dedicated blogsite to Dave Wood's participatory poetry project in Northern Ireland. Started late August and finishing September 2004, it does a compare and contrast with previous visits 1988 - 1998. Also see

15 Dec 2004

Arriving at and the beginning of bank holiday in Derry

First impressions.

This section of reporting (it seems the project uses this format more and more) has worried at my bones even more so than writing about Belfast. I have to keep reminding myself that I am here as observer, not as agitator, reminiscence workshop-er or mercurial message bringer. It’s difficult to deny any of these triplets inside oneself. If any of these sides do slip out, then so be it.

There are two sides of Derry – each rests and faces each other across the River Foyle. One brother makes the money whilst the other sprawls its houses onwards and eastwards. The exit to the train station faces away from the water and lets the image of the city on St Columb’s Park-side, slowly seep in before you cross the bridge to hit the retails.

‘Cross the bridge I entered and it’s by the same I’ll go to my next destination. By then I will have a fuller impression of the city and not just by the pricking of its skin.

I’ve got lazy taking notes. Not necessarily deliberately. Part of me was worn out from the journey. Part of me craved constant company and part of me struggled to take in the history of the place. I get the feeling the past still holds the upper hand no matter how many shopping malls spring up. Derry is completely walled in history, has been so since the seventeenth century, and you can’t close your eyes to its symbolism. Symbols though have many facets. Sorry – there goes the messenger.

My hosts have given me perfect shelter. In fact I have the complete run of a flat above a barbers shop in the centre just up from the Diamond , a square with eateries, public houseries and closing down clothes shop-eries. . Everything is in direct reach of need - mostly the creation of a need to spend. Like Belfast, I seem to be coming back to this same area, never being able to fight my way out from this collection of these debit takers. This side of Derry is dilute drink without the water. It’s an intense experience but with a human face. Although the chain stores have moved in, they don’t seem to have dealt with the sharper details of the building (clearing the growing weeds on the walls etc.)

On my journey here, I missed the morning parade. Newsletter next day had the words Under Siege in large font with subheading RBP members had to barricade themselves inside hall. Apparently they had to protect themselves by a ring of police vans around North Belfast Orange Hall.

As I said, I didn’t see the main Derry, sorry, Londonderry parade. It was later though, that the Black Perceptors had a mini march just up the way from me. Unfortunately, there was a police van blocking the view and I caught a ‘H’rayyy’ and a flash of banner from the window, passing under the bridge where on the inside, someone had graffiti-d who when where what why? Close by, on the same brickwork, possibly by the same artist there was a silhouette, similar to the floor based ones painted to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima.

I’m not sure of the significance of the writings but it felt poignant to questioning the these symbolic rituals. Nobody seemed to mind about the march. It was like a for he’s a jolly good fellow sung at a leaving party, then the buffet arrives to quieten the proceedings and spoil the diet.

It was a night that kept me going until morning. First was a placing of where I am walk. My hosts are brilliant and have been able to offer at least two sides to the messy politics of Northern Ireland and an excellent night out. Please bear in mind my goldfish memory, my hearing being battered by four weeks factory work and my absolute tiredness. Please also be mindful, I am not a history teacher and, surprisingly with this project, have no penchant for being one. I do wish sometimes I could absorb facts and figures easier.

George Ewart Evans, folk historian, once described history as being taught (unfortunately) on a vertical level, using lists of dates and monarchs to explain or unfold what’s gone on before. He talked of the use and importance of horizontal, using local and social history.

It was energizing to find in my hosts, a couple of fresh voices in the wilderness – one being socialist and involved in grass roots whilst the other with left wing libertarian views and an obvious thirst for history, language and anarchist memorabilia!

Some years ago, I’d bought a book called the Fountain based on an estate of the same name and built close to the city walls. The closely bound area needed individual (Unionist) TLC. It got its listening ear and the results were printed up in the book. It could be any estate in England, Scotland or Wales. But like the rest of Derry, it’s a condensed soup of a place. It was essentially a reminiscence project. The captured memories were, not printed as prose but as chopped shorter lines that masqueraded neatly as poetry. The photographs supported the written pieces and all credit to the contributors and the Verbal Arts Centre for its production.

(The poets are blamed
but it isn’t their fault
you get only the contents
out of a pot – Irish Epigram)

what’s poetry then?

poetry is the word that
flowers out
to a thousand others

and the thousand others
seek further on

until boom
we implode
with the fascination
of some hidden
(un-obvious) truth

then someone finds
another word

makes it shudder
like a cold jelly
being taken
out the fridge

this other one
sees its brother
across the way
(causing mischief)
and decides to join
in the fun

o you stinker word
are there any more of you
out there?

o yes – the two words chorus
like some quirky hummingbird

find other brothers
link serifs
join loops
fix typo’s

then someone says
is this a poem?


So I’ve been in the town and around the town. The central shopping area looked over by the cathedral played host to a (hopefully regular) organic market.

(the signs said)

for any place
this has radical

the poet said

During the troubles, this precinct apparently was always the first to suffer. My host jokes that Littlewoods always had to endure the uprisings to a greater extent. I wondered if it’s the customers trying to eliminate their debts. This middle slice of Derry is similar to my home city Nottingham. Quietly pedestrianised with a confusing series of traffic lights enough to put the kybosh up any invading army (allow me a joke please)…

Hey – we can’t go that way, it’s on red

Course we can, it’s not quite changed yet – look it’s getting ready for amber

But I wouldn’t risk it

Well I bloody well will – We’re on an invasion – remember? chaaaarge! [crunch]

What did I say? Now – I vote we should wait

It’s not been supersized with McD’s yet. It still has the familiar fast food lights of Abrakebabra. It also has lots of rough edges in tucked away streets but nobody seems to mind. There is the suffering from the detritus of youthful weekends and the squeals of excitement when the second of the Wetherspoons appears in view. Like Belfast, the multiscreen cinema’s haven’t found their way through the one way system yet.

(a city slackens off)
over the bridge – unclean
factory walls
gone for cash
like a glass madonna

a vision painted
on its face
to sell it off

now walking on the up
the tattoo parlour tattooing
the milk froth coffee maker
coffee making
the clothes seller
selling clothes
from off the peg

who does what
is doing it today
quietly and
as per usual

Second impressions of Derry

Errata to first impressions (second para)

St Columba’s should read St Columb’s park

Firstly, apologies for the rewind. I’ve just discovered the list of poems from the Poetry Tour of Ireland talk at the Linenhall (link), Belfast, another place that’s seen part of the rejuvenation bids.

The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush – ">Derek Mahon
Cushendun – Louis MacNiece
Carrickfergus (link)- Louis MacNiece
The Importance of Elsewhere – Philip Larkin
Iniskeen Road:July Evening - Patrick Kavanagh
Shancoduff - Patrick Kavanagh
In memory of my mother - Patrick Kavanagh
Father and Son – F R Higgins
Nelson Street – Sean O’Suilleavain
Dublinesque - Philip Larkin
Ringsend – Oliver St John Gogarty
The Strand – Seamus Heaney
The Bells of Shandon – Francis Mahoney
Letting Go – Michael Coady
Throwing the beads – Sean Dunne
The Wild Swans at Coole – W B Yeats
The Ox – Paul Muldoon
Postscript – Seamus Heaney
Detour – Michael Longley
Overheard in County Sligo
Duffy’s Circus – Paul Muldoon
The Right Arm - Paul Muldoon
Last Journey – John Montague
Roslea Hero – Frank Ormsby
Winter Sports - Frank Ormsby

Intermission over.

It was Saturday night. Pub (link) visits seem to start at about 9pm or later and sneak on into the early hours of Sunday morning. It was walking down the right hand slope from Butcher Gate (link) (all the gaps in this walled city have names as well as waist height history panels) (link) I broached the subject of left side of left politics. It wasn’t an at length chat – the diddly-idle music, once we got inside killed it off before we really got going onto the nature of anarchism, (link)co-operation, mutual aid and self help. The main problem was that it was piped through speakers at too high a volume. It was a slow disco dirge for the hard of hearing.

We gave up shouting over the grating fiddles and the traditional strains tucked in the corner, which, to be honest was merging into on continuous low of misery. We moved two doors up, to preserve our legal right not to be deafened and also to chat. By this time, politics was left at the door and we talked of the personal act of poetry. Nobody in the previous pub was actually paying attention to the players. This must say something.

By 2pm we’d finally been turfed out, six of us piling into a car and me hitting the sack with no concern for my beauty sleep.


The next morning, the Guinness (link)had done my constitution good, shall we say.

I’d heard about the strange Sunday opening hours. No shops open til 1pm and then they stay open til 6pm. For the restless English, it’s a bit of a stinker. If, though, I wanted a big Mac with everything, I could have gone into the local shopping centre and sat gumming away. How come they got let off the Sunday trading? I was almost about to get the escalator down when I was called back by security. Uncle Ronald, I hate you and anyway, I’d rather have something to eat.

So the rest of the morning was spent catching up on the diary and posting it on the blog (link). When 1pm arrived, off I trotted. I found the only (?) and cheapest internet café in town (£1.50 for 15 minutes), quickly handed over my disk and off it went into a great big bloop of virtual connectivity towards Sluggerotoole, (link) davewoodinireland (link)and incwriters (link).

When you stay for anytime in a centre, you forget that there’s a great winding world out there of road and paths and small shops that sell you real food. So that’s what happened when I went for a meal with my virtual tourist guides and now drinking partners. It meant I’d got a lift and got some shopping on the way that didn’t have the Marks And Spencer (link) brand name on it. So, in summary…about Derry, there are few small shops selling food in the centre. I counted two. It’s a great shame really; Derry has potential for a real co-existence of retail establishments and outlets.

Don’t ask me to give directions, but we wound our way across Bog Side (link)and got there quickly. The streets were clean, there were no burning cars, no threatenng looks or Tricolours hanging. Just a healthy looking road near a just about to get on its feet city.

Of course, I had to go to the pub again; the Guinness was calling me as soft as its big frothy head. There is something about the drink here. You can feel it slip through your teeth like strands of seaweed. (link)I found out the next day, that I’d gone in the only left wing pub going in the area. It didn’t particularly feel it in any way, there being no pictures of Mr Adams or Mr McGuinness. Is Irish politics going as brown as their stout? The place was awash with students, me and a drunk with eyes fixed to his knees. As I (think I) said though, Derry still has its edges and I thank heaven for small mercies. The band finished their set at 1am with This land is your Land, a much changed and altered set of lyrics to fit in with the area it was being performed in. I’m waiting for it to be performed in my home town of Heanor, (link) Derbyshire, a place labelled whiter than white working class in the Guardian (link) some years ago partly because of its connection to Ian Stewart of right wing band, Screwdriver. So here’s the suggestion:

This land is your land
This land is mine
From Shipley Common (link)
To the Red Lion…

Altogether now.

Anyway I could at least get on and write this stuff up.

Bank Holiday Monday

I’d been promised a trip out in the car to Donegal (link). Not as far as my favourite spot of the ‘south’, Teelin Point (link), obviously. You’d need a good full day to do that one – it’s way past Donegal itself and then on to Kilcar (link) where there’d be hostel waiting and the host with his birthday at the end of the month. I was going to stay there during the trip but remembered how bad the roads (read slow) were and then I was booked into running a creative writing workshop. Some day, one day.

Meanwhile, Teelin Point produced the poem that created the title for this project, The Screaming Rock. From what I remember, it said it had the highest cliffs in western Europe. Correct me if I’m wrong. If they aren’t, they make up for it in their dramatic spray, heathered climbs and stunning view.

So, we headed out around Lough Foyle (link) and targeted towards Malin Head (link). It was a beautiful day. The sun was out but the breeze was sharp enough to justify a certain amount of cosy wrap up clothes and a pop into the pub. On the (back) way we took a stroll up Greenan (link) Mountain for a photo shoot and history lesson. Hardly a mountain, but then we did drive up its main body and walk the rest from the car park. There was work being done on the main brickwork of this ancient parliament but we wandered in just the same, no hard hats supplied. There were kids there playing swords and shouting across the circular banked up space. It was a place of kings (link) but with the roof gone and erosion getting the better of it. Apparently there was a downstairs, evidence of which could be seen from where we stood – short gaps into the stone at ground height. Not bad for four hundred years but I think the last tenants will lose their deposit. Our eyes stretched out over Lough Swilly, (link) Derry, (link) Inch Island (link) (tethered onto the mainland) and the Foyle (link). I could see there was no getting away from the vision of this last one for a long time.

place of kings
the breeze takes
the breath away
adds to it and
swilly’s it about

One day, some years ago and travelling round the west in a Volvo, we heard a clunk from the back. The roads had finally stolen our exhaust. It wasn’t a Volvo today but I was assured the roads have improved drastically here. The price of petrol over the border is now so low that residents from the north travel to fill up to gain, say 50% extra in their tank. Meanwhile, the cost of living speeds steadily upwards and balances this bargain out somewhat. I won’t even start talking about Dublin (link).

Euros have been sneaking into Northern Ireland for quite a while now with a number of outlets that are happy to accept the coinage. Seems to be more wide spread than the old days of when punts were about. Stirling, I was assured in Moville (link) would also be taken but with Euros given back. Whether we got a fair exchange is another point. I paid my English tenner and got the same change in Euros as I would have in stirling. I’m crap with numbers so I won’t hazard a guess at the rate I was given.

brief pub grub in darkened bar
(the photo’s on the wall show
parties gone) – but it is quiet now
we have come near – I have come far

We sat by the coast we’d travelled along looking out to sea from the bench.

like three oldies
we talk of death
and marriages and funerals

i want woodlands
she wants to go to Valhalla

(more as soon as it's written)