Saturday, January 25, 2014


City Hall Belfast

I met Sinéad Morrissey in the way I meet so many people – in passing. She was working at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry when I was visiting Belfast, attending the many poetry events that month, and hanging out afterwards over drinks - I rubbed shoulders with Belfast’s poets - I have shaken hands with the best. I did the thing I often do if I don’t have an official role and spent my time drooling on the fringes of conversations. Etched in my memory is the generosity of Medbh McGuckian who introduced me to many people (I’ve been a follower for decades and she agreed to contribute to my anthology Wee Girls back in 1996); Ciaran Carson telling in a very entertaining way the story of his first (I think) job involving concrete and a whole lot of strangely shaped (going on Ciaran’s animations) Protestant men; Edna Longley raising with me migrant guilt versus survivor guilt about the Troubles (something else to think about); the high regard Sinéad Morrissey was obviously held in (everyone made mention of her). I brought back a caseful of poetry books including Sinéad's The State of the Prisons (Carcinet Press 2005). It sits in the Irish pile on my poetry shelves and is covered in pencil scribbles.

I also see it’s time I acquired more of her books. I should start with Parallax (Carcanet 2013) which has just won the prestigious TS Eliot Poetry Prize, worth 15,000 quid (converts to over $28,000). Through this publicity I’ve become aware that she is Belfast’s first Poet Laureate. This is exciting news. Established by the Lord Mayor Mártain Ó’Miulleoir in 2013, the Poet Laureate has a public and private dual role, both engaging the city’s people with poetry and advancing the poet’s artistic career. Fantastic. For a start Sinéad Morrissey has been commissioned to produce a series of poems about Belfast and the year as the city’s poet exploring ‘My City/Mo Chathair Féin’ (Queen’s University Communications 2013) and I hope that’s instead of: Go write a specific poem about that specific over the top public event we’re having next month which seems to be often the case. In her public outreach role Sinéad will work with ethnic groups, the young, the vulnerable - the ‘Hidden Belfast’. A clear community arts or Community Cultural Development (CCD) aspect to this high profile position - as a long-time community arts advocate I think this is excellent.

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