What floats my boat – Shelley Tracey, poet, writer and the Project Co-ordinator for Poetry in Motion

My boat is buoyant with arts experiences at the moment. As there have been so many, I can only give a glimpse into those which have inspired me the most.

I will begin with the creativity of children and young people. This is not because I perceive great arts practice as hierarchical, with the young at the bottom, but because this aspect of the arts forms a large part of my work at the moment. As CAP’s LAVA (Literature and Verbal Arts) Coordinator, I am currently collating the poems which the schools participating in this year’s Poetry in Motion Schools programme have submitted for our anthology. While the subject matter and the poetic styles vary, the poems all abound with creative energy, playfulness and a love of language This is really inspiring.

As writer in residence at Cranmore Integrated Primary School, I have been blown away by the awareness of the P7 class about climate change and the articulate way in which they express this. I took ‘Ark’ into the classroom, the poem which current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage wrote about the impact of pollution and global warming. The pupils responded with enthusiasm to the imagery and the messages of the poem. ‘Ark’ begins:

They sent out a dove: it wobbled home,
wings slicked in a rainbow of oil,
a sprig of tinsel snagged in its beak,
a yard of fishing-line binding its feet.

Bring back, bring back the leaf.

The Primary 7 class connected with the refrain of the poem (in italics above), and wrote a collective response to ‘Ark’, based on the refrain. The poem, ‘Refresh the World’, consists of many powerful lines; amongst my favourite are:

Bring back the world and the clean sea.
Bring back the beautiful world that the people love
Bring back, bring back the trees.

Although I don’t watch TV on a regular basis, three series have captured my attention recently. I welcomed the return of Young Offenders, with its off-the-wallness and the bizarre personalities and haircuts of the two main characters. I am a great fan of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the witty Fleabag. I also appreciated the hard-hitting and well-acted Three Girls, with its disturbing exploration of sex trafficking in Rochdale.

My taste in novels is wide-ranging; I read copiously and across the genres. What floats my boat at the moment is experimentation with structure, as in Jan Carson’s Fire Starters and Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, and some of JM Coetzee’s novels.

I highly recommend two memoirs which I have read recently: Constellations, by Sinead Gleeson, and Overcoming, by Vicky Phelan. The experience of illness is at the core of both of these books, but while the illness narrative is painful and touching in these memoirs, I was particularly struck by the effectiveness of the writing. Constellations is poetic, intelligent and profound; Overcoming is both evocative and provocative, challenging the failures in the CervicalCheck programme in Ireland.

I award the first prize for memorable arts events to Alice Oswald’s reading at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in November. It was a great treat to hear one of my favourite poets reciting her thoughtful, lyrical and complex lines. I came away with a signed copy of her latest collection, Nobody, which will always have pride of place on my bookshelf.

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