Guest Blog: Aisling Fahey, Young Poet Laureate for London
Last week was the first half of my London Irish Residency. The London Irish Centre, based in Camden, provides support to Irish emigrants, from those just coming over, to older people who moved to London years ago. As well as providing practical support, there is a great arts programme there, including live music, plays and functions.
The aim of this residency was to spend time with the different groups, chatting, getting to know them and their stories, sharing poetry with them, and getting them to reminisce about the literature, poetry and songs from their childhood. I spent time with their groups based in Camden and Shepherd’s Bush, and went to a wonderful Irish Women’s Group based in West Hampstead too.
Aisling with some Day Centre attendees
What struck me throughout the week was the openness of the people I came into contact with. On my second day with the group based in Camden, after my first ever game of Bingo (in which I won an apple and rhubarb drink – beginner’s luck) once most people had left, one woman started chatting to me. When I told her I was a poet and doing some work at the centre, she began opening up. She laid her whole life down on the table, speaking openly about the violence and terrorisation that she had witnessed and experienced in Northern Ireland at the hands of the IRA. How the danger and segregation based on religion drove her out of the country fearing for her and her children’s safety.
Having spoken to her for a long while, she finished packing up, buttoned her coat and left. The experience of having her entrusted so much of her personal history to me, a complete stranger, reminded me how honest people are when given the space to be. It brought home how little we share of ourselves in our day to day lives, and how giving people the time and space for conversation reveals all kinds of things.
The group I went to in West Hampstead on the Thursday was really wonderful. Being a slightly smaller group, we were able to sit all together and engage in a discussion that lasted well over an hour. To begin, each person spoke a little of where they came from in Ireland, when they had moved to London, and why, which was interesting in itself, but some of the moments I found more beautiful came up when the women spoke amongst themselves, answered each other, speaking to one another’s experiences. The conversation addressed issues of class, race, prejudice, unemployment, women’s rights, education, the influence of religion, and the changing landscape of Ireland. And it all came so naturally, based on their lived experiences.
Aisling with the Irish Women's Writing Group
There was also plenty of laughter and chat. I listened to the songs of Percy French, who a few of the group recommended to me, and I shared with them the poetry of Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney and W.B Yeats. Moving into the next week of the residency, there are lots of stories I’m carrying with me, and I do believe that the best way to time travel is to listen to people’s histories.
Next week, I will be running workshops for first, second and third generation Irish people at the London Irish Centre from 6.30-8.30pm. They will take place on Monday 1st June, Wednesday 3rd June and Friday 5th June. Whilst still having a big focus on conversations and sharing stories, these workshops will be more geared towards writing, allowing people, however new to writing they may be, use poetry to reminisce, reflect and create work that responds to issues close to them, their identity and experiences. I’m looking forward to it, and know it will be just as fruitful as the first week. If you would like to sign up for the workshops, you can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org