• Books:
  • Beneath The Ice,
  • Snakeskin Stilettos,
  • The Horse's Nest,
  • Miracle Fruit,
  • Selected Poems,
  • The Goose Tree

About Me

My photo
Poet, creative writing facilitator, editor. Experienced mentor for those working towards a first collection. My publishers are Lagan Press, Belfast and Liberties Press, Dublin who published my Selected Poems in 2012 and my new collection, The Goose Tree in June 2014

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Signing Syndrome

I’m just wondering if any other authors suffer from this syndrome. It’s the one where someone hands you one of your books to sign after a reading and every single brain cell you have stops working. Brain freeze. The person standing in front of you is someone you have known for at least ten years – but can you remember their name?

Spelling also goes totally out the window; for example last night, I managed to totally mangle the name Nathaniel so that it resembled nothing more than a long line of consonants.

So far I have remembered my own name, but I’m not complacent about that always being the case.

How I envy those authors who can manage to write an erudite but personal message under these circumstances.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A great surprise

I didn't know it was happening until I got the link from my publisher. Honoured to have a poem read by the great Garrison Keillor

And then discovered another one!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Writing about reading

There have been so many poetry readings over the last few months that it would have been just about impossible for one person to get to them all. I managed to get to quite a few over the summer, and they got me thinking about the purpose of a ‘reading’. For me it adds to my understanding of a poet’s work; to hear them read, to hear where they put the inflections, the pauses, the emphasis. I go back to the poems on the page with the poet’s voice still in my head. Hearing Miriam Gamble, Anne-Marie Fyfe and Theo Dorgan read from their new collections has made me feel as if I have been given a key to the books themselves, making entry to the work easier. On another level, it can be the pure pleasure of just listening, letting the words enter through the ears rather than the eyes.

Hearing Myra Vennard read at the On Home Ground Festival in Magherafelt was one of the joys of my summer. The tone of the event was set by Damian Smyth, who seemed to channel the spirit of Heaney into the room, holding the atmosphere despite noise from outside and other distractions. Myra’s poetry flowed into and around the audience like a spiritual balm. I felt as if I was listening, not to a poet read, but to poetry itself. The event finished with the wonderful voice of singer songwriter Ciara O’Neil and I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. The music and poetry complimented each other perfectly.

Another outstanding reading for me was that of Damian Smyth during Aspects Festival. I have been at readings where, when the poet announces that he/she is reading two more poems, you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from the audience that the end is in sight; but this was the opposite. I was at a table with a number of other poets, Jean Bleakney , Paul Maddern and Jonathan Hicks and we all agreed that we could have listened for hours. For me it was like the pleasure I had as a child listening to my mother read me the next chapter from whatever book we were on.

I always appreciate the opportunity to read my own work to an audience and I hope people enjoy hearing me read my poetry. I’m always inclined to the view that ‘less is more’ when I read at events. I’m terrified of boring everyone! Different readings can have very different feels to them for the poet standing up there. I’m always nervous beforehand. I usually pick a range of poems to read and adjust the list according to the ‘feel’ I’m getting from the audience. It can depend on so many factors, but sometimes I feel as if my words are toppling off a cliff and other times I can feel the warmth, interest and engagement. Like most poets I have poems that I know work at a reading and others that I seldom read in public. It’s not that one is ‘better’ than the other, some poems just work well spoken aloud and some suit the solitude between the reader and the page. It’s always a bit nerve wracking giving a new poem its first spoken outing.

All of this pondering meant I was very interested to be asked to attend a Poetry Slam as a ‘judge’. It was good fun, though I did feel slightly uneasy at the idea of poetry as competition. It allowed me to reflect on the difference between ‘performance poetry’ at a slam, and a more conventional reading. My conclusion was that good poetry shines through in either setting.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Influence of Absences

I’ve told the story before, of how I went to QUB wanting to be a writer. (Actually I already was a writer, albeit a fledgling one. I had been writing stories and poems for as long as I could remember. When I was in sixth form, I had won the Belfast Telegraph Short Story Competition.) Yet, when I emerged from university in the late 1970’s, I had stopped writing and lost all confidence. I no longer thought that I had anything of value to say; never mind the ability to say it. I was silenced.


During my time at university there was no-one to look to. No women poets that I could find as contemporary references in NI. There was no sense from anyone I spoke to that a woman could be a serious poet. I felt it was stupid of me to have thought I could. This was despite me considering myself a feminist. There wasn’t even anything creative about the degree; no ‘creative writing’ option. I moved on to postgraduate study in a completely different area of life.

 I have blamed the university for my silence and I have also blamed myself – for not being braver, cleverer, more tenacious.


Well over a decade had passed before I allowed myself to consider re-visiting my ambition to be write poems; though in the meantime I had continued to scribble bits and pieces that didn’t see the light of day. Second time around there were supports in place, put there by women who were more tenacious than me, Joan Newmann, Ruth Carr, people determined to have women’s voices heard. There were writers’ groups that allowed a platform for everyone, with great tutors like Damian Gorman and Martin Mooney. I will always be grateful to those who encouraged and supported me at that stage and to both Lapwing Press and Lagan Press who opened the doors to publication.


All this is by way of a preamble to draw attention to a very interesting academic paper from Alex Pryce – Ambiguous Silences? Women in Anthologies of Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry

When I came across it recently, I was able to see myself in the historical context of the NI of my youth. It allowed me to put my experience in context and to understand more fully why I felt the way I did. It saddened me, but in a strange way reassured me that it wasn’t just my own inability that held me back. It validated the sense I had as a twenty year old woman, that I was expected to not expect anything, to just shut up. Almost four decades later, it validates the truth my experience.


See what you think.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Back to work this week

Leave: Paid and Unpaid


I have moved through summer

on the dream that summer

will last forever: how good it is

to open the curtains to the sun,

to get onto my knees to scrub

the floor, to stretch my arms up

to pin sheets to the line, to tie

back my hair and get on with

painting the fence; repairing things;

mending winter’s rents and tears.


The nasturtiums are covered

in little black upstanding eggs that

as time goes by, turn to caterpillars,

grow and shed their skins five times,

eat leaves to lacy skeletons, then

to stubs of stem, like amputations.


Things grow in random places, ferns

climb the wall; mullein spike through

stones; something starred with dark blue

and yolky yellow flowers, creeps through

the hedge and up the bird feeder.

Horse radish in the lawn, trees planted

by birds in the flower beds, buddleia

blown by the wind to stony crevices

to root, blossom; as once they followed

the railway lines, using the pull of air

from trains to escape from the big houses,

make their way across the countryside.

So it is that exotics become weeds; I read

of a couple who become lost amongst

the rhododendrons and have to be rescued

from that foreign forest on home ground.


I don’t feel out of place, just a little con-

fused. Time isn’t what it used to and some

times I hear its winged chariot revving up.

Best is when I’m just afloat, drifting with

the hours – I get plenty done, or nothing.




Are there places poetry just doesn't go?

I have done readings in all kinds of places; boats, towers, hospitals, schools, old workhouses, streets, churches, barns, stately homes and care homes; but the request I had recently left me slightly stunned. In a funeral home? Really?


The last time I was in a funeral home, me and my husband were selecting a little box for his mother’s ashes.

The time before that we were selecting the coffin that now formed part of the ashes we were about to put into this new box.

The time before that, it was a coffin for my mother.  Twelve years ago now, but I still remember it vividly. After a long drawn out and emotionally and physically exhausting death bed vigil, I was punch drunk. It was a surreal experience; the attendant showing us round the ‘showroom’ as we tried to decide between oak and mahogany, between brass or gold handles, as if any of it mattered. My brother insisting on the most expensive; his final opportunity to please our mother.


We bring in ‘good suits’ or Sunday ‘going to church’ dresses so that our dead look their best, and we view the body, consider whether the undertaker has done a good job, whether they have managed to wipe away the suffering from the faces of the newly dead, whether the deceased ‘look like themselves’ again. The smell of embalming and the necessary chill. To me a funeral home is the saddest of all places. It is the place where the aftermath of death really begins, where the grief takes its awful shape, amongst the practicalities of life.


So the only way I’m ever entering a funeral home again is if I absolutely have to, and that certainly does not include a poetry reading. I’m not saying it is wrong to have a poetry event in a funeral home – of course it isn’t - it’s just inexplicable to me why anyone would want to. And who will go along to listen?  Or is it just me that thinks it’s strange?

Thursday, 21 August 2014


It has been a summer of clearing and cleaning and taking stock. One of the clearings has been a load of old paperwork, and in the process I turned up lots of stuff, including an old Aspects programme from 1995. I was one of the readers; my first inclusion in the programme for a literary festival and launching my very first publication, Kissing Ghosts, a chapbook from Lapwing Press. Seeing the programme brought back lots of memories; I remember what I was wearing and how nervous but excited I was. My mother was not very well, just at the beginning of the long illness that would rob her of her memory, but she was well enough though to attend the reading, the only time she heard me read my own work. I always found her a difficult woman to please, but I felt that she was proud of me that evening, if a little concerned that I was breaking the family code of ‘whatever you say, say nothing’.

Much has changed for me in the nineteen years since then but there have also been constants. One of these is that I’m still writing poetry. This may not seem much of an achievement in itself, but it feels like it. I’ve stuck with it, that desire to craft words and thoughts and experiences into something truthful and maybe even beautiful. I’m in it for the long haul and somehow that feels like the real achievement. I have stayed with that part of myself, writing in hours snatched from other things, through periods of doubt; through good times and bad.

I’ve seen discussions on social media as to whether it’s ok to call yourself a poet. Well, I’m going to claim the title. I’m a lot of things – and one of them is poet.

Monday, 11 August 2014

upcoming event








The purpose of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change events, which take place all over the world at the end of September, is to make a difference through poetry.

At the Belfast event, we will use language in a positive way, to challenge issues including hate crimes, racism and current international conflicts.

All are welcome: please come along and read your own poems, or bring along other works about making change. Participating poets will include Moyra Donaldson, Nandi Jola, Emma Must, Shelley Tracey. Shelley will be reading from her forthcoming collection on experiences of migrants to Northern Ireland.

You are welcome to bring along your own snacks and drinks

Contact details for the event:

For more information about 100 Thousand Poets for Change:

Friday, 1 August 2014

Sometimes it is good to get away from everything

The Erne Rushes Through Me


A great clean flood to rinse away

the whole of the tired, wicked world.


A heron guards the dreaming ivory gates,

my eyes have turned the blue of damselfly;

red gilled perch and silver trout,

swim through the ventricles of my heart

and swallows rise from my throat, stitching

my thoughts to the sky: it is as if nothing


bad is happening anywhere: as if

everything in the Garden is lovely.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Finding out about yourself

I enjoy being asked thoughtful questions about my poetry - it is a chance to reflect. Here is a link to a recent interview in the HU.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Do you remember an inn, Miranda?

It’s been a busy time and it is good to see things come to fruition. The Goose Tree has been launched and the geese have flown off into the world. I’ve had a great time working with photographic artist, Victoria J Dean on our collaborative project Dis-Ease and we’re both really pleased with the outcome. Now I’m having the chance to slow down and have a bit of time for reflection.

I’ve taken a few weeks leave from work and have had the chance to do a bit of catching up with reading and thinking about poetry.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the idea of learning poetry ‘by heart’. Because I was sent to elocution lessons as a child, I learnt how to memorise poems from a very early age. It was never a chore. As a teenager I continued to learn poems just for myself. They were poems I loved and wanted to carry around in my head. It was my heart that learnt them. I would recite them to myself at random times; when I was out for a walk, or sitting in my bedroom. I still have quite a few of them stored in the grey matter, and over the last few days I’ve been trawling through to find them again. Sonnets are the easiest to recall, but all sorts of things have been coming back, snatches of Sitwell, chunks of Eliot, Betjeman, stanzas from Yeats.

So my resolution is to go back to learning poems by heart. I don’t imagine it will be as easy this time around, but I’m going to give it a go. How nice to have your own personal anthology there for the enjoying any time at all.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Good Intentions

I had such good intentions, but it has been a long time since I posted on here. My excuse is that I’ve been really busy writing poems and doing quite a bit of mentoring of other poets. I’m starting to see the fruits of a couple of projects, so hopefully will be on here a bit more and sharing some random thoughts and some news.