I was in Belfast when the post arrived last Friday. My daughter sent a WhatsApp message telling me there was an envelope from the Arts Council, asking should she open it on my behalf?
But just then, Belfast Titanic was taking most of my attention. We’d been meaning to visit the museum for ages, having something of a family fascination for RMS Titanic stories. Family legend even has one of my distant relatives as a survivor (though as a lowly servant working in the kitchens, that story is a bit far-fetched, and I’ve never investigated). We’ve been to Cobh and Southampton museums, this was Belfast.
Any road up (as they say where I come from), I was admiring the extraordinary feat of engineering that Harland and Wolff undertook in building the three sister ships, Olympia, Titanic and Britannic, not paying much heed to random telephone messages from home. The sheer size and opulence of the ships, the number of people who worked on the site, the whole remarkable world of early Twentieth Century luxury cruise liners, was mind-boggling. Building the Titanic, a Belfast workman could expect at least a 50-hour week with only Sundays off, one week’s holiday in the summer, and two days each at Easter and Christmas.
I was contemplating the extraordinary gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and how 1,490 people lost their lives on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912, when another text message arrived, revealing news that the letter awaiting my attention was rather fat and A5 sized – not your usual thin rejection letter.
I had applied to the Arts Council for a Travel and Training Award to help with the cost of attending another Poetry Masterclass in Tŷ Newydd in Wales at the end of October (next week – yay!) and an email said I should have a decision within four weeks.
Of course, that didn’t happen. So, into the sixth week, getting very close to the time I needed to book my travel, I stuck my neck out and sent an enquiring email, which received a ‘you should hear soon’ type of reply.
I’m generally of the glass half-full persuasion (assuming I’ve got a glass, that is). But my experience of grants and such like has left me quite crushed, so I figured this was another put-down.
But if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably guessed the punch line – yes, I have been awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Travel and Training Award! And while the cash is obviously of vital importance – the validation is almost as thrilling, as my proposal was based on my creative and professional development as a poet.
My debut poetry collection ‘On the Green Bridge’ is out there trying to find a publisher, after some seriously impressive advice from my Mentor, poet Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons. Janice has been assigned to me through the mentoring scheme of the Creative Frame Professional Development Network, based in Leitrim.
So – titanic news indeed, in the sense of why the ill-fated White Star luxury liner was so-called. Titanic’s original meaning was ‘of exceptional strength, size, or power’. (There’s a heap of interesting facts about the ship here – prepare to waste an hour or two!)
Just don’t mention sinking ships to me just now, please. Especially since I will be on a ferry to Wales very soon…