Prompting civic conversations with poetics of image and phrase
by Naomi HIGGINS
25 March 2022
The Imagine Festival has brought creativity, innovation, and imagination to Belfast yet again. With over 150 events, there was something for everyone. Accentuating the Political: A Civic Conversation took place 25 March 2022, and was an hour and a half long informal conversation with co hosts Denis Stewart and Anne McMaster. It didn’t take a festival for these two to get together for a civic conversation though, as their group meets on a weekly basis “to listen attentively and talk thoughtfully about issues that matter to them as citizens (of planet Earth)”.
Anne McMaster, a writer, poet, playwright and voice actor who recently published her debut poetry collection Walking Off the Land, and Denis Stewart, a retired historian and enthusiast for conversation in civic spaces, started this poetical civic conversation during the first lockdown of March 2020. Since then, a rotating group of participants have joined virtually, almost every Thursday, to have an hour long diverse conversations.
Stewart applied a technique of prompt cards. For this event, he showed an image of a young elephant holding onto the tail of an elder elephant and included the statement, “Pay tribute to qualities — feelings, relationships”.
From here, the conversation began to flow with a wide variety of responses encompassing the poetics of this image and phrase. One group member focused on the young elephant holding onto the elder elephant, their species being group beings they rely on each other, relating this moment to the media pictures of fleeing Ukrainian mothers holding onto the hands of their children. She pondered their fear and worry as they have left their husbands, sons, and brothers behind to fight the war, as they are allowed to flee.
The conversation continued with the Ukrainian war at its forefront. Together, we expressed fears for the future and hope. At present, 700 Ukrainian children have entered into Irish schools. A story of a host family going to pick up the refugee children reinstated faith in one man involved in the conversation. This mass migration to Ireland also reminded him of his own childhood, where he remembers Hungarian refugees coming in 1956.
The prompt allowed the conversation to flow in the natural direction of the individual mind. Each week with changing media coverage, personal experiences, and a changing prompt, participants are able to explore the poetical within a civic conversation.