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Writing poetry that inspires

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Writing poetry that inspires

Award-winning poet Sinéad Morrisey is Professor of Creative Writing at the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts (NCLA). She tells us about her work and why creative writing has such a positive influence on those it touches.

From the age of 10, Sinéad Morrissey knew she wanted to be a poet. Hailing from Northern Ireland, she became enthralled by the rich Irish poetic tradition that flowered in the 1960s. This was spearheaded by the talents of Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson.

Sinéad received her first major poetry award at 18 and has published six lauded collections of work. She also won poetry awards including the TS Eliot Prize for her 2013 Parallax collection.

Her work is extremely diverse and covers a variety subjects. These include everyday domestic experiences and also the pioneer Lillian Bland. She was the first woman to design, build and fly her own aircraft, and was also featured in Sinéad’s 2017 collection, On Balance.

Award-winning poet Sinéad Morrisey is Professor of Creative Writing at the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts (NCLA).

Early career

She completed There was a Fire in Vancouver, her debut poetry collection, in 1994. This was while she was still an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin. It was published the following year, after which she then moved to rural Japan where she met her future husband.

Many of Sinéad’s travel experiences found their way into her second collection, Between Here and There, published in 2002. This was followed by The State of the Prisons in 2005 and Through the Square Window in 2009, after the birth of her two children.

I want to keep learning and getting better and to be continually inspired by great poetry being written by other poets.

Sinéad Morrisey

Evolution and inspiration

“I see myself as a permanent apprentice,” she says. “I want to keep learning and getting better and to be continually inspired by great poetry being written by other poets. It’s a constant conversation.”

Sinéad spoke about where her inspiration comes from. “It might be music, a film, a novel, a short story. Often it’s other poems which act as a spur. Sometimes, though more rarely, it’s something directly out of my own experience.

“At first it might be just a title, with a bigger idea behind it, which I write down. Once I’ve done that, it’s like sticking a pin in a map, and I can come back to it later. I have to work hard for the words. Composition is painstaking and slow and involves multiple drafts.”

She adds: “I also like taking on other voices that aren’t mine. Being different people gives you a lot of freedom when you’re writing.”

Writing as a release

Sinéad believes creative writing can have a direct and positive influence on those it touches be it, readers or practitioners. She also believes that poetry, our oldest language-based art form, can be particularly powerful.

“There’s a hard-wired human need to be creatively constructive. We’ve such little control over the big things in life, using our imagination helps us to make sense out of chaos.”

She recently took part in a rewarding, year-long NCLA-supported poetry project. She worked with inmates at Frankland Prison in County Durham. This culminated in an anthology of prisoners’ verse, Hope on a Postcard, published in March 2019.

“It was transformative for everyone who took part. You could see how the process of writing something and then reading it aloud to the group boosted prisoners’ confidence. During the workshops, we all forgot where we were. We held a launch event at the prison and the participants were thrilled to see their work in the finished anthology.”

This year’s Newcastle Poetry Festival was the best yet. We showcased poets from the UK, the US, Jamaica, Brazil, Slovenia and Korea and enjoyed record audience numbers.

Sinéad Morrisey

Poetic spirit

Sinéad now lives with her family in Northumberland after taking up her NCLA post in 2017. She believes that there are strong links between her home city of Belfast and Newcastle.

“Both are industrial cities that were pivotal to the massive renaissance of poetry in the British Isles the 1960s,” she explains. “That poetic spirit continues today. Many poetry clubs and organisations flourishing in Newcastle.

“Newcastle University’s Special Collections Department is home to the Bloodaxe Books archive. Bloodaxe was founded in Newcastle, but is now based in Northumberland. It is one of the most important independent poetry publishers in the world. It enjoys close connections with NCLA, now in its tenth year.”

One of NCLA’s main activities is organising the annual Newcastle Poetry Festival. One of the biggest poetry-only festivals in the UK. Plus a major cultural event in Newcastle University’s calendar.

As Festival Director, Sinéad is keen to see young poets encouraged. In the run-up to this year’s festival in May, she and University colleagues ran a series of workshops in local schools. They held a prize-giving ceremony of the inaugural Newcastle Poetry Competition as part of this year’s festival.

She says: “This year’s Newcastle Poetry Festival was the best yet. We showcased poets from the UK, the US, Jamaica, Brazil, Slovenia and Korea and enjoyed record audience numbers. Now the planning starts for next year.”