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.




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 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:

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








Honouring Eavan Boland – #lettersfromladyn

WP_20171122_005Thrilled to hear that Eavan Boland will receive a Bob Hughes Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards next week.

I first came across Eavan Boland in my twenties while working on a ‘feminist’ thesis (in the area of business) and as a hidden poet.

The outcome my  thesis supervisor –  who had asked me to pursue the ‘research question’ – clearly expected me to find was that while there were unmistakely statistically very few women in management roles in Irish industry at the time, this was due either to the normal course of events or if, in the offchance there was a problem, it was the fault of women. I know I don’t need to specify the gender of this, my ‘first’, supervisor. I found a rather more complex picture – and subsequently a new supervisor.

I found both Eavan Boland’s poems and her critique in the journal section of the Boole Library in UCC. It’s funny how a person could get diverted from ‘Strategic Managment Monthly’ and the HBR…

in any case, I had, and still have, massive admiration for her speaking truth to power about the unfairness inherent in the differential reception of men’s and women’s poetry, while at the same time having a buoyant practice and a lifetime commitment to creating poetry which has both something integrous to say to people’s lives and is rigourously composed to a fluid standard of the best of what poetry can be. Some of my favourite poems have been composed by her.

I was thrilled when she became guest editor of Poetry Ireland Review and have loved these editions. I was also delighted to find, which I didn’t know, that she had been involved in the development of Arlen Press which has recently returned and is beginning to have quite an impact on women’s poetry here in Northern Ireland very recently.

I worry a bit about lifetime awards and adulations as there is a sense that people are on the one hand being feted and on the other being put out to pasture. But in this case, I have no worry. This woman will keep her own counsel. May she flourish.


Book now: ‘Knowing the Dance’ 9 Sept, @Down_arts Centre, Downpatrick #performance #masterclass

KnowingtheDancePosterDAC‘Knowing the Dance’ Premiere, Sat, 9 September, 7-8.30pm, £5. To book contact DAC 028 4461 0747 

Inspired by WB Yeats’ famous question ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’, this performance of a thought-provoking sequence of dance~poems is created and performed by poet Olive Broderick and dancer Paula Guzzanti, joined by musician Martin Devek.

Introduced by Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the performance is a showcase of how dance and poetry can inhabit a shared creative space while honouring the individual practices of poet and choreographer. The performance will be followed by a Q&A session.

‘Knowing the Dance’ Masterclass, Sat, 9 September, 3.15-6.15pm, FREE

Those with a poetry practice are invited to join Sarah Warsop to work on finding ‘the dance’  in their work using the breath and movement. For this three hour workshop, you are invited to bring a poem of your own which you would like to work on. Sarah Warsop is a contemporary jewellery designer and choreographer who has extensive experience of creating a middle place in which diverse artforms can connect. This exploration of a middle place where the dance/movement of the poems reside is based on a masterclass held earlier in 2017 at Down Arts Centre

The workshop is free but participants need to register in advance. Capacity: 12. A bite to eat will be available afterwards for those who are staying on to attend the peformance.


To book contact DAC 028 4461 0747 

Artists’ websites

‘Knowing the Dance’ is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, through the ACES Scheme, and Down Arts Centre

Note: If you are unable to attend the performance on the 9th September, there will are two performances coming up at the Brian Friel Theatre, Queen’s University, Belfast.


Live in the #Layers – @TopFloorArt #AugCraft17 #Saintfield #KnowingtheDance

Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.
                                      Gustave Flaubert
Yet I turn, I turn, / exulting somewhat, / with my will intact to go / wherever I need to go / and every stone on the road / precious to me.
                             (‘The Layers’ extract, Stanley Kunitz)


Tomorrow August Craft Month begins – it’s the annual celebration of craft and applied art across Northern Ireland and an amazing opportunity to see, meet and/or work with the finest designer-makers living and working here.

I had a bird’s eye view of all happenings when working on the digital comms side of Craft NI (the originators and the coordinators of the month) and I continue to be staggered not only by the creativity and imagination of the designs but also by the powers of mastery over materials that we call ‘handmade‘.  ‘Angels’ hands‘ was my name for it because I still find it hard to believe a human being actually made what has been made with bare hands. If you happen to be near pretty much anywhere in NI this month check out the August Craft Month programme.

Layers and Reflections @TopFloorArt

A bit of excitment this year for me as there is a bit of a reflection of my work in the ‘Layers’ exhibition that opens at Top Floor Art on Thursday (3 Aug, 7-9pm and on through the month). No making on my part, I add quickly. ‘Live in the Layers’ takes words from Stanley Kunitz inspiring poem ‘The Layers’ (below). The idea of the piece is from my investigations of the moving parts of poems, through the Knowing the Dance project.  Like the child who takes the transistor radio apart to find out how the noise is made, I’ve been digging into the layers of composition that give poems their resonant qualities.

The making part is wonderful and is the result of a conversation with Top Floor Art’s artists and proprietors textile artist Emma Whitehead and fine artist Stephen McClean who is also a sawdoctor. I had the idea of free floating letters of the phrase, like a mobile (not the telephone kind), moving, catching on each other, throwing shadows on the page. Stephen suggested carving the letters from distressed steel using saws – a sort of meeting of his two worlds.  Emma Whitehead ran interference so that the thing actually made sense as a whole piece.  I’ll have photos shortly but couldn’t wait to share the details.

BandBPaperWorkshopIf you are near Saintfield on Thursday eve (3 Aug, 7-9pm), do call in for the preview and the exhibition – including a range of makers of all craft practices and levels of engagement, a solo show by Ruth Walker (Glass), the fabric mountain and the Butterfly Cloud. Get all the details of what’s on at Top Floor Art HERE  

*Images courtesy of Top Floor Art

The Layers

By Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz, “The Layers” from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz.


Save the Date: #KnowingtheDance Masterclass (@Down_arts Centre, 9 Sept)

Today, I am putting the finishing touches to the ‘Knowing the Dance’ programme on the 9 September.

In-between & mid-stream in Downpatrick last January

I had the great fortune to work on an extended masterclass with artist, contemporary jewellery designer and choreographer Sarah Warsop in January this year as part of the Knowing the Dance project that I am working on. I’d seen work she had been doing bringing diverse artforms together (not only choreogrpahy and jewellery design), and wanted to investigate her technique with the hope of finding a way to draw out the movement/dance within the poems so as to understand better where the moving parts are in the poems and how to make them work best; creating a middle-place between poetry and dance (this was part of Paula and my work-in-progress), and using the middle place as a ground of creativity in its own right.

Down Art Centre Masterclass

Delighted that Sarah will be hosting a three-hour masterclass based on the techniques we worked on in January at Down Arts Centre on 9th September. The workshop is free to attend and booking will be open shortly.

Liminal 2017

Sarah was the winner of the inaugural Cockpit Arts’ Performance of Craft Award in 2016 has released her new short film ‘LIMINAL’ in 2017. See the video below – find out more about it and her process HERE.