Some thoughts on writing poems & the inspiration of Paul Durcan
Published by Jan Woodhouse
Anyone who knows me reasonably well will know that my life, and the things I do with it, has a sort of circularity. I seem to lose interest in something more or less completely, but then, sooner or later, I feel a tug and start going back to it. This has particularly been the case with poetry. I have a certain ambivalence about poetry, as I find a lot of people who consider themselves poets seem to take themselves and their poems too seriously. And the poetry scene sometimes seems rather inbred, as if the poets understand that most of the world is pretty much disinterested in what they have to say and so they’re all writing for each other, and being published in magazines that nobody who doesn’t write poetry has ever heard of. Some of the best poetry (in my view) seems to happen in song, when the music conveys the lyrics.
I can’t write music. I wish I could. But once in a while an idea comes to me, and poetry seems to be the most appropriate means of expressing it.
The three poems below were all written during the past few weeks. The first was written when I was unexpectedly in hospital. The second two were written after – thanks to a review by Kate Kellaway in The Observer – I ‘discovered’ Paul Durcan. I’m not sure where he’s been all my life, as he was born in the same year as I was (1944), but I’ve since bought the book that was reviewed (Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being) and I find there are poems in this I can relate to. So I think the second and third of my poems below were inspired by these.
Death of Muriel Meek
All quiet in the ward.
I was eating my cornflakes,
admiring the view across from the car park.
A solitary pylon. Pink sunrise.
Birds flying. Snow still on the fields.
Muriel was up in her chair
and Muriel’s porridge arrived.
But Muriel sat, still as the snow.
A sudden rush of voices,
bells, wheels, feet
and the curtains closed.
Time of death recorded.
Soon ward life resumed
as normal, more or less.
Just a notice forbidding entrance
to the space where Muriel lay.
And later, behind the curtain,
the laying out, making nice,
and the invisible departure.
A discreet pause before
the mattress was washed and rolled,
surfaces cleaned, and Muriel Meek’s
name wiped from the whiteboard
above the bed.
I’d heard her singing
herself to sleep.
I never finished my cornflakes.
I know my love (title of a traditional Irish song)
I should have been born in Ireland.
I’ve always loved the accent.
My first love was an Irishman.
Of course, he didn’t treat me well.
I knew my love by his way of walking
And I knew my love by his way of talking
I should have been born in Ireland.
Or if not, Wales. Or even Scotland.
How can you feel love for
Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, Staffs?
(That was before addresses had postcodes.)
I couldn’t wait to get away.
I had nothing to lose.
Just a hazy sense of home that lingered
in the scent of a lost garden.
Or, less poetically, in fields dissected
by bricks and tarmac.
The triumph of population over beauty.
He’s married, my Irish love.
He has friends on Facebook
and watches The Twilight Saga.
No doubt he still drinks Guinness
from the Liffey.
He showed me
that eve-of-execution poem
by Padraic Pearse:
The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass . . .
After he’d gone, I searched
for my heart in Ireland.
Hitching a lift to Yeats’ Tower and Ben Bulben.
Eating blackberries and soda bread.
Trying to play tin whistle
in the mists of Clear Island.
Many years ago.
He’s fat. Gross. He could be a ‘she’ of course, but let’s stick with ‘he’. And he’s blatantly fat. And he should be building nests like all the other birds. But while they’re out there being busy he eats the seed I’ve scattered to entice the chaffinches and goldfinches. He’s always on his own. A Billy-No-Mates. He hasn’t got a nest and so he hangs around and eats. And shits. And I shoo him away but he always comes back. He’s fat.
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