LAST Saturday, 67 Irish poets, some from Cork, traveled to Dublin to attend the launch of The Children of the Nation poetry collection in Connolly’s books, Temple Bar. This is an anthology with a difference; it was launched by Fr Peter McVerry and it won’t be going through usual wholesalers.
Why? Because this is the first anthology of its kind, written by working people for working people. Most significantly, it is for those on the margins, the under-represented and the dispossessed.
Reading through the poems, one is struck by how ordinary they are, in a positive sense. These poems highlight the real, lived experiences of people from whom we’re not used to hearing. There’s a rawness to them, an emotional accessibility. They range from topics like homelessness and unemployment to the lives of fishermen and mothers.
Fittingly, the book is funded by the Irish Trade Union Movement, Fórsa, UNITE, CWU, Mandate, and the Belfast and Galway Trades Councils and is not for profit. It is published by Culture Matters, a website and publishing co-operative which takes a progressive and socialist approach to the arts and culture generally.
Annette Skade is delighted to have three poems included in the book. She lives in Glengarriff, having spent 20 years at the tip of the Beara Peninsula. Her longest poem in the collection is called Threnody, a lamentation for the dead. Skade explains that tragedies at sea are all too frequent where she lives.
“When a fisherman is lost at sea, it is barely mentioned in the national news even though the impact on the whole area is so great."
This is in keeping with the tone of the collection, shining a light on oftentimes neglected corners of our society.
Skade adds: “It seems we are often forgotten about down here: services are constantly being eroded and there is little attempt to bring broadband, transport or an adequate ambulance service down as far as this peninsula.”
Refreshingly, these poets are not pointing fingers so much as trying to make connections.
Skade says: “I think this is a really important anthology which unites urban and rural working people, who are writing for people like themselves. I like that the book will not be going out through wholesale retailers because the aim is to get the anthology into community centres, libraries and anywhere it might reach other working people.”
Barbara O’Donnell is also delighted to be included. She grew up serving alongside her late father Bill O’Donnell in the Anchor Bar in Bantry. She works for the NHS in London and says: “Many nursing and healthcare staff would now be classed at the working poor, having become reliant on food banks and some losing houses. This is happening in both Ireland and the UK.”
Editor Jenny Farrell explains: “The purpose of this book is to highlight that there is a large section of the population in Ireland, in any society, that is marginalised and whose concerns are not sufficiently heard. Their voices and interests are insufficiently represented in the media and even in the arts.
“So far, there has been no anthology of working people’s poetry in Ireland. This book focuses specifically on this. We have collected here 67 poets who identify with the working person’s experience. It is significant in my view that poets from the whole of the island of Ireland answered the call for submissions. This shows common ground, I feel. There is also a shared experience between writers from rural and urban backgrounds, women and men, and across the generations. I am pleased that the anthology includes writing in both Irish and English and that this too shows common ground.”
Farrell arranged for Fr Peter McVerry to launch the book, a pioneering influence in protecting the homeless of Dublin since the seventies.
“If I had to name the main theme of the collection, it would have to be homelessness,” says Farrell.
It is amazing just how often this is written about. Now, homelessness can also mean feeling alienated from mainstream society, not at home in it, it can mean being the victim of abuse in a society that has relinquished its duty of care for its citizens, its women, its children. And then there is of course the very real social violence against over 10, 000 people without a home.
“Peter McVerry has devoted his life to trying to do something about this enormous injustice. I believe he is one of the most humane, genuine, heroic people living in Ireland.”
This anthology reaches out and connects with working people.
Farrell explains. “The normal format is that a poet’s biography focuses on publications and never on social background. In a way, this creates a barrier for the reader who might like to read the work of people like themselves.
“Another hope is that working people will not only find their lives reflected here but also see that poetry is not an exclusive middle-class domain or difficult to understand.”
It does feel different to read. When I discussed local poetry with a main bookshop in Cork this week, I was told poetry doesn’t sell, especially this kind of ‘community’ poetry. I sincerely hope his response isn’t accurate. The people of Cork, rebels at heart, might just surprise that person. The enthusiasm around this anthology certainly suggests so.
Copies can be ordered online at http://www.culturematters.org.uk/index.php/shop-support/our-publications/item/3184-the-children-of-the-nation and will also be available in Vibes and Scribes on Lavitt’s Quay.