T S Eliot Prize for Poetry winner Sinéad Morrissey is set to embark on a Russian adventure next month, as she attempts to unravel the story of her family’s Communist past, her love-affair with its literature and the country’s overwhelming influence on her own writing.
In what will be her first ever trip to Russia, the first Belfast Poet Laureate will travel to Moscow this August with Arts Council and the British Council on a journey to retrace her grandfather’s footsteps and find out more about the history of the place which did so much to shape her atypical childhood.
During her three week trip, Sinéad will be based in Moscow, where she will also host a series of talks and meet with contemporary Russian poets. Part of the Arts Council’s International Arts Programme and the British Council’s UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, the Queen’s University creative writing lecturer and Belfast’s best-known female poet has high hopes for her inaugural visit.
Commenting on her trip Sinéad said, “I have written so much about Russia, poems about the Revolution, the artists, Soviet ideology, the atrocities. Even though I’ve never been there before, I have found it a fascinating poetic subject and am sure the trip will inspire future work. Because of my family’s deep connections to the country, this also feels like a momentous visit to me, and I am honoured to follow in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, though of course under very different circumstances.”
Born in Co. Armagh but raised in Belfast, both Sinéad’s parents and grandfather were committed Communists. As a child she was regularly taken to Communist Party meetings, social events, and Christmas bazaars. As an adult, Sinéad’s interest in Russian history and literature has deepened.
Sinéad’s grandfather, Sean Morrissey, an executive member of the Communist Party of Northern Ireland, was invited to the Soviet Union on a four-week holiday by the Soviet Communist Party in August 1974. His wife Catherine accompanied him. He was invited to the Soviet Union again in the 1970s and in the 1980s visited Kabul when it was under Soviet occupation.
Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council commented, “Anyone familiar with Morrissey’s work will already be aware of the Russian imagery and references which run through her poetry. Her story, growing up in the often secret world of Communist Belfast, is a fascinating one and it was with great interest that we listened to her plans at long last to visit the place which has influenced her so much.
“We are delighted to be able to support her on her trip and provide an international platform for her to share her work. This journey will be a chance for her to reconnect with the past and no doubt inspire many more years of her writing.”
David Alderdice, British Council Director, Northern Ireland, commented: “What a pleasure it is to be involved in supporting Sinead’s Russian adventure! Now more than ever we need to give our artists the space to explore and share the power of art beyond frontiers. We know Sinead will inspire those she meets in Russia and our hope is that they too will inspire her in return. That creative connection and the long-term benefit in building trust and engagement is what we exist to nurture”.
Sinéad Morrissey will travel to Russia on 9th August for three weeks. During her time there she plans to visit the Russian photographic archives and the homes, museums and graves of the great Russian poets of the 1920s and 1930s she admires so much – Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam and Marina Tsvetaeva. She will also visit the International School of Revolution in Moscow and look at their archives on Communism in Ireland and Northern Ireland.