Vona Groarke

Inspired by Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Vona Groarke created this poem for inclusion in A Poetic Declaration, commissioned for the Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME in Manchester, in September.


Vona Groarke is an Irish poet with eight published poetry collections to her name, who teaches at the University of Manchester. Vona’s poem was inspired by Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which codifies the right of everyone to have a nationality, which they cannot be arbitrarily deprived of. Vona Said:

“Nationality can be a tricky concept to pin down, especially for those of us who live in a ‘foreign’ country. We adapt, of course, but something of ourselves is reframed in the process. My poem, ‘The Passport’, thinks about the slippage between the absolute facts of our nationality, (as defined in our passports), and our feeling about what national identity is and can mean in terms of life choices, habits and sensibility.

“I chose this Article 15 because, as an Irish woman who has taught in the U.K. since 2007, my sense of nationality is a living concern. Am I more Irish when in Ireland? Is my Irishness a matter of the fact of my passport or, more fundamentally, of my whole way of being in the world? Am I an ‘Irish poet’? At a time when ‘nationalism’ seems a fraught word, I wanted my poem to think about national identity in a more sensitive, subtle way, engaging with both narrative fact and speculation; with certainty and doubt.”

The Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME in September was held by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights UK charity.

The Passport

“Unless nationality is a feeling, what force can it have as an idea?”

George Eliot, Daniel Deronda

The Ulysses is all but empty, this low afternoon.
I am crossing again an Irish Sea
the same granite as the sky,
only a thin line darker between them
to pull from Holyhead to Dublin
the journey I thread twice a year.

Homegoers. Stragglers. Lorry drivers.
All of us cupped in the same three hours 
of Sky news and one-armed bandits
in a café otherwise numb;
Full Irish on all-day special,
cheaper bought in Pounds.

I lay my head down on my bunched-up coat
like any traveller; thinking in waves, 
in engine throbs, as the small hum of all I am
(car keys, body, passport, phone)
slips into the background hymn
of all that I am not.

Which is where, eventually,
I will have to account for myself;
pinball my way, passport in hand,
through the sin a bhfuil of the shibboleth
and the inquisition of Immigration
where a uniform behind plexiglass

will hold the sight of me up to the fact of me, 
and permit me pass, or not.
Where a machine will calculate
(this much nation, this much age,
this much fingerprint)
how much I resemble myself;

Or where I’ll be led off to the room
by the man to checklist the jist of me: 
how I take my coffee, who I love, 
what I’d choose if I had to choose
between a banjo concert and an ice bath,
my favourite Beatles song.

There he will set me to pronounce
Cobh, Domhnaill and Caoimhe; 
sixth, Mousehole and Worcestershire,
and make me to declare where I call home. 
And there we will sit in our various silence
while voices outside spill from door to door.

Oh, Passport, that has the measure of me
(fact by truth by certainty)
remind me, Who goes there?

Vona Groarke

Vona has published eleven books with Gallery Press including seven poetry collections, (the latest being Double negative, 2019): a prize-winning Selected Poems (2016); and Four Sides Full (2016) – a book length personal essay on art frames, ageing and much else. Her translation of the eighteenth-century Irish poem, “Lament for Art O’Leary”, was the basis of an opera by composer Irene Buckley. Former editor of Poetry Ireland Review and selector for the Poetry Book Society, she was a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, 2018-19.

She teaches at the University of Manchester and otherwise lives in Co. Sligo, in the west of Ireland. Her eighth poetry collection, Link, an experimental hybrid of poems and prose was published in October.

First published in A Poetic Declaration, September 2021

On Human Rights Day, 1O December, a Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created by school children from Greater Manchester, to view it – click here

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