what it is to be whatever it is I am, you are, we are, they might be. But I was also aware of my own privilege in the world and my story didn’t seem particularly useful to the exercise of improving things. And so I tried to write, using words that were kind (I hope), necessary (I believe) but with the best will in the world not true.  Not great glaring lies, or an attempt to leap frog into somebody else’s life experience that I didn’t actually have. Instead, it was real-ish things that got inauthentic due to my hope for ‘agenda approval’ and ‘doing good’. Nobody but me has ever seen this work, but I keep it as a reminder that these be dragons..

I made two decisions – guidelines for my writing going forward as you might say. One is to write from my own experience and if somebody else’s experience was more useful, then either get out of the way or, alternatively, lend a hand to get the word out.

And then I made a third decision, I decided that I would write authentically for myself whatever came. I believe we all have that right and so it is. However, and this is where my form of confessionalism becomes complicated, I would only submit work for publication where I knew of at least one other person whose experience or affectedness was similar to my own.

Experience for sharing, of sorts.

A wave to passing imperialism as I continue on my journey

In the interest of full disclosure, I have embraced the world of autodidact entirely. I have absolutely my own definition of imperialism here. By which I mean, purely in this context, an old element who have unquestioned assumptions about those whose territory they have a right to talk about – when that territory is beyond their own pale of experience. (Note: This definition could do with work – but I hope you know what I mean.).

This Winter/Spring has brought all sorts of interesting discussions about the quality of poetry when a person writes from their own experience – some of it in a way which  demonstrates a quirky nod to the fact that there was a time when literacy for everybody wasn’t important, where universal suffrage didn’t exist, where there were very clear expectations about what one should and should not talk about no matter what lived experience was*.

How very dare you: confessionalism and the selfie generation

I’ve used the word element above because the even quirkier fact is that the poet part of the commentators appear to be confessional in their own actual practice*. So the poet and commentator when living in the same body are in different places? I believe that it’s more complicated. Not talking in general terms isn’t even taught that much in Introduction to Extreme Beginners Poetry classes – because really it’s just not the thing to write an ode to the savages when one’s own self is not a savage. Things have changed.

But clearly not entirely. I wrote a poem in February which had a bit of writing about my womb in it and talked about woman as not-mother (full disclosure – I have no children) and was reasonably visceral. I heard voices in my head…’confessional’ and ‘Sharon Olds’…Echoes of too many workshops. In any case it felt like I was doing something that needed to be corraled. Mightn’t be the right subject for proper poetry. Not particularly robust feedback, to be fair.

I persevered but not without going back to what confessionalism is. What it means to espouse it and to be accused of it? Much more, of course, than when a woman talks about actual woman’s experience which is distinct from the general (I have a bit of a belief that this isn’t men’s either, to be honest..it’s sort of a washed down version). But it is also absolutely that. My experience of menstruation, female physicality, menopause, no-childbirth will not be the same as another woman’s even – and definitely not cover any man’s experience. It is what it is.

So, who am I talking TO when I’m talking about myself?

People…..will always remember how you made them feel.

When I step away from the protection of ‘we’, and I tell you about it from my perspective? Who are you? I don’t, to be honest, readily have an answer to that question. Perhaps, that one other person who has become a little invisible because, in a particular instance, of a lack of generally applicable life experience, perhaps?

If I turn it back the other way, who am I when you are talking to me from your perspective? I have a sense that I feel disconnected when it’s something outside my life experience, and I move on leaving this to those who do connect. I feel locked out, however, when I hear my name mentioned but don’t recognise the me that is described.

5 Situations where you need a Selfie Stick

It’s me so it is.

Talk of Selfies invariably happens at this point as pejoratively as an old-style throwing the world confessionalism in the conversation.

I – and you – are now in possession of the tools to present ourselves as we would like to be seen. We don’t need professional photographers, celebrated filmmakers, or even passing strangers, to represent who we are. All filtered still, of course, because with the best will in the world you can’t show everything. But we are in control of the filtration process. Now that we know that the one behind the lens is a powerful person in creating filtered reality, who better to have that power than me or you. Surely a better ongoing dialogue is how and what we filter when we present ourselves – and to what affect. Not that we do. Not that is is wrong.

Read ‘5 Situations where you need a Selfie Stick’ (note: ctually about situations where you need a selfie stick)

Notes to account

*this is a screen grab from my iPhone

*I’m not mentioning directly big debates on the poetry scene that has gone in the last couple of months – but they are easily found. This is because, I’m reporting about my mast colours being pinned than speaking truth to power. If that makes sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Politcs of #Handwriting – #lettersfromladyn

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Day 2: Operation ‘Legible’

This is the latest plan of campaign. I approach making my handwriting legible like I do giving up coffee or cutting down on food that I like but isn’t a friend to me. I take a run at it from time-to-time. This latest tour of duty has to do with the fact that for months I have been losing useful handwritten ideas and poem lines due to the fact that I can’t read my own handwriting. So I’m slowing down, enlarging the words. Don’t be alarmed if you receive a card or letter from me with larger writing..and, even more surprisingly, that you can actually read.

Learning Cursive

Having mastered the production of individual letters of the (English) alphabet, we progressed then to ‘joined-up’ writing. My happiest memories as a school child was filling the ‘special’ notebooks which were lined like music manuscripts. I was not, despite my enthusiasm, an ‘a’ student.

Don’t forget your trowel if you want to go work

My second class teacher advised my parents to get me out gardening to strengthen my fingers. Nothing worked. In college nobody ever borrowed my notes (when I was bored I’d take notes with my left hand which were much more readable). In one workplace, a colleague told me that she wouldn’t respond to anything from me unless it was typed. That my handwriting has disimproved from there is not, you might say, a good thing.

Just what kind of handwriting am I producing?

So I’ve slowed down and am paying attention to the formation of the letters. And I notice an odd thing emerging. I loved cursive the moment I learned it. But I’m wondering where the system I learned originate from. What was behind its choice by An Roinn Oideachais?

By the time, I learned Irish, it had been standardised out of all sense of being a separate language. Only the “síneadh fada” remained and it was even reduced to a fada in the language of our learning.

I was in my late teens when I came across Irish script. A book in our kitchen at home. Yes, my mother told me – that was how they learned to write Irish in school. In my late teens, I sat down and learned a new kind of cursive and imposed it on my English handwriting. (Read more about an cló gaelach here) . A teenage affection as much as anything.

Joined-up Writing

Now looking at my writing, I am seeing the strangeness of the hybrid going on between the two systems. The first system I learned is more fluid to my hand so I’ve kept the fluid aspects –  it’s more rounded which suits my way of being in the world – and, of course, it has all the English letters. The Irish system is, in honour of where it came from, very beautiful, illustrative, if a little angular to my way of being. Both have the hint of tails that come in from the left as sort of ‘go faster’ stripes. And going faster, while still reflecting who I am not only in the sense but also in the manner of the writing, has always been part and parcel of my handwriting.

Handwriting – the personal is political

I haven’t said that much about recent developments vis-a-vis the Irish Language Act here. I have used the Omniglot website example of Irish script above – it’s the Universal Declaration of Human Right.  For me, rights to language are like women’s rights or rights to create marital partnerships according to one’s actual preference for partner etc – they just are. It feels like fighting to have skin. Very strange arguments ensue when you try to prove that you are entitled to your own skin. Then purism, we know already, is not a useful thing in language or anywhere. In the middle of it all, all the nuances of the discussion are there in the words, from internal realm to hand to page – the ink flowing – and those tails of beginning letters are an extension of the blood flowing in the veins.

 

 

@Lagannavigor Storymaking Festival 2 Feb, @IslandArtsbiz

 

 

The 2nd of February seemed very far away when Alison McClenaghan and myself had our first chats with Amanda and Maire at Lagan Navigation Trust last July about the ‘Where My River Flows’ project.

Now it is tomorrow.

Many thanks to all the groups that I worked with who shared their story of their river – mostly the Lagan, though not always.  I have an insight, now, into what motivates collectors whether of story or song.  I am very grateful to all who submitted their poems and stories – both members of the groups and those who responded to the general call out – but I know that it’s just a fraction of what was shared and I had the privilege of having a bird’s-ear vista to sights, sounds and connections to the Lagan given to me by those most closely connected to it. I have come to know the River in a whole new way and the memory of the stories and accounts from various vantage points along its length are written on wall-plaques in my imagination, fixed there by the people who shared them in the workshops series accompanying the call-out for submissions.

Now there is an anthology.

Congrats to all who are included and to those who the judges chose for prizes. Tomorrow evening’s event is set to be a great coming together of all that the project hoped to achieve. I haven’t seen the anthology yet and had only seen a couple of the tapestries in their early stages, so I can’t wait to see how all turned out.

About the event

This is the Lagan Navigation Trust Storymaking Festival’s final event where we celebrate the creativity of those connected to each other by their connections  to the Lagan river. Through poetry, stories and song, affectionate portraits and links, the Lagan will come to life. Shortlisted entries will be performed and prizes given to the top four stories and poems. I think this is both a source for and a start of many more sharings of close connections to the River.

Last call for @PoetryJukebox submission – Curation 2 #Changingthemessage

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“You had been travelling for days….” All Legendary Obstacles – John Montague

It’s funny the way sometimes things that later turn out to be exceptional additions to your life, can come in under a fog so it’s difficult to pin point a beginning, and then sometimes they come in a way that’s marked in your memory.

The elegant, exceptional royal-blueness that is the Poetry Jukebox belongs, for me, in the second category. The most legendary obstacles I had were the timing of the call and, even more legendary, the taping of the piece. (adds excellent mobile voice recording to the list of reasons why I have to get a new phone or, maybe, Zoom HI and a new phone). The first was fine..in the end. Thankfully.

The second gave a sense of just how much ambient noise I live with in my town-centre flat near a lively establishment. Last August, the levels were of the surround-sound variety – no sooner had the band and revellers departed, than the massed choirs of the dawn chorus began, then, my landlord who I had never seen to use more than a handheld drill took to sawing what appeared to be a whole sawmill of timber from the early hours til late in the back yard. I learned that proper recording equipment is the modern poet’s friend. In the quiet tones of ‘If I only I could be still’, there is a reverb (which fits nicely I think) of ‘I am fit to kill’.

I was thrilled that ‘Friars Bush Cemetery’ (from Night Divers) was accepted. But actually pre-PJ, I was just normally thrilled – the way a person is when the bit of work is accepted for something that you’d love it to be accepted for.

All day I waited…

And then it arrived. What a fantastic idea of Maria McManus and Deirdre Cartmill to bring it here and the Cresent Arts Centre to accommodate it. There were, I know, very legendary obstacles on the road of its being here though I wasn’t directly part of that. But it is here, now – and permanently.

The first time I encountered it – even before it was fully sorted out in its spot or had labels for its buttons – I realised that it was even more of a thrill to be involved that I had imagined.

The launch was wonderful – a chance to meet others on the first-round playlist – some of whom I’d possibly not have met otherwise.

I’m a great fan of any media where you can encounter poetry – but Poetry Jukebox is special. In the middle of Belfast, out in all weathers, welcoming, ready for any comer to press a button (all or any). What has been particularly lovely since is to meet people who have visited PJ and to hear their feedback.

May it flourish – this Jukebox of joy. May you, when you press it’s button, hear exactly what you require to hear. I am really looking forward to hearing the pieces from Curation 2. Up with this sort of thing.

Submission Call for Curation 2 (closes tomorrow, 31 January 2018)

If you haven’t already submitted, there is a small bit of room to limbo under the deadline.

This second edition of curated content on Ireland’s first Poetry Jukebox will mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement –an historic peace agreement. Public discourse matters, and putting something new into public discourse really matters.

Get further details of how to submit HERE – and a video as well about the Poetry Jukebox, the idea behind it and how it’s come to be here.