At 5 pm on Christmas Day, the Christmas Poetry Programme on RTÉ Radio 1 offers an hour of poetry, conversation and music, with guests including Rita Ann Higgins, Tom French and Marie Heaney.

Recorded before a live audience at the Poetry Ireland headquarters in Dublin, the Poetry Programme brings an hour of gorgeous listening to your Christmas afternoon. There are readings of poems old and new, reflecting the joys, humour and warmth of this time of year, while not forgetting that for many it is also a time of sadness and hardship. Devised in collaboration with Poetry Ireland, the Christmas Poetry Programme is not to be missed. The programme opens with a reading by actor Cathy Belton of Sinéad Morrissey’s poem Nativity, from her collection On Balance, published by Carcanet. Here’s Cathy reading an extract from the poem.

Olivia O'Leary chats with guest Marie Heaney, who recalls her own childhood memories of Christmas and pays tribute to the inventive teachers who organise the annual Nativity play. She chooses to read Thomas Hardy’s The Oxen as a favourite Christmas poem.

The inimitable Rita Ann Higgins reads two of her own poems, one recalling a Christmas in her early twenties that she spent in hospital suffering from TB, and one that resonates for many members of the audience, Visiting my Father at Christmas. Both poems are from her collection Ireland is a Changing Mother, published by Bloodaxe. Here she is reading the opening section of the poem Visiting my Father at Christmas:

The well known poem by Patrick Kavanagh, A Christmas Childhood, is a favourite of many, and the reading by Nithy Kasa, who moved to Ireland from the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was a teenager, makes it sound fresh and new to our ears. The poem is broadcast courtesy of the Trustees of the Katherine B Kavanagh Estate and the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency. Here’s Nithy reading the opening section of the poem:

Poet Tom French recalls a Christmas Day tradition from County Tipperary, and describes his young daughter’s wonder at experiencing snow. One of the poems he reads is Snowman (for Grace) from the sequence A Flurry in his 2009 collection The Fire Step, published by Gallery Press.

Kevin Doherty, Ciarán Tourish and James Delaney provide the music on the show.

The recording of the live show in December was so packed that not everything fitted into the broadcast, so here are two bonus poems. Steel Skin, by Julie Morrissy, is from her collection I Am Where, published by Eyewear Publishing and read here by Cathy Belton:

The Second Coming, by Roisin Kelly, is from her collection Rapture, published by Southword Editions. It is also read by Cathy Belton:

The Christmas Poetry Programme, RTÉ Radio 1, Christmas Day at 5pm  

Pictures: Tristan Hutchinson