The Power of Poetry

“I can’t think of a time where poems changed the world,” Seamus Heaney once said. “But what they can do is change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world.”

The Nobel Laureate from Bellaghy wrote powerfully on the Troubles, on death and darkness. These aren’t themes that bring a smile to the face, but reflect what Heaney described as a “moral down-to-earthness.”

On National Poetry Day, Northern Slant is delighted to showcase the work of Ian Acheson. Writing for two decades, his moving poetry draws on memories from his childhood:

Much of it stems from my experience as a Protestant growing up close to the Fermanagh border. This proximity to the starkest face of the modern Northern Ireland conflict has shaped me far beyond the claustrophobic grasp of a time and a place where terrible things could happen and often did.

Ian dedicates his poetry to the “’quiet people’ of Fermanagh’s killing fields. The people who saw far too much but found a way of enduring through our dirty, intimate, lethal little spasm of inter-Christian slaughter.”

 

The land cries

When God painted Ireland,
He used watercolours,
Smudging the dun, sodden landscape
With occasional sunshine.
This wringing wet romance
Seeps down through quiet churchyards
Feeding lonely streams where soldiers drank
And scanned  heather ridges riddled
With the possibility of concealment
And sudden death
I looked down at Lough Erne
Through the shining, murderous hillocks
Is that where all this water goes?
Washing the clay clean to Enniskillen.
It’s a pity spilled blood
Can’t be got rid of as quickly.

 

Following the Flag

Shut blinds conceal
A coalition of wailing.
The dead energy used
To put a broken face on straight.
The journey from
Bungalow to Kirk
Is a hideous reversal
Of their wedding day.
This time:
She walks down that aisle alone,
Through a stifled congregation
Of everyone that knew them,
Struck again and again
By the voracious sympathy
On each neighbour’s face –
Making it real like every nail
In the decorated coffin
Which left no space for her,
At the very altar
Where she once said
In reverent wonder:
‘I do.’

 

The Dogged People

My crowd were taught to be
Whatever you aren’t.
Easier than unfolding your heart –
Your curtailed self,
When you’re hemmed in
Up against that invisible line,
As real as God.
We were learned well, though:
Being thoroughly outmanoeuvred –
Run almost ragged as the flags
Planted in our hedgerows and halls.
You couldn’t have us now if you wanted us.
Our unappeasing face
Is your creation,
Yours alone.

 

Please leave any comments or feedback below. You can read more from Ian’s collection on his website, ‘51% British: writing the Troubles out of my head’.

About Jamie Pow

Jamie is Deputy Editor of Northern Slant and a PhD student at the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen's University Belfast. His interests include elections, peace building, and making democracy work better. All views expressed are his own, not those of the University.


Also published on Medium.