Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Memories of a Helicopter

In Omagh, we use to live near an army barracks. Our back garden looked onto the playing fields of a convent school, and the barracks was on the other side. Occasionally, a stray football or frisbee would go over the fence and we would have to take the long walk down the hill, and through the school grounds to retrieve it.
One day, while my twin sister and I was fetching another lost ball from the field, a helicopter came flying over. We were amazed to see the helicopter lower closer to us, as we stood near the wire fence, our back garden now on the other side.
The helicopter got closer, and we could see an army man leaning out to look at us. In my hazy memory, I see the landing skids right above us, as I tried jumping up to reach hold on one. The guy in the copter was shouting something, but over the noise, we couldn't hear it.
And then, just as quickly as they had lowered, they shot off and away back to base, leaving us surprised and bewildered. I guess they were just teasing us, wanting to give two local kids something to tell their mates. I can't remember if we did. Given the passage time and the imagination of a child, I'm just the copter was a lot further away than I remember, but for a moment, all was noise, metal, whirl and wonder.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

What I've Learnt About Grief

My father passed away last April from cancer. He would have been 70 tomorrow. Here's what I've learnt about grief in the past year...
First of all, everyone deals with grief differently, and every reaction is valid. Some need to be in the middle of it, some stay at the periphery. But whatever way, there needs to come a time when dwelling on grief turns to dwelling on memories.
Be careful that your lasting memory of someone isn't as they were in their last weeks or months, affected by illness. A life is so much more than the end. Make sure all of it is celebrated and cherished.
A grave is a marker, but it's not a replacement. It's alright to honour them, but let the person remain alive in your own spirit, not tended to in a plot.
Take plenty of photos of your loved ones while you can. It's a wonderful feeling to look at a photo and see the person you're missing smile at you again.
Talk about your grief. It's really hard to put into words sometimes and express your numbness, but even just to admit that their death is on your mind is enough. Recognising sadness helps avoid being overwhelmed by it.
It is okay to be sad and upset. No one expects you to be a rock. Sadness is something you learn to bring with you, not an anchor that weighs you down and traps you.
Take a moment when required to recognise your achievements, and what has happened to you since the bereavement. Know that your loved one would be proud of you.
Experiencing one death doesn't make it easier to deal with another, or when someone is ill. Just do what you can at the time, be there for others if you can, and let others be there for you.
Everyone told me the first year is the hardest - the first Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary. I've yet to experience all of this, and everyone finds their own way, but also trust in the experience of others.
If you've lost one parent, and the other is still alive, look out for them. Give love and support, but also give them space to grieve. And most of all, don't be afraid to talk about the loss shared.
It's a challenge to deal with your own thoughts and emotions. Remember, your grief is shared by others, so share your memories and stories, your hard times too when the loss is felt the most. Don't just grin and bear it. And if anyone tells you not to show your feelings, not to be open, know that it their their own feelings they cannot deal with, not yours.
Maybe I'll learn more at months and years pass, maybe my ideas will change. Grief is not an inert animal, let it change as you change. You will forever be different after the loss of someone close, but it's okay to be that way, and it's okay not to be okay.
Grief needs to be expressed, and it cannot be denied. Don't be ashamed of your grief. Tell there be tears.
One more thought: there really isn't any right words to say to someone on the event of a death. But don't let that stop you from saying something. And for the bereaved, recognise that those people who care for you really wish they did have the right words to say.
I shared this on Twitter, and some folk who had experienced a similar loss said it helped them to read it, so I hope it helps someone on here too.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Poetry books read/reviewed in 2017

53 poetry books read this year.
19 women /32 men /2 various (2018 resolution: read more women)
19 books reviewed for Lagan Online - 11 women / 7 men / 1 various (although a collection of women’s writing)

Various - #NousSommesParis (Eyewear Publishing, 2016)
Samuel Beckett – Echo’s Bones & Other Precipitates (online)
Stephanie Conn – Copeland’s Daughter (smith|doorstop, 2016)
Tara Skurtu – Skurtu, Romania (Eyewear Publishing, 2016)
Sasha Dugdale – Red House (Carcanet Press, 2011)
Susan Millar DuMars – Bone Fire (Salmon, 2016)
Thomas Kinsella - The Good Fight: a poem for the tenth anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy (Peppercanister, 1973)
Derek Mahon – The Chimeras: A version of Les Chimères by Gérard de Nerval (Gallery Press, 1982)
Dennis O’Driscoll – Kist (Dolmen Press, 1982)
Michael Hartnett – Poems To Younger Women (Gallery Press, 1988)
Michael Longley - Fishing in the Sky (Poet&Printer, 1975)
Mary Oliver – Swan (Bloodaxe, 2011)
Gerald Dawe – The Lundys Letter (Gallery Press, 1985)
Charles Bukowski – Essential Bukowski (ed. Abel Delbritto) (4th Estate, 2016)
Hugo Williams – I Knew The Bride (Faber & Faber, 2014)
Macdara Woods – Music From The Big Tent (Dedalus Press, 2016)
Rita Ann Higgins – Tongulish (Bloodaxe Books, 2016)
Various – The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017 (ed. Luke Kennard) (Eyewear Publishing, 2016)
Joan Newmann – Circumcision Party (Honest Ulsterman Publications, 1994)
Lorraine Carey - From Doll House Windows (Revival Press, 2017)
Washing Windows? Irish Women Write Poems, ed. Alan Hayes (Arlen House, 2017)
Edward Anki - Remote Life (BareBackPress, 2014)
Scott Silsbe - The River Underneath the City (Low Ghost Press, 2016)
Richard Brautigan - The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writing (Mariner Books, 1999)
Tess Jolly – Touchpaper (Eyewear Publishing, 2016)
Nigel McLoughlin - Songs For No Voices (Lagan Press, 2004)
Jennifer Horne – Little Wanderer (Salmon Poetry, 2016)
Simon Armitage – Xanadu (Bloodaxe Books, 1992)
Paul Batchelor – The Love Darg (Clutag Press, 2014)
Olive Broderick – Night Divers (Templar Poetry, 2017)
Derek Mahon – Antarctica (Gallery Press, 1985)
Padraic Fiacc – Nights in the Bad Place (Blackstaff Press, 1977)
Paul Durcan – Teresa’s Bar (Gallery Press, 1986)
Paul Durcan – The Laughter of Mothers (Harvill Secker, 2007)
Ray Givans – The Innermost Room (Poetry Salzburg, 2017)
Karen J McDonnell – This Little World (Doire Press, 2017)
Todd Swift – Dream-beauty-psycho (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)
Catherine Walsh (Smithereens Press, 2017)
Ross Hattaway – How To Sleep With Stranger (Turas Press, 2017)
Phil Lynch – In a Changing Light (Salmon Poetry, 2016)
Christian Bök – Eunoia (Canongate Books, 2008)
Mel McMahon – Out of Breath (Summer Palace Press, 2016)
Sean Borodale - Bee Journal (Cape Poetry, 2012)
Samuel Beckett – Collected Poems (John Calder, 1999)
Vladimir Holan – Selected Poems (Penguin Books, 1971)
Michael Farry – The Age of Glass (Revival Press, 2017)
Liz McSkeane – So Long, Calypso (Turas Press, 2017)
Michael J. Whelan – Peacekeeper (Doire Press, 2016)
Emma McKervey – The Rag Tree Speaks (Doire Press, 2017)
Ruth Carr – Feather and Bone (Arlen House, 2017)
Keshia Starrett – Hysterical (Burning Eye Books, 2017)
Maria McManus – Available Light (Arlen House, 2017)
Maureen Boyle – The Work of a Winter (Arlen House, 2017)

Friday, 29 December 2017

'Happy Pills' and the Daily Mail

The first picture is the cover of today's Daily Mail.

The second picture is from the National Union of Journalists guidelines on Responsible Reporting on Mental Health, Mental Illness & Death by Suicide" (my underlining). It's on the second page, in big print, so not hard to miss!

The Mail is in clear breach of these guidelines. Shame on them - no one requiring antidepressants would ever describe them as 'happy pills'. A wholly inaccurate portrayal of mental illness.

If you want to make a complaint about this, contact the NUJ ethics hotline: 0845 450 0864 or email:

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Fight the lack of representation of female Irish writers - sigh the pledge

Over the past two weeks, I've been researching the lack of Irish women writers - focusing mainly on poets- represented in the Irish canon. I've been inspired to do this by the Fired! movement of "women poets and allies working to bring the voices of forgotten Irish women poets back into the canon and fight gender imbalance", spearheaded by Mary O'Donnell, Maria McManus, Kimberly Campanello and Kathy D'Arcy.

So far, I've analysed 27 collections of Irish writing, whether anthologies or collections of critical essays, finding a repeated trend of women being under-represented, ignored and dismissed by editors and publishers. Some of you will be very aware of this already, but for some of you, it might come as a surprise, and I hope, a wake up call.

The list of stats is here: Here are a few depressing examples:

Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology
Ed. Patrick Crotty (Penguin, 2010)
22 female poets out of 177 = 12.4%

The Ireland Anthology
ed. Seán Dunne (Gill & Macmillan, 1999)
26 female authors out of 176 = 14.8%

The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry
Eds. Peter Fallon & Derek Mahon (Penguin Books Ltd, 1990)
4 female poets out of 35 = 11.4%

To start readdressing this imbalance, Fired! is asking people to sign a pledge, stating that they will withdraw their participation "from publications, edited collections, conferences, festivals and other projects which do not make what I consider to be a good-faith effort to adequately represent the contribution women make to literature and literary criticism." You can add your voice to this at