The Power of Poetry

Raine Geoghegan writes eloquently about the Romany way of life -its culture, traditions and history. In a constantly changing world, this courageous voice might be an inspiration to others-to pick up the surviving threads of the past and weave a beautiful memory. February 2021.

See all Raine’s Articles here!

Pic: Tina Boujemil

Raine’s book about the Romany way of life, published with Hedgehog Poetry Press in December 2019 available on Amazon

My latest book, ‘they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog’ is a collection of monologues, haibuns, prose poems and songs.

Debjani Chatterjee : 

 “Each piece is a vignette that tells a story of a disappearing Romany way of life. Raine Geoghegan has captured fleeting moments and expressed them in a language that rings sharp and true.” 

     This endorsement stresses the fact that we Romany people are fiercely holding onto to our culture, our traditions and history. I bring members of my family to life by giving them a voice in the form of monologues or songs. I like to think that the reader will be transported into the world of the Romany and that they learn something in the process. I hope the reader is informed and discovers aspects of the Romany culture when reading this book.

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distant family with one woman smoking a swiggler (pipe)
Distant family with one woman smoking a swiggler (pipe)

After having my first book published, ‘Apple Water: Povel Panni’ and being humbled by its success and popularity, it sold like hot cakes, I was keen to write something a little different although still keeping close to the Romany theme. Mark Davidson, my publisher at Hedgehog Poetry Press liked the idea that I presented so I began bringing together work I had already finished as well as writing new pieces. My ancestors are larger than life and I was inspired by their strengths. I knew that I wanted to continue writing about them. A few things happened while I was drawing on certain characters in my family. I would read the monologues aloud as I wrote them. Once a bell rang when I was reading a monologue based on my granny. There was only my husband and I sitting in the kitchen, the bell was on a table in the hallway. It rang loud and clear and I had a shiver down my spine. I like to think it was my granny letting me know that she liked what I was doing.

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     I wrote on and off as a child and as an adult but I never became serious about it until I started my Masters degree in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. Since I graduated I have not stopped writing and my work is constantly embracing new ideas and forms. I like the monologue as a form. It resonates with the part of me that loves to perform. Having worked as an actor for many years this comes as no surprise. I also write plays and am working on new material which has a certain theatrical element to it.

     There are a number of writers and poets that I am drawn to. I’ll start with Vasko Popa who for me is one of the finest poets ever. His work is mainly imagistic and it literally comes alive on the page. I am inspired by his depth of imagination as with Ted Hughes who wrote the forward for Popa’s Collected Poems. Hughes is another poet that I love. Dylan Thomas is a poet that I return to time and time again mainly for his musicality and the use of language and story. I am from the Welsh valleys so feel akin to his sentiments. I adore Seamus Heaney, who doesn’t? I like to read his poetry when I am stuck. It helps me to re-focus. Sappho is a poet that never fails to enlighten me. Her words hang in the air and I love reading them aloud. 

 “Hermes, Lord, you who lead the ghosts home:  But this time I am not happy; I want to die, to see the moist lotus open along Acheron.”

Poem No 97 from Sappho,
a New Translation by Mary Barnard.

Ann Michaels writes so eloquently and touches my soul. I heard her read at Ledbury Poetry Festival around five years ago and loved listening to her as her Canadian accent seemed to enrich her poetry.  Sujata Bhat was also reading and I fell in love with her poetry too. She uses such vivid imagery and her work is a mythology in itself. Then there’s Menna Elfyn, the Welsh poet who writes in both English and Welsh. Nula Ni Dhomnaill calls her:

The firebird of the Welsh language, bright, indomitably modern and as indestructible as the phoenix.”   

     “She lost her memory/ lost her home/ moved into a Care Home where losing was homely;/ then those paid to remember/ lost her wedding- ring/ the one thing she remembered/ the rest of her days, her one treasure, a thin band.” 

From Bondo by Menna Elfin,
published by Bloodaxe Books, 2017. 

     Louise Gluck is fantastic and I will never tire of her. Papusza, a Romany poet walks with me but sadly there are only a small amount of poems that have been translated into English. Songs of the Roma is electrifying. Others are Ruth Padel, her book, ‘The Mara Crossing’ is brilliant, Chase Twichell, Mimi Khalvati, Eavan Boland, and many more. I’d also like to mention the publishers who are introducing us to some very fine poets these days such as Nine Arches, Seren, Salmon Poetry Press, Fly on the Wall and of course Hedgehog Poetry Press.

the front copy of romany routes which many of my poems have been published in
The front copy of Romany routes which many of my poems have been published in

My writing process is a mixture of things. I always have a notepad by my bed as I am often inclined to get ideas late at night or early morning. I jot them down and then later in the afternoon I work on them. I also hear voices, gentle voices encouraging me to write about a specific person. I love it when this happens as it takes me right into the heart of a certain character. I write longhand first then I move onto the computer and play around with the form. There are times when I decide to write about a certain event or topic and I will go onto research it and just be with it for a while. I try not to force ideas. I also try not to rush. I like to take my time and to also give events or happenings space. I’ve not written about the Pandemic, I haven’t wanted to. Maybe in the future when it has settled I might but in my mind it’s too raw, I can’t really process it yet. 

     My Romany family have influenced my Romany poems, especially my granny, mother, great grandparents, grandfather and also my Welsh family who are gadje (non Romany). Other influences are the Welsh Valleys, the Malvern Hills and Herefordshire where my family used to pick hops as well as the New Forest and the ocean. 

Picking hops in the field, Hertfordshire
My Great Granny and Great aunt in the hops fields in Herefordshire

     The most rewarding part of the writing process is reading it aloud once it’s all fallen into place, that sense of completion and new life. The most frustrating part is when I just can’t pull the words and images that I know are lying just inside my brain. I then leave it, let it compost and usually when I return to it those words and images are there. I do still have a few poems that have not been so fortunate. They sit in a folder somewhere not seeing the light.

My creativity hasn’t been adversely affected by the happenings of this year, instead I have been busy writing, performing, teaching. It’s been a wild year. I’ve had offers of work and a large number of my poems have been published. I have a new pamphlet ‘The Stone Sleep’ due out in the summer of this year with Hedgehog Poetry Press plus my first full collection is to be published with Salmon Poetry Press in March 2022.

I have worked with a New York Theatre Producer on a script for a musical. My play was performed live on Zoom and was streamed all over the world. However I have had illness and my emotions have been all over the place. I feel that my creative output has helped me to deal with these aspects. I have picked up on the collective fear but I have tried my best to live each day in a mindful way and to give thanks for all that I have. I am thankful for creativity, for the ability to write and read, all such precious gifts.

See more at rainegeoghegan.co.uk

Or Twitter @RaineGeoghegan5

See all Raine’s Articles here!

Raine Geoghegan, reciting poetry

Raine Geoghegan, BA Hons, MA, Dip RWTA – Member of The Society of Authors & Lapidus. 

Apple Water: Povel Panni & they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog are both published by Hedgehog Poetry Press and are available from my website. Many of my videos and readings can be available online through Google.

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