The theme of revolution will be explored through the prism of poetry and traditional singing at Abair- The West’s Awake, an evening being hosted in Richmond Barracks as part of St Patrick’s Day festival. We talk to poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin about the theme and its link to society and landscape in advance of the evening.
How has lockdown impacted on your work? Has it enhanced or upended your processes?
Much of my writing comes out of a lived experience of physical landscape. “You go up a mountain and down the other side/ To find out who you are”—I often cite this line by Donegal poet Madge Herron as important to me. The travel restrictions have had a significant impact on my plans to engage with certain landscapes. But, I’m fortunate to live in Dublin 08, an area steeped in rich history and heritage. And so, over the past year, I’ve been led into a deeper engagement with local sites here. Most recently I’ve been writing about the nearby building of the former Goldenbridge Industrial School. Of course, it’s been disappointing to have to place public readings and touring on hold, but the extra time for writing and editing has been a gift. The poems have not stopped coming and I have a new poetry collection forthcoming at this year’s end with The Gallery Press.
You have explored the concept of revolution in your work before – which strands are you revisiting for this event? Which new directions are you undertaking?
For this event, I’m revisiting some poems from Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017), a collection that looks at the influence of the Irish Church and State on the lives of women and children. I’ve also included in the reading an excerpt from a new long poetic sequence titled ‘The Foundling Crib’ which references histories of St James’ Hospital, specifically that of the old Foundling Hospital established in the 1700’s. The sequence was commissioned by Solstice Arts and is available to read, in full, on their website. Institutional histories and family rupture is a recurring motif in my work and throughout this particular reading, I had Joyce in my ear “Poetry even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt…”.
How important is landscape in your considerations around revolution. How has growing up in Donegal so close to the border impacted on this?
I grew up in the bright-black heartlands of the Donegal Gaeltacht during the 1980’s, flanked on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and, on the other, by the border. It was an intensely resonant landscape, imaginatively nourished by folklore and mythologies, and the rich boglight of Errigal. But even that wild landscape seemed to me steeped in patriarchal narrative and the strange machismo of saints, warriors, giants, scholars. In this landscape ‘female’ often meant ‘less than’. The Church and State cast a long shadow and, in many ways, excavating this over-written landscape has been an ongoing process of reclamation for me. I’m currently writing an essay about my experiences of The Border for a new anthology edited by James Conor Patterson titled The New Frontier: Contemporary Writing From & About the Irish Border‘ (New Island Books).
You’ve said before that, “poems come out as a form of revolt against the push and shove and thrust of a deeply patriarchal society”. What does that ‘revolution’ look like for you in 2021?
My debut poetry collection Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017) was published before the #metoo movement, at a time in history when Irish women were still being denied their reproductive rights. Since then, a lot has changed, and not enough has changed. I worry about the ongoing impact of patriarchy on the next generation of women and men. And, at the same time, I’m experiencing a deepened awareness of what it means for me to be a feminist, and to create poems that exist in a world without gender equality. Probably the work that I find the most nourishing creatively is the visiting work I do in prisons with both victims and with perpetrators of violent crime. Today, my revolution means that I continue to bear witness to the experiences of women and children, whilst also honouring the impulse to have and hold difficult conversations across tables, to be present to conflict, to move through it. Whilst the poems do their own mysterious thing, and are—ultimately—free birds without agenda, they arise out of me and out of my concerns. And more than ever, compassion, hope and desire for reconciliation is on my mind.
“Today, my revolution means that I continue to bear witness to the experiences of women and children, whilst also honouring the impulse to have and hold difficult conversations across tables, to be present to conflict, to move through it.”
Given your father was given up for adoption in the early 1950s, how have you felt about the publication of The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation report?
What survivors have to say about the report is more important to me than the content of the report itself. Let’s also not forget that the commission only examined 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes. Any numbers cited are only the tip of the ice-berg. Many survivors and their families have been left with unanswered questions. Sites still need to excavated. Stories still need to be told. And this is not ancient history, adoptees today continue to struggle to access to their birth identity and early childhood information. What can I say about the ripple effects of family rupture? I can only speak personally and say that grief is a living, breathing, shape-shifting animal. I feel fortunate to have had poetry in my life, to have had language as a tool, and I think of the poem as transformative. Yes, the report of the commission feels unsatisfactory and disappointing, but overall I do feel hopeful. We’re coming into a new era in Ireland. Slowly, we’re coming into new light.
Annemarie Ní Churreáin is the author of Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017) and Town (The Salvage Press, 2018). She is a recipient of the Next Generation Artist Award from the Arts Council and a co-recipient of the inaugural Markievicz Award. Ní Churreáin was a 2019-2020 Writer in Residence at National University of Ireland, Maynooth and a 2020 Artist-in-Residence at Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris. In 2021 her second full-length poetry collection is forthcoming with The Gallery Press. Visit studiotwentyfive.com
Abair- The West’s Awake, presented at Richmond Barracks, is a collaboration of poetry and traditional singing on the theme of revolution with Annemarie Ní Churreáin and Nell Ní Chróinín. Wednesday 17th March @ 18.00 available globally on SPF TV an online TV channel at stpatricksfestival.ie, at RTÉ’s dedicated culture website rte.ie/culture and on TVs across Ireland on Oireachtas TV, which can be found on all TV provider platforms.