Anne Hailes: Teresa Godfrey's poetry tells stories that reflect all our lives
REMEMBER at school how you had to learn a poem and then rhyme it off in the classroom? William Wordsworth was a favourite:
I wander'd lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o'er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Sing-songing it off pat doesn't make for a very meaningful poem; pretty and easy to learn.
Compare this with the writing style in Teresa Godfrey's new book of poems, This, Also, Is Mercy. Over 40 poems reflecting love and life – some disturbing, others funny but all compelling.
On the death of her beloved rescue dog after 15 years, For Pepper voices her sadness.
I will carry you with mercy.
When you struggle to be free
I will set you down
by the side of the mountain
and trust you
to know you are well enough
to follow wherever I go.
When you have only pain left
I will loosen myself from you,
place you in a blanket,
carry you for the last time,
and trust you to know
this, also, is mercy.
'Slieveahanaghan', a mountain on the north coast, sports 10 wind turbines, "a merry-go-round of arms". Where I see an unwelcome invasion into the countryside, Teresa sees something very different. It finishes:
But when the winter sun glides low,
and Slieveahanaghan rises heavy
out of a purple-dawn horizon
ten Christs stand crucified,
black arms outstretched on a sacrificial hill.
:: The words flow
Teresa's style is free verse; it tells a story in lyrical words and the rhythm carries you on from line to line. You want to read her stories which reflect all of our lives in one way or another. I asked her how much is inspiration as opposed to perspiration. A mixture!
“I like to walk and clear my mind and often ideas come to me so I make notes on my phone then I come home to my study and sit in silence. I shut the world out and if the mood is right I begin to write, by hand initially. It might take a week sometimes longer.
"I read each one aloud, I craft it before turning to the computer. Only then do I print it, leave it for a while then go back to it, so I'm refining until I'm satisfied. As far as inspiration is concerned, yesterday I was out walking in Big Dog Forest here in Fermanagh with the primroses and bluebells and wild strawberries and it was strongly emotional. This will work its way into a poem.”
Teresa began writing poetry 20 years ago. She'd been working with the charity Extern supporting families and communities affected by social exclusion but all the time writing. Eventually she joined Margo Harkin in her production company Besom, working with the BBC and Channel 4.
She wrote film scripts, became an award-winning short-story writer, established a youth theatre company when she lived on the north coast, working with young people, discussing various subjects and then tasking them to write a script and act out their story.
:: Always writing
Recently she wrote about her mother. “When I started to remember my early childhood a poem grew. It has ended up as a celebration not only of my growing up but a tribute to my mother.”
It will appear in her Chat Book which is in the offing, up to 20 poems accompanied by old photographs.
This is the thing about Teresa: her mind is racing all the time. Her novel Wipe Out, a sci-fi thriller, will be published this autumn and she's working on another book at the moment. But poetry is always in her heart.
At one time when Teresa Godfrey volunteered to work with Women's Aid she was moved by the experiences she encountered. These are expressed in a powerful and important entry in the book, a piece that has been read many times at festivals and events. Entitled Rape as a Weapon of Mass Destruction, it's an examination of this crime in all its forms all round the world and how... they get away with it because we don't look; it 'has nothing to do with us'.
:: This, Also, Is Mercy is published by Summer Palace Press, priced £10, available from No Alibis Books (noalibis.com).
:: Fizzled out?
I WATCHED the last episode of Line of Duty. It meant nothing because it was the first time I'd met AC-12 but even I realised it was pretty inconclusive and it had none of the spark I'd expected. Funny that the recent series Bloodlands, also filmed in Northern Ireland ended in the same way – some better qualified than yours truly say damp squib.
Funny also that both are the brainchild of Jed Mercurio. Seems to be his thing to leave the door open for another box of fireworks. If I was one of the 12 million viewers I'd feel short changed.