Three days ago, news reverberated through the equestrian community that four horses had been killed in a horrific road accident in Scotland. The lorry they were travelling in had broken down, just half an hour away from its destination at Blair where the horses were due to be competing this weekend. Sitting on the grass bank at the side of the road, the owners watched helplessly as a truck slammed into the back of the horse lorry. Two of the horses were killed outright and two had to be euthanised at the scene.

As someone who has loved horses my entire life, I could only too easily imagine the devastation the owners of these horses must be feeling. The close bond that a rider feels to the horses they ride is very special. These riders and horses had been working together for years, building trust and a common purpose – trying their hearts out for each other. There is something innocent about a horse, something pure. The thought of their suffering is unbearable to those of us who know and love them. I can’t get the images and imagined sounds of this accident out of my mind. It has moved me to tears. At the same time I’m watching images on the news of the horrific events and terrible suffering of people in Afghanistan. So many awful things in the world – I question if the death of four horses should be taking any of my attention in the face of our human losses and global horrors. But somehow it does.

This poem from Ada Limon came to mind. A poem that I first read during lockdown, when I was feeling jaded about poetry. It gave me the same feeling I had as a teenager when I found a poem that cut through to my heart. Maybe it’s ok to cry about horses.

Downhearted

May 20, 2014

Six horses died in a tractor-trailer fire. 
There. That’s the hard part. I wanted
to tell you straight away so we could
grieve together. So many sad things, 
that’s just one on a long recent list
that loops and elongates in the chest, 
in the diaphragm, in the alveoli. What
is it they say, heart-sick or downhearted? 
I picture a heart lying down on the floor
of the torso, pulling up the blankets
over its head, thinking the pain will
go on forever (even though it won’t). 
The heart is watching Lifetime movies
and wishing, and missing all the good
parts of her that she has forgotten. 
The heart is so tired of beating
herself up, she wants to stop it still, 
but also she wants the blood to return, 
wants to bring in the thrill and wind of the ride, 
the fast pull of life driving underneath her. 
What the heart wants? The heart wants
her horses back. 

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/