Originally written for my publication Crediting Poetry (2022).

It’s an interesting process—research, all types of gathering, looking for anything, and everything, with little to no certainty about any of it. And then you trip over something, and a light turns on. “Crediting Poetry” was offered to me by my mother in passing, as a sort of I-heard-of-this-and-it-could-help-you-out gesture, but it was halfway into reading the lecture one morning on a Thursday that I realized it was going to be more significant than I had thought. One paragraph in particular, in which Heaney explains to the audience the Kingsmill massacre, left me breathless and off-kilter.

But it was not the gruesome details, or the heartbreaking unfolding of the event—instead, it was the point that Heaney comes to much later in the lecture, when he speaks of truth. If poetry is as honest as the blind truth of everything—if that is what we are lead to believe, if we are meant to credit poetry, to rely on it as the purest form of storytelling, evidence is necessary. Heaney knows this, and, according to him, the poems know it too: “[Poetry] knows that the massacre will happen again on the roadside, that the workers in the minibus are going to be lined up and shot down just after quitting time; but it also credits as a reality the squeeze of the hand, the actuality of sympathy and protectiveness between living creatures.” (Crediting Poetry). Good poets know this. Good poems know this. Poetry works in ways that don’t always reveal themselves, even (and sometimes especially) to the person who is writing. But poetry is truthful, always.

I’ve had multiple people ask me why I chose to focus on poetry coming out of Ireland during the Troubles specifically for a case study, and it’s a good question. For a while, I was confused myself—I have no direct links to Ireland, and my knowledge of Irish history is spotty. But the moment I read “Crediting Poetry”, I found myself entering a rabbit hole that kept spiralling, leading me to more and more pieces of a puzzle I didn’t know I was putting together. I listened to, and promptly transcribed an episode of the On Being podcast by Krista Tippet, featuring Michael Longley, another Irish poet who was also writing powerful and transformative poetry during the Troubles. I began sifting through images of murals in Derry and Belfast, and made my own shoddy attempt at creating studies of a few of them. I listened to “Zombie” by The Cranberries on repeat. (I also watched a lot of Derry Girls, but that was more about the delightful comedic skill of Lisa McGee than the Troubles specifically.)

The case study of the Troubles was, little by little, turning into a miniature version of my own full-sized capstone project. I was thoroughly enraptured with each piece of research I collected, and rather than resisting it, I allowed myself to fall deeper in, to let this case study go where it wanted to. Everything about what I was learning fit perfectly into what I wanted to say about poetry. And I think that’s the reason I was so strongly drawn to this particular case—by being an outsider of the conflict and culture of Irish rebellion, I only had the emotions evoked through the poetry I was reading as proof that poetry was accomplishing exactly what I thought it could. I was the observer, the reader of poems, and when I stepped out onto the rooftop garden after finishing “Crediting Poetry” for the first time, every emotion I was attempting so earnestly to prove the existence of—as a result of poetry—had swelled up into my chest and was only released with a choked sob over the phone to my mother. “Take a step back,” she tells me, but I don’t tell her it’s impossible, I don’t tell her stepping back is the same as vanishing, that these emotions are, in their simplest forms, the blood pumping through my veins, or the muscles straining to grasp, or the clear, bright air in my lungs.

It’s then that I knew that this case study—the intense hyper-fixation that I could not shake, this deep resonation—was as much about the Troubles as it was about how the writing was affecting me. It was about how closely I drew into these acts of reading and listening. This was what I had been trying to prove for the past month, circling and circling around the answer but never finding it. It was the evidence I had been looking for.

When I started writing the poem “Crediting Poetry” as a response, the first thing I wanted to do was talk about Truth. It was a character in the story I was trying to tell. Often when speaking about poetry, we talk about the difference between the poet and the speaker of the poem. Sometimes they are the same; sometimes they are two very different things. I suppose Truth is the speaker, or one of the many possible speakers, of this poem. It could be me, the poet. It could be anyone. The line “I was there the day they told him to run” in the seventh stanza is that very Truth—it is universal, everywhere, all at once, you, me, us. In conversations I’ve had with other poets, we talk about poetry as reciprocation. We talk about poetry giving, about what we might receive from poems, as both poets and readers. We talk about what we give to poetry—our words, our feelings, our hardships, our celebrations, giving Truth and receiving Truth in return. Which brings me to the thread that I have attempted to meticulously weave between words as I’ve been living in this world of Irish poetry and historical conflict: that poetry is a lens, a way of observing the world unlike any other. It’s seeing the Truth of everything.

At the start of this project, I had set out to explore what made poetry so powerful. I only had my own story—my days and weeks and months which were defined by my clinical depression, and the poetry that had been by my side through all of it. I still have that story, but I also have the stories that came before me. When I set out to question what it was that made poetry so powerful, I think I was searching for something that I had already discovered, and it seems slightly ridiculous to have spent multiple months researching a question I could have answered myself—but it was necessary. The poetry written as a result of the harsh and unrelenting conflict in Northern Ireland was more truthful than any political debate I have heard on the topic. Poetry is smarter than that. So I must credit poetry for all the things it has revealed that might otherwise have been hidden under the surface. I credit it for the sensical and the non-sensical, for the quiet and the loud, for the closeness, and the distance. I credit poetry for—if nothing else—its ability to keep us, feet rooted to the ground, listening, waiting for what it might reveal.