Being cured of cancer last year gave me a powerful sense of priorities. It seems that keeping up with this blog wasn’t one of them . . . Instead, in between a short course of radiotherapy and an unexpected return to hospital to treat a broken ankle (!), I’ve thrown myself into book production mode. Currently I’m finishing the final volume of The Gaia Chronicles for Jo Fletcher Books and editing an anthology of Palestinian poetry in translation for Smokestack Books, both of which will appear at the end of the year. In the spring I spent six weeks editing two collections for Waterloo Press, Disappearance without absence/Desapariencia no engaña by the Argentine poet Néstor Ponce, translated by Max Ubelaker Andrade, and Gratitude on the Coast of Death, David Swann’s long-awaited second collection, which were published along with No Enemy but Time, my new pamphlet which I launched at the Belfast Book Festival in June. Launches for the two collections are being planned for the autumn, so I’ll save that fanfare, and for now just officially introduce my own new title.
No Enemy but Time is my tribute to my close friend, the Northern Irish poet, journalist and cultural activist Mairtín Crawford (1967-2004), and his quietly remarkable mother Flo (1939-2011). The pamphlet contains a sequence of poems in memory of Mairtín, most written in the wake of his sudden death; and what I have called ‘Some Loose Aislingi’ or ‘vision poems’ – a traditional genre in which a woman symbolises a dream of Ireland. The title of the pamphlet is a phrase from the W.B. Yeats poem ‘In Memory of Eva Gore Booth and Con Markiewicz’, and my aislingi include a lyrical response from the famous sisters, rebuking his denigration of their political work; as well as an homage to the linnet, a reflection on the Belfast peace process, and an oral history of the Falls Rd and the Troubles, as told to me by Flo.
The pamphlet was clearly many years in the brewing, and time did seem set against it for a while – I’d initially hoped to publish the poems for the tenth anniversary of Mairtín’s death, but the then-Irish publisher got sold, the poems languished, the momentum was lost, and then I got sick. Although I wrote a sequence of cancer poems during my treatment, as I recovered I felt an urgent need to bring these old poems into the light. My faithful collaborator John Luke Chapman – with whom I’d once co-authored a literary manifesto Mairtín published in his legendary magazine The Big Spoon – created a stunning cover photograph, and some more poems flowed. Then lo, just as I was preparing to ask Northern Irish poet Moyra Donaldson for a back cover quote, she emailed to tell me that the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast had just established the Mairtín Crawford Award, a prize designed to do what he did in his teaching, editing and festival directorships – encourage new poets. Although I was on crutches from my broken ankle, with the help of EasyJet special assistance, and time my friend again at last, I was honoured to launch No Enemy but Time at the prize-giving ceremony, where Mairtín’s friends read his own tender, playful and exuberant work, and the worthy winner, Rosamund Taylor, debuted her exquisite poems.
I hadn’t been to Belfast since 2010, and it was my first time back since Flo’s death. It was an emotional visit, that stirred some painful memories, but also deepened my connection to the city that Mairtín had first guided me through in 1994, the summer that my mother died. The poems about our relationship excavate layers of personal and political history, cross the ocean to Canada and New York, and ultimately look to the stars – Mairtín was an idealist and a futurist, an agitator and rebel who pushed every boundary out into the cosmos. It was heartening to hear from his friends that my poems brought them some closure and comfort, and I hope they also convey something of his magic to those who didn’t know him.
You were known for being obsessed
scored an arts grant to visit NASA,
sat in the cockpits of rockets;
wrote poems about Jupiter
and UFOs, Moonmen and Mir;
worried about asteroids
falling on our heads.
I read your cover story
― ‘Belfast Astronomers on Red Alert’ ―
foolishly believed myself
a little safer on the Earth.
No Enemy but Time is available from Waterloo Press.