It started on 15th September 2018. I have been writing and posting a poem a day for nine months. I reckon it takes longer to make a book than a baby.
Later this morning I will be showcasing the written work done by nine 9-12 year olds who attend a two room-two teacher school at Curravagh in the West Cavan uplands. Funded by Cruinniú na nÓg (Creativity for Youth) programme I was able to spend sixteen classroom hours with them developing story – from the purely imaginative to writing a first person narrative of a real person or historical character they had to research. There is a small exhibition of their work and a recording of them reading some of the finished product happening at Dowra Courthouse Creative Space today at noon.
For inspiration for today’s poetry practice I look back on the week and an expedition with those children and the 5th and 6th classes from Blacklion’s national school. We had a field trip connected with another project I am collaborating on with a local ceramic artist, Jim Fee. We went to the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff. There is an outdoor exhibition that recreates a trench system from the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The epigraph that sparks today’s poem is from Plato. Someone quoted it on Twitter. (Yes, truly!)
Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. – Plato
History as Poetry
The latrine was used by thousands. It was a hole in the ground. Barely yards away. As close as the enemy. When it rained it overflowed. It ran into the trenches where soldiers crouched in stench, heads bowed to avoid the sniper's reach.
The nurses in Casualty Clearing were as close to the enemy as any man. With less say. They had no vote, but died for King and country, mopped up blood, closed eyes of dead men - mostly young. One was aged twelve. One was aged sixty-seven.
Victory tastes of vinegar and gall. Few are spared, less saved. It stinks of old men's money, the rattle in the bag of guineas gold swapped for a load of sabres.
Watch the children pause at the peace sculpture, doves rising like the wheel of fortune from the blasted bog oak tree. Rising as the water falls from figures weeping on their knees.
Reading the papers this past few days, two things have been on my mind. First, the Irish Tanaíste, or deputy PM, has been rushing through legislation in advance of a No-Deal Brexit. Which will almost inevitably mean a hard border close to where I live. Then, reading on what the implications are on certain details of life in post-Brexit Britain, I read that the EU pet passport will not longer apply to holidaymakers who want to take their pets on European vacations. Now that doesn’t sound terrible, but it did make me wonder about people round where I live who take their pets to the vet in Enniskillen. That would be taking a pet out of the EU into a non-EU state. So where does that leave doting pet owners. Moreover, where does that leave the vet with a sizeable cross-border clientele? And if more had been made of not being able to take your hound on holiday, maybe the Brits would have voted Remain.
But what makes me really sad is that for me the EU was always about trying to create some justice, peace and reconciliation on a continent shriven by terrible, terrible wars. There was sectarian and ethnic strife, but for the most part, they were contained and were addressed. For the past twenty years the EU has funded four different phases of the Peace and Reconciliation process in Ireland.It’s not perfect, but it has made a huge difference. Who would have thought you could create the first cross-border Geopark on the planet in a place that had previously hosted army patrols not ten years earlier? Or, when fracking was threatened that all communities cross border united to see off the companies who wanted to drill. Frackers have a modus operandi of divide and conquer. In this cross-border area they cemented are sense of common cause.
A Breach of the Peace
It was not for cheap olive oil or surplus sugar beet. It was never the point to build a butter mountain even if that was the byproduct. It was to stop making killing fields generation upon generation.
Kids now having kids in Northern Ireland today can barely remember the army patrols marching in full battle dress past Boots the Chemists, the bakers, the butchers. Their ears don't pop to bomb blasts.
Lest we forget, it was never about oceans of surplus dairy fat. It was to level the playing fields built over a continent pitted with century old bomb sites. To stop the blood shed.