Cork-Coventry Twin Cities Poetry Exchange

August and November 2023

[L-R] Devjani Bodepudi, John Watson, Cathal Holden and Rosalin Blue

with photos and reviews

from Coventry: Devjani Bodepudi and John Watson

from Cork: Cathal Holden and Rosalin Blue

In August 2023 Ó Bhéal welcomed Coventry poets Devjani Bodepudi and John Watson for two readings at Ó Bhéal and DeBarra’s Spoken Word as part of the twin cities exchange. Cathal Holden and Rosalin Blue represented Cork for a reciprocal visit and were hosted for two readings in Coventry during early November, also with a visit to the Lord Mayor, hosted by Ó Bhéal’s partner Here Comes Everyone / Fire & Dust. Reviews, images and links from each poet follow.

Devjani Bodepudi

It’s always a surreal experience to be acknowledged as a poet when most of your life, you’ve identified as a simple cog in the wheel of domesticity, so when Raef Boylan and Emilie Lauren Jones told me that I’d been chosen as one of the Coventry poets, with John Watson (top bloke and organiser of Kenilworth’s PGR poetry night) I was a bit taken aback. So, here I was, a poet going to Cork with no idea what to expect, except that it would be an experience I would surely never forget. It did not disappoint.

Monday 14th August

Monday 14th August saw John and I almost missing our flight to Cork. Security confusion and long lines meant we reached the gate as it just closed. Luckily, they let us on and we were off, slightly sweaty but full of excitement. Upon landing, we were warmly greeted by Paul Casey who introduced us to Brendan Duffy, another top guy, musician and poet. We paused then, at the unique Myo Café in the heart of Cork. The blue exterior beamed and the friendly staff served the best crumble dessert I’ve ever had. That and the coffee was a much needed pick-me-up after our early morning adventures.

Next we headed to the Crawford Art Gallery where were wandered the rooms in contemplation of the all that had gone on before the Peace. It was a poignant reminder that violence will always stem from frustration and unrest. A timely parallel to all that is happening in Palestine now. War can never be taken lightly and yet the satirical renderings by artist, Rita Duffy of ordinary human experiences during the NI conflict were on full display, reminding us of our shared humanity. We left feeling humbled and lucky to have the peace and poetry we have now.

After this, Brendan took us to see the Ogham Stones at the University of Cork Campus displaying very early examples of Celtic writing, and again we were awestruck. A theme that was set to continue throughout the trip. But by this time, we were tired after such an early start.

Eventually we found our way back to the B&B and tried to rest before the evening. For me, I was buzzing. The ‘rest’ wouldn’t come. I was full of excitement for the evening with no idea what to expect. By the time we headed out for dinner and had tried the famous Beamish, we were eager for the night. Patiently though, we meandered through the City Centre, contemplated the river, saw herons on the bank and marvelled at the gigantic murals that met us along the way. We were indeed, a world away from Coventry.

Finally we arrived at the Long Valley bar which soon began to fill. There, we met Rosalin Blue and Cathal Holden, our counterparts for the exchange. We chatted and got to know one another while Paul finished setting up. By then, more and more poets had arrived and the upstairs room was packed full of wordsmiths and musicians ready to share.

The night flew by with poets on Zoom as well as in person. Our reception was warm and encouraging with music and poetry that was both funny and thought-provoking. Our sets were well received and although the night could have ended there, there was more to come. We all headed out to another bar where we drank some more and talked well into the night. Alas, I am not as young as I once was and so John and I headed back to the B&B a little earlier than everyone else. At 1 am the party continued without us but we had peaceful dreams of poetry and good vibes.

Tuesday 15th August

This day promised to be even more eventful than the day before. We started the morning with a delicious breakfast at the B&B and then a walk into town to meet the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Kieran McCarthy. Paul and Brendan met us there where we were treated to a warm beverage and enlightening chat about Cork and its history. The unexpected highlight was being able to perform a highly political poem in the beautiful Council building. Afterwards we took a stroll through the English Market, found some amazing street art and had a filling lunch before quickly heading into the wonderful Vibes and Scribes Bookshop (not to be confused with the Vibes and Scribes crafting shop a little further away!)

Then it was onto the next leg of the journey where we met Rosalin, Cathal and some other wonderful poets and were driven through winding roads and luscious countrysides to Clonakilty. There’s that old cliché about embracing the journey and we had no choice but to take it all in with sparkling eyes.

Our first stop on our way to old ‘Clon’ as it’s sometimes called, was the famous Drombeg Stone Circle or The Druid’s Altar. It was here that I really found a sense of Ireland and Cork that might have been easy to miss. As well as all the poetry and music, there was magic. There was no shying away from it on this journey. Here, poets professed to be druids and in touch with their own nature in a way that’s been lost and derided by many, and to me, this was oddly freeing. We touched the stones, we walked through them and beyond, resting on hills and looking over to the horizon towards the sea. In all the rush and travel, this was a moment of real rest and possibly one of the most profound moments of the whole experience. It was with some reluctance but a sense of anticipation that we left Drombeg for the beach.

At the beach, fish and chips were the order of the day. We ate, talked, met new friends in the form of Afric and Michael and their wonderful dog. I collected stones and then tried hurling. I have to say, I think I could be a pro with a bit of practise, such was my optimism. And although there was the threat earlier, of a swim, it never went that far; it was too windy and we were content to climb the rocks instead and risk damp sand in our shoes. The time soon came however to head to the celebrated DeBarras Folk bar where we were promised another night of poetry.

We were met there by the inimitable Moze Jacobs who had interviewed us earlier and were treated to a wonderful warm night of haiku, prose and everything in between. Again, our sets were warmly received, and I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t in Cork. Suddenly, it felt like home and I knew I would be sad to leave, but the night did end and the drive back in the black reminded us that we had another reality to return to.

We awoke the following morning, truly grateful for the whole experience but sad that we had to leave. But thanks to Paul, Brendan, Moze and the whole team, it was an experience that we will never forget.

You can watch Devjani performing here (begins 1:40:58)

John Watson

Myself and Devjani flew in from Stanstead airport in Essex. It seemed strange driving east to travel west, but the flight times worked best. I don’t like airports anymore but I love the surrealism of flight. Staring down at the wave flecked Irish sea, I enjoyed the sensation of the aircraft banking as we lined up for our landing in Cork. The craggy inlets and headlands streamed past, the gentle folds in the slightly lighter green fields than those of my own Atlantic island home. These were the nuanced differences that I had come to explore. Paul kindly met us at the airport, then drove us in to drop our bags at the hotel. I was immediately entranced by the proprietor ‘Micks’ accent. We were straight into the city for a coffee in Shandon by the river. We had just met Brendan who was the epitome of conviviality as he showed us around for the next two hours or so.

As well as taking in the museum and gallery, I kept an eye out for the edgelands and undercurrents that flow through Cork city, washing through and amongst the people and buildings as clearly as the river Lee. On this, my first visit to Ireland, I fast observed the sense of freedom of spirit gained by being a freeborn citizen of a modern democratic republic. This was the strongest lasting observation I made of the whole trip. We were flagging a bit, so went back for a rest in the Redcliff hotel. In the warm early evening, Dev and I strolled back into the city for some food. We ate Poke in Temple street, had our first taste of native stout. Slightly confused by which channel of the Lee we might be on, we eventually found our way to the Long Valley where Paul was set up for Ó Bhéal, playing some poetry films.

I was a little rattled by the five word challenge. If ever I try to force the muse she usually dumps me on my arse. This was very much the case at Ó Bhéal, but I enjoyed listening to the others. A little nervous I probably rushed my performance, something that I am constantly working on. I loved the other poets’ work, lots of styles to enjoy. To the pub afterwards and a sparkling cake with a birthday song, I protested it wasn’t until tomorrow, but we were already in tomorrow! My body clock all askew from a four AM start.

Later that day we headed into town to take tea with the Mayor. This was a pleasure actually, he told us some of the violent history and our British colonial role in this. Then we were into cars heading off west with Sue and Cathal. Two car loads of international poets, through the lanes of Forsythia to the stone circle at Drombeg. What a sense of place! I have never seen a stone circle like this, with the stones inclined slightly inward and an altar stone too. Brendan and myself discussed the way the spring water reflects a dappled light, as under bridges. We were going to find the Gaelic word to describe this phenomena. All of us got a little trippy at Drumbegh, regulars and first time visitors alike. Then we went to the beach, where we learned how to heft a hurley. This was a lot of fun for a first timer, especially when a decent connection is made, it feels very atavistic. I had a really nice conversation with Irene from Galicia. Micheal and Afric joined us as we ate and shared fish and chips and mushy peas, with more easy conversation.

Then it was time for DeBarra’s and more spoken word, and yet another great sense of place. The hosts Moze and Margaret were very welcoming. Even when a reader accidently overplayed his slot. Margaret handled this with tactful ease. An amazing set of performances followed, some nicely crafted and timed theatre in the readings too. I was less stiff, enjoyed my performance a little more at De Barra’s. I went out for another pint, sneaked a Guinness when nobody was looking. I came back in to observe Devjani’s performance from the back, also the warm reaction from the audience. We left around midnight, driving back under the bright stars of the nicely dark West Cork sky.

You can watch John performing here (begins 1:20:00)

Cathal Holden

I flew out to Coventry so hot on the heels of a psychedelic mushroom retreat my socks were still smoking. I’d been in west Cork for four nights, bellowing like a red stag, weeping with my ancestors, barreling through the lunar landscape on all fours like a freshly oiled cat and dancing with the púca beneath the glimmering ocean’s surface with the full hunter’s moon hanging low above me like a pendant nestled in the bosom of the dark night sky. Also I had been violently sick everywhere. Quite a bit, actually.

I made my way through security early on Tuesday morning, picking twigs and feathers from my aura. Sue Blue and I swanned through the duty-free, stopping for a spray of Sauvage by Celine Dior, only ninety nine ninety nines. Her freshly dyed dreadlocks looked like a fabulous, wriggling, potentially poisonous octopus. I decided not to mention it. Deep in the belly of the consumerist playground that is Dublin Airport, I flirted with the capitalist see-saw, rode the slides and the merry-go-round, and thought about the life-cycle of the coffee I had parted with the bones of five earth euros for. I thought about farmers in Guatemala, dark corporate entities with mouths but no bellies, soy milk and whether or not I had brought my charger until it was time to board the sky-train to the far away Land of Eng.

Sue and I bickered like school children over the window seat, until finally she had me in a vicious headlock over the aisle. She was threatening to stash me in the overhead compartment when the airlady came over and asked us politely but firmly to sit down. Shortly after this, the plane took off. The flight was undramatic except for a minor medical emergency incapacitating both pilots. I calmly yet heroically touched us down safely in Birmingham. The airlady gave me her number and my choice of anything from the trolley (I chose a KitKat and a hot chocolate) and our true journey began.

I and Sue rolled cannabis cigarettes as long as your arm and smoked them in the arrivals lounge while awaiting our entourage. John Watson (the poet, not the deranged psychologist) arrived, and shepherded us into Coventry to see the sights. He was a terrific guide, informative, down to earth, sunny and thoughtful. Five stars. We took in the ring road, both Premier Inns, a tobacconist, a pub that William Shakespeare had been thrown out of, two cathedrals (not quite St. Finbarr’s but more or less the same idea) and a museum, where I had a heartfelt reunion with a dinosaur I had last met when I was four. It’s funny, I’d remembered him much larger. Sadly, he didn’t remember me at all, but I bought a very fine fridge magnet of him anyway. Treasure.

We went back to the second Premier Inn, where I discovered I had not packed my charger at all, and passed through a corner store where I was witness to the purchase of a disposable vaporising device in the local dialect. “Strawberry lemonade ting, innit?” Fascinating. Off to Kenilworth then, and to the Almanack for dinner. I had the burger and a local ale while Sue, John, Kim, and I solved the various problems of the assorted world over Lemsips. After this, it was time to roll across the road to Pure Good and Right, John Watson’s poetry night in the Treehouse Bookshop. The local poets were marvellous, particularly Andrea, a former Cork Coventry exchange poet whose work I very much admire.

Unfortunately at this point my phone passed away sadly (no flowers please) and I was cast back to the upper mesolithic, unable to capture any images of the evening. Sue and I performed, and were warmly received by the assembled literati of esteemed Kenilworth. I bust out some hip hop pieces, which is a bad habit I’ve been getting rather into lately.

Our evening in the Treehouse was lovely. I met some wonderful people and had poems with them. Part of my consciousness was still in West Cork, three handfuls of truffles deep, journeying through holographic realities emerging from the carpet, but I’m quite confident that most of what I said to people was reasonably normal. I’d highly recommend it. The Treehouse is lovely too, if you’re passing through Kenilworth.

The next day, I had breakfast in the Premier Inn. I do a little tour guiding, and so am something of a connoisseur of hotel breakfasts. The scrambled eggs inevitably seem to simultaneously come from a tin and be made in a bucket in a backroom with powder and a shovel, so I’m not sure why I ordered them. The orange juice was fine, but the glasses they provided were really very small, and so I traversed the dining room multiple times, wielding my miniscule carafe like a stingy giant, trying to get good value for Cork/Coventry’s poetry fund. It’s what Paul would want for me, I’m certain.

We met Tracey and Anne, and were taken to Hillz FM, which is a radio station in a community centre a little like a cross between a library and a tax office. Hillz FM is an amazing community enterprise. Their DJs range between a young fella of eight who hosts a show about computer gaming and an eighty-something year old chap who has a slot about allotment farming. It’s entirely volunteer-run. Sue, Anne and I had the chats on air with Cass, who I was totally crushing on. Cass runs a radio show on Fridays, from 7am to 9am, and I inferred from this that we were simply different kinds of people and it never would have worked out.

After an hour on Hillz, it was time to grab some lunch. Anne whistled us into Coventry town centre, where we rummaged around Fargo Village and contemplated getting matching tattoos. Here, we bumped into Eminem, which was magical, and our friend and fellow Cork/Cov exchange poet Devjani, which was also magical. Dev, Sue and I went for grub in an Ethiopian restaurant across the way that took, I’m going to guess, around two days to get lunch out on the table. It was very tasty however, and the coffee afterwards was divine, strong, thick and sweet, and served Ethiopian style, which we learned means with popcorn. Devjani took us onwards in her starship. We went to meet the Lord Mayor of Coventry with Dave Hirons from the Coventry Association for International Friendship, which is a very lovely thing to have an association about. I told Dave this, and he smiled and said it was something to do in the afternoons.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Birdi, was an elderly Sikh gentleman dressed in the Mister T style so beloved of Lord Mayors the world over. He and his wife ushered us into the meeting chamber, where we had a lovely chat about Cork City, Roy Keane, Tanora, St. Finbarrs, Sonia O Sullivan, Coventry City football club, and Palestine, at which point we discovered that Cllr. Birdi is a Conservative Tory, and were ushered politely onto the next photo opportunity. I took the chance to invite Birdi, John and Dev to perform at Sceitimíní festival (Cork City, August 30th to September 1st 2024, get your tickets) and he gave me a small packet of digestive biscuits, which I still have. Treasure.

That evening, I had a drink in the beautiful Coventry Telegraph building with John and Kim. We discussed anarchism and poetry, the ring road, and the HS2, which is a dystopian railway project reminiscent of a version of the Animals of Farthing Wood where all the animals lose.

After this, it was over to Anne and Tracey’s night, Fire and Dust in the Litten Tree Building. The LTB is a beautiful place, a former pub/restaurant that is currently an art gallery while it waits to be converted into a Premier Inn. Sue Blue’s performance of work from her poetry album was perhaps the best performance I’ve seen from her to date – very strong and accomplished. The people of Coventry were so good to us, it was incredible. Everyone had questions for us after the gig – they wanted to buy books, to talk, to connect. It was really beautiful.

After this, I went across the road to meet some family. My step-mum’s niece Emma and her husband Mike were around, and there didn’t seem to be many options in the centre of a Wednesday, so we grabbed a beer in a gay bar that was having a karaoke night. Needless to say, it was fabulous. A few local brews and a rousing rendition of a charming number about a cross-dressing badger, and it was time to go home.

I was able to charge my phone in the gay bar, and so have included the badger for your viewing pleasure. Many thanks to Paul Casey, to Raef Boylan, John Watson, Tracey, Anne, Cass, Dave and Fintan mac Bóchra, and to all who made this trip possible. It was a delight.


Rosalin Blue

I was overjoyed and chuffed, when Paul Casey asked me whether I would like to be one of the two poets representing Cork in the twin poetry exchange with Coventry this year. What an honour! And when I learned of the pairing, I was even more proud: What a privilege to travel and perform with Cathal Holden, such a great poet and performer!

Day One

We both hit the road early in the morning to meet at the bus-stop in the rosy hour, still misty. As the Aircoach pulled out of Cork, we settled into chatting for a bit, before catching some Z’s during the rainy drive, until we were spat out at Dublin Airport, Terminal 2, with plenty of time to get to our gate. Flying is something I really love, so we settled into our plane as the speed pressed us into our seats and its nose rose into the sky. A window seat is such a pleasure for watching the cloudscapes and reflections of the sunlight.

In no time we dipped down into Birmingham Airport, where Cathal knew his ways, which made everything really easy. And swiftly we were picked up by poet John Watson, who took us on a sightseeing trip from the car. I remember the railway project, that is the High Speed Two, an ever-shortened eyesore at a cost of near £70 billion, glistening raw in the distance. I remember the challenging Ring Road being mentioned each time we drove it. When we parked up, to visit Coventry Cathedral in its ruins and its glory, the weather turned wet. A great mirror of how this visit moved me inside, knowing of the destruction in the Blitz.

As we walked from the old part to the new, I noted how well both married, and recognised the “levitating spectres” in the glass front, that Dean Browne describes in his report – William Blake would have liked them indeed. The rain was lashing down now, so we continued on into the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. I love visual arts, so it was a pleasure getting lost in the displays. Here, both Cathal and I got a big surprise when bumping into Dippy the Diplodocus, whom I had seen last as a 14-year-old in 1987, visiting the National History Museum in London on my very first language exchange.

When John dropped us to the Premiere Inn, our booking, funnily enough, was nowhere to be found. After some puzzling, John stepped in to help sort us out, and the hotel receptionist sent us to an entirely different Premiere Inn. Soon we touched down to get some rest and prepare for our events. We had an hour before we were picked up again to drive to Kenilworth, a short trip away, similar to the distance between Cork and Carrigaline.

It must have been due to my unfortunate rising cold, that I only have a faint recollection of the meal we took at The Almanack in Kenilworth, near the castle, which we passed in the rain. I have a very fuzzy memory of giving most of my chillis to Cathal, before tucking into my hake. When I ordered an Irish whiskey there, I got my first intercultural surprise: The waiter looked at me, turned to the whiskey bottles and went to pour me a shot, reacting with confusion when I said: “No, I mean a hot Irish whiskey.” “What’s that?” he asked, and I, being German, had to call on Cathal to explain how to make it. Cathal tried with “a hot toddy” first, but that was equally met with question-marks, so he explained: “A double-shot of whiskey, a slice of lemon with cloves, a teaspoon full of brown sugar, and hot water on top”. Of course, there were no cloves available, but at least the hot whiskey did its job. This was the point, when John’s wife Kim went to the shop for me to get me Lemsip and a 10-pack of tissues. The Lemsip was my saviour. For a long enough time, I was able to halt my symptoms – three sachets for the duration of our first event of the trip:

Pure&Good&Right – the longest running event in England, organised by John Watson, who was also MC. After our meal, we were ushered into a tiny shop, the ‘Tree House Bookshop’, stuffed to the ceiling with books on every topic in the world. Nothing compares to the scent of old second-hand books. You can smell the life they’ve had, the dust they’ve gathered, the disintegration of paper. Spilling into the backrooms, we added our own contributions to the book table and settled in with mic, tech and stage. Audience began to fill the rows of chairs set up in the main room, we were introduced to Andrea Mbarushimana, our driver home later, and a few of the other poets and musicians, who were going on the open mic. As headliners, Cathal and I bookended the break, with open-mic slots starting and finishing the show. Now, my 25-minute slot was coming up.

I had planned an exciting set, charming, multicultural and political, touching on different topics, and I was thrilled to finish on a piece from my album “Like Day & Like Night”. Contrary to my assumption, the audience was pink, like me, and there were very few cyclists, despite the historic roots of the bicycle so nearby. My Dubstep piece was much enjoyed, even without raving along to its dark-wave energy. People seemed to like my set and paid me great compliments during the break. Cathal’s performance added Irish roots and folklore, bardic cadences and the stories of a true seanchaidhe, before finishing in hip-hop. It was fantastic to hear the other poets read on the open-mic afterwards, and find a world just like ours in Cork.

The event was all over in a flash, and after a pleasant drive and great conversations with Andrea, I was glad to bed down in my hotel-room back in Coventry. Mimicking a hot water-bottle with the help of my fleece head-band and my woollen snood, I tried my best to burn off my cold. As my supplies of meds began to run down, I was still ever so grateful to Kim, for the Lemsip and the tissues.

Day Two

It began with meeting Cathal for breakfast at 9:30am. Lemsipped up, I was happy to find Rice Krispies, yoghurt and fruit, which I followed up with an order of scrambled egg on gluten-free toast. “With a bit of butter, please”, I said in my best Cork accent, the word “butter” rolling from the bottom of my gullet to the tip of my tongue. “Pardon?” the waitress looked confused. I repeated: “Butter, please?”, the airflow under my tongue making the Ts roll like an R [‘bʌhr], and she said “What?” I tried again: “Butter?” She “??” And again “But ter?”, this time closing my T properly. “Aah! Butter,” [‘bɐtɐ], she said, and I giggled to myself as she turned to the kitchen.
Soon afterwards, we were picked up by Fire & Dust co-organiser Ann Atkins and her partner Tracy Morris, who drove us to Coventry’s community radio station, Hillz FM 98.6, for an interview with presenter Cassandra Floresca. Although I can’t find the recording online now, it was a lovely show. Cass chatted with Ann about Fire & Dust, Coventry’s poetry event at which we were going to perform this evening. She asked Cathal and me about our experience of Coventry, our connection to Cork, our writing development, and about a sneak-peak for the evening. She gave air-time to a piece of music by each of us, invited us to comment on the tracks and on the difference between performing poetry on its own or with music. The hour flew by with more lovely conversations, and it was time to finish the show.

After we said good-bye to Cass, Ann and Tracy drove us to the FarGo village. Whether it was the bad weather, or the fact it was a Thursday, many workshops and outlets were closed, and it was very quiet. I hid from the rain with my cold, and became absorbed in browsing the shops, while Cathal took pictures of the wonderful art on the grounds. That’s when we met up with poet Devjani Bodepudi, happy to see each other again after her Cork journey. We bid farewell to Ann and Tracy, until later. Dev took us on another little sightseeing trip by way of trying to find a chemist to sell me a mask and top up my meds. We passed through what looked like Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, and inside, Cathal, who wasn’t going to make it to the football stadium, was blissed to find a shop of his favourite football team, Coventry City.

We had enough time to share a meal together and found a small Ethiopian restaurant called KaBana’s. I’d never eaten Ethiopian food before, and we were served a big soft bubbly sourdough ‘pancake’ with vegetables, salad and meats, which we ate with our hands, something normal for Dev. For me, it was a different and quite enjoyable experience, inter-cultural as I like it! The coffee afterwards reminded me of Turkish coffee, with the proper oomph.
Next stop was our most official visit to Coventry Council House, the local term for City Hall, where the Lord Mayor lives. We were all surprised to find Councillor Jaswant Singh Birdi, dressed in a traditional Indian turban, and Lady Mayoress Birdi in Punjabi costume, her bare feet snugging the old civic carpet. Even Devjani was unaware, that the current Lord Mayor is of Indian background, a great reminder, of how inclusive Coventry’s politics are. Thus, we found ourselves in a beautifully multicultural setting, and the conversations spanned from Coventry, and Cork, Ireland, via Münster, Germany, to poetry, history, and our various cultures, which is always a huge inspiration for me.
Still full from the meal, none of us took any of the biscuits, until the Lady Mayoress handed them out to us before saying good-bye. To decline would have been impolite, and I still have my packet of Ginger Rings. At this point I was masked up to protect everyone involved, and already close to the daily limit of paracetamol, with a lot of day left to go. I needed a break to take some Z’s for the brain, and to continue wrestling down my cold. While Cathal, John, and Kim were hanging out at the Telegraph to meet me there later for our meal, I drew back to the hotel, took a hot shower and continued overdosing on Lemsip. Had I been at home, I would have joined via Zoom rather than in person, but here I was, and I wasn’t going to budge now. Marching into the Telegraph two hours later, I put my sunny side up and went to order another hot Irish whiskey. This time, I had a Polish waiter, who, again, had no idea what I was asking for. When I described how to make it, he was very interested in the recipe for his own health. An Englishman at the counter verified the idea, informing the waiter: “A hot toddy. It’s very good against a cold.”

Thus strengthened, we headed out to get to the highlight of our journey: Our performance at the Fire & Dust event in Coventry. We entered the LTB Showrooms at the former Litten Tree Pub building, a not-for-profit community venue that supports local arts with free exhibition space for grassroots culture, and I gasped at the art on display. The life of the community was visible in these works, colourful, multi-dimensional and immensely inspiring. The space was high, with a sweeping staircase onto a gallery that allowed viewing the paintings on the walls. I walked around the bar, mesmerised by sculptures and installations of various sizes and styles, luring my colourful mind to their hues. The stage was set with a flowing orange curtain hung from the wall, and the lighting was superbly warm and gemütlich. Checking in with the sound-engineer for our musical bits later in the show, we had a short sound-check and rigged up our music and phones to charge.

To our delight, we met some familiar faces from the evening prior; many of the other poets who had visited Cork in previous years greeted us joyfully, and we were introduced to some regular open-mic poets and audience members, excited to hear us perform. The event was structured much the same way as the PGR in Kenilworth: I was to follow an open mic with a 15-minute set, again bookending the break with Cathal, before another open mic would end the show. I was well rehearsed with a new selection of poems for this evening, excited to finish on another piece from my album. Drawn back near our small display of merch, i.e. our twin poetry booklet and my album and Stramm translations, I hid behind my mask and kept on Lemsipping while waiting for my slot. To my relief, the adrenalin did its job, and both my head and nose were clear, and my voice functioning, when I got on stage. The sound rose through the room in an almost sacral way, and the acoustics were just divine!

The audience reactions were wonderful, and many people approached me during the break to buy my album, the booklet, and even my Stramm book. They really enjoyed the performance and loved the music. My cold was holding me back from having conversations, so I was delighted to listen to Cathal’s set next, which was completely Hip-Hop. People loved his performance and gave him fantastic applause. After the event, Cathal was surrounded by people wanting to chat to him, and soon they headed into the night for a drink with members from the audience and family. John took me back to the hotel to bed down. It would have been inappropriate to stay, despite being the old night-owl that I am. I enjoyed reminiscing on the night while packing, and warmed up in bed while listening back to this morning’s radio interview.

Day Three

The next day began at 9:30 with breakfast again. This time, a young waiter took my order of scrambled egg on gluten-free toast, and he, too, had a hard time understanding my request for “a bit of butter, please”. As on the first morning, the response was a confused look, and twice he asked “Pardon?” This time, I adapted my pronunciation sooner: “Butter [‘bɐtɐ], please”, I said in a perfect English accent, which he understood immediately.

Swiftly after breakfast, John picked us up, again passing the Ring Road and the HS2-eyesore, to whip us back to Birmingham Airport where we said farewell. That’s when we realised we had forgotten to check in en-route in all the excitement. But Cathal was my tech-saviour, getting our boarding passes through his phone, and soon we settled into our flight back to Cork. I was overjoyed to get home and draw back to sleep to get well, while letting the excitement and the honour of this Cork Coventry Twin Poetry Exchange settle. With huge gratitude to Paul and Ó Bhéal, and Raef Boylan and the crew in Coventry.