Meet Cork's island poets who wrote some of their best lines via WhatsApp

East meets west as these Sherkin Island writers aim to use the Japanese haiku to build a community hub
Meet Cork's island poets who wrote some of their best lines via WhatsApp

Ber Burns, Sue Cahalan, Jo Ashby, Jo Ashby and Tina Reed of the Sherkin Island Haiku Group.

From Homer’s Odyssey to Love Island — we all seem to find a tale that unfolds on an island — sunsoaked or otherwise — just irresistible.

And any piece of land surrounded by water has always been a lure for creatives.

“No man is an island” — it’s fitting that it was a poet who coined this phrase.

John Donne may have written the words that have become synonymous with the connection between all of humankind back in the 17th century.

Four hundred years later, they still ring true.

LEGACY

The West Cork writers following in John Donne’s wake may not wield the quill pens of Donne and his contemporary William Shakespeare — but they're all well able to stay connected via text and WhatsApp and even share ideas.

I’m talking about the Sherkin Islanders who kept conversations flowing even when pandemic lockdowns kept them apart in recent years.

Sherkin Island.
Sherkin Island.

A shared love of their community brought these West Cork scribes together.

The Sherkin Island Haiku Group first met in the winter of 2013 when artist Tess Leak held haiku workshops in the community hall on the island.

Their first book, Haiku Island, recorded this experience, followed by Bare Branches, a collection of tanka poems.

CONVERSATION

During the pandemic, these scribes, like everyone else, were confined to their homes — but still the conversations flowed.

“With the arrival of the Covid-19 global pandemic, the haiku poets formed a WhatsApp group so that we could continue sharing our poetry during lockdown, and as a way of keeping the community, both on and off the island, connected,” says Patsy Atkinson of the group.

Ber Burns, Patsy Atkinson, Sue Cahalan, Jo Ashby and Tina Reed, Sherkin Island Haiku Group, outside the former Sherkin Island National School.
Ber Burns, Patsy Atkinson, Sue Cahalan, Jo Ashby and Tina Reed, Sherkin Island Haiku Group, outside the former Sherkin Island National School.

Almost 200 haiku from this period appeared in Together Apart: Haiku from a Locked-down Sherkin Island in 2021, and this week they open another chapter with Light Between Seasons: A Year of Haiku Poetry from Sherkin Island.

CLOSE

They give a sense of a close community bound by creativity and a shared love of Sherkin Island in Roaringwater Bay, West Cork.

Ber Burns, Sue Cahalan, Jo Ashby, Jo Ashby and Tina Reed.
Ber Burns, Sue Cahalan, Jo Ashby, Jo Ashby and Tina Reed.

They’ve opened another chapter as they decided to turn their love for their homeplace into a book they hope will build the foundations for a shared base.

 “It features edited threads of haiku and the lively quips of conversations that flowed between group members via WhatsApp during Covid lockdown over a 12-month period from September 2020 to August 2021,” says Patsy.

Now the group wants to establish a permanent community hub.

“All proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards funding the purchase of Sherkin Island’s former national school building for community use,” says Tess Leak.

COLLECTION

This is the writers’ fourth collection and it features over 200 Haiku poems, as well as illustrations of island flora by members of the group. 

To celebrate the new book, members of the group placed haiku poems around the island and held a Haiku writing event at the community hall on Sherkin Island on August 4.

Featuring three lines and 17 syllables, haiku is a form of Japanese poetry.

“The haiku featured in this book capture the ever-changing wild beauty of nature and life,” adds Patsy.

Pat Rodgers, H20 Sea Kayaking, at Sherkin Island. Pat and his wife, artist Tina Reed, of the Sherkin Island Haiku Group, moved to Sherkin Island, West Cork, from Kerry. Picture: Valerie O'Sullivan
Pat Rodgers, H20 Sea Kayaking, at Sherkin Island. Pat and his wife, artist Tina Reed, of the Sherkin Island Haiku Group, moved to Sherkin Island, West Cork, from Kerry. Picture: Valerie O'Sullivan

Tess Leak adds: “Like all of our poetry collections to date, Light Between Seasons has been an absolute labour of love for all involved, and we are very grateful for the support of Sherkin Island Development Society. 

“We are delighted to give all of the proceeds from the book this year to help fund the purchase of Sherkin Island’s former national school building and garden to create a ‘Neart’ hub for the island community.

STRENGTH

"‘Neart’ is the Irish word for strength.

"The fundraising target is €80,000 to cover the purchase, after which a decision will be made by the community regarding its upgrade, development, and future use as a hub for educational, heritage, or cultural activities."

  • A limited number of the ‘Light Between Seasons’ books are available from €15 incl. P&P from https://sherkinisland.ie/haiku/ or email sherkinhaiku@gmail.com

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