The sun was shining on Sunday 22nd March. I got into the car anticipating a peaceful drive into Belfast in the afternoon sunshine. I was looking forward to reading my poem Lavender Fields and to finding out the winner of the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. However, having encountered a closed road and a diversion littered with road works and red lights, I arrived at Duncairn Arts Centre feeling a little hassled.
I soon settled in the airy space of the converted church, and although the place pulsed with a palpable energy, I calmed completely sitting in front of the beautiful stained-glass windows.
I had entered three poems for consideration for the 2015 anthology on the theme of Memory. All three made it into the book, ‘Making Memories’, and I was honoured to be asked to read at the launch event. I had no idea that in less than two hours, my heart would be racing as I accepted the award.
I first became aware of Community Arts Partnership and their work through the Community Project, Poetry in Motion, in 2012. I was a member of Ards Writers and the group had the pleasure of welcoming Brenda Liddy to the Web Theatre, Newtownards, to facilitate a poetry workshop on Place. We all left feeling inspired and worked on our initial words and ideas, before submitting our poems to be considered for the anthology, ‘The Poet’s Place’. My poem Dandelions was accepted and the launch in The Dark Horse was one of the first poetry events I attended in Belfast. I submitted work again in 2013 and my poem Cutting Lemons was included in the ‘Still’ anthology.
As a primary school teacher who developed and taught the literacy programme Passport to Poetry, I knew only too well the great value of creative writing in the classroom and the wonderful rewards that come from children’s engagement in the writing process. I was therefore thrilled to learn of the important work CAP was doing in our schools. At some stage in the future I hope to be involved with poetry facilitation once again.
This award comes at a transitional period in my life. Having become ill in 2013 and following a year of tests, investigations and scans, I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. My life changed dramatically; my busy, activity-filled days of teaching, studying, writing, running a home and looking after my children came to a grinding halt. For six months I could barely get out of bed. Over time, as I began to adapt to life with a chronic condition, I returned to the page. Writing was something I could still do, and in the wake of my former life, could commit to. It wasn’t going to bring in a wage but it gave me a sense of purpose and a welcome productivity.
I was absolutely thrilled to win the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. I am just sorry I never got to meet the man in person. Being a ‘towny’, Heaney’s farming references gave me their fair share of headaches during practical criticism sections of English exams at University. I came to know and appreciate his poetry in time but it was his prose about poetry and the writing process, such as ‘The Redress of Poetry’ and ‘Finders Keepers’, that really struck a chord with me, inspiring and encouraging me to keep writing.
For most, writing is a solitary activity. Ultimately you need to believe in what you are doing and in the value of poetry. You write for the sake of writing, you bring forth a poem without an awareness of audience, but once complete, if and when the poem connects with another person, a certain kind of magic occurs. To have others respond to your work, to find something in the poem that warrants attention, is rewarding and encouraging. To respect greatly, the work and opinions of the panel of judges, including poets Deirdre Cartmill, Paula Cunningham, Moyra Donaldson and Paul Maddern, and to be the recipient of an award presented by an organisation that does such fantastic work in schools and the community, is truly an honour.
So I will return to the quiet practice of writing feeling honoured and humbled, encouraged and enthused, and very grateful that I have poetry in my life.