Liverpool Writes 2021 competition

Each year, Culture Liverpool galvanises the city’s efforts to create, under a prevailing medium. Last year was the Year of Reading; this year it is the Year of Writing and the next will be the Year of Spoken Word/Oration.

Entitled Liverpool Writes 2021 #LiverpoolWrites, the year pays tribute to the Liverpool writers that have come before and encourages many to follow. It is intended to be active and inspirational; inclusive and diverse and takes place on the streets, in schools and libraries; on the page, the stage, on screen, on devices and via digital. It will be a year of high-quality, fun events, workshops, panels, courses, festivals and activities (for all ages).

Working with Liverpool Writes 2021, the Liverpool Irish Festival generated a writing competition in July 2021. We asked contributors to respond to the Festival’s theme of ‘exchange’ and tell us a little about themselves in relation to their writing experience.
The top five entries are published below; the top three having won book vouchers for News From Nowhere (Liverpool’s thriving radical bookshop). We’d like to thank all our entrants. We hope you enjoy reading their work.

Barry Jones: My Irish Home (Formby Shore) – tied first

Over 60s; Formby, Sefton, Merseyside
Barry said of the piece “I write and sing songs. I wrote the poem I am submitting for my mother, who I cared for until her death in 2019 aged 95. She was deaf and blind and had loved travelling until her failing health curtailed it. Born in Dublin (with a Father from Co. Mayo and a Mother from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone), she lived in Liverpool with my father from 1950, until his death in 1994. She then returned to Northern Ireland to care for an elderly aunt who had raised her after her own mother had died, when my mother was just 18 months old. After her aunt died she came back to Formby, where she lived the last 20 years of her life, half-a-mile from where I live with my family. I wrote it using her experience, but intending it to be more generally applicable to any women, who often exchange their lives and homes to create lives and homes elsewhere, while still retaining the identity of their original home. There is a sung version of it here, but I have submitted it here as a poem”.

My Irish Home (Formby Shore)
Her eyes are not what they once were, but the glow of the electric fire
Reminds her of the burning turf, as she turns the radio higher,
For some old Daniel O’Donnell song, she loves him best of all,
And Yeats’ Lost Isle of Inisfree is framed there in the hall.
She listens to RT Eireann and in her mind she takes a tour
From Foxford Mill and Castlebar, Gortnegarn and Donaghmore,
And though she still thinks of them as home, she will travel there no more,
‘Cause her heart remains where she raised her boys, Liverpool and the Formby shore.

One of her fingers still bears the scar from a childhood comogie game.
She still phones her cousins once a week, her accent remains the same.
Her father knew Michael Collins, she says his right-hand man,
Yet she still cries for all the Troubles, which she still can’t understand,
She listens to RT Eireann and in her mind she takes a tour
From Foxford Mill and Castlebar, Gortnegarn and Donaghmore
And though she still thinks of them as home, she will travel there no more
‘Cause her heart remains where she raised her boys, Liverpool and the Formby shore.
The selection panel felt that this poem -and the supporting information- closely met the brief, in terms of thinking about exchange in numerous ways including trading spaces, transfers of affection and the use of evocative memory (radio, sport, literature) to connect with nostalgia. As such, we awarded this top spot, with the next entry.

Jean Maskell: Crossing to Ireland – tied first

Over 21s; Birkenhead, Merseyside
Jean is an Irish citizen in UK, who has undertaken poetry training through adult education workshops. Jean’s been published in various magazines and exhibited poems alongside art, in Liverpool City Region and Ireland. The piece is based on Jean’s many boat trips across the Irish Sea.

Crossing to Ireland
Mid-sea, the rhythm
beating heart of the boat
measures, calms time,
as I lean on the rail,
no land in sight.

Tossed cotton balls of cloud
drift across forget-me-not sky,
casting cerulean shadows
across the vastness
of grey sea.

Flashes of sunlight illuminate
virescent depths;
a mystery of random photons,
reflecting the surface,
yet passing through.

How is it possible
to be in two places
at one time,
live two lives?
Forces pull both ways.

Behind, a chaotic wake
of motion, copper-stained streaks,
drizzle away
in a train of white lace
across the Irish sea.

Here is Peace.
Between the lands – no choices.
Carried in a waiting dream
of calm sea
neither leaving nor arriving.

Storms are long forgotten
in the cycle of years unbroken.
Salt-air gulls
ride the current;
holding; forward, forward.

Underwater lightning, linking
Celtic roots. Cambrian and Wicklow,
Pennine and Mourne rivulets
meld in the breathing sea.
Rise in crested waves.

Then, the shock of land.
Familiar hills form and rise
through mist on the horizon.
My heart quickens, welcomes,
the embrace of home.

Thinking about our readers -and the other contributions to the competition- the panel felt Jean’s poem would mean something to everyone who has ever travelled between Ireland and England. It encompasses something of the timeless sense of nostalgia that the sea creates and sets a tone that helps when reading the other submissions. Consequently, Jean’s piece is joint-first.

Jessica Carson: Exchanges – third prize

Over 21s; Garston, Liverpool

What magic mist rolls in upon the Liffey
Where Yeats and Joyce once strolled
The same waters wash through the Mersey
Unaware of the rich history they hold.

While Celtic bards wove timeless folklore
The goddess Bann raged ever on
As Liver Birds watched wives and sailors
A flow from Ireland had begun.

One voice steeped in Irish roots,
Branches from a family tree
All started with a single step
Across the Irish sea.

The same rivers that inspired Wilde
Flowed through Lennon’s words
The beauty that inspired both
Exchanged like summer birds.

Carol Ord: No Irish Need Apply – tied fourth

Over 50s; St Helens, Merseyside
Carol studied at JMU and though she “would have a try at a poem, as I have never written one before. I like to read Irish history, so thought I would have a go”.

No Irish Need Apply
You didn’t see us did you?
The day’s we starved and died.
When the pain and cold in our stomachs were more than we could hide.

You didn’t see us did you?
When we were struck by fear.
The sight of the ship was horrific, the ship that carried us here.

You didn’t see us did you?
When we were sailing here.
Our stomachs remained empty with sickness, plague and fear.

You didn’t see us did you?
When the bodies were thrown from the ship.
The disease, the hunger, the agony had violently taken a grip.

You didn’t see us did you?
As survivors of the vessel.
You looked on in disgust, at the survivors of that vessel.

You didn’t see us did you?
The hard work we did supply,
for many received a welcome of “”NO IRISH NEED APPLY “”

Now you see us don’t you?
Our value, our talent, our care
for we have supplied Liverpool with a great community to share.

Paul McDermott: Exchanges – tied fourth

Over 70s; Woolton, Liverpool
Paul was a school teacher and is now “HAPPILY retired!”, he is also a published author.

Once again country roads are calling
And my ould shoes are full o’ holes
And I’ve just scratched my secret symbol
On a signpost along the road
I’m leaving Cobh and I’ll head for Dublin
I’ll sing a song for a mug o’tay
I’ll sharpen knives or I’ll edge your scissors
And polish sunshine to pass the day

For I am nought but a crazy tinker
Without a home and without a bed
I sleep in hedgerows along the wayside
A grassy tussock to rest my head
The changing seasons my only reason
For moving on every single day
To sharpen knives and to edge your scissors
Or polish sunshine to earn my pay

Where did my youth go? I don’t remember
I’ve exchanged it for a life of ease
I strive no longer against my neighbour
I wander each day just as I please
And when the hot sun beats down upon me
I’ll take a glass ‘neath a shady tree
And sharpen knives or edge your scissors
Swap songs and stories and memories

Yet season change will soon be upon us
And summer heat becomes winter chill
From Dublin town I will then be southbound
To seek a haven in Shannon’s hills
For I am nought but a lowly tinker
Without a home or a resting place
I’ll sharpen knives and I’ll edge your scissors
I polish sunshine, and know my place.

This competition was run in partnership with #2021LiverpoolWrites and Writing on the Wall, who provided the provided their expertise and the News From Nowhere book vouchers.
F: @CultureLiverpool #LiverpoolWrites @writingonthewall.liverpool
T: @CultureLPool #2021LiverpoolWrites @wowfest

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