Friday, 28 February 2014

Squat Pen

Another great Squat Pen evening at No Alibis on Wednesday. And another full house. Thanks again to all performers, helpers and supporters. The next event is planned for April.

We got underway with with a great poetry showcase featuring Ross Thompson (winner of the FSNI competiton), Colin Dardis (the host of Purely Poetry), Stephen Connolly (of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry) and Barbara Pilcher (BBC radio gardener and poet).

The musical interlude was by Keith Acheson (flute) and Megan Boyd (piano) who played pieces by Faure and Saint-Saens. As well as being excellent instrumentalists, Keith and Megan lead the Sing for Life Choir and Crescent Arts Centre.

The Desert Island Poem was selected by Ruth Carr, a founder member of the Word of Mouth Poetry Collective who has two collections with Summer Palace Press. She chose 'Xiii Dedications' by Adrienne Rich, which is reproduced below.

Our Special Guest Poet was Jean Bleakney who brought the evening to a close with a rousing performance of poetry from across her three collections with Lagan Press.

'Xiii Dedications' by Adrienne Rich
I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Glossy Ibis

I went to Oxford Island today with my birdwatching group. The level of Lough Neagh was very high and the surrounds were all boggy and waterlogged. Not an unusual winter scene hereabouts, but amongst the birds on display was a very rare visitor - a Glossy Ibis. It stood about two feet tall with a long downcurved beak and glossy green and purple plumage.

Normally these birds live in Southern Europe and Africa. Why this bird would exchange the marshlands of the Camargue or Costa Donana for the cold bogland of Co Armagh is indeed a mystery. Most local residents would gladly do that exchange in reverse.

Yet here the Glossy Ibis very much is. And this rare visitor has been attracting birdwatchers from across the island. So much so that the farmer whose land it was feeding on had locked the access gate, so inundated has he been by curious birders. So today we stood on the verge at Oxford Island and gazed across waterlogged meadows to where the Glossy Ibis grazed amongst swans, lapwings and golden plovers. As my feet and fingers grew cold, I felt a strange and beautiful connection with warmer climes.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Scan (2)

Over the past two years I've had a series of CT scans on the NHS. The normal waiting time for a routine scan is four weeks. After three weeks of waiting and still no letter of appointment, I rang the scan office. The scheduler told me that there is a backlog of scans in the Belfast Trust and waiting times have now been extended to nine weeks.

I expressed surprise at this delay and was told that the NHS was going to buy capacity in the private system to try and reduce the backlog. As far as I know, in Belfast there is only one private CT scanner that could be contracted - in the Ulster Clinic. As a private patient there you would get a scan within one week, however the charge to you for this would be £779.

Who said there was no rationing of healthcare? The NHS is under stress. And so am I.