A poem for Ireland

Queen's University Belfast where Seamus Heaney both studied and lectured
Queen's University Belfast where Seamus Heaney both studied and lectured

Can you fit the voice of an entire diaspora into a single poem? Ireland is about to find out.

When the poet laureate Seamus Heaney passed on the 30th of August 2013, the island of Ireland took a deep breath and stopped for a moment. “Our laureate”, as the New York-based Irish author Belinda McKeon described him, was gone. Here was the Derry boy, who, from a farm in Castledawson, became arguably the definitive poet of his generation.

Bog bodies, mid term breaks and squat pens – Heaney’s voice had reached and touched us all, from homework-laden school children to crumbly college professors. As Belinda McKeon so movingly writes in her remembrance of the man, “There is, probably, no single word for the marvel of him.” And so how apt is it that in the midst of his passing, Ireland and its diaspora will gather together and write a poem that will reflect the sense, the people and the soul of the entire island.

It’s safe to imagine that when the contributors to the gathering poem (that's you and I, by the way) sit down to write our four lines that “Our laureate” will be gently guiding the pen.

So what is the gathering poem? Well, as the organisers tell us, it is, “‘a poem about Ireland, by the people of Ireland, wherever they are.” Think of it as a literary chorus where the hopes, aspirations and reflections of the worldwide Irish diaspora convene in one perfect poem. 

To contribute, simply visit the website and enter your four lines in the box provided. The editor (Dr Philip Coleman, Professor of Poetry at Dublin's Trinity College) will then, after the closing date for entries (19 October), begin to compile the poem.

And so, in November, the gathering poem book, featuring profiles and pictures of the successful contributors, will be published and sold both in shops and online.

"But", you say, "I've never written a poem before in my life. I wouldn't know where to begin!".

Worry not.

Pen to paper

Never written a poem before? Never mind. “Poetry”, the organisers remind us, “is neither academic nor non-academic, just heartfelt.” And just in case you were struggling to get started, Irish poet Brendan Kennelly has provided the opening line:

“'An Irish heart is inspiring Art”

Maybe that’s your Irish heart he’s speaking of?

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