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

2 Jan 2005

Some background to the project

During 1988 - 98, I toured internationally with community theatre co-operative, Word And Action (Dorset) Ltd. My main position in the work quickly fell to organising tours in Britain as well as to undergo the practical hands-on work of helping groups build stories and act them through to completion in a central space. It was exhilerating work that kept you on your toes (and behind the wheel of a car for long periods of time) and gave a richness of experience that, for me still lies unsurpassed in any other job.

One learnt to expect the unexpected, groups hotch-potching together highly original plays by responding collectively, vocally and abstractedly to a random question and answer process. Parts in the play were acted by the audience supported by ourselves. Everything was represented by people - tables, chairs, the moon (!) etc. Because of the speed of the story gathering process these often quirky statements revealed (through symbol) great insights into the groups concerned. But that (sorry) is another story…

It was through Word And Action, I made my first visit to Ireland. I'd previously been across the water to other countries that spoke English as their non-native tongue. Sweden was my first sojourn abroad (Italy came later) The Swedes' English was perfect.
Ireland felt different; 'it is foreign, because it's across the water, but it's not…' I pondered, and I remember having the conversation with my colleague at the time, Michael Fealty.

I had a lot of questions to ask and was ready to make some bold statements about a subject I came to realise I knew little about in terms of the grass roots. I was soon shushed down in the public arena. The song 'whatever you say, say nothing' has always been a reminder of those times. Sensitivity was not my strong point but it was to be an absolute essential.

We got on with the job in hand; working in schools, colleges, hospitals and universities. In the first year of being an apprentice to the work, utmost concentration had to be in learning a process which felt (and was at the time) completely alien to me. Along with learning came periods of stress, frustration and anger, usually projected on to my colleagues who were experienced in handling most battle periods in the growing pains of a newly initiated community arts worker. The processes of Instant theatre was digging its talons into me, asking me to respond quickly and fluidly to situations way beyond my ken. Somehow I pulled through and stayed to enjoy and grow a further ten years. Christ knows how.

The journey through Ireland was about four weeks with a lot of time spent in the north. Mick (or Michael to his mum) had instigated the tour. Now the brains and spirit behind, he continues a similar role that he held in Word And Action; facilitator of a myriad voices. His (now award winning) blog site, dedicated to the Irish situation is dipped into by everyone from the passing surfer through to political representatives wanting a genuine cutting edge update on the peace process. Best check it out yourself (also check out

So Mick became my knowledge base - both for the work and for his home background. He was from Holywood near Belfast where his mother still lives (I wish I knew what tea she bought, because she seems to thrive on it!).

The company's dedication to the freeing up of language led me into poetry. I'd never really studied it except at school. As a child I went through a period of composing what I went on to call tum te tum verse, the kind of stanzas that would trip merrily along like your were bouncing on the back of a camel. My vision of poetry changed when I joined Word And Action. Regular gatherings run by the collective invited the reading out of poems previously written to the evening. There was no critical analysis just gentle probings to clarify and open out points in the lines. My own poetry by this time was run by the intellect and the heart hadn't quite brokered free as yet; I was writing it as 'part of the job' . I could hear my muse laughing her stockings off in the back of beyond. Nevertheless I persisted.

I returned to Ireland, not always with Mick, and each time my experiences of the country were recorded into notebooks. Some were scratchings at verse or short lines that seemed prose, others were far tighter poems and honed over several days.

Nowadays, you can still almost hear the gasp when you tell people you'll be going to Belfast or that you've already worked there. But it's a lively and lovely city. Yet, looking back, I can understand their fear. On an early visit there, I was put off walking into a department store by being confronted by a heavily armed guard. He didn't say anything (he didn't need to) but somehow it gave me the jitters. Later, encounters which should have put the wind up me dropped away like nothing, the cancellation of a scripted play because of a bomb scare at a school being just one example. Perhaps they just didn't like the play.

So when I left the co-operative in 1998, I had notebooks bulging full of poetry covering the day to day, the peace process, the breaking up of reconciliation (consequently the furious anger) and the massive demonstrations demanding real radical change from within and without.

I primary focus will be to tighten my existing poetry as well as create a new block of poetic work based on Ireland. My task is not to change the vision of the country. My quest is to find an understanding, both for myself and for readers and listeners of my poetry. Wish me the luck of the Irish.

Co-operative Business Consultants are part sponsors of the project, website