Poetry as Commemoration: London Irish Literary Society Event: Open Post

The poets gather in Fitzrovia chapel for Poetry as Commemoration
The poets gather in Fitzrovia chapel for Poetry as Commemoration

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the London Irish Literary Society's “Poetry as Commemoration” event at the stunning Fitzrovia Chapel.

Poetry as Commemoration invited communities to turn to poetry as a mode of understanding and expressing feelings about memories or ellisions around that time. It is a project organized as part of the Decade of Centenaries, that has been running for

2022-2023 marks the centenary of one of the most challenging periods in Irish history including the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the establishment of the Free State and the ensuing Civil War.

The project was set up to encourage people across the island of Ireland, to build a greater understanding of our shared past through creative engagement with archival materials  relating to the War of Independence and Civil War. “particularly the civil war”. Which of course spoke loudly to me. My father's uncle was a casualty of that “war of the brothers” and this period has been the backdrop for my first two novels, recently re-released in special centenary editions.

It has also inspired the final books in my upcoming novel series. And working for the Poetry as Commemoration event gave me a long poem to finish my current work in progress: my book of Irish poetry.

Poetry as Commemoration

It was a wonderful project that involved children, people who've never written a poem before, and many others. The organizers recognized that poetry is unique in its ability to unpack complex issues in a compressed space. Poetry can communicate the effect of significant events on the lives of ordinary people, promote a shared understanding of those events and their effects. As former Director of Poetry Ireland, Niamh O’Donnell, put it: poetry is an “alternative to confrontation, offering curiosity not certainty, [and] hope not hate’.

Poetry as Commemoration: London

Selfie with Mags Rochford and other poets

The evening at Fitzrovia Chapel was magical. The space, with its Byzantine beauty, provided the perfect background to reflection and remembrance. It was incredibly moving to hear so many poets, some writing poetry for the first time, bringing to life long-stifled memories from the murky tapestry of our shared history.

This communal act of remembrance and shared exploration of identity made a powerful ode to a history that
shaped us but that was silenced by choice by a people ashamed of the hatreds that had sprung up to destroy so much.

The words were not merely recited; they were felt by all of us present. I will personally never forget Mags Rochford's description of the coffin of a relative blown apart by a Civil War bomb: “a six-foot man in a four-foot box.”

And a testament to the enduring power of poetry to touch hearts and minds — and hold truths.

I am immensely delighted and honored to have been a part of this meaningful project. Thank you to UC

D, Poetry Ireland, and everyone involved in bringing this event to life, especially Gavin Clarke, the Secretary at London's Irish Literary Society. And a special word of gratitude to the brilliant Róisín Tierney, whose inspirational workshop set me off on writing the longest poem I have ever written. This epic piece, in actual cantos, will be  the final (and title) poem of my forthcoming book of Irish poems in translation, that I've been releasing poem by poem for patron all this year.

Thanks to Róisín's guidance, what began as an introspective journey is culminating in a piece that brings the entire book together, encapsulates the essence of what I've been trying to say, throughout.


The Poetry as Commemoration project is an initiative of the Irish Poetry Reading Archive at UCD, with Poetry Ireland, and supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, under the Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 programme

If you'd like to read the poem I read, you can join as a poetry patron for a micro-payment here.

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Orna Ross


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