OFF THE MAP poem on the Mary Evans Poems and Pictures blog

Well into his eighties and not so steady on his feet, my father would drive from his home in Belfast past drumlins and sheep fields to his beloved Mourne mountains in County Down. Safely back, he would call and regale me with tales of the people he’d had wee chats with and the places he’d revisited, how much he loved the air there, the spirits of the mountains. As a young man he’d climbed there at this time of year, overnight in a canvas tent with his friends, waking to the glint of first sunlight on snow all around them.

On one of my visits from London, I persuaded him to talk about what he remembered. He was in his twenties, a teacher at Down High, when he discovered rock-climbing. Thanks to weekends clambering all over the place with the minimal equipment of the time, he’s recorded as having led six Mourne first ascents. He and his friends went on to climb in other countries but it was always the Mournes my darling father loved best.

My poem Off the Map passes on what he told me about one of those first ascents: the ‘F-M’ climb on Slieve Lamagan. It’s the title poem of my fifth collection, to be published in 2023 by Lapwing Publications in Belfast and I’m thrilled to see it here on the wonderful Poems and Pictures blog, curated by Gill Stoker, on the Mary Evans Picture Library’s website.

These photos have aged, I’m afraid. The baby in the second one – yes, it’s me.

Merry Christmas, everyone

The first news, and I’m bursting to tell you, is that Lapwing Publications have accepted my fifth poetry book Off the Map for publication some time next year. I’m thrilled that Lapwing will be its publisher. Dennis Greig is so fast, it’s already typeset with the cover chosen!

On 16 February 2023, I will be reading at Irena Hill’s In-words event in East Greenwich featuring Irish writers whose work has appeared on the Mary Evans Picture Library Poems and Pictures blog, namely Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Eithne Hand, Geraldine Mitchell, Geraldine O’Kane, Linda McKenna, Maureen Boyle, Maurice Devitt and Noel Duffy. What company to be part of! More about this soon.

Three of my poems will be in A New Ulster coming out soon and the title poem from Off the Map has been accepted by the Mary Evans blog.

Recently Churchill Writers got together again in person, more of us than ever, and it’s been a very happy experience. With the college’s support some writers were there online as well – very many thanks to the staff for all their help. Upcoming dates are here. If you have a connection with Churchill College, Cambridge and would like to join us, let me know. A weekend retreat at the college has been suggested too and we’re looking at a date in June. We’ll have workshops, crit groups, discussions and that energy of writing together in the same space with, I hope, online links too.

Many thanks to everybody who invited me to read at their events this year and to everybody who was there: the Faversham Festival in February for my poetry event with Fiona Sinclair; to the wonderful people of SaveAs in Canterbury; Clair Meyrick’s exciting new event in Oare with Charlotte Ansell; and Richard Cooper for involving me in his Faversham Fringe event about home with Maggie Harris and Barry Fentiman Hall. Thanks to Richard too for bringing so many of us together in Faversham Guildhall to read the uncompromising, beautiful words of his late wife, Rosemary McLeish. This north Kent poetry community has tremendous energy and warmth and I’m so grateful to be part of it.

It’s time to close the laptop now for a while. However you celebrate this festive holiday, I wish you and yours a warm, healthy and very happy time.