Kirsten Kearney

The return of the native

Having spent more than a third of her life in Scotland, Belfast poet Kirsten Kearney has been grouped with the New Scottish poets. In her time there, Kearney published, was awarded prizes and made a name for herself in that country.

She has been chosen to represent her home country of Northern Ireland as part of the EU-wide poetry initiative European Poetry in Motion, set up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.

No stranger to public transport, Kearney had her first Belfast publication on the auspicious canvas of a pink Metro bus.

As part of the New Belfast Community Arts Initiative project, the work of selected NI poets was displayed à la Poems on the Underground, on buses across the city network.

Kearney's poem 'The North of the City' has been distributed to congressmen in Washington as part of the NI Bureau’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Coupled with a striking image of Eamon O’Doherty’s 'Swans' sculpture at Antrim Ards hospital, the poster version of the poem emphasizes the Children of Lir motif which underpins the post-Troubles dynamic of the poem.

Set at the Belfast Waterworks in north Belfast, the poem explores ideas of territory and belonging, questioning the rules within Belfast’s painted streets which allow and disallow entrance to the outsider, depending on allegiance.

‘It was only upon returning to Belfast that I realized how strange it could be, after living abroad and away from NI,' says Kearney.

'You can feel imprisoned within your own city. There are areas that you have no experience of, and places you feel you don’t belong.’

This poem is one of homecoming, which attempts to deal with the strangeness of return and the realities of life in the ‘new’ Belfast:

The North of the City
And the sky widens out, leaps out over Antrim
over the cranes and the patchwork fields and the terraced bricks
and I don't understand the world of patches, and roads
and kerbstoned territories and where you are not.

For the first time ever, up in the North of the city
my eyes were opened by the wideness of it all
by the hills that swept into the rows of terraces
and the darkness of the virgin Cave Hill.
I saw installations rising from the belly of the lake
past the swans with their souls in their mouths:
A host three thousand strong.

And in the distance
Lon Dubh Loch Lao
The sound of a blackbird rising.

The poem ends with the image of a blackbird, familiar from the earliest poetic text found in NI, 'Lon Dubh Loch Lao'. 'The North of the City' offers a note of hope against the backdrop of social unrest and the memory of the Troubles’ dead.

The poem will now appear on Metro buses and stations across Washington, DC, supported by a dedicated website with more information about each of the poets taking part in the project.

Kearney headed up Belfast Rhythms at Belfast City Hall in 2006, featuring Ciaran Carson, Sinead Morrissey and Gearoid Mac Lochlainn, alongside performance poets Dan Eggs and Mark Madden, and rising poetic talents Paul Hutchinson, Padraig Twomey and Gail McConnell.

After publishing her first collection The Further Tree in 2001, Kearney won second place in the Callum MacDonald poetry publishing competition and was invited to read at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

With a PhD in national and cultural identity, Kearney is a frequent guest at poetry events across Scotland and was published in New Writing Scotland before swapping her cultural identity to return home.