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About the Book;
Embers of Words, illuminates the thoughts, feelings, personal experiences and longings of migrant poets from different backgrounds in a new Ireland. The poems are written in a variety of imaginative and scintillating styles that enrich contemporary Irish poetry.
FR. BOBBY GILMORE, THEOPHILUS EJORH, NAOMI CHISOM OKIGBO,
TIZIANA SOVERINO, JEAN-PIERRE EYANGA EKUMELOKO,
PHATIE MAPHOSA, ZIAD SALIH, TOM MYP, KATE ANTOSIK PARSONS,
FESTUS IKEOTUONYE, CATHERINE ANNE HIGGINS,
BOGUSIA WARDEIN, NITA MISHRA, USHA MAHARANI,
RENEE SUMMERS, NICY KASA.
The increase in recent migration flows into Ireland during the period of economic boom, otherwise called The Celtic Tiger, resulted in debates around issues concerning integration, social inclusion, ethnic diversity, race, racism, xenophobia and multiculturalism. In the early- and mid- 1990s, when the numbers of new migrants were quite low, many Irish people had viewed the movements of foreign nationals into the country as only a temporary phenomenon, which was why little attention was paid to migrant community formations or the creation of an inclusive framework for integration. But as more and more people came into the country to live and work, a fact that challenged the common perception of the newcomers as transient guests or, in extreme cases, as itinerant groups, without connected up families and connected up communities, it became obvious that immigration has become a permanent feature of Irish society.
This shift in thinking in turn resulted in a gradual shift towards the development of an integration policy and the adoption of social inclusion strategies that many critics, both in the academia and civil society, have viewed as basically deficient and flawed. This situation has thus necessitated the need to better understand the complexities of settlement, identities and community formations in everyday life and societal contexts in Ireland. It has also thrown up the question of how best to incorporate the newcomers as full members and co-constructors of a new, diversified, Ireland, where previous assumptions of the country as an insular and monolithic society – that is “white, Celtic and Catholic” – is no longer tenable.
Integration in Ireland is believed to be modelled after the British “multiculturalism”, a term understood simply as being basically about public recognition and respect for cultural differences. Yet scholars in Ireland in the areas of migration, race, racism, ethnicity and social policy view this model as a mere rhetoric as well as a failed culturally imperialist project that pretends to promote diversity and liberal democratic principles, but manifestly fosters inequality and division, hinders the universal rights of migrants, and fails to challenge institutionalised racism and structural inequalities. Perhaps it was in recognition of this flaw that the previous Fianna Fall government launched Migration Nation, a policy statement conceived as an indication of the State’s acknowledgment and affirmation of intersecting migrations and migratory processes and experiences that the new migration and Diaspora discourse highlights. According to former Fianna Fall minister for integration, Conor Lenihan, this initiative was intended to create structures that would support as well as reflect the changed dynamic of migration into Ireland, part of which included comprehensive ‘strategies, measures and initiatives’ of inclusion.
Thus the current discourse in Ireland that constructs migrants as temporary residents or as a largely economic, flexible, mobile and most disposable mass, compared to the native population, calls for a radical rethinking, especially when extant evidence suggests that migrants in Ireland are by no means no more innately mobile than the Irish themselves, and more so when many of the newcomers view Ireland rather than their countries of origin as home.
Liberal democratic societies assume that all human populations are equal. Yet in reality, migrants and ethnic minority groups in these societies, including Ireland, are institutionally under-represented. This raises a critical question for Irish immigration discourse, which is: to what extent do equal opportunity policy and practices in Ireland affect, impact, regulate and determine the overall experiences of migrants and ethnic minorities in various spheres of Irish life?
However, as the newcomers strive to grapple with the internal – institutional and structural – forces in society that shape and determine their lives and experiences, they seek ways of expressing their belonging and making meaning of their lives in the new milieu. One particular way in which they do this is the medium of creative arts. As the migrant population in Ireland grows in size and complexity, its members have begun to manifest an equally growing interest in various art forms – visual, literary, performance, etc. Evidence suggests that a growing number of migrants in Ireland are now undertaking courses and training in various fields of creative arts, while several others have had successful arts exhibitions, literary publications, and visual productions.
In fact, this development personifies a desire among migrants to find their niches and achieve recognition in the Irish artistic landscape. For many who wish to become professional artists, it is hoped that this aspiration can enable them to provide themselves a livelihood as well as help them make the necessary transition to full and permanent settlers and effective co-contributors to the development of the Irish arts industry. Underpinning this spirit and desire is a certain optimism among new migrant artists to “empower” themselves through arts practices to positively transform their lives. They also try to appropriate opportunities provided by their arts to articulate their experiences in the context of the institutional structures and the complex politics of immigration and social inclusion that define and influence their individual lives and collective experiences. In this way, arts practices among migrants thus have both emancipatory and transformative implications for them and the wider Irish society.
But migrant artists have a need to forge synergies with one another and with native arts practitioners and establishments to be successful. They are aware of the limitations of “walking alone” in the thorny and challenging terrain of the Irish arts industry. The realisation of this need prompted the inauguration of Migrant Writers and Performing Artists Ireland (MWPAI), by the New Communities Partnership (NCP), at a time when new migrants in Ireland are desperately seeking platforms for integration into mainstream life. Leading up to the inauguration of the project were two separate meetings held with groups of migrant artists of diverse nationalities in Dublin in November 2010 and January 2011. During these meetings participants identified a need to create a forum through which migrant artists could develop and showcase their artistic potential. They also stressed the importance of developing a platform that could help migrant artists to effectively connect with one another and also integrate into mainstream society.
The MWPAI emerged as one such platform, serving as a means through which migrant artists can attain and promote integration through creative arts. Until now, efforts at integrating migrants in Ireland had focused on cultural integration, advisory and information services provision and political participation. There was no migrant-led arts network that promoted the interests of migrant artists. It is hoped that MWPAI would not only challenge the current mainstream artistic industry in Ireland to become inclusive and supportive to migrant artists, but also identify and help in developing a new crop of artists whose works and activities would enrich and amplify the existing creative culture in the country.
As an innovative project, Migrant Writers and Performing Artists Ireland, is designed to cater for the needs and interests of three different clientele groups. The first and primary group includes established and promising mature migrant artists resident in various locations in the country. The second group comprises young migrants between the ages of 13 and 19, who are interested in developing their potential in creative writing and performing arts. The third and final group consists of migrant primary school-going children or migrant children between the ages of 7 and 12. However, as there is strength in diversity and partnership, the project maintains a broad-minded, interactive and mutually reinforcing policy, in terms of welcoming with open arms interested participants and contributors from the native population. It is expected that sublime creative skills and products of artistic excellence would radiate from these efforts.
The MWPAI is committed to achieving its key objectives, one of which is to identify existing opportunities that migrant writers can tap into and have their work published either individually or in anthologised forms. It is hoped that this would enable them to showcase their artistic potential, depict the realities and transformations that have evolved from the recent experience of inward migrations into Ireland, capture issues and sensibilities reminiscent and indicative of their origin societies, and by so doing, provide another voice to contemporary Irish arts industry. Generally speaking, the inauguration of MWPAI marks a new turn and resurgence of minority creative capacity in a highly differentiated twenty-first century Irish society. The project aims to give a new vigour and orientation to modern Irish arts at a time when diversity and difference mark a critical shift from a creative culture that has long been dominated by a majority voice that has failed to find expression for new minority experiences in the country.
Embers of Words, the first anthology of migrant poetry produced from the stable of MWPAI, is thus published with the intention of giving contributors an opportunity to express themselves as creative artists, as a complementary voice and, above all, as commentators on various events in their lives and societies in which they have lived. It has been suggested that many migrant artists, especially those in the area of literary creativity, feel somewhat alienated from the Irish creative space, either for lack of opportunities or due to ignorance of available opportunities. The result is that a great many of them, who are highly talented and fervently wish to be heard and appreciated, have found themselves trapped in a state of neglect. MWPAI seeks to identify and support such gifted artists, by creating this opportunity for them to convey their ideas and thoughts to various audiences through images and words, the oil with which feelings and thoughts are formed and expressed, aware that feelings bottled up and lived experiences not externalised are like an over-ripe boil under severe pressure, waiting to rupture. Contributors have thus availed of this opportunity (provided through Embers of Words), to recreate their dreams, articulate their present and reconstruct their past by giving vent to the internal perturbations raging within the deep recesses of their creative mind. However, it should be noted that contributors to the volume are not all unpublished or untested writers. Some of them have published their work either as individual authors or in various poetry journals and anthologies.
A call for submission of poems was published by the New Communities Partnership, the Irish Writers’ Centre and Poetry Ireland on their websites. In addition to these, the “call” was publicised in various social network media, such as Facebook and Linkedin. A good number of responses were generated, most of them very good products of literary creativity. Much as we wished that all the poems that met required standard be published, this was unattainable, given logistical imperatives. This necessitated further sifting of the poems, with the finest of them ultimately making it to Embers of Words.
Contributors to the anthology come from various national and ethnic backgrounds, and they include: native Irish, Italian, Russian, American, Nigerian, Irish British, Congolese, Polish, Malaysian, Zimbabwean, Indian and Iraqi, among others. The poems in the volume capture a multiplicity of themes, such as the exilic condition, migration, the journey of self-discovery, the challenge of resettlement, love, pain, oppression, loss, nostalgia, hope, the demand of double identity, the joy and challenge of motherhood, political chicanery and corruption, conflict, violence, human misery, and so on. The writers adopt a variety of poetic tones in rendering their message, ranging from incantatory address, invocation, melancholia, condemnation, disillusion, unease, Juvenalian angst, to joy, ecstasy, admiration and Swiftian humour.
Such a complex blend of themes and style can be enriching, and provides another lens for understanding and making meaning of life and the complexity of human experience in a changing society and world. It is hoped that more of these creative efforts would follow suit. What is required is the support of the relevant establishments, individuals and groups interested in the creative arts to make this come to fruition.
EMBERS OF WORDS
An Irish Anthology
of Migrant Poetry
Edited By Theophilus Ejorh
Price:…… € 10.00