24 September 2016



The thatch dripped soot,
the sun was silver
because the sky
from ruts of mud to high blaze
was water.
Whitewashed walls were silver
limeflakes opened like scissored pages
nesting moss and golds of straw
and russet pools of soot;
windows small as rat holes
shone like frost-filled hoofprints
the door was charted
by the tracery of vermin.
Five Gaelic faces stopped their talk,
turned from the red of fire
into a cloud of rush-light fumes,
scraped their pewter mugs
across the board and talked about the king.
I had walked a long time
in the mud to hear
an avalanche of turf fall down,
fourteen miles in straw-roped overcoat
passing for Irish all along the road,
now to hear a Gaelic court
talk broken English of an English king.
It was a long way
to come for nothing.

- Michael Hartnett

22 September 2016



A small sad man with a hat
he came through the Customs at Cobh
carrying a roped suitcase and
something in me began to contract

but also to expand. We stood,
his grown sons, seeking for words
which under the clouding mist
turn to clumsy, laughing gestures.

At the mouth of the harbour lay
the squat shape of the liner
hooting farewell, with the waves
striking against Spike Island’s grey.

We drove across Ireland that day,
lush river valleys of Cork, russet
of the Central Plain, landscapes
exotic to us Northerners, halting

only in a snug beyond Athlone
to hear a broadcast I had done.
How strange in that cramped room
my disembodied voice, the silence

after, as we looked at each other!
Slowly, our eyes managed recognition.
‘Not bad,’ he said, and raised his glass:
Father and son, at ease, at last.

- John Montague

21 September 2016



Do not be angry if I tell you
your letter stayed unopened on my table
for several days. If you were friend enough
to believe me, I was about to start writing
at any moment; my mind was savagely made up,
like a serious sofa moved
under a north window. My heart, alas,

is not the calmest of places.
Still it is not my heart that needs replacing:
and my books seem real enough to me,
my disasters, my surrenders, all my loss. . . .
Since I was child enough to forget
that you loathe poetry, you ask for some -
about nature, greenery, insects, and, of course,

the sun - surely that would be to open
an already open window? To celebrate
the impudence of flowers? If I could
interest you instead in his large, gentle stares,
how his soft shirt is the inside of pleasure
to me, why I must wear white for him,
imagine he no longer trembles

when I approach, no longer buys me
flowers for my name day. . . . But I spread
on like a house, I begin to scatter
to a tiny to-and-fro at odds
with the wear on my threshold. Somewhere
a curtain rising wonders where I am,
my books sleep, pretending to forget me.

- Medbh McGuckian

19 September 2016



Relatives bring her brochure after brochure with pictures
of chartered boats, bronze men, fire dancing, neon drinks.
But she won't leave the empty aquarium beside her bed.

When she was twenty she rode all over Belfast, dropping
into party after party with an erotic squint that made
all the college boys sit up in their seats.

When she walked into a room all the gum-smackers stopped smacking,
all the bent heads looked up, and the disco tunes stopped spinning.
Everyone leaned forward, waiting for her latest made-up story.

She always had our attention. During one of the worst hailstorms
in Belfast history she made us run through the streets with brooms
and penny whistles, shouting out messages of free love, seizing the night
by its throat. She was more woman than any of us knew how to handle.

Thirty years later and she reclines in her bed, pill after pill
in the palm of her hand. Sometimes her eyes seem to say yes
again to the full tilt, the marrowed life. But she only slobbers
some story about her lizards, how she must recapture them,
but they keep slipping, their tails breaking in her hands.

- Marcus Slease

18 September 2016



He went from the harsh tower of words,
Ancestral home of his mad angry god,
Who flung the lightening and laid flat the wood,
Crushing the field mice and the nesting birds.

He went from the high tower his fathers
Had built for him upon the edge of light;
Thinking things different in the world without
He hoped the cues would come to him from others.

He chose the hard path at the cross-roads,
As younger sons had done for many years,
And aped the men he met, the latest modes,
Until he reached the climax of his fears
And thought he recognised the stormy track;
As well he might. It was the same way back.

- Ruthven Todd

17 September 2016



I was born on the real birthday
of Jesus I thought I might
have been Jesus or
at least his best friend
but I wasn’t
I read the missionary guide
every morning at 5
my hair wouldn’t part
I got a perm
this was 1995
what is the purpose of life?

- Marcus Slease

16 September 2016



You are dying. Why do we fight?
You find my first published poem -
‘Not worth the paper it’s printed on,’
You say. She gave him marigolds -

You are dying. ‘They’ve cut out my
Wheesht - I have to sit down
To wheesht  - like a woman’ -
Marigolds the colour of autumn -

I need to hitchhike to Dublin
For Trinity Term. ‘I’ll take you
Part of the way,’ you say,
‘And we can talk if you like.’

And we talk and talk as though
We know we are just in time.
‘A little bit further,’ you say
Again and again, and in pain.

A few miles from Drogheda
You turn the car. We say goodbye
And you drive away slowly
Towards Belfast and your death.

To keep in his cold room. Look
At me now on the Newry Road
Standing beside my rucksack. Och,
Daddy, look in your driving mirror.

- Michael Longley