26 Fruits


My guest blogger is Therese Kieran. Therese is a wonderful writer, living in Northern Ireland. She writes brilliantly but never quite believes it when people tell her how good her writing is. It’s a common problem. Having seen and heard Therese’s writing at all levels of Dark Angels courses, I absolutely believe in her as a writer who deserves to be read far and wide. So I was delighted when she accepted my invitation to write this blog about a recent workshop she attended.

Finding the sun, the moon and the stars in Armagh

His name is Lemn Sissay. Not Norman Greenwood. Google Lemn Sissay, poet, and discover more than I can tell you in this brief post. His story is extraordinary. His poetry is his bounty. I was extraordinarily lucky to spend a weekend in his company at the recent John O’Connor Writing Festival in Armagh, 45 minutes drive south of Belfast. http://thejohnoconnorwritingschool.com

There were 5 writing workshops to choose from, and many readings and performances over the weekend. Lemn took the poetry group.

“Poetry is not a minority sport – it’s actually a contact sport.” Meaning? It’s omnipresent – in advertisements, slogans, speeches, songs and almost always, when the truth needs to be said.

People fear it for its truth-telling which is, Lemn muses, why we might not need it every day. Or do we?

It has to matter, he says. The poetry has to matter.  But do you have to bare your soul?

First exercise.  “Think about someone you love but don’t say who. Please, just go with this, follow this template. Begin each line of a four-line verse with, ‘You are…’, and give me concrete images. Make little pictures, like frames in a movie and oh yeah, follow this rhyme scheme, a, b, c, b.”  Some roll their eyes, others go pale. I want to stuff my fist in my mouth. “And give me six verses.” So now he’s on his feet, pacing, looking over people’s shoulders, reading lines aloud, making up lines, “you are… you are… you are…” Shut up Lemn!  It reminds me of a Dark Angels’ exercise but with a twist.

It’s tough but we get it done. People cry; they get to the truth.

Second exercise, another template using Lemn’s poem, ‘Let there be peace’. Same drill, Lemn talks, we scribble; some of us move to another room. Three verses in half an hour and quite unexpectedly, I’m in bits. I get a reprieve, we need to fit in an industry talk and more truth-telling. Kate and Joan Newman of The Summer Palace Press caution us, “suppress the part of you that matters most and you might suppress the miracle.”

Next morning I read my poem, ‘Let there be joy’.  At the risk of taking liberties, here’s my first verse…

Let there be joy

So yellow underwear becomes the norm

And the sun is shining up our bums;

So troubled sons become wand wielding wizards

And daughters find megaphones to shout,

Make way, we’re here, we’re stunners.

And here, a coda to my reflections on the 2017 John O’Connor Writing School Festival:

It was the slap of a truth revealed

It was the caress of a truth shared

It was a circuit for veteran hands

It was a sprint for the apprentice who dared


It was a keyhole peep to the view

It was a door opened and left ajar

It was the healing place for the soul

It was the sun, the moon and stars.

6 Responses

  1. Lucy Beevor says:

    What a beautiful blog, Therese! And gorgeous poems, I hope they will be published soon. John, your intro is perfect! And with regards to believing her/one’s writing is good enough, this weekend I caught up on Jane Gardam on Desert Island Discs and at 38 mins in Kirsty Young asked, ‘What advice would you give young would be or current writers?’ Jane: ‘Oh try and be confident is what I would say. Don’t think it’s all going to be rubbish which I did for ages….’
    Hear hear!

  2. Jo Egan says:

    Great window into the workshops Therese and the hustle and bustle and excitement of the JOC weekend. Id have loved to have attended the LS workshops. I was blown away by a radio interview with Lemn where he said, “I curate the fragments of my fractured beginnings. I saw a light where anger is an expression in search of love, where dysfunction is a keen reaction to untruth”. Stunning insight.
    Waiting patiently for the publication of your first collection, Therese. Beautiful poems above. xxx

  3. Charlotte Vicary says:

    Love this blog especially the truth about daughters. Spot on.

  4. Jim Livingstone says:

    Bravo Therese. Not just the poetry (as sublime as ever) but having the courage to write so honestly and beautifully.

    Jim L

  5. Tess Adams says:

    Hey Therese,
    I hope this is the first of many of your blogs. You have been blessed with a gift – its only fair you should share. Keep writing and sharing honey. I’ve come across your poetry in the past and it really resonates: “troubled sons become wand wielding wizards” I so get that. I had the good fortune to participate with you in a workshop. Look forward to your book launch – I’ll be first in the queue…
    Tess A

  6. Bobbie McCabe says:

    Many years ago, in a poorly lit NYC bar, we were told ‘to run with the big dogs, you godda be fast’. Reading your words, you’ll soon be leading the pack.

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