Community Arts Partnership publish 52 poems informed by the word “Still” and its various connotations
By Andrea Rea for Culture NI
The craft of poetry inevitably revolves around words, but it is rare that a sizeable group of poems focuses on just one word. However, the 52 poems in the Community Arts Partnership’s recently launched collection are all inspired by one word: still.
Workshops and an open submission process for the book were facilitated by the Poetry in Motion Community Project. Possible definitions for the word are presented as questions: Not moving? Deep silence and calm? The capturing of a moment? Even now? Nevertheless? Equipment for the distillation of liquids?
As it happens, none of the chosen poems is based on the last, whisky/moonshine/poteen-connected, though Jim Meredith (pictured) does describe an intimate, laid-back scene involving two friends availing of a glass of wine or two in ‘Still Life’.
The craft of poetry inevitably revolves around words, but it is rare that a sizeable group of poems focuses on just one word.
Other writers interpret the brief it as the concept of absence, often of a person. For example, Alice McCullough’s poem ‘Moving’ depicts a child cradling a photograph of his mother, who is cradling him. ‘This is from when she was still with us,’ he says, and the adult narrator attempts to reassure him that ‘she is still with us now’. In a few short lines, both absence and presence are delineated.
Sometimes in the poems, the concept of stillness is fixed in time, as in Robert A Smyth’s ‘To Dance’. In it, he imagines a derelict dance hall and a woman, conjuring thoughts of the man she once danced with. The poem also describes the ‘plotted point of reference’ that is the The Plaza, which ‘stands bleak and casts long shadows on memories’. Full of nostalgia, the poem evokes the stillness of a place that still resonates former glories.
The collection is, perhaps inevitably, uneven in the tone and accomplishment of the poems. There are a number of very personal pieces that are a little too cloying in the intensity of emotion they expose; the few poems that reference the Troubles sit uncomfortably in company with writing of a more universal nature.
The diversity of poetic voices and interpretations holds interest across the pages of the collection, however, and sustains interest. A few poems with little discernible relationship to the word or concept provoke multiple readings, if only to try and work out a connection.
Personalities and nostalgia fare well in the pages of the collection. Victor Chivers’ ‘In the Still of the Evening’ is a pitch-perfect evocation of Joni Mitchell and her music, with a number of cleverly used quotes from songs.
David Smylie’s ‘Harry’ describes in poignant, elegant detail the funeral of his father, capturing with potent restraint ‘a stillness that envelopes all / looking for answers, in conversations that I had put off / Until tomorrow’.
‘Atlantic’, by Amanda Finch, poses two questions to an absent someone, its protagonist wondering whether calling their name would ‘caress your cheek, sleeping as the deep, wee hours stack up?’. The richness of language in the most successful poems here is gratifying and marked.
Nature and geography figure in many of the poems. Sue Morgan’s ‘Out of Synch with the Seasons’ begins with the lines ‘I never thought that air could be so still / that autumn leaves might scarcely / tremble before they fall’. The final poem in the collection, Dermot Maguire’s ‘To Dream’ is a short meditation on the benefits of living in the country, describing ‘hill beyond green hill / The horizon here / Far enough away to dream’.
One of the most compelling poems here is Annemarie Mullan’s ambiguous, ambitious ‘Hindsight’. In continuous, intricate couplets, Mullan describes the movement of someone or something (perhaps the hind of the title) traversing a landscape at evening. Along the way, Mullan conjures ‘all-flocked bushes’, ‘a sudden tremble of finch’ and ‘the gloom of a rough-sketched thicket’, and asserts that ‘A hill is the place to question God’.
The stated aim of the Community Arts Partnership is ‘to help people find or re-discover their own creative force’. The evidence amassed in this poetry collection suggests that they are succeeding admirably in that aim.
Contact Community Arts Partnership for copies of “Still”
Contact Chelley McLear on +44 (0)28 9092 3493 or firstname.lastname@example.org