SEAMUS KELLY IS an admirer of Tracy Chapman
by Norman Warwick
There are half a dozen poems by Seamus Kelly I read very regularly, and at almost every sitting I find something new to amaze me in a line that, for some reason suddenly sounds different. and reveals a nuance almost un-noticed.
In declaring here my total admiration of his work I am effectively copying the kind of declaration Seamus himself recently made in The Rochdale Observer´s all across the arts page that Steve Cook took full control of after partnering me there for three years before I repatriated to Lanzarote. Seamus lauded a hero of his own, and I was surprised, though I don´t know why, to find that subject of his admiration was singer songeriter Tracey Chapman.
The brief article by Seamus was absolutely time-specific.
´Along with an audience of more than seventy thousand people crammed into Wembley Stadium, on September 2nd 1988´, he pin-pointed, ´I was blown away by a young woman with a guitar. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had just performed fifteen songs; the mood was upbeat and the stadium was very loud.
To follow that, a small, young woman, with a guitar in her hand, walked on to an empty stage. Nobody seemed to know who she was. Her´s was just a name on the programme. Tracy Chapman.
The massive crowd greeted her with polite applause but little expectation.
She said a few words of hello and then started to sing. Just her. On Guitar.
The power of this woman´s voice and the power of the messages in her first song had the whole audience enthralled, nobody talked, nobody made any noise !
So why did I come away thinking I had witnessed something genuinely really special? It was because Tracy Chapman had sung about things she knew, with passion.
She might have been only a small, young, black woman who had experienced poverty, bullying and racism from a young age but she walked off that stage a giant.´
Fulsome praise and genuine admiration was obvious in what Seamus wrote but speaking of ´the power of voice´ and ´the power of the messages´ and the ´absolute belief and with a power that comes only from heartfelt experience and conviction´ are surely phrases many of familiar with the poetry of Seamus Kelly would apply in our own reviews of his readings.
Seamus, a Rochdale based Irish / English poet originally from the midlands, gave up his full time job in sustainable travel, in 2015, to become a professional poet and writer. He is also a photographer and visual artist and has adopted ´onepoetsvision´ as a name to encompass all of those art forms.
His web site certainly encompasses all that, with drop down headers for his social media posts, books of his works available for purchase, his biography, details of his workshops, events and appearances, and examples and samples of his work.
His social media posts drop-down highlights literary speakers like teacher poet Kate Clanchy (left) at Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festivals (RLIF) as well as what sounded to be a wonderful event for Rochdale writers at the RLIF 2019 event in the historic church of St. Mary´s In The Baum, Seamus has also posted positively about own local colleague Eileen Earnshaw, and I´m chuffed to say that, as shown in our cover image he also references a radio interview I and conducted with him a few years ago on the all across the arts weekly radio programme I used to present with Steve Bewick on Crescent Community Radio. Seamus also includes in his posts mentions of his work with Touchstones Creative Writing Group, (TCWG), particularly an Independence Day (July 4th) event in 2019. Having facilitated TCWG for many years I was delighted to learn that, after my retirement here to Lanzarote, Seamus would become one a facilitating collaborative. Reading his posts on his web page is testimony of the additional insight and skills he brought to whatever I had initially delivered.
A description of his own anthology, Thinking Too Much, is rightly the main thrust of his Books To Purchase section. This is a collection of more than thirty poems that another wonderful poet, James Nash (featured previously on our Sidetracks & Detours pages+, particularly for his own collection of seventy sonnets, A Bench For Billy Holiday) , says of this poetry from Seamus that ´always, it is written with a kind of passionate precision, and with great humanity.´
This is the collection I was thinking of when I spoke about my regular reading of some of Seamus´ works. Titles such as the wonderful Seahorses, the incredibly solitary A Platform I Don´t Know, Stranger Conversation and Café Galleria are a diversity of poems that reward every reading, time after time, and in a different way each time.
The biography section of his site at seamuskellypoetry.co.uk reminds me that Seamus can be found performing and running writing and poetry workshops around the North West of England and occasionally further afield and offers a range or ready-made or bespoke sessions.
Having led Weaving Words, a local creative writing group, for ten years, before turning freelance, he has performed his work across greater Manchester and beyond including a high profile performance at the 2015 Eroica Britannia Festival in Derbyshire (a festival of all things vintage and cycling) and having been invited back brought new material to appreciative audiences at the 2016 and 2017 festivals. Seamus has facilitated and delivered workshops on a wide range of topics including how to find inspiration, the technicalities of writing and a series of high-speed workshops at the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival in 2013. His workshop clients include schools, libraries, creative writing groups and reading groups.
Seamus was the originator and one of the commissioned poets for Connect2 Poetry, launched in 2013 that grew from Seamus’ idea for a poetry trail around Rochdale’s extensive Connect2 network of walking and cycling routes. With support from Rochdale Library Service and Cartwheel arts a total of 35 poems were commissioned to be featured on plaques on the routes, an interactive website and phone app.
Along with a storyteller, visual artist and a songwriter Seamus recently completed work as the resident poet on the Stories We Could Tell project (runner up in the Rochdale Diversity Awards 2016); working with young people including asylum seekers, young people in care and young people with mental health issues to empower them whilst developing skills and confidence. In 2017 the successful project worked with more young people and Seamus was again the resident poet as well as supporting other writing and technical aspects of the programme.
The events listed under the drop-down of that title includes references to National Poetry Day at Pleckgate High School that he took over after I had hosted those annual feasts at this multi-racial, enlightened Blackburn School. Seamus also references many other prestige appearances at festivals all over the North West of England and further.
The samples and examples drawer shows a storage space for audio files of his many radio readings, including a warm and cosy interview with Eileen Earnshaw on her Weaving Words programme on Defiant Radio Rochdale, brought to emergence by all across the arts and Vibe.
Our cover picture at the top of this article shows me and Seamus (right) in interview mode for an all across the programme on Crescent Radio in Rochdale. We were part of a nucleus of artists and facilitators working in the Borough and although I now live on Lanzarote i remain proud to have worked in the company of the likes of Seamus and Steve Bewick, Robin Parker, Eileen Earnshaw and Ray Stearn, who all worked so hard to deliver a vibrant arts scene in the town. Looking back over the onepoetsvision blog of Seamus in researching this article I have been extremely gratified to see how Rochdale, even in these covid days, is benefitting still from a wonderful enclave of artists who continue to share their passion and enthusiasm for the fact that art remains, covid notwithstanding, an agent of change for the good.