I thought that city was nothing less / than the whole and rain-domed universe.
— Colette Bryce
5th November, a slow, sick Sunday;
It took Colette Bryce to bring me back home. (A Derry-woman, poet, flee-r like me) Being born & raised in that little pocket in the north-west I, like many, couldn’t wait to escape its walls (ha). At 18, upped and left for Belfast, largely without looking over a shoulder, minus my anxious mother, warm father, pre-teenage shithead brother; family. Otherwise, my Derry footprint was very much washed away. So often I would look back over the Glenshane Pass, towards the big schmoke (after obligatory weekends home), & I would see that as a half-way point, my figurative sky would lighten, I would breathe out, etc., etc. I almost denied my Derry-ness.
As anyone who has the misfortune to follow me on Instagram will be painfully aware of, I am a literature student, I like the books, etc. I dreaded contemporary / Troubles-concerned/heavy literature, particularly poetry, from the North. This attitude persisted through nearly the entirety of my undergraduate degree, as did my ignoring of any literary prowess to blossom from the banks of the Foyle. I shamefully admit this, now. Two years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of reading Heaney over those like Plath, Rossetti, O’Hara, etc. etc.
Blink to me six months shy of completing said undergraduate degree, sitting in a café being inextricably (& to be frank, quite emotionally) moved by Colette Bryce. She works in England as a free-lance writer, very accomplished and decorated poet. Considered one of the finest to emerge from the post-Heaney generation.
I had met her, me a teenager, working in a Derry bookshop (of course). The uneducated, second-rate cretin that I am/ was, I demonstrated some inexplicable ‘block’ regarding involving myself with poetry that emerged from Derry. As though because it wasn’t pushed out of the Heaney Centre’s doors it wasn’t worthy or literarily serious enough? This started to brew & boil little pots inside my head that feared I was barking up the wrong tree, studying Flynn, Morissey, Carson, Donaldson.
Reading ‘The Whole & Rain-domed Universe’, it painfully reacquainted me with my home-town, largely through Bryce’s poems depicting the warmth & … how-do-you-say, eccentricities of a (Derry) home. To be candid with you, I feel a real sense of shame in a way, for not engaging with a quintessential element of my literary heritage. Picture the scene: a dosed Derry-man in a café in Belfast, realising that he was dedicating himself to a ‘poetry canon’ that wasn’t his, that wouldn’t accept him per-se. The café lady referred to me as a ‘lamb’, I later ruminate that this is because I probably have spent the guts of two hours either gaping at a book or yanking my hair out.
I feel incredibly grateful in another sense to be,
a) a bus journey from home, a bus journey from apologising to a city I’ve denied and never written of for a really long time.
b) glad I can stop trying to be a writer-of-Belfast when that’s a school of thought and tradition that I won’t ever be at home in, really.
Reading Ciaron Carson’s evocation of the Fall’s: rich, imbued with so much history and a historic anger. If I ever made an attempt to describe the Falls: flat as cardboard.
In the fifty-ish poems I’ve written from young-thing to now, never have I once included a street name, a real place, from Derry… Derry may have invested itself in my writing in images maybe, but it took Colette Bryce discussing Creggan, helicopters, St. Eugene’s Cathedral, Foyle Street, ‘up the town’ with ‘Derry wans’, reminded me of all the stories I have from there. Maybe the moral of this is that I am just a painfully second-rate critic & am destined to be forever more or—that all it took (for this bundle of revelations) was a higher focus and value be placed on our own individual homeplace traditions, be they literary, scientific, whatever. As a fresh, unbearded 18 year old I read in utter awe and amazement of Sinéad Morrissey, she inspired me to come here in the first place. It’s not a sad note to realise that I could never hope to follow in her Belfast-toed footsteps… I have my own Derry-mucker path to walk.