Part one of this article is here
The Longlisted poets
All of the poets on the longlist for the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing appreciated the opportunity to read their poems on film, after the awards event had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus situation
James Milliken says: “I think it was inspired to put the readings online. In the circumstances it was the best thing to do. It gave all involved a chance to be heard”.
Lindsay Hodges pays tribute to Steven Tunley, CAP’s technician, who put all of the films together into one “Steven worked his wizardry so brilliantly and it was seamless. So lovely to see and hear everyone and it rescued the launch superbly.”
For Alanna Offield, “Filming my reading was a fun experience and has inspired me to share more of my poetry through video. Seeing myself on camera is very cringe (I think everyone feels a touch of this when they see/ hear themselves), but video is a great medium for sharing poetry in these strange times where we are all trying new ways to connect”.
Judith Thurley noted that “Making my video was interesting! The one you saw was self-done and was my first take. I balanced my phone on top of a pile of books and secured it with a blob of blu tack! I liked the way flashes of sunlight lit it up from the window beside me
Lucy Beevor’s poem “After the Tree Surgeon” is a haiku, a Japanese short form of poetry. Lucy says about her video that “ I found it almost impossible to string out 17 syllables! I loved hearing everyone on the longlist reading their poems. Perhaps this could become a regular feature of the anthology?”
Gaynor Kane admitted that “I was really disappointed when the Belfast Book Festival was cancelled as I was supposed to launch my full collection during it. Having recorded the video, watched the announcement of the winner and since then taken part in a Women Aloud NI Facebook Live festival it has made me think that the are alternate ways that I could launch my book.
People are adapting to different ways of keeping in touch and many events are moving to online platforms. There have been new websites, forums and online communities created during the pandemic, with some of these focusing specifically on poetry. I think poetry is as important now as it has always been. Pandemic poetry may be read in 50-100 years’ time in the same way as we read the war poets now. It’s such a useful way to document how our society is responding to the difficulties of living through these strange days. Poetry can capture the nuances of individual experiences. Just as scientific discourse has its part to play, artistic methods of documentation does too”.
Lindsay Hodges said, “I had made a decision in 2019 that this would be my last year of submitting to CAP. 2020 seemed a fitting way to stop after so many years and I am thankful to have been able to go out on the Longlist at least and with a chance to read a poem that has a lot to say. Many thanks again.
Wishing you and everyone safe navigation through these dangerous waters and every good wish for what lies ahead”.
Lucy Beevor was “over the moon that my haiku After the Tree Surgeon made the longlist.”
She explains where the idea for her poem came from: “We were having some very overgrown trees pruned last winter and at some point in the afternoon, after the work was done, I walked into a room at the back of the house that was normally cool and gloomy, but was now steeped in this extraordinary sunlight and Jack, our greyhound, was stretched out, asleep, in its warmth. The shock and simplicity of the scene stopped me in my tracks”.
For Lucy, “Life circumstances – work and family mean long stretches of time to write can be hard to come by, so I find haiku deeply satisfying because I usually manage to complete one in one sitting.”
Trees also influence Lucy’s writing. “I swear I get my best ideas as I walk my dog Jack through woodland; it must be all that oxygen billowing down. Last year I was involved in an outstanding writing project run by the writers’ collective, 26, with the Woodland Trust. 52 writers were each given a tree to track down and write about. I got holly (https://26project.org.uk/26trees/). I learned so much about trees and our personal histories with them”.
Lucy also gains inspiration from “Reading – anything – poetry, flash, life memoir, short stories, novels…. Fellow writers – wonderful friends made at writing classes with the inspirational Joan Carberry, Jo Egan and Ruth Carr.
Lucy lives and works in Belfast. In 2018/19 she was an X:Borders participant with the Irish Writers Centre and a finalist for the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award 2019. Her writing has also been short-listed for the Mairtín Crawford Award for Short Story 2019, the John O’Connor Short Story Prize 2018 and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. In 2016 she co-conceived and curated with poet Thérèse Kieran ‘Death Box’, an exhibition of poetry and prose at Crescent Arts Centre.
Lucy also received a Support for the Individual Artist Programme award from Arts Council NI for 2019/2020. She acknowledges: “I am so grateful to ACNI for this award, which has led me to the very brilliant – and generous and rigorous – Paul McVeigh who is mentoring me this year”.
Alanna Offield is a disabled, queer, Chicana from northern New Mexico, USA now living in her mother’s childhood home in Killowen at the base of the Mourne Mountains and on the shore of Carlingford Lough. She has a BA in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Chicana/Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, and American Studies, and an MSc in Marketing from Queen’s University Belfast. She has worked as a community organizer, anti-oppression facilitator, and social justice educator across a variety of organizations and campaigns. For more information, you can check out her website, alannaoffield.com, or follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @alannaoffield.
Alanna’s selection for the longlist for the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing means a great deal to her. “I had not submitted my work or shown it outside of writing classes and groups in many years, so being longlisted was such a surprise and I was honoured to have my poetry recognized alongside such talented poets. While I had always had a love of poetry, it was not something I prioritized. After moving here, I was feeling lost and struggling to find my place. I decided to take a writing course at the Crescent Arts Centre and I am so grateful for the amazing community of instructors and writers I have come to know there. The classes and conversations I’ve had there have encouraged me to write poetry that is raw and vulnerable, and my classmates and instructors encouraged me to submit my poems for this anthology. Being longlisted has inspired me to send more of my poetry into the world”.
Alanna explains how she came to write her poem Snakeskin: “ Like many people, I have struggled with body image, and my poem Snakeskin is a reflection on my relationship to my body and how it feels to exist publicly in a fat body. Snakeskin was written during a challenging transition in my life. After moving here three years ago, I was struggling with anxiety and depression which led to significant weight loss. Since the birth of my daughter, I struggled to find confidence in my fat body, and when I lost weight I felt conflicted about how much I enjoyed being able to move through the world as a thin person. I wondered if I had ever really loved my body as it was since I so easily slipped into life as a thin person. Then I began to experience severe pain in my hip brought on by an injury from childhood. I was diagnosed with advanced osteoarthritis and have been on the urgent waiting list for a total hip replacement for two years. Over several months, my pain became chronic and I lost my ability to walk unassisted, leaving me bed-bound.
“Being unable to move combined with the need to balance heavy painkillers with a full stomach, I gained back all the weight I had lost and then some. I wrote Snakeskin during this time of grieving for my body – how it looked and how it functioned. Body positivity and fat acceptance can be very hard, even with the current willingness of media and marketing to expand on what types of bodies hold value. In Snakeskin I wanted to hold all of the messy and hard emotions I was feeling. Poetry can be healing and I still struggle with adjusting to life in a bigger body that requires a wheelchair, but my goal with my poetry is to build a space with my words where someone might feel less alone in life.
Alanna’s poetry is “a reflection of my experiences as a disabled, queer, woman of colour and often deals with themes of the body, femininity, identity, and memory. I lean toward a more confessional and conversational style and was told in an undergraduate writing class that my poetry was like an over-emotional diary entry. At the time this was hard to hear, but now, I embrace that comparison fully. I love finding big emotions within everyday moments. As part of my undergraduate degree, I took several courses within the Chicana/ Chicano Studies department which introduced me to the poetry of Ana Castillo, Sandra Sisneros, Gloria Anzaldua, and others which not only reflected my experiences as a young woman of colour but whose style of direct and vulnerable writing was similar to my own. I was fortunate enough to have classes with some amazing New Mexican poets including Carlos Contreras, Jessica Helen Lopez, and the current poet laureate of New Mexico, Levi Romero. Levi Romero introduced me to lowcura poetry, a poetry style that is driven by storytelling and the cultures of New Mexico, and he mentored me through my undergraduate thesis which included some of the poetry that I would later include in my community published chapbook, ambitchous. I am forever grateful for the professors and classmates who helped me understand that my story, while it might not be clean and linear, is valuable and poetic”.
Part three of this article is here