Thursday, April 25, 2013

Long, longer, longish

With thanks to Poetry Ireland Review (the poem appears in issue 109, edited by John F. Deane). The issue is partly devoted to long, longer and longish poems, which tend not to get much room in journals as a rule. Galway Kinnell, Harry Clifton, James Harpur, Patricia McCarthy and Robert Minhinnick also contribute longer pieces, and there's an interview with Bernard O'Donoghue.

Housed unhoused

In the dream of perfect ownership
light drenches the wood, falling
through windows long looked through.
The wine and the oil sleep in the store
and small gods have come to rest
in hearth and threshold, tile and countertop,
in doors, in handles smooth from long use.
They inhabit radios, tumbling clothes,
the silence of the winter yard, and when we’re here
they stream through us so every breath
is altar and core. Robed with home we go,
from room to room moving with grace,
lords of our little universe.


Who could forget the poet’s house, the one he made
when he ran out of money and time
and what the world couldn’t provide
he supplied himself, in verse after verse?
Remember the stonework, the avenues, the orchard?
Next came flowerbeds, the kitchen garden,
the wine cellar and the wood where every morning
he strolled for kindling. One river
led to another, a rusted gate grew meadows
where the autumn poured its aching light
and every evening he walked the boundaries
with calm affection, working the land
so hard in his mind when frost comes in April
we stumble from our beds, fearing for his vines.


This is the house that Jack lost, that packed up
and slid away, forgetting Jack and everyone else,
the faces, the photographs, breath on the mirrors,
prints on the bed, forgot hands, feet, fingertips
and so removed us not a crack in the wall or a stain
in the floor remembered anything that came before.
Our uses passed, our noise fell back to whisper, rumour,
the age before silence gripped and held.
This is the absence the house proposes,
the emptiness we rush to fill when we enter,
eyes darting from corner to corner,
until we’ve hammered ourselves into it. This is the house
that Jack retrieved, hauling it back from ice-beds, oceans,
that he voiced, echoed, ghosted, that slips through his fingers still.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dennis O'Driscoll

I was asked to talk about Dennis O'Driscoll in a tribute to him at the Barrow River Arts Festival last Sunday. His brother, Declan, read from his autobiographical essay on his home town, Thurles, and Marcella Riordan read a selection of his poems.

It's a strange experience to be here speaking about Dennis because I can still hardly fathom the fact that he's no longer with us. I still expect to bump into him, to carry on the conversation with him – the one ongoing conversation about poetry that we'd been having on and off for thirty odd years. It seems like a moment since we stood and chatted in Hodges Figgis in Dublin. He was buying presents, concentrating hard and looking a little lost in the non-poetry section of the shop, on his way to a poetry launch. He'd been to visit some of his beloved art galleries in the afternoon. Bookshop, galleries, poetry launch: a typical urban routine. The things that mattered. What did we talk about? Poetry, of course. We never really talked about anything else. What we were reading, what we were working on. I chanced an inquiry about his health but he swatted it aside, as always.

I suppose in one way I couldn't say that I knew Dennis well. He was an intensely private man, and he had a lot of charming strategies to protect that privacy. Charm and privacy went hand in hand. I knew him as a poet, an artist, I knew him as a companion on the road to the strange destination that poetry is, and as with all companions, they're so much part of the road, the journey, you think they'll always be there.

As long as I've been writing, I've been aware of Dennis. When I was about twenty I remember going to see him give a talk on eastern European poetry. In his beard and tweeds, he struck me as a distinguished, slightly Dostoyevskian figure, yet he was no more than a few years older than me. He was by then a regular critic for Hibernia, sharp, unsentimental, interested in what was going on outside this small island. A little later I became aware of the early books Kist and Hidden Damages. Later,  Dennis often dismissed his first book as callow but I've long learned never to trust poets on their own work, and Dennis' early work is full of fine things – some of which I know we'll year today.

We often say that someone has a powerful presence yet find it hard to pinpoint the focus or the pulse of that presence. In Dennis's case a number of related things came together. There was his own work: the powerful, uncompromising poems, the essays and reviews, there was the personal presence: the encouraging word or postcard, the never exhausted fund of praise, the sense that whatever poetry was produced in the world he was somehow its first audience.

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