For men may come, and men may go / But I go on forever. – Tennyson
The fact is the assocation between writer’s collective ‘Write! Down’ and Down Arts Centre is actually longer than a decade. The first of the ‘Poems on a Sunday Afternoon’ forerunners was a Burn’s Night in 2005 (in or around).
Poems on a Sunday Afternoon
Another fact is, I am a little hazy on the day and date that Rachel Kennedy, then Arts Officer with Down Arts Centre, rang me at my Voluntary Arts Ireland desk based then at English Street, Downpatrick, to ask whether Write! Down would be interested in a proposition she had for DAC and Write! Down to partner.
On the plane home from an AMA conference she told me, there had been a discussion about Sunday afternoons and what might work well in programming terms in that time slot and she’d had an idea. I agreed, on behalf of everybody, with this idea – immediately and wholeheartedly.
The format – a platform for writing in this area, a showcase of new writers, and new writing by established authors and a connection point for those interested in writing in all its forms locally; a featured reading and a shared space where all were welcome to share a their own work (poem, story, song) or a favourite – drawn from the Write! Down way of being in the world, has not changed to any great degree through the ten years of its existence.
Plus ça change
While Sunday Poems or PoSA as it is better know to its regulars has retained its motives and make-up, almost everything else has changed. Write! Down – a dynamic combination of Maria McManus and myself, joined by Matt Kirkham, Vi and Emma Whitehead and Donal O’Hagan – dispersed after five burgeoning years of operation. Rachel Kennedy took up a new post as Director of Eastside Arts, I can’t think of any of the current ‘regulars’ who were with us at the very start – even Down Arts Centre itself was remodelled and reconstructed in the time period (leading to some very interesting other venues while the work was in progress).
Some of those were difficult years. A number of years in, the first ‘austerity’ cuts came in, and like the canaries in the coalmine, the voluntary and arts sector were the first to get a foretaste of what has become the new ‘normal’. These cuts had a lot of reprecussions, the loss of key funding for Write! Down being one. However, with Down Arts Centre’s continuing support – and the sense that this was a small but valued initiative – we have rode out the bad and enjoyed the good by turns. I had my own difficult times – though I haven’t, to date, missed any PoSA event (with thanks to Vi Whitehead who on a number of occassions came with the express purpose of taking up the reins in the event of me keeling over) – and the upshot of that is that I didn’t record anything. My memory is a blur of featured readings, first time at the podium for new readers (many of whom have gone from strength to strength), acts of the most incredible bravery by ‘ordinary’ people for whom PoSA has been a vehicle to share heartfelt and/or difficult life experiences creatively, beautifully, and an almost divine generosity between attendees, and a very strange almost expected, synchronicity of theme that arrives without any invitation on almost every occassion.
Reading isn’t Compulsory
Despite what you may have heard. But the thing is, when everybody is responding to the noble call, it’s hard to sit it out. From my silent teenage years, I know what it was like to burn to be part of things and to have my own self-consciousness cut me off at the pass. It’s like the First Nation’s talking stick – there seems to be something not quite right until all voices have shared, even one’s own. So I do love it when people share their work or favourites that have moved them. And PoSA continues to be a very supportive space for that all important ‘first time’.
From Featured to Fabulous
Again it isn’t compulsory to go from strength to strength, having been featured in the ‘featured space’ – however, that has been about the size of it. I’m again cursing myself now for not having kept a record because every time I think about a poet or author in the area or connected to the development of writing locally, I think – ‘oh yes’ they read (or sung) here at one time. Both Brigid O’Neill and Damian Smyth, who are with us for the celebration, are both returners. Meeting the new work of established writers criteria, renowned Downpatrick poet (among other things) Damian Smyth, read from ‘English Street’ in it’s earlier stages at an earlier PoSA. It feels very good to be launching the full collection here.
All the thanks
To be honest, it’s been a cast of thousands. My thanks to Write! Down – more loose affiliation than collective now but still the connections are all there – and to all involved in Words for Castle Ward, which is the operating partner currently, and the most generous heart of the Sunday Poems afternoons.
An almighty thanks to all who have come and shared your work. Everyone. Entertaining, heartfelt, heartbreaking, brave, engaged, campaigning, gifted. You never know who will come through the door or who has been touched by the words that have been shared. To those who have come once, those who came for years and then let it slip away, those who have been coming these last few years, those whose first time will be the next one, those who always mean to get there and will one of these days – you are what makes this what it is.
To the featured readers, thanks for bringing your best work and selves to this space. It has been heard and appreciated, with a particular word of thanks to the writing group features. There has always been a lovely sense of natural networking (oh how I hate that term) about PoSA and a sense of the whole writing project as being valid and ongoing by your being there.
To the staff of Down Arts Centre, the biggest thanks of all for all the support over the years – Rachel, Denise, Donna, now Janine, keeping the show on the road with their seasonal calls for the next PoSA events, marketing them, supporting the endeavour in every way. Sunday Afternoon isn’t exactly the most delightful time to be coming into work and, I need to express big appreciation to those who work the slot – Rita at the beginning, now Greg and many more – with a great deal of enthusiasm, and excellent refreshments, and patience with the amount of chatting that could happen at the end of the afternoon.
Celebrate with Us
All that is a rambling preamble (which may function as some kind of future record) to invite everybody to join the 10th anniversary celebrations on 30 September at Down Arts Centre.
Shared Space, 2.30pm – 4.30pm: At this, as all previous events, you are invited to share your own work or a favourite as usual. We are delighted to be joined by local songwriter Brigid O’Neill whose own song writing career we have watched go from strength to strength over the past ten years.
Featured Reading, 5-6pm: We are delighted to welcome internationally recognised poet Damian Smyth for a local launch of his most recent collection English Street (Templar Poetry: 2018). This is his sixth collection follows Mesopotamia (2014), Market Street (2010), Lamentations (2010), The Down Recorder (2004) and Downpatrick Races 2000.
All is FREE, doesn’t need to be booked in advance, and while we’d love you for the whole event, this PoSA is constructed so that you can come to all or either parts. More info from firstname.lastname@example.org if you need.
In the event that this sounds like I am going away on a long trip, I am delighted to announce that PoSA goes on tour for the first time in November. The show goes to Kilbroney Park (indoors I need to say) on the 18 November as part of the CS Lewis Festival. We are delighted to have Colin Dardis in the featured spot reading from his recently launched collection ‘the xofy’ and the shared space has a loose theme of ‘things you find when hiding’ – inspired by a tendency for people to find incredible things when hiding out from something else that you find in CS Lewis writing. And.. January’s PoSA is also going to be very interesting…but one season at a time… Slow and steady had definitely got us through this decade.
Image at head of piece: ‘Time Bug’ by Emma Whitehead.