Sunday, 5 February 2017

Don't be a mental health parrot...

I see a lot of posts on Facebook and tweets along the lines of "please post this on your wall to raise awareness of mental health" or "I bet ten of my friends won't copy and paste this to fight the stigma of depression".

I don't see how this helps. It's mere lip service. If we want to break stigmas and raise awareness we need to start telling OUR stories, openly and unabashed. We can't be parrots that cry "mental health, mental health" over and over again. The world needs details, testimonies and personal tales to respond to, to breed empathy and understanding.

Please, don't just copy and paste. Tell us your story, or the story or a friend or family member. I'm ready to listen.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Time To Talk Day

Today is Time To Talk Day, encouraging people to talk about their mental health openly and without judgement.

Most people only think about their mental health when things go wrong. We don't realise that we all have a mental health, and that everyone can be susceptible to stress, anxiety, depression, etc. Some of us perhaps might be better than others with coping, but despite how much we might be open or closed about our own state of mind, EVERYONE needs support.

If you have a friend or family member or work colleague who you might be concerned about, take the time to check in with them. Don't merely ask "are you ok?" Don't take "fine" as an answer - sometimes that "fine" might seem dismissive, but it is hiding real hurt.

I was working with an older peoples group today, and we were talking about how they all first got involved with the group. One lady said that before she joined, she would sit in the house and cry to herself, and she could go all week without talking to anyone. But it just tooj one person to look out for her, to give some encouragement and change her life for the better.

So if you can, give that encouragement. And if you need encouraging, speak up. No one is asking you to be strong, or a martyr for mental health, or to even change. But everyone has a right to express how they feel.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

'Write To Refuge' Oxfam Ireland exhibition touring across Northern Ireland

Last summer, Oxfam Ireland asked me to write a poem for their 'Write to Refuge' exhibition. This included images of refugees and displaced people from places such as Burundi, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

The image I received was of a mother and son at Boporo camp, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, along with some background information about the civil unrest and displacement in the region. This is part of the information:

"In the north east of the country, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has terrorised civilians for years, attacking villages, abducting women and children, and destroying livelihoods. We provide clean water to communities, hospitals and schools in the region, and provide support to people living with HIV and AIDS. Eastern DRC is extremely lush and fertile, but the conflict and obstructions such as checkpoints – where farmers are forced to pay bribes to get to markets – mean it doesn’t produce as much food as it should. We provide a number of farmers’ associations across the region with the seeds, tools and technical advice they need to feed their communities."

The exhibition was originally part of Culture Night Belfast, and is now set to reach a wider audience, with a tour in partnership with Libraries NI. Find out more here. Details of the launch event on February 2nd are here.

Find out more about the Write to Refuge campaign.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

'The Old Fence' - Poem for Poetry Day Ireland

Thursday 28th April sees the event of Poetry Day Ireland. So appropriately enough, here's a new poem...

This was inspired partially by the cover to 'Echo's Bones' by Samuel Beckett (I don't have a copy to hand so I can't check who did the illustration, alas); and partially by a train journey through the North Coast of Ireland and some secluded countryside.

The Old Fence

The old fence looks
to be leaning,
out of the ground.
The grass holding
up each post like
an unlit torch
waiting for fire.

The wire, twisted
across the track,
bent out of line
from the dead-weight
of angled posts
in suspension,
bowed in old age,
caught in a wind.

The animals
lean against it,
trying to hide
from the weather.
No fence, no wall
or hedgerow could
take the teeth out
from this winter.

Thursday, 25 February 2016


Belfast City centre has seen the death of four homeless people in a little over a month now. Official figures of the number of people sleeping rough varies between the Housing Executive and volunteers from local homeless charities.

Tomorrow, a petition by Amethyst Outreach will be handed in to Belfast City Council asking them to open up empty building for the homeless in Belfast. It requires 2000. As the moment, it has just over 1500. Please sign and share the petition: no more death on our streets.


I used to live in seventy-three:  it’s bricked up now though
in the way of anonymity that these terraces succumb to.

When a house becomes a home, it’s cause to celebrate
with the smiling new residents resplendent in their snug,
regardless of responsibility, mortgage, well-being, risk.

But when a home becomes a house, there’s no ceremony,
only the handymen busy with their mortar and chipboard
plugging tell-tale holes of dead doors and powerless sockets,
concreting futures in, the bank felt through each window,
everyone peeking through your letterbox, the locks a reminder
that there really is nowhere left to run.

Nothing left to hold these families, now redundant shells,
just the neglect that weeds enjoy and graffitied thresholds
bearing down on streets populised by the unwanted nomadic
that know of no place to rest from their downfall.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016

I'm one of fifty poets featured in the forthcoming anthology, The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016, from Eyewear Publishing,

The first annual Best New British and Irish Poets competition was open to any poet of British or Irish citizenship and/or U.K. or Irish residency who has not yet published or will not publish a full-length collection prior to 1 June 2016. Poems submitted for consideration could have appeared in print before, or in a pamphlet, but not online.

I'm honoured to be included beside some very fine poets indeed. Praise and thanks to Kelly Davio and Todd Swift at Eyewear for their commitment to poetry! The anthology is available to pre-order now from Eyewear's online store.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2016

Each year, Community Arts Partnership, through their Poetry in Motion Community project, publishes an anthology of poetry by writers from across Northern Ireland. Last year was 'Making Memories', in which my poems 'What's Left is Not Right' and 'Report' appeared. 2015 saw the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, endorsed by the Heaney Family. and won by Stephanie Conn.

This year, the award is back, and CAP announced the shortlist of 21 poems, from 72 being published in this year's anthology, 'Connection'. I'm delighted that my poem 'Missed Flight' has been selected for the longlist.

The poem is for a friend who took her own life a few years ago, and the first tentative draft was born out of one of the CAP writing workshops with Chelley McLear a few years ago, so it means a lot to have it published with CAP, although it has changed considerably since then. This year’s winning poem will be announced at the anthology launch on Sunday 13th March at the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts. Good luck to all.