Poetry in Motion

I know a woman; she came from my hometown. Definitely not ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ are Angela Keogh, Elaine Rowe, Averil Heslin, Susie Mitchell, and Grace James, five of Carlow Rowing Club’s masters squad that features in The Girls in the Boat, a poetry film by Angela Keogh.

26 January 2023

By Greg Denieffe

Greg Denieffe discovers a new art form, Poetry Film, and he likes it.

Broadly speaking, poetry film is an art form that fuses the use of spoken word poetry, visual images, and sound to create a stronger presentation and interpretation of the meaning being conveyed. They can be created by a poet, but they are usually a collaboration between a poet and a filmmaker. You may be familiar with this art form under different names such as screen poetry, video poems or e-poetry.

If anything lends itself to this visual & aural art, it is rowing, particularly since drones have introduced us to a new way of filming crews racing and training.

More than a half-century of water has flowed past Carlow Rowing Club since I first stepped into a boat, a heavy clinker four, and much time was spent explaining to us 11- and 12-year-old raw recruits where to place our feet and more importantly, where not to place them.   

The Bishop’s Straight on the River Barrow, Carlow Town. Photo: Allan O’Reilly.

Carlow Rowing Club, on the river Barrow, is one of the oldest rowing clubs in Ireland. Founded in 1859 and awakened from a twenty-year slumber in the 1950s, it has a rich history of national and international rowers. It has a vibrant junior membership and is home to senior and masters crews as well as recreational rowers. Dedicated coaches and committee members, supported by an inspiring bunch of volunteers, keep the show on the river and host the annual Carlow Regatta on the June bank holiday weekend.

Recently, Carlow Rowing Club member Angela Keogh, gave wings to one of her poems and it immediately attracted my attention; I wasn’t alone, within a day, it had more than 2,000 views on YouTube.

Moving the River. The Girls in the Boat by Angela Keogh – see video for credits.

Of course, I loved seeing the beautiful stretch of the River Barrow that was once my sanctuary. I loved the rhythm of the words and the sound of the sculls catching the water, but most of all, I loved the emotion that swelled up inside me on first seeing the video.

When I caught up with Angela, she told me about her introduction to rowing and her inspiration for putting this piece of work together:

I spent my teenage years rowing with Carlow Rowing Club along with Kathryn Wall and Grace James, both of whom are in the masters crew.

There wasn’t a lot of room for girls in the clubhouse in the 1980s but plenty of space was made for us on the water. Eoin O’Brien took on the task of coaching about 12 girls which was the largest intake of women the club ever had in one hit.

The poem The Girls in the Boat is about rowing but, at its heart, is a statement about the immeasurable value of peace and freedom. There’s so much war in the world and so many places where women don’t enjoy the kind of freedom that we take for granted.

A team sport like rowing generates peace and harmony on a micro-scale. I’m frustrated with the polarisation of people in national and global discourses about war. I don’t think flag-waving and demonising entire nations is helpful.

Bob Geldof put it succinctly [well, succinct for Geldof (GD)] when he quoted the lyrics of the Nick Lowe song ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding’ in a performance on the RTÉ chat show, The Late Late Show.

Interestingly, I bought into the safe space for women aspect of the piece, but I was also touched by the dark undertone of dealing with grief and the toil of everyday life. How wonderful that the river and rowing can do so much to heal us.

Another aspect of the collaboration that appeals to me is that it afforded the team behind the video the opportunity to pay homage to several Carlow rowers that inspire the masters women. One is Clíodhna Nolan (Angela’s niece), currently rowing for University College Cork R. C., a European Champion in LW2- in 2020, and a two-time fourth-place finisher at the World U23 Championships. The second is Oisín Nolan (Angela’s nephew), now a coach at the University of Galway.

Keeping it a family affair, it also includes Sadhbh Scully (Kathryn Wall’s and Seamus Scully’s daughter) and Keara Egan, who won the WJ2x at the 2019 National Championships – Kathryn coached them to that success and Seamus is now a World Rowing International Umpire.

Angela Keogh is a poet, playwright, and novelist. Her first novel, The Winter Dress, was selected for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair 2021. The previous year, Angela and John MacKenna founded The Harvest Press, a small, independent publishing company in County Carlow.

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