When I was invited by Open House Festival to take part in their Court House Sessions alongside poet Amy Wyatt, I was both excited and nervous. Like a lot of people, I haven’t been out in company for a year now and the invitation was to go along to the old Court House in Bangor, recently acquired by Open House to function as an arts venue for the town and film a short piece.

Work hasn’t started yet on the conversion and the Festival organisers wanted to record some sessions, not only to showcase local artists, but also to give the public a glimpse into the building. Would I remember how to talk to people in real life and not through a screen? How would it feel to actually be in the same room as other people?

It turned out to be a lovely occasion. All the covid protocols in place meant we felt very safe, the building was atmospheric and the people so friendly and welcoming. I would like to especially thank Lesley Allen of Open House (and herself an excellent novelist), for making it all so easy and smooth. Amy and I had a great chat that felt just like conversation over coffee. Among other things we were chatting about the launch of Amy’s debut collection, A Language I Understand, from Indigo Dreams and about Bone House, my forthcoming collection from Doire Press.

Here is the link if you would like to have a listen

Yesterday I pressed send on the final manuscript for my new collection, Bone House. The writing of this book formed part of the ACNI Major Artist Award which I received in late 2019.

I remember very well the day I heard word of that success. For some reason that I’ve never been able to figure out, my normally very reliable phone had stopped working. I wasn’t getting phone calls or texts. I couldn’t work out how to sort it. That evening I was sitting in a very cold indoor riding school with my older daughter and lots of other mad horsey people. We were wrapped in blankets against the freezing air, clutching tepid cups of coffee and watching a demo from an Olympic Event rider. Suddenly my phone, having decided of its own volition to work again, starting pinging with texts and recorded messages. I made my way out into the dark carpark to find out what I had been missing and there it was – news that I had received the award.

Bone House is not the book I had anticipated writing, last year changed the nature of the poems; at some points I didn’t think I could or would write anything, it would never be finished. But here it is, more fragmentary, less articulate than I had imagined when I wrote my proposal for it. I had wanted to make sense and it wasn’t until I gave up on that, that it began to take shape. It wasn’t until I accepted that I had to take what was coming, that the lines of poetry began to become poems.

Soon it will exist as a physical thing in the world. To some extent it gave me a focus in these grim months, though sometimes it also felt like a herculean task that I regretted ever taking on. Is it any good? Who knows. But I am happy with it, it feels worth the effort and that’s something.

I am absolutely delighted to announce the publication from Caesura Press of The Alabaster Box, a new collection from poet Myra Vennard. Described by Damian Smyth as ‘one of the astonishments of our time’, Myra’s poems are fearless and unexpected. This is a beautiful book, one to be treasured. If you would like to buy a copy, just message me. Hard back £15, softback £10

Over the last year, I’ve been working with Thomas Pollock of Frontier Pictures on a series of video poems, a new experience for me. It wasn’t always straightforward due to lockdowns and restrictions but it was a lot of fun and I will definitely be continuing the adventure next year. I was absolutely delighted when one of the films was shortlisted for the 8th O Bheal International Poetry-Film Awards.
This year’s shortlist of 38 films was chosen from 288 submissions received from 181 filmmakers in 49 countries. On Sunday there will be a showing of all the shortlisted films as part of the Winter Warmer Festival. I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing them all and for anyone interested the link is below. You can also see my shortlisted film and the others I made with Thomas this year here on the website.

https://www.facebook.com/events/406451937395228/

Special offers in the run up to Christmas!

Order a paperback copy of Blood Horses or Carnivorous and receive another book of your choice for free! Great Christmas presents for the poet in your life. Have a look at the book details on the website and place an order – or contact me for more details and choices. Book packages available.

Sharing a link here to the Irish Times article I wrote for the launch of the Jukebox curation No Word for Stay. Maria McManus’s innovative project to bring poetry out onto the streets is now in its 11th edition and I was privileged to co-curate this moving and important collection of poems looking at the lived experience of the Troubles.

Peter Pegnall, poet, invited ‘fifteen artists … to contribute towards a collection that might bear witness to these dislocating times in a variety of ways.’ Their brief was to write or draw what they felt and not what they ought to say or represent.

This anthology is the result and I’m very pleased to be in there alongside poets such as Damian Smyth, Joseph Woods and Naomi Foyle to name a few. In my opinion it really is a bit of a special book. If anyone would like a copy, please get in touch – £10 with free p&p

It is always a pleasure to be a part of the John Hewitt Summer School and of course, this year, it wasn’t possible for people to come together. Instead the Society put as much as possible online and as part of this, shared video clips from poets who have featured at the School over the years. I’m pleased to share the link to my contribution. Lots of other poets to listen to also.

One of the best things about working as a creative writing facilitator, is the opportunity to mentor other writers. Although I was able to cut down on teaching commitments thanks to having received the Major Artist Award from the ACNI last year, I was keen to keep on the mentorship aspect of my work and I am currently working one-to-one with three individual poets, all at different stages of their careers. Fortunately it is something that is possible to do on-line, so we’ve been able to continue working during lockdown and beyond.

It is always exciting to receive new work from them and to be able to discuss not only the work itself, but also – influences, form, technique, inspiration – all the elements of writing a poem. These relationships between mentor and mentee are a two way process and I always learn something myself. It allows me to think about poetry in a more abstract way and is good for my own practice. The three poets I am working with at the moment are very different in style, but the one thing they have in common is their commitment to learning and to hard work; that is both exciting and motivating to see.

It’s a real pleasure when someone I am mentoring has a success with their work, whether it is getting something published, winning a competition, or simply feeling more confident in their writing.