The migrant experience for the displaced can be alienating but a newly published anthology of poetry, prose and photography by the ‘new Corkonians’ ensures that their voices and impressions of Cork city are expressed.
A Journey Called Home: Poems and Stories of the new Corkonians is a Cork City Libraries initiative in association with Ó Bhéal, as part of the Creative Ireland Programme. It is edited by Paul Casey, who runs Ó Bhéal, a weekly poetry event at the Long Valley. With six languages under his belt and considerable experience as a migrant in several countries, Casey really was the right man for the job.
When he was asked to put the book together, Casey didn’t fully realise how big a task it would turn out to be. The anthology of over 400 pages is made up of immigrants writing in their own language, accompanied by translations into English as well as 30 images from three Cork-based photographers.
Casey says that Cork is largely a safe harbour for migrants.
Most of our immigrant communities are welcomed here. Cork is an artists’ city and a university city which is very much integrated. There’s a shared pride in the city.
Casey hopes that the anthology will contribute to Cork’s bid for the status of City of Sanctuary.
When Casey started working on the book, his first port of call were the various language departments at UCC. He also contacted Direct Provision centres. And from his role at Ó Bhéal over the past 12 years, he has a large database of poets, including non-Irish poets. Also, the library printed a couple of thousand flyers about the project.
Altogether, Casey contacted 750 people, asking to be directed to migrants that might be interested in writing for the book.
“The response was overwhelming,” he says.
The end result is an anthology made up of 62 contributors in 20 languages. “A lot of work came in from the language schools. There was nothing of any great quality from them that could have gone into the book so I had to send back some carefully-worded rejections. But for the most part, the majority of people who sent in work were accepted. The quality was good.
Most of the non-English speaking contributors wrote initially in their own language and then a kind of translation was created. The library and myself had to source individuals who could help the writers with the translations and help individuals who were struggling. Sometimes, numerous drafts were sent back and forth.
The River Lee, the Shandon area, the four-faced liar clock on St Anne’s Church in Shandon and the Lough are some of the recurring subjects in the anthology.
As Casey says, Cork natives writing about such landmarks “could be slightly clichéd. But in the book, we can view them in a different way, through fresh eyes.”
Of the 62 contributors to the book, at least one-third of them call themselves writers and many of them are well known in their countries of origin. Some of the other contributors are writing for the first time.
Among the established writers in the anthology are Rosalin Blue, a German writer who is well known on the local spoken-word scene. She writes in both English and German. There is also poet, Sue Cosgrave, who was born in Russia and spent her formative years in the US, Iraq and Finland.
And there’s Benjamin Burns, born in England, brought up in Sligo and now living in Cork. He was the joint winner of the All-Ireland Poetry Slam in 2016. He has a poem in the anthology called ‘Barrack Street Haiku’ that is a lot longer than the traditional haiku.
It includes the lines:
Obviously the work of a man who’s well assimilated in his adopted city!