poetry and politics competition

Imagine! Belfast Festival 2017 poetry competition

As part of the 2017 Imagine Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics, a poetry competition on political themes was launched. We believe poetry and politics go well together and there is a powerful tradition of poets shedding light on social, cultural and economic events – particularly in times of uncertainty, poems can appeal to the imagination and provide a creative context for revealing and understanding changes in society.

We were delighted to receive over 60 entries from a wide range of poets with many entering work for the first time to such a competition. We are grateful to our panel of judges who reviewed all the poems submitted. Our judges included the published poets Pádraig Ó Tuama, and Chelley McLear. The winning poem from Gerard Madden was awarded a prize of £200 with another 5 poems highly commended by the judging panel. All the poems, which satisfied the competition guidelines, are published below. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to this competition and hope it will encourage further creative efforts.


the winner

Strikemark by Gerard Madden

There’s a strike mark on the lower course of brick, low down and circular on our wall
You can put your finger in it if you want to, cut like an unholy halo in clay
It’s .303 if you want to know, a tiny thing but deadly, a copper jacket and a leaden core that arced in its trajectory,
It came from over there somewhere, through camo flesh and camo, its velocity spent now
Stevie. Mate. Are you alright? Answer me Stevie.


highly commended

Hegira (Arabic word. Meaning flight to escape danger) by David Smylie

In Budapest, on the banks of the Danube, rusting iron shoes,
testament to that, “Final solution”, watch as a new tide flows.

Amid coils of shiny razor wire, the detritus of personae non gratae flutters,
as these lost souls, dehumanised and humiliated trudge onwards.

Carried on the solar wind, that six pointed star;
morphed into a crescent moon, continues to weep.

While we, cocooned on our Island and no longer famished,
look on, as the brown shirts, sensing a new crusade;



Once Upon a time in Belfast by Liam Parker

There was a time when we knew
the difference between Semtex and fertiliser.
Black smoke, crump or boom.
Judged the distance and target
With civilian concern for getting home.

I knew the flicker of the cassette tape fire
The soft whoosh of the petrol bomb
The coded instruction to clear the building
The smoke and muffled sound of destruction
While gathered at a safe distance.


Magnetic North by David Atkinson

we’re not poles apart,
the border’s a distraction,
north and south attract.


Unravelling by Heather Lowry

In East Belfast, by Conn’s water the ropewalk
Stretched a mile. Here hemp and jute
Were twisted and wrung into a helix
Of fibres until the golden length was made.
Strong as steel, for ships in docks and
Farmers baling hay, or children’s swings.
A coil of rope had purpose, substance, beauty.
Its makers proud and protective of their skill.
Now the ends are frayed and disentangled,
But give us enough length and we’ll hang ourselves.


Picture: A Corner of the Western World by Therese Kieran

We want for nothing and nothing finds us:
there is a pay cheque, food in the fridge, hot water – and we’re in it.
There is faith and hope and namaste and dreams and desires;
and half marathons and pilates and spin and golf and the running group
and charity coffee mornings and green juice; there is keep-fit and obesity
and fresh cut flowers and scented candles and a smart TV in the lounge;
and searching and yearning for more in this overpainted canvas of our lives:
part Pollock, part photorealism;

we want for nothing and nothing finds us.


all entries

You’re Welcome by Joe Cushnan

Welcome to spreadsheet world, boxes to tick to please everybody.
Welcome to bandwagon world, hold tight to temporary principles.
Welcome to manifesto world and the post-election sound of shredding.
Welcome to apoplexy world, freedom to be offended by everything.
Welcome to stubborn world and relax in the dig-your-heels-in spa.
Welcome to social media world, as raw and bloody as an abattoir.
Welcome to smoke and mirrors world, energised by ego-driven power surges.
Welcome to wait-a-wee-minute-catch-yourself-on world and wonder why you voted.
Welcome to hell world, handcarts included in the ticket price.
Welcome to big red button world. You only need to press it once.


Chaos by Maria McManus

Chaos is not some worldly untidiness,
nor just bad weather
in the same way pain
is not an accident.
No help will come from somewhere else
to save us from ourselves.

Put out the search for courage,
for wisdom, for meaning,
for we have named our children


Trees are tired with the work of worry,
hammocks slung among the clouds –
what does it mean to die?

We want to go on living,
so no one has to grieve or suffer
or lay to waste this heart,
these bones.


Wanderer by Martin McKenna

what have you done with my false smile, child? mother, why have you wet my eyes?
this is not you, said father, it is not yours, this land; and as the grimace grew and grew,

but it is ours, father, as he raised his hand; and ghosts of genius and greater men asked at last, well, what then?


Davos by Mike Gallagher

The hypocrisy of talking
equality, inclusiveness,
in the exclusiveness
of their Swiss tax haven
is not lost on the new vultures,
now circling. They see no need
to be sorry for their culture
of access to excess,
of me, me, me.


The Crooked Beak of Heaven by Siobhan Atkins

The illusion of the road to success
offers but a foothold on a ladder going nowhere.
Cast in a mould, making products from children
to whom ancestors tilling and toiling bring shame,
to whom information is all and wisdom is nought.
Breeding system slaves for a corporate world
while its failures fall through its fractures.
How could we have done this,
when the land is our real mother
and the earth our only real bank.


The Language has all changed my love by Kevin McKay

The Language has all changed my love,
The language has all changed.
Instructions from above my dear,
It’s all been rearranged.
Redaction is the way things go
Doublespeak and more
The wealth is trickling up my sweet,
The weak are on the floor.
I think we see the world’s last legs
Now share that crust and drain those dregs.


Parliament by Lena McCann

Peers of the realm, defenders of the faith
Assembled together, our needs to embrace
Regardless of class, culture, or creed
Leading the nation, as our votes had decreed
Ideals aloft, would you honour our call?
Alas post-election, those commitments did fall
Mingled with oratory, came the deceit and the lie
Egos in battle, the electorate, a far cry
No honour you’ve shown, nor will to confess
To your part in this drama, now a political mess


Dark Mirror by Amos Greig

We are a dark mirror of each other, locked in a spiral pattern Our mutual oblivion gathered pace like light speeding towards the horizon, Hope!

Hope springs eternal in the hands of our children. We however are locked in our bitter embrace A struggle which no longer serves a purpose, The waters muddied by internecine strife

Hid our distant origins.


White Smoke by Thomas Elliot

On my daily pilgrimage
to the Stormont Estate
I saw white smoke streaming
from the roof of the whited sepulchre
high on the hill;

But there’s no pope here!
An omen of irony
A precursor to change?

An orange sun sets like an aureole
On the back of Carson’s head
Creating a red sky
Will tomorrow bring a new dawn
I believe in miracles


Absence of sound by Karl Ritchie

I thought Belfast had came out of the ash.
Lifted from the darkness by the triple Goddess that’s now on the wall.
I’ve lost count of the years I’ve wandered lonely like an invisible man.
Or a bellringer to the Angel of Deaf.

For things to change I’ve found it should be a hate crime to say one’s unsound.
They don’t need to build a wall to keep you out.
Reported yet no-one sees me as I’m escorted out.

Waiting for a knock on my door. I confuse H2s for H2o.
Like Ariel I finally swim with the fishes.


Drumcree Unrest by Kathleen Carville

On the knuckles of Omey Island
the torturous ocean strikes again.
Copper waves of angry sea lash
Lambeg Drums upon its people.

The fingers of the Island are eaten and
abused by this July storm.
Above Arctic terns
like journalists swoop and sweep
hungry for news.

The Atlantic storm will recede
leaving scorched and tarnished minds,
while Politicians will take
to their Curraghs and
fish for votes in a stormy ocean of unrest.


Never be too sure by Gregory Creaney

Pastor O’Connell had prayed for the day he would stand at these gates but now he had his head in his hands in despair, facing his worst nightmare. For standing in front of him was the Prophet Mohammed.

“I was ignorant of the truth and said bad things “muttered the Pastor” but I led a good life. Will that be enough for me to enter heaven?”
“Allah is all merciful” said Mohammed “so I believe you will enter paradise. Although I reckon your chances of the forty virgins are pretty slim.”


First Time Voter by John Caulfield

They will all seek your single precious vote.
Though pre-ordained by birth, class and cross
A choice between Unity…or Unity.
Select your party from the Dulux colour chart.

As each party marches to their tribal beat,
take their turn to twirl the sword of Damocles,
how then should I cast my vote?

Unburdened by the rhetoric of the past,
I will seek the box marked – None of the above. [ X ]


The little red book by Lin McGrath

The little red book thrown on the fire,
The flames flickering higher and higher.
Destroying all trace of its owners life,
A historic tale of ‘troubles’ and strife.

A secret note of his ‘other’ world,
One of territories defined and petrol bombs hurled.
A membership badge kept locked away-hidden,
Until a time when he would be forgiven.

When all is done only ashes remain,
That and a community’s shame.
For the sake of those who lived through that era,
Take down the lines and bring harmony nearer.


Twitterings and Trumpery by Carole Farnan

Fake news and
Brexit blues;
clueless youth
living post-Truth and
trolling on Twitter,
emotional litter;
war and famine everywhere
but don’t tell me cos l don’t care.
My world’s reduced to my FB friends
deciding where Truth starts and ends


Unnamed poem by Jake Deegan

The left, right and center.
Look anyway but inwards.
We’re all pretenders.
Alt right, far left, labels.
On products, on minds.
Lives are headlines.
Data wars, drone wars holy wars.
The true war is to kill war.
Speak truth when right is wrong and wrong is right. When everyone has lost their minds, seek the light.
But with your mind.
There you’ll find the light in you and in other selves in kind.


Belbo Baggots by Kazsia Kol

Good blood bad blood
Tiocfaidh ar la blood
East Blood West blood
Geordie’s got the Best blood

Left blood right blood
Shake it all about blood
Straight blood, Jew blood
Pat-a-Cake- sue blood

North blood South blood
Get it out of Boots Blood
Bloody Edwin Poots blood

High blood, low blood
Fi fi fo blood
Jack blood, Iraq blood
Bloody bigots back blood


Yours, Mines & All The Othered by Ethna McFerran

Surrender, at last, courageous heart; let go, I will love you.

An insurgent picking again at your skin, rearranging in-security, bargaining ideas of how you should be when I love you.

Anxious, dexterous fingernails, cleaving each-others’ delicate spaces in turn.

Tracing imperfections, a checkpoint to cling, temporarily too.

Rapidly judging degrees of death, hardened cells, and excess keratin to peel; RIP.

Smoothing you down, sculpting; in ‘othered,’ urgent moments tearing, despite paining you… yet, still.

Now, be here with these newly curated pauses. Now, in long, noticeable breaths; feeling how to inhabit you, this new home, Bodhi. One, Love.


The Price To Pay by Cillian Dolan

The pittance of life is unculled gratifyingly
By society
To feed their savage hunger.

The pittance of status is unculled gratifyingly
By society
To feed our savage hunger.

My new shoes!


Belfast, August 1969 by Robert Larmour

The start of the troubles.
A night of riots, killing,
Burning houses, people fleeing.
Troops deployed.
Shock, quiet despair.

Just enough religion to hate each other,
not enough to love –
A sectarian volcano had erupted.

My father, born 1912, relived;
They don’t know what they’ve started.


Altered Landscape (or Post Election Weather) by Robert Kirk

In the viewing dome of Victoria Centre,
I look to each cardinal point of Belfast:

enigmatic Cave Hill
remains cold and shadowy;

dominant Divis and Black Mountain
experiences glorious sunshine;

indifferent hills of Castlereagh and Knockbracken
visible through mutable curtains of rain;

benevolent Craigantlet and Dundonald Hills
masked by cloud threatening storms.


Terrorists by Azeem Lateef

I’m tired of this government claiming
they are freeing and saving people
in our motherlands
when we don’t even
feel free or safe here

We should not have to protest our innocence
when we have nothing to be guilty for

We should not have to justify our humanity

The history books will write that you will
have to justify yours.


Schrodinger’s Border by Dermot Nicholas

Etched out of place along Schrodinger’s border,
Where will we fit in this new world order?

Which alloys of identity will compose its form?
Will it be the past or the future that becomes the norm?

Whether with frictionless frontiers or customs posts
Regardless we progress with history’s ghosts

We voted, we chose, we knew what we meant,
So now we declare without dissent,

“To Theresa, we gave our choice t’her,
And sure now, the world is our oyster.”


Uisce by Bernadette Gallagher

We pump water
from 200 feet below;
No steps down
No need for bucket
or whitewash.

Is this the same
water that our
protectors wish to

First to an innocent named
Uisce Gaeilge
and then to
descendants of Deng?


Why dare arctic bear? by Macdell Sackey

Why dare arctic bear when it is clear
She has deadly nukes to use in a fight?
Her Iskander in Kaliningrad
Has made generals and admirals
To flinch with fright,
Her ‘Satan 2’ stealth nukes are two thousand times
The delivery sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki
And can destroy a whole country in seconds,
Why dare the arctic bear
Instead of talking to her?


Brexit by Lora De Castro Carvalho

I feel so ill. It’s as if my insides are being ripped from me.
You are so much a part
That as we fall apart
I fall apart.

You say you are hurting too and I see your pain
But you parcel yourself up in silence (mixed with anger and hurt)
Saying “now, we can’t discuss this separation heading for divorce”
I lie here wondering what madness drove us so far

Yes, you did yield too much control and pushed me to places I didn’t want to go.
I just wish we’d talked longer before, before.


A difference of opinion: personal politics and political debates by Michael Walker

I did try to calmly suggest, but with each rough rebuff, my patience decays
And I decide that I can no longer delay
The slaughter of your insidious logic.

So all that anger, when in the past I pleaded with myself to lodge it,
I must now withdraw –
And outpours a speech so raw, searching to rip bear each flaw that you’ve carried
unchecked for so long.

As the red mist diffuses back into the air

I stare and I suddenly become aware
That a human stands before me –

Whose eyes tear at the sight of my tears.


The Father’s Footsteps by Caroline Johnstone

They say they started God knows when,
In mists of time,
or on the dates etched deep in blood.

These patterns sewn,
in coloured sashes, flags and DNA,
then painted on the walls and pavements
where children step, in father’s footsteps.

Curling lips hurl ancient insults at the ‘other’ side.
The venom spits, and flecks bystanders
Who, despairing, shake their heads in weary, wordless wonder.


Of the no wall by Paul Doran

Of the no walls which is today,
No chance,
Guidance on a new today,
Pull them down eat the score,
Or share school before any more,
Sometime no.
Lagan and Malone created some,
Plenty some Catch,
Pieces all the way Yea.


Bourgeois Revolution: A New Wave Against Postmodern Fascism by Angus Allen

I guess I’m safe;
That handsy (corrupt) predator in the big house is
Notlookingforme. Nottalking’boutme.
I’m a straightwhitemale, one word. So why do I feel the fear?
Is this what they call empathy?
[The great non-weapon of liberty?]
I think I like it – no war – no patriarchal-patriotism.
And so I shall passively pass ’round my leaflets –
With their little drawings of warmth – peacefully revolt: – With love.


Arlene by Gerry Crawford

There was a young girl called Arlene
Who caused a political scene
She gave cash for ash
Making ash out of cash
And claimed that her hands were clean.


Equality is Dead by Patricia O’Neill

If lies are an acceptable part of campaigning
Who can we believe?
If leaving people to die on the street is the norm
What have we become?
If kneecapping is a form of justice
Why do we have police?
If refugees are refused
Where is the mercy?
If running down the NHS and our schools is tolerated
How can we complain?


Sow Equality by Anita Gracey

Trump a politician of late
mocked a disabled person’s gait.
A flippancy about a special need
it perpetuates a bullying seed,
his attitude – so low
none of which we should let grow.

Hate crime a weed we need to pull
words a weapon, a tool
everyone has responsibility
to sow a garden of equality.


Raging Tide by Zoe Maynard

Broken voices and plastic dwellings, the
bagpipes no longer played. The fire had
stopped burning. Scottish cries echoed in
the distance, and our hands had let go.
Who do we turn to when the clouds
form into blocks of charcoal? Black pens
ticked the box of uncertainty. Only half
smiles appeared on each face, a rush of
blood infused the English rose, and her
scorched petals fell down on the raging tide.


Spinning, Spinning Spun by Michael Stuart

These Ghosts
This Land
I Hold so Dear

The colours mix to One

A glint in the old mans eye
Cracked joints climb the stairs of time

Our children’s future undone
With these yarns undone

With these sores that never heal.


Politics – What politics? by Caesar Doyle

Assembly is the prayers in our school
Not a Maguinness and Foster rule.

Sure Foster is a child within our care
And Maguinness is a drink, if you dare

Gunmen in shadows, they may lurk
The peace is what ma Da takes to work


The forest by Ciaran McAtamney

The forest turns as the coldness descends,
sick, weary leaves clinging to stems.
A wicked wind determines their plot,
to the bottom where they are forgotten
and wither and rot.

High above, stout and proud,
spiny needles point to the clouds.


Ruling Class by Paul May

Smiling face
unfeeling eyes,
promising riches
universal lies,
yet for those whom
speak– of love and peace
are met with anger
from the ruling class,
To them
life is cheap so why concern
their minds as dull
as greenwood burn.


That you voted for by Pamela McClelland

There is the plaster cast
You fit in
Round the perimiter
Stretched and shrunk
To behave as a clone for the
Masters of war and cognition
That you voted for


Franchise by Glen Wilson

an x against a name is the action,
pressing ink into the space
where the future waits on us.

It is in the partitions, the corners
that little moments explode,
from the debris we drag our choices.

Drawing back the curtain,
It is a different world
and it is one we have chosen,

hands still warm, calluses
left where the pens gripped,
pieces of paper bearing our weight.


Do Not Judge Me by Angela Boyle

Your debates ring in my ears
Leaflets pressed into my shaking hands
Pictures of tiny foetuses soaked in blood
Murderer! Butchery! They cry!
‘Your bodies your own’ and ‘Right to choose’ on the other side
Your angry protests confuse and demand.
My Mum firmly holds my hand
Pushes through the baying crowd
Leads the way


Flag by Kevin McNamara

Make me a flag from your stripes and your bars

Give me colours and cantons and crosses and stars
Throw in some eagles or crescents or suns
And hoist me aloft to the roar of our guns

Now find me a map and draw in my borders
I must be confined to keep me in order
Use hedges and ditches and mountains and rivers
With a line of red ink define me forever.


The Misguided Moth by Donna Sloan

You came from out of the darkness, like a steady, burning light,
When the days were on their turn again, but it was still as black as night.
I suddenly glimpsed your radiance from the place upon which I lay,
And I, the misguided moth, just could not keep away.

So when I learned about a place where I knew you would shine strong,
I simply had to go there, even though it was so wrong.
And, as I stared into your bright source, I did not know what to say,
But I, the misguided moth, just could not fly away.

You never flickered, never wavered, but steadily drew me in,
And I, the misguided moth, revelled in my sin.
But, to expiate my pleasure, there was a high price to pay,
For I, the misguided moth, suddenly passed away.


There once was a young man from Derry by Eileen Walsh

Who found job interviews particularly hairy
But he had a wee rule
When asked about his school
To quote Elizabeth
And not the Virgin Mary


The monster myth by Lucy Beevor

Once upon a time I was told
only monsters rape only monsters abuse –
strangers on a dark stretch of road,
wolves, who prey on you
you who are vulnerable,
drunk, lonely, asking for it.
Only monsters rape only monsters abuse.
Partner, parent, priest, friend.


Winter of Our Discontent by Christopher Donnelly

It has its grip on a man I know,
Numb in Nordic Noir,
Hibernating reality to all,
Sad Prognosis.

It has its grip on a family I know,
Countdown to demise,
Migration of fear and values,
Fresh starts and amiable discord.

It has its grip on a land I know,
Awash in sombre tones,
Calculating daylight saving,
Claustrophobic sky pushing down.


Poltics, the ugly sister by Michael Wilson

Trying to fit a bloody stump
Into a glass slipper


The Liberation of Movement by Mairead Ni Sheachnasaigh

notice how these two are one:
Patrick Rankin’s ride to The Rising.
The partial reclamation of a nation.

The components of forward movement were modest.
One firm, fixed metal frame, carrying his weight.
Two tyres, kneading like dough on roads, Down to Dublin.
Man in saddle, making his way
bent, intent. Pushing on.
Each revolution gaining new ground
and in his efforts, Britain’s chains were cast aside
from Connaught, Leinster, Munster.

But what of Ulster –
Still chained.
Still. Chained.
No movement now to liberate,
nor in the liberation, a moving on.

*Irish volunteer Patrick Rankin bicycled from Newry (Province of Ulster), to Dublin (Province of Leinster), to take part in The Easter Rising 1916.


The Night Winter Fell by Nuala Toman

A giant of a man left the earth
And the sky was torn in two
Tears fell
The cold dark grief of the earth
Turned the sky’s tears to snow
And the world was still and white
That pause in time
Was nature’s own silent mark of respect
Even the bird’s were still
But awake said the giant
For our work is not yet done
And so the gold and green of the daffodils
The flowers of March
Fought through the snow
And so it was that even the very earth
Strived to deliver
A giant’s hopes and dreams


Dream by Nancy Graham

They looked for a spokesperson
to give a new version of their lives,
tired of living by the points of the compass:
the need to be mindful of walls,
above all the wearying suspicion.

From the bandstand in the park
freshly painted and hung about with bunting,
she spoke of a million heart-shaped leaves
shimmering on the streets of the city;
ancient hills binding their homes together;
bright sun-gold panes of glass to light their way.
Forgetting what had gone before,
which side to be on when the gates were locked at dusk,
they gave themselves gratefully to her vision.


You, you… by Ann-Marie Foster

I scratched and scratched, from ’98;
My crosses and ticks marked this mother’s hope and desperation.
But you didn’t listen.
As my Good Friday girls grew
Your huffs and flounces and selfish tantrums
Matched their journeys from toddler to teen.
Not you to twenty, though. Not even nineteen.
And now they’re grown enough to make their own marks;
Ask you, the still stubbornly unfledged:
“What have you done with our futures?”


Proclamation by Ellie McKee

New Proclamation
from the state:

Children are not wanted
Contraception to be banned
Anyone not called Donald
to be labeled ‘person of
no significance.’


Mirror by Paul Jeffcutt

The severed hand
lobbed to the foreshore and gripped.

No refuge here
in nurturing loam
staple tubers rot.

Beyond the island
Kaffir and Whitey
engage in revealment.

Under translation
plain truths unravel.


Unprecedented by Paula Ryder

Democracy Tested:
Ballot Box delivers unparalleled risk to
Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood.
We – The People – distraught Dissenters, disenfranchised Disciples;
We – the disbelieving, the despondent; the disaffected, The Dregs.
American Dream? Nightmare. Opportunities? Denied.
Pioneer Spirit? Inclusion? Compassion? Spurned.
Democracy Terminated.


Politricks by Kev Lovski

Politicians here, diplomats there
Clueless drivel flying everywhere!

Corroding society without a care
Making dangerous proclamations with steely stares
Performing on podiums like Fred Astaire
Leading all on a dance a’la Tony Blair!

The hypocrisy and double-speak cannot be compared
Populist nonsense spoke with cunning and flair

Serving the interests of business over public welfare
And with their destructive policies, we’ll all have to prepare
As their push for war is now laid bare
That can only lead to a path of despair.


Siraj Eyad Abdul-Al by Judith Thurley

Siraj Eyad Abdul-Al,
aged only eight, of Khan Yhounis:
I stood on the steps
of Broadcasting House
and upheld your name for the cameras.

I pressed your name to my breast
as if that might succour you,
as if that might halt the missile,
as if that might unmake of rubble
your home.

Siraj Eyad Abdul-Al,
aged only eight, of Khan Yhounis:
when we placed the thousand beloved names
of your dead neighbours
on the wall of Broadcasting House,
chanting justice,
crying STOP!

we might as well have been
talking to the wall.


Fishing by Robert Adams

I cast my vote again – Peace would be a good catch,
but health, jobs and education would be good.
I think I have got a bite, I get excited, reel it in.
Antagonism, disagreement, blame, political posturing.
That’s all I ever catch.
Fucking river is polluted.
I look across the pond.
No matter, what direction.
They are polluted too.
I think I’ll give up fishing.

We’ll be in touch.