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

About Me

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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

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?