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,  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’s 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 a 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 getting the word out.

And then I made a third decision, I decided that I would right 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 not matter what lived experience was*.

How very dare you: confessionalism and the selfie generation

I’ve used the word element above becuase 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 bady 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 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’…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 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 been 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 recognised 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


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.


The Power of Words – marking #HolocaustMemorialDay 2018


“I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived!

Anne Frank, written in her diary, 5 April 1944.

I read Anne Frank’s diary at about the same age as she would have been writing it. I knew about the Holocaust at that stage and when my father gave this book to me to read  I suppose it was that dimension of it that he was thinking. I, however, became totally immersed in this girl’s story, her family, and her wish to become a writer that I forgot the bigger picture of this kindred spirit’s one, incredibly significant, publication.

I remember arriving at the back page, the epilogue of sorts, and reading about what happened to her with such disbelief and heartbreak. I thought that such writing would make my friend-across-time immune to such an end. But it didn’t. The vibrant girl in the Amsterdam annex has stayed with me.

Just one voice. How it’s been a witness for not just her or her family but to an atrocity – an abuse of human rights – the scale of which I cannot imagine.

I worked in my twenties to build up a small specialist library on the subject of equality (and discrimination) in third level institutions. I read a lot, between the cataloguing of them and setting them on the shelf, of books dedicated to defining and removing the processes of discrimination between classes and types of people. I learned how words can be dropped in to drive a wedge between ‘them’ and ‘us’ and where that leads.

My professional path through life, also brought me a series of lectures, as a student of marketing, on propaganda, this precursor to our ‘post-truth’ era. – the reality of it – the attempt to establish some kind of ‘good’ line between what it is and what actions it produces and words generated to tempt people to buy goods and services.

Words. Words before action. The power of words to influence action. Words that can be used for good or for evil – as this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day literature reminds us.

I set the intention always now – no matter what I am writing – from poems to advertisting copy – that good, safe and life-affirming outcomes may follow on from my words.

The Power of Words – Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place annually on the 27 January – the aniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. It marks not only the Holocaust but is a day to remember the millions of people murdered in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. It is a chance to honour the survivors, and to work to challenge hatred and create a safer, better future.

It is a privilege to be involved on this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day Programme with its ‘Power of Words’ theme.

AFTERWORD: Thanks to all who took part in both events. I very much appreciate you being there, and the energy that you brought to the events.

Creative Writing Workshop (Down County Museum, 27 January 2018, 10am-1pm, FREE).

This poetry writing workshop will give participants the chance to create pieces exploring the theme. I’m looking forward to meeting the participants tomorrow. If your eye falls across this before the end of today and you’d like to be involved. There are some places – contact: 028 4461 5218

‘Power of Words’ Poems on a Sunday Afternoon (Down Arts Centre, 28 January, 2.30-4.30pm, FREE)

Participants from the workshop are inited to share the work from this event at a special Holocaust Memorial Day ‘Poems on a Sunday Afternoon’ happening at Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, on Sunday 27 January, 2.30-430pm. This will form the normal ‘feature’ segment of the afternoon.

As always, all who attend are invited to share work – their own or, a favourite (or a mix) – that celebrates the words in all it’s forms and in this case the power of words.

Booking isn’t required. Looking forward to meeting at either or both events all being well.

Do check out the full Holocaust Memorial Trust programme in Northern Ireland, there are some very thought-provoking events, that engage beautifully with the theme, happening this couple of weeks: http://www.hmd.org.uk/events/find/Northern%20Ireland?page=1

I want to thank particulary Shirley from the Trust in Northern Ireland for her support of this event’s programme.








Creative Writing Courses from @Down_Arts Centre #Downpatrick #Newcastle

I know we are still a little way from the winter solstice, but there’s a feel of renewal in the world of words, and creative writing activity, in this part of the world which makes me very happy.

While I’m looking forward to ‘Words for Castle Ward’ getting back to business early in the New Year with some, hopefully useful, feedback on new writing and new writing generation, it’s always lovely to have local opportunities to learn new skills or get other perspectives on writing/genres.

6tag_300817-175745If you’ve gotten the new Down Arts Centre brochure through the door, you’ll have noticed three adult Creative Writing courses are listed there.

(1) Creative Writing Workshop with Dr Catherine Kelly (Weds, 17 Jan for ten weeks, 7-9pm, £45/£40 conc). Welcoming back this very popular workshop for all genres from this reputed author and playwright. I know quite a few people who have taken (and returned to) this course and speak very highly of it.

Venue: Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick

(2) Creative Writing with Paula Matthews (Mons, 15 Jan for ten weeks, 7-9pm, £45/£40conc). For those closer to Newcastle, poet, playright, children’s author and all round good egg Paula Matthews will be exploring creativity and how to use writing to tap into our resilience. This course will conclude with a digital journal to showcase the work created within it. We were delighted to launch a volume of poetry by Paula at the last Poems on a Sunday Afternoon.

Venue: Newcastle Centre, Newcastle

(3) ‘I have a (children’s) story in me…’ (Tues, 16 Jan for ten weeks, 1.30-3.30pm, £45/£40conc) author/illustrator Kieron Black takes this very interesting new course to help you get your story from daydream to thumbnail sketch to workable plot. This course for adults concentrates on the creative writing aspect – don’t worry if you aren’t an illustrator though I suspect if you can whip up a sketch or two that would be lovely as well. Kieron is also facilitating an illustration-focused story workshop for teens during this first season.

Venue: Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick


Info/booking line: 028 4461 0747

Find all class/performance/exhibition listings on the Down Arts Centre website.


(4) Power of Words: Holocaust Memorial Day Workshop & Poems on a Sunday Afternoon

Not a course, but I’ll be facilitating a one-off morning workshop based on material from the Holocaust Memorial Trust material around this year’s topic ‘The Power of Words.‘ (Sat, 27 January, 10am-1pm, FREE, advance booking required. Places = 12). Participants are invited to share their words at the following day’s ‘Poems on a Sunday Afternoon’ at Down Arts Centre. I’ll blog separately about this, though.

Venues: Down County Museum / Down Arts Centre


Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2018 – #SHANW18 – deadline approaching

Hard to believe the anthology is in its 17th year. I was fortunate to work with a wonderful Bangor group in November as part of this initiative.

Anyone living in Northern Ireland is eligible to make a submission for the anthology and the deadline is Friday, 15 Dec 2017, 9am sharp (so I’m thinking it’s a Thursday deadline with an all-nighter factored in).

The anthologies are always an excellent selection of new writing (whether the poets are newly writing or longer on the road). The winner of the Seamus Heaney Award is then selected from the poems that appear in the anthology.

This initiative is co-ordinated through the LaVA programme at Community Arts Partnership and all the details can be found on their website HERE.