Thursday, 17 August 2017

Submission Call: Poems about Poetry

Lagan Online Submission Call: 
Poems about Poetry

Creative writing tutors, editors, and sometimes other poets will all tell you the same thing when it comes to your writing: “never write poems about poetry“ It’s too obvious, it’s too commonplace, it’s clichéd, and it’s dangerously insipid.

Well, we say damn that. We want your poems about the very thing itself: the art of poetry. Whether reading it, writing it, poetry as survival, as raison d’être, trying to make sense of it, mourning it, challenging it, let us have it.

We've had some great work through for our Poems About Poetry submission call. We'll be publishing the best ones in a free e-chapbook, available for download at the end of the month. Here's the cover...

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Reading at Eastside Arts Festival

A big thanks to everyone who attended our special Over The Edge / Poetry NI event last night at EastSide Visitor Centre for the EastSide Arts Festival, we had a great time reading for you and experiencing all your poems. A sold out crowd for a Monday night is amazing (poets usually haven't sobered up by then...)!

It was a thrill to read along the great and talented Kevin Higgins and Susan Millar DuMars, a rare double husband-and-wife teaming!

Big props to Rachel Kennedy for allowing us to do the gig in the first place, Matt McIvor for being an amazing soundman, and Gaynor Kane for handling tickets, registration and everything else, and of course to all the poets who came along and shared their work in the open mic.

I was reading poems from The A to Z of Belfast project that I did in 2015 under an ACNI General Arts Award. 'I have looked for inspiration' still gets me riled...

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Paying the Price for Poetry

So, at Purely Poetry last night, after we started, I noticed a few latecomers arrive and not pay at reception. After the first speaker, I welcomed them with a friendly reminder to pay at the front desk. Two went and paid. A group of four without tickets decided to walk out. Well, excuse me that we ask you to depart with your hard earnt cash to support the daily operations of the fine and upstanding arts centre that is the Crescent! "What, pay for poetry? Fuck that!" Well thank you. F**k you. Bye!

Thursday, 3 August 2017


#showerthoughts Biscuits should come with a 'dunkability rating' so you know how long you can dip one in your tea before it breaks off.

(Added: tweeted this. Got a reply back saying "Is this the most British tweet ever?")

Friday, 12 May 2017

Poetry Mentor - Irish Writer's Centre

I'm now officially a poetry mentor with the Irish Writers Centre, offering one-to one mentoring. If could you use a trained eye to help you finish your book of poetry, looking some feedback and guidance on your poems, as well as friendly advice and general pointers, then I am available.

The Irish Writers Centre has developed a panel of Professional Members who are published and experienced authors or industry professionals acting as mentors to help you make your writing as good as it can be. This initiative is aimed at intermediate and advanced level writers looking for professional input.

For poetry, the terms are up to 240 lines of poetry read in advance, 300 word report, followed by 1.5 hour one-to-one meeting. Meetings can be on a once-off basis or repeated over time, and can be in person, or by Skype or phone.

For further information, booking, and terms and conditions, please contact the General Manager at IWC, Bernadette Greenan, at 00353 1 8721302.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Open Arts releases 'Words of Wisdom'

Over the last few months, Open Arts have been engaging with older people's groups, collecting poems, stories and anecdotes for the new Words of Wisdom book. 

I worked with Beyond Words (Cruse Bereavement) in Derry, Living Well Living Longer in Dungannon, and Mount Oriel in South Belfast, encouraging conversation and setting writing exercises, listening and learning from each group. 

We worked hard to make sure everyone was heard and included, and I feel the book is a real testament to the inclusivity and outreach Open Arts stands for. It was fantastic to catch their reactions today on seeing their words in print for the first time. 

Many thanks to my co-facilitators Anna Kyle and Mary Jordan (who also worked with Orchardville Day Centre) for helping to bring out the stories and memories, Ruth Carr for editorial guidance, and to Joanne McCrum for another marvellous job on designing the book.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

National Poetry Writing Month... Day (Part 5)

Completing the challenging, the last set of six! Poems 24-30.

25. First Impressions

Much like the crème brûlée,
with all the sweetness trapped
underneath its burnt offering,
you need to crack the sugarcoat
before tapping into real richness.

Do not think of constituents,
all their cream, milk and sugar
masked with vanilla as attar.
Rather, accept what’s on the plate,
scored ramekin and all.

The blowtorch has not been kind
to some, so go easy with your spoon.

26. Combustion
inspired by the attack on Reker Ahmed in Croydon

Any differentiation,
what could be deemed ‘abnormal’:
an accent, a skin tone, a faith,
as innocent as the wrong hairstyle,
as blameless as being in the wrong place.

‘Protecting’ their own,
although few felt any need,
the insularity of victimhood
that threatens to bite
and mauls when it does.

They were too many of them
for witness to report of any blood.
Haemorrhage. Fractured spine.
An unrecognised face.
“Are you my brother?” I am.

27. Falling Off

Who could blame the daffodils
if they decided to keep their heads
down until summertime?

If the gestation period
of sheep increased twofold,
receiving August lambs.

If frogs delay mating season
so that spawn does not freeze
in the laze of February nights.

If the bark falls off the trunk,
trees having no other choice
but to continue their abscission.

And even someday, we might wake
to find a forgetful sun
still sleeping in, awaiting Spring.

28. Eventuality

With a finger rested
in the gap where a dentist
killed off a molar,
I chew and lie in wait.

Something will happen,
always does, the inescapable
illusion of time bringing
forth one more moment

in which we can say -
if we are awake and wide enough -
that a thing occurred,
and we shall find names for such things,

and associated these names
with the people and places
these moments happened to.
Some already call it ‘life’.

You can call it ‘living’
to a certain degree,
the fruits of mere existence
dropping from mere gravity.

29. The Preparation of the Artist

Accumulate enough canvas,
stockpile your paint-pots
and ready your brushes,
and just like following a recipe,

It can’t be done. Give us a face,
a place, real or imagined,
let the world break your silence:
nothing occurs without
the spark.

An object will not paint itself,
only amass your dust
as you rearrange the model
and time the curtains for sunlight
to strike.

Take all the light and colour
out of the day, bottle darkness
in a jar, twist the sketchpad
into torch paper, but without fire,

30. Explore the Angles

There is nothing so repetitive as existing:
shave – growth
eat – starve
sleep – wake
wash – dirt
speak – hush
laugh – cry.

We go around in our little cycles
barely knowing where we are
on the circumference of things,
plotting our radii against dreams,
comparing diameters,
looking for three πs
to appear on a scratchcard.

Hold on to the events
that force you to form tangents,
the small miracles not repeated
day-to-day, those bits of magic
where time and space breaks out
from their rigid geometry
for God to move the Universe for you.

National Poetry Writing Month... Day (Part 4)

Over halfway, just after 1pm when I finished poem 19 for #NaPoWriMo 2017... finished poem 24 just after 3.30pm.

19. Saltwater Moon

A drained blood pack
looks like a small massacre,
a red shadow caught inside
sterile plastic,

three-hundred and fifty
millilitres drained out
under only rivulets are left,
a dirty lens on the moon.

The steady drip complete,
we ask the nurse to change
back to the saline, more fluids
to fight hypercalcemia,
an unknown infection.

We sit, and wait again
for the drain. 

20. Property Mark

After a few days,
you’ll being to wonder who’s living beside you
as the only sounds you hear are between two and four a.m.

After a few weeks,
you’ll figure out the bin collection rota
without having to ask the neighbours.

After a few months,
you’ll barely notice you are under
the main flight path to the airport anymore.

After a few years,
you’ll struggle to remember the layout
of your previous house, blueprints lost
to the malleability of the mind,
where rent prices bring adaptability,
a new street adopted under the name of progress.

21. Restless Drummer

Left hand hi-hat,
index finger for drumstick,
a steady tap mistaken
for fidgeting
against keys or coins,
wanting anything metallic.

Right hand, snare
on some hard surface,
bending fingernail
to plastic or tile
for a better sound,
a piccolo pitch.

Aside this makeshift tabor,
bring the left foot down,
a heel forming sound
or toes as talon,
thrumming carpet
for that deep dull beat.

Now combine.
Bring a middle finger in
for fills, trills and rolls,
your right foot stepping
for the odd double bass line.
Everything’s in rhythm, everything’s fine.

22. Cerumen and Sebum

is the formation
of unused thoughts
escaping from the brain,
running downwards in a stream
of abandoned ideas and lost projects.

Whereas earwax must be
all the plots and possibilities
that failed to enter your mind,
the outside world screaming
as its pioneers and vanguards
bemoan the dams of your canals. 

23. Needled

The shower forsakes you
just after you’ve started to foam up,
boiler pressure buckling
under the demands of bars and heads.

The angle required
to point the nozzle to the wall
is urgent, cold cataract
blasts the grouting
as you rush the gel around you,
brushing into dry crevices,
attacking yesterday’s dirt.

Then a deep breath: get pumped
for a thousand tips of icebergs
to needle their way around you,
frazzled spray of chilled knives,
the bite of morning cursing out
as you think about calling the plumber.

24. Cycles

Welcome each new day:
none of us can stop the clock
before hands greet us.

We might as well as
get use to the idea of time,
show the opened palm,

mix morning with night,
throw away our alarms clocks,
bin the early calls.

We are trapped inside
this notion of nine-to-five,
eight hours to make it.

Instead, let me sleep
when the sun is visiting
in the underworld

and I will wake when
the moon has said its goodbyes,
telling me to go rise.

National Poetry Writing Month... Day (Part 3)

13. Missed Delivery

While out, a package comes
and goes to number 14,
a neighbour who
I have never interacted with
or even see. And not next door,
left or right, but across the street,
five doors up. I knock.
No answer. The window’s open
and the TV’s on,
but no answer.

Next day, I knock again.
A girl in pyjamas answers
without a word,
hands me a box,
closes upon my thank you.
Returning home, I find
the package already opened.

A book.

I imagine their disappointment,
something throwaway, cheap,
unable to use or resell for themselves.
I make a deposit
to the bank of our bookshelves
and feel richer already.

14. A Clumsy Postponement

My declaration
is that the day does not official begin
until you are showered and dressed.
Only by washing off the night
and donning the respectability of cloth
can you say that you have accepted
the movement of the calendar.

(And even then,
if you haven’t brushed your teeth,
I will allow some leeway.)

So make your mistakes early,
form your misjudgements in bed
and curse into your cornflakes,
for none of it matters yet,
the outside world has not entered in,
and by staggering in your own filth
might you delay the inescapable
until either the postman
          or death

15. Terminal

are recognised as transition points:
every goodbye
means another hello somewhere else


we have travelled through all our points,
crossed all our stations,
exhausted the possibilities
of exploration and voyage.
Clairvoyance says it terminal,
the last flight always one way.

16. We Were Told Ormeau Park Would Be Good For Them

We arrive with peanuts, and perhaps
the squirrels will eat the raisins too,
leaving little edible mountains
along the dirt track, on top of stumps,
in the crook of exposed knotted roots,
anywhere that might allow a pile.
Once done, we pretend to walk away,
looking back every four steps to see
if any of them have took the bait.
A promising rustle divulges
only a bird, and nothing special.
Above us, red flurries have begun,
unseen, until two brave swashbucklers
step out from the wash for inspection.
They scamper around an open stack,
visible to every beast and soul.
Not risking a move for cameras,
dummies against their curious dance,
we freeze our feet, trap our breaths, and wait.

17. Glasswinged

Dream of invisibility?
Fantasise over flight?

Ever search for fireflies
in the Carolina light?

The glasswing butterfly
is an impossible find

set against the rainforest,
their forewings and hind

are as invisible as rain,
as hidden as Hy-Brasil,

an immaculate near-nude,
imago déshabillé.

The Asian dragonfly
and tortoiseshell beetle

show that all insects
and not created equal,

making our epidermides
feel like an oversight.

Dream of invisibility?
Fantasise over flight?

18. Commodities

Everything stops for lunch,
except the person who cannot stop
lest their hunger finds purchase
and cannibalises all hope.

When ninety per cent
of your income goes on food,
who can afford to stop working?
Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs,

financial investors betting
on food speculation
drives up the prices,
driving unseen souls to the grave.

National Poetry Writing Month... Day (Part 2)

Continuing on NaPoWriMo 2017, poems seven to twelve...

7. Sleep, perchance, to dream!

Published in Dodging The Rain

8. Farming

Sleep is the choice
of the bored generation,
triple-screening to fill a life
that refuses to live up to their dreams.

And while some dream of going viral,
the shy workhorse taps away,
content with big words
dreamt up inside small fields,
knowing that hay is not made
from words alone, but from how
those words are delivered,

not through blogs or videos,
disposable posts, memes or tweets,
but pushed through sweat and patience,
the practice and persistence
of  one who knows that they are not God,
but that the word of God is beautiful enough,
and life needs living
as well as hearing, and writing.

9. Scroll down the page

Published in Dodging The Rain

10. Gourmandising

Published in Dodging The Rain

11. Follow You

Published in Dodging The Rain

12. The Great Deluded Cover-Up

“Make-up is a lie,”
says the chauvinist in face-paint,
entering the poetry slam
and demanding
not to be disqualified
over the use of props.

“Women wear make-up
to hide their faces,
why can’t I hide mine?”
he asks under commando stripes,
his camouflage shouting his face
to everyone in the room.

Do you shave, my friend?
Why are you hiding your true beard?
What deodorant do you use?
Are you ashamed of your real scent?
Make-up compliments
more than conceals.

National Poetry Writing Month... Day (Part 1)

April is National Poetry Writing Month, when poets across the world attempt to write a poem a day for thirty days. This might sound simple on paper, but constantly looking for inspiration, finding the time to write, and trying not just to write meaningless dribble to fill up the slots can be quite challenging.

As I mentioned before in a previous project, the 100 Poems Challenge, for me, the aim of the challenge is not prolificacy, but to maximise the scope for inspiration, to find meaning in small events, beauty in the seemingly insignificant.

I've done NaPoWriMo before, but with my dad being very ill at the moment, I've passed on it this year. However, a thought came to mind: might it be possible to take one free day and write thirty poems? After the 100 Poems Challenge (writing 100 poems in 30 days), I was keen to see just how many poems I might be able to manage in the space of only twenty-four hours.

I went to sleep last night, attempting to drift off, but ideas for two poems came into my head. I made some notes on my phone, and returned to the pillow. But sleep was evasive, and another notion crept in. Notes for a third poem formed. As I got sleepier, a fourth idea drifted in from somewhere. Too tired, I told myself I would remember it in the morning.

And somehow, after seven hours sleep and a bit of rattling through my brain in the morning, I remembered it. So here it is... the start of the challenge. I'll be posting in blocks of six, five times to make the thirty - if I can. Let's see how it goes!

(A disclaimer: everything here is obviously a first draft - not much time for editing. Undoubtedly, some of it - most of it? - will be piddling nonsense, but hopefully, some pieces of potential might come through).

Here are the first six poems:

1. Do Republicans Dream of Electric Fences?

God raised man from the clay
and added a soul.
is a poor substitute for a soul -
just ask Frankenstein
or John Murray Spear.

So where will your fences fall?
And what will your bricks be made of?
Not clay, the dust of us all,
branded with LIFE.
The wall you plan to build
belongs to a slaughterhouse,
each brick a golem,

To make them shift
and climb on top of each other
you remove the 'F', forming a LIE,
just as you remove the voice
from the mouths of the clay men and women
you cannot mould
and tell them to get the f___ out.

2. Semaphore

Lying in bed
with both arms under the sheets,
you lie as an introvert
   or just cold.

With both arms in, extroverted
   or just a summer's night.

With one arm wild, over the duvet's edge,
the other tucked in like a wounded bird,
you are indecisive
   or comfy
   or holding onto a lover
   or asleep and lost to your limbs.

3. One for the Trolls

Keep your tongue
behind your teeth,
and if you need to
snarl in disbelief

or jealousy
may I suggest
that a silent tongue
is really best.

If words are bitter
then make yours sweet
and swallow down
all your conceit.

Take rising bile
and hush it dead
... then go online
and tweet instead.

4. The Quick Step to Fame

People don't want to see
technical wizardry,
they just want a good time,
nothing deep or sublime.
Don't waste time practising,
just build a circus ring.

The equivalent
of money well spent
is a satisfied
crook with net cast wide
and hidden talent.

Give them non-stop
flash bang whallop,
what a fixture!

So you see
you can be,

a god,
a cad,


5. Learning the Guitar

If each note is a word
and each sentence, a chord,
then your guitar is a foreign language.

Fingers unable
to bend alongside imagination:
in your head, a symphony,
of hammered fretboard, bent string,
the nimble tap of a speed typist.

Riffing over the backbeat of sleep,
you dream of augmented ninths
and suspended fourths.

On waking, you are left with a poor echo.
You speak pidgin music,
searching for metaphors
amidst blue scales,
a speech impediment of bum notes,
broken arpeggios,
language barred.

And so you took
to poetry instead.

6. The North Korea Problem
(Quotes taken from statements by the Trump administration)

"The United States has spoken
enough about North Korea.
We have no further comment.”
Silence is no panacea.

“We would have loved to see
North Korea join the community
of nations, they have been
given that opportunity

in different dialogues
and offers over the course
of four administrations."
The situation's getting worse:

“The clock has now run out,
all options are on the table.”
Let me translate this -
diplomacy is unable

to breath under the weight
of a nuclear glasnost;
trigger-happy Perestroika
means everything is lost.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Don't be a mental health parrot...

I see a lot of posts on Facebook and tweets along the lines of "please post this on your wall to raise awareness of mental health" or "I bet ten of my friends won't copy and paste this to fight the stigma of depression".

I don't see how this helps. It's mere lip service. If we want to break stigmas and raise awareness we need to start telling OUR stories, openly and unabashed. We can't be parrots that cry "mental health, mental health" over and over again. The world needs details, testimonies and personal tales to respond to, to breed empathy and understanding.

Please, don't just copy and paste. Tell us your story, or the story or a friend or family member. I'm ready to listen.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Time To Talk Day

Today is Time To Talk Day, encouraging people to talk about their mental health openly and without judgement.

Most people only think about their mental health when things go wrong. We don't realise that we all have a mental health, and that everyone can be susceptible to stress, anxiety, depression, etc. Some of us perhaps might be better than others with coping, but despite how much we might be open or closed about our own state of mind, EVERYONE needs support.

If you have a friend or family member or work colleague who you might be concerned about, take the time to check in with them. Don't merely ask "are you ok?" Don't take "fine" as an answer - sometimes that "fine" might seem dismissive, but it is hiding real hurt.

I was working with an older peoples group today, and we were talking about how they all first got involved with the group. One lady said that before she joined, she would sit in the house and cry to herself, and she could go all week without talking to anyone. But it just tooj one person to look out for her, to give some encouragement and change her life for the better.

So if you can, give that encouragement. And if you need encouraging, speak up. No one is asking you to be strong, or a martyr for mental health, or to even change. But everyone has a right to express how they feel.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

'Write To Refuge' Oxfam Ireland exhibition touring across Northern Ireland

Last summer, Oxfam Ireland asked me to write a poem for their 'Write to Refuge' exhibition. This included images of refugees and displaced people from places such as Burundi, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

The image I received was of a mother and son at Boporo camp, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, along with some background information about the civil unrest and displacement in the region. This is part of the information:

"In the north east of the country, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has terrorised civilians for years, attacking villages, abducting women and children, and destroying livelihoods. We provide clean water to communities, hospitals and schools in the region, and provide support to people living with HIV and AIDS. Eastern DRC is extremely lush and fertile, but the conflict and obstructions such as checkpoints – where farmers are forced to pay bribes to get to markets – mean it doesn’t produce as much food as it should. We provide a number of farmers’ associations across the region with the seeds, tools and technical advice they need to feed their communities."

The exhibition was originally part of Culture Night Belfast, and is now set to reach a wider audience, with a tour in partnership with Libraries NI. Find out more here. Details of the launch event on February 2nd are here.

Find out more about the Write to Refuge campaign.