Sunday, February 26, 2012


Prostrate on the beach,
a slop of sea pulse,
a glob black as chewed tobacco
fallen from the lip.

My mother said -
the sea is sick,
it's breath on the beach is bad
and its puke is scattered
all over the sand.

She said
all its pin points are boiling,
its stomach heaves;
that it will yellow our skin
if it gets half a chance.

Then this morning,
when something with small eyes
came out of the sea,
I pelted stones at it
till the tractor came.

(from Sunfire)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How poetry can save your life

John Betjeman, at one time Britains’s Poet Laureate and best-selling poet, produced umpteen lovable rhyming poems. I’m very fond of them myself. So lovable, they saved his life.

Betjeman was a press attache in the British embassy in Dublin in the early years of the WW2. He was also working very successfully for British Intelligence. He appears to have had a winning way him and befriended many who hitherto would not have had any truck with his likes. (He got on well with Paddy Kavanagh). He was, however, picked up by the IRA radar and they plotted to kill him.

Poetry saved him. Years later Diarmuid Brennan, the IRA army council's head of civilian intelligence, wrote to him saying, "I came to the conclusion that a man who could give such pleasure with his pen couldn't be much of a secret agent. I may well be wrong". And on this basis, the plot was abandoned.

Now, there is no doubt that the poetry suggests a sort of loveable old versifier with a very English take on life, ‘a spot of tennis’ type of thing. But maybe the IRA needed an expert in poetry analysis, because behind this outer veneer, the poems are very accomplished indeed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tonight I Nearly Died.

Tonight I nearly died
in the Sunday chain
returning to Dublin.
A scythe
arched onto the road;
as I rushed
I nearly overtook life.

What did I learn?

My eyes are good
dilated in horror.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Familial Conflict

The wars go deeper, the psychology is deeply considered and brutal, the routes beneath the skin are so well known. No surprise then that civil wars are so ugly. No surprise that familial conflict is often savage.

No Tanks, No Guns,

neither mercy nor rules,
no limits;

not dogs nor even their teeth,
just ourselves quarrelling.

How dexterously we tease
at each other's sores,

making our incisions
with surgical precision.

Monday, February 6, 2012

This wonderful photograph by John Minihan appeared in Shadows From the Pale, Portrait of an Irish Town, (Martin Secker & Warburg Limited, London, 1996). The church dates from the sixties. If ever a photographer caught the incongruity of architectures from different times, it is here. And this picture gave me ammunition for a few short poems.

The Dressmaker

Eileen Johnston lived in one of cottages on Convent Lane;
her sign barely fitted between hall-door and eaves.
Long hours she spent, years fitting and pinning up,
face to her Singer lamp, tracking the straightness of seams,
crawling the railways of the world.

Women came with pictures of dinner-dance dresses or for alterations,
but less and less as the shop lights grew brighter,
their windows bigger, bigger than the cottages on Convent Lane;
and all the time the new church below was pointing away;
pointing away to the future.


The new church was a rocket
it soared
beyond Convent Lane.

The old cottages glared
at the wall opposite,
praying the rocket
be on its way.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Missing Guinness Advert

I'm very partial to a pint of Guinness,and for the moment I'm able to afford one or two, (though that could change anytime soon).

And I've enjoyed their ads over the years, particularly those going back a bit e.g.

A lot of them are available online but the one I'd really like to see,"The Big Wave", is only available as a very poor fragment. It was a cinema staple for years back in the seventies;you have no idea how beautifully those turquoise waves washed over my Galway days. This is all I can find,the music is wrong and I have a real yearning to hear that music again.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

inside this room,
this rain,
light is a mood

cigarette smoke
or drizzle

or cloud;
we hang within it,
our brains lanterns.