Martin Mooney is Development Officer of The Creative Writers' Network, which was founded in Belfast in 1996, to support writers and writers' groups in the North of Ireland, to act as an information source, and to develop creative writing at both the grassroots and professional levels.
The wheels of Reverse are now in motion! This innovative poetry project, organised by Clotworthy Arts Centre, placed poet Martin Mooney to work with taxi drivers and their passengers in the Antrim area. A full report of the project can be viewed at www.artnorth.co.uk/reverse.
Following is an excerpt from his first week:
These last few days have shown that poets need to gain the trust of working people, who are sceptical about the value of the arts, and even more sceptical about their own ability to participate and contribute.
As one driver told me: 'Write? I couldn't sign the broo!' It is one of the main aims of the REVERSE project to convince drivers and passengers that they have unique experiences and ways with words, and that poems made from these words and experiences can excite and entertain people.
Why Antrim? Why taxis? I soon found out that Antrim is the taxi capital of Europe with 101 cars at the last count. The taxi office is a bit like a newsdesk - listening in at one firm's office last Saturday morning, I heard news filtering in from estates and outlying areas, messages being passed, arrangements being made, greetings and abuses exchanged.
In a town like Antrim it seems to me that an honest picture of the journeys made and the drivers and passengers who made them adds up to a picture of the community itself. The estates around Antrim provide much of the business for the town's cabbies and I explored them with the help of one of the drivers. What struck me most was the struggle of working people to maintain a decent life in the face of destructive forces like drug dealing and sectarianism. Poets deal in images, and the estates threw up powerful images at every turn. The project shows the community of local people that poetry can be used for taking a good look at ourselves and our lives, and either laughing or crying at what we see.
Whatever people think to the contrary, poetry is all around us. How often have you stood at a bar or sat in the hairdresser's and read 'The Barman's (or 'The Hairdresser's) Prayer' pinned to the wall? There's even a Taxi Driver's Prayer which begins: 'Oh Lord, bless all my fares/May they keep me in craic/But may none of them slip up/And puke in the back'.
Poetry is also found in the stories people tell and the way they tell 'em (have you heard the one about the bee that stopped the taxi...?) and most cabbies tell 'em very well indeed.
So already I'm hearing stories (some unprintable) and starting poems - see www.artnorth.co.uk/reverse for poems - which I share to challenge some of the drivers and passengers reading this to say: 'I could do better than that' or 'He's got that wrong.' The fact is, it's not my town, my job, my experience or my community. It's all of yours. And if your poems wipe the floor with mine, I can't wait.