The case for a Border laureate

The Border has left behind a dark, violent phase.The arts can help celebrate that

Ireland’s Border would benefit by having its own cultural ambassador to help reveal the place in all its complexities – Paul Muldoon perhaps. Photograph: Tony Pleavin

Ireland’s Border would benefit by having its own cultural ambassador to help reveal the place in all its complexities – Paul Muldoon perhaps. Photograph: Tony Pleavin

 

Stepping back and gaining some perspective can be useful when making a decision, but when Ireland’s Border is the subject it often seems decision-makers have only perspective and little else. The debacle over Ireland’s border and Brexit illustrates this.

Currently in Westminster a group called the alternative arrangements committee is trying to figure a way around the backstop; a magic formula that will keep everyone happy. The committee members are mostly MPs and business figures. However well-meaning, the alternative arrangements committee is sure to have so much perspective that its recommendations will not fit. They lack familiarity with ground, don’t know the nuances and the daily lived experience of the place.

The Border is a more or less random line running through interlinked rural communities. People live around it, on it and through it. It has people who call it home. We should make not just a legalistic case for the invisible Border, but also a cultural one. The Border has come through a dark, violent phase to become productive and open. This reality is something that deserves profile, it could even be celebrated. The arts are a way to do it.

Could the borderland have a laureate? It could be a cross-Border initiative. The recent appointment of new poet laureate in the United Kingdom, Simon Armitage, reminds us of the uses of such roles. Armitage’s brief is wide; write about a few significant events and generally promote poetry. He remains an artist but is now also a kind of free-ranging ambassador for the written word.

I think Ireland’s Border would benefit by having its own cultural ambassador, someone to help reveal the place in all its complexities. Paul Muldoon perhaps, or Patrick McCabe? I don’t think a Border laureate need be a writer necessarily; visual artists could represent the place too. Some of our finest photographers already do. Nor need the role exist forever. Belfast appointed a poet laureate in 2014, Sinéad Morrissey, but only for a year. The role came and went with her. Ireland’s Border may not need a laureate forever, but it needs one now. The Border’s future is currently being shaped.

Journalism is doing something to examine and discuss Border life, as are groups springing up from the borderland itself, such as Border Communities Against Brexit. But they are inevitability drawn into using language of the Border as “problem”. Westminster’s alternative arrangements committee will also be trapped in this view. The Border “problem” is the reason the committee exists. It is true that there are problems, but the Border is also a place. A place that has transformed in the last 20 years; it is now more meeting ground than frontier. A Border laureate could help reveal this place and show us that it has value.
Garrett Carr is the author of The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border

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