24 February 2017


You had to drive across to Donegal town
To drop off a friend at the Dublin bus
So I said I’d come along for the spin -

A spin in the rain.
Bales of rain
But you did not alter your method of driving,

Which is to sit right down under the steering wheel
And to maintain an upwards-peering posture
Treating the road as part of the sky,

A method which motoring correspondents call
The hills of Donegal put down their heads

As you circled upwards past their solitary farmhouses,
All those aged couples drenched over firesides,
Who once were courting couples in parked cars.

You parked the car in Donegal town and we walked the shops -
Magee’s Emporium and The Four Masters Bookshop.
You bought ice-cream cones. I bought women’s magazines.

We drove on up through the hills past Mountcharles
And Bruckless and Ardara.
There was a traffic jam in Ardara,

Out of which you extricated yourself
Witha jack-knife U-turn on a hairpin bend
With all the bashful panache of a cattle farmer -

A cattle farmer who is not an egotist
But who is a snail of magnanimity,
A verbal source of calm.

Back in the Glenties you parked outside the National School
Through whose silent classrooms we strayed,
Silent with population maps of the world.

Standing with our backs to a deserted table-tennis table
We picked up a pair of table-tennis bats
And, without being particularly conscious of what we were at,

We began to bat the ball one to the other
Until a knock-up was in progress,
Holding our bats in pen grips,

So here we are playing a game of ping-pong
Which is a backdrop to our conversation
While our conversation is a backdrop to our game.

We are talking about our children and you speak
Of the consolation of children when they grow up
To become our most trusted of all companions.

I could listen to you speak along these lines
For the rest of the day and I dare say
You could listen to me speak also along my lines:

I have always thought that ping-pong balls -
Static spheres fleet as thoughts -
Have flight textures similar to souls’.

I note that we are both of us
No mean strikers of the ball and that, although
We have distinct techniques of addressing the table -

Myself standing back and leaping about,
Yourself standing close and scarcely moving -
What chiefly preoccupies is both is spin.

As darkness drops, the rain clears.
I take my leave of you to prepare my soul
For tonight’s public recital. Wishing each other well.

Poetry! To be able to look a bullet in the eye,
With a whiff of the bat to return it spinning to drop
Down scarcely over the lapped net; to stand still; to stop.

- Paul Durcan

22 February 2017


Plenty of gates to lean on around here,
and plenty of time to watch the horse-flies
on the dung, to see if they are really
generated from it. There is more chill
than blessing in this gentle breeze off Dartmoor,
more edge than you’d expect in September.
So: winter soon, after no summer.

Yes, this is the place: ‘Road liable to flooding’.
This is where Grace Ingoldby did handstands
on the frosty tarmac. Where Mick Imlah stayed,
when we nearly ran over the cliff
at Morwenstow, looking for Hawker’s hut
in which the old man composed, or didn’t.

Before Grace’s son died in the fire, and Grace died too.
Before Mick got ill. Today I am back on my own
to stare at these insects at their dreadful trade.

‘Now try your brakes’, it still says on the sign.

 - Bernard O'Donoghue

21 February 2017



The girl buried in the moor

     in the blue scarf of wind
          begin to dance

     in the yellow coat of sun
          ripeness is here

     in the gray sheet of water
          steep your griefs

     lie robed from looms of earth

- George Mackay Brown

16 February 2017


That Sunday, on my oath, the rain was a heavy overcoat
on a poor poet; and when the rain began in fleeces
of water to buck-leap like a goat, I was only a walking
penence reaching Kiltartan

and there so suddenly that my cold spine broke out
on the arch of my back in a rainbow;
this woman surged out of the day with so much sunlight,
that I was nailed there like a scarecrow.

But I found my tongue and a breath to balance it,
and I said:

‘If I’d bow to you with this hump of rain, I’ll fall
On my collarbone, but luck I’ll chance it’; and after falling bow again
She laughed: Ah! she was gracious, and softly she said to me,

‘For all Your lovely talking I go marketing with an ass, I know him.
I’m no hill-queen, alas, or Ireland, that grass widow, So hurry on,
sweet Raftery, or you’ll keep me late for Mass!’
The parish priest has blamed me for missing second Mass

And the bell talking on the rope of the steeple,
But the tonsure of the poet is the bright crash
Of love that blinds the irons on his belfry.
Were I making an Aisling I’d tell the tale of her hair,
But now I’ve grown careful of my listeners
So I pass over one long day and the rainy air
Where we sheltered in whispers.

When we left the dark evening at last outside her door,
She lighted a lamp though a gaming company
Could have sighted each trump by the light of her unshawled poll,
And indeed she welcomed me
With a big quart bottle and I mooned there over glasses
Till she took that bird, the phoenix, from the spit;
And, ‘Raftery,’ says she, ‘a feast is no bad dowry, Sit down now and taste it.’

If I praised Ballylea before it was only for the mountains
Where I broke horses and ran wild,
And for its seven crooked smoky houses
Where seven crones are tied
All day to the listening-top of a half door,
And nothing to be heard or seen
But the drowsy dropping of water
And a gander on the green.

But, Boys! I was blind as a kitten till last Sunday,
This town is earth’s very navel.
Seven palaces are thatched there of a Monday,
And O the seven queens whose pale
Proud faces with their seven glimmering sisters,
The Pleiads, light the evening where they stroll,
And one can find the well by their wet footprints,
And make one’s soul!

For Mary Hynes, rising, gathers up there
Her ripening body from all the love stories;
And rinsing herself at morning, shakes her hair
And stirs the old gay books in libraries;
And what shall I do with sweet Boccaccio?
And shall I send Ovid back to school again
With a new headline for his copybook,
And a new pain?

Like a nun she will play you a sweet tune on a spinet,
And from such grasshopper music leap
Like Herod’s hussy who fancied a saint’s head
For grace after meat;
Yet she’ll peg out a line of clothes on a windy morning
And by noonday put them ironed in the chest,
And you’ll swear by her white fingers she does nothing
But take her fill of rest.

And I’ll wager now that my song is ended,
Loughrea, that old dead city where the weavers
Have pined at the mouldering looms since Helen broke the thread,
Will be piled again with silver fleeces:
O the new coats and big horses! The raving and the ribbons!
And Ballylea in hubbub and uproar!
And may Raftery be dead if he’s not there to ruffle it
On his own mare, Shank’s mare, that never needs a spur.

But ah, Sweet Light, though your face coins
My heart’s very metals, isn’t it folly without a pardon
For Raftery to sing so that men, east and west, come
Spying on your vegetable garden?
We could be so quiet in your chimney corner–
Yet how could a poet hold you any more than the sun,
Burning in the big bright hazy heart of harvest,
Could be tied in a henrun?

Bless your poet then and let him go!
He’ll never stack a haggard with his breath:
His thatch of words will not keep rain or snow
Out of the house, or keep back death.
But Raftery, rising, curses as he sees you
Stir the fire and wash delph,
That he was bred a poet whose selfish trade it is
To keep no beauty to himself.

Anthony Raftery 

(Translated by Padraic Fallon)

14 February 2017


We have to imagine the duties they leave behind
for the thrill of the river,
the kitchens and middens, the sheepfolds and clouded byres,
the old folk in their sick beds
mumbling prayers.
The day is bright
and this is their escape
from hardship,
but each has his private hurt, her secret dread:
the man who starts thirsty and tired, his body soured
with last nights schnapps,
then skates out to the bridge at breakneck speed,
away from the loveless matron hes had to endure
for decades;
the woman in blue and grey, keeping pace with her child,
untroubled for now, but never released from the fear
that her husband will catch her wasting his precious time
and beat her as hes beaten her for years,
the moment he gets her home.
At midstream, the children play
with makeshift hockey sticks and, near the church,
a man finds the thoughtless grace
of the boy he once was
to glide free
in the very eye of heaven;
it could be simple paradise foreseen
but up on the rightmost bank, amid thorns and briars,
someone has built a bird trap from a plank
set on a perch, from which a length of rope
snakes to a halfclosed door,
and all around it, birds dip from the air,
starlings and fieldfares, redwings, unaware
of any danger.
It seems a fable and perhaps it is:
we live in peril, die from happenstance,
a casual slip, a fault line in the ice;
but surely its the other thought that matters,
the sense that, now and then, theres still a chance
a man might slide towards an old
belonging, momentarily involved
in nothing but the present, skating out
towards a white
horizon, fair
and gifted with the grace
to skate forever, slithering as he goes,
but hazarding a guess that someone else
is close beside him, other to his other.

- John Burnside

13 February 2017

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- Gillian Allnutt

11 February 2017


Half open his eyes were, and held me, dull with the smoke of their dreams;
His lips moved slowly in answer, no answer out of them came;
Then he swayed in his fingers the bell-branch, slow dropping a sound in faint streams
Softer than snow-flakes in April and piercing the marrow like flame.

Wrapt in the wave of that music, with weariness more than of earth,
The moil of my centuries filled me; and gone like a sea-covered stone
Were the memories of the whole of my sorrow and the memories of the whole of my mirth,
And a softness came from the starlight and filled me full to the bone.

In the roots of the grasses, the sorrels, I laid my body as low;
And the pearl-pale Niamh lay by me, her brow on the midst of my breast;
And the horse was gone in the distance, and years after years 'gan flow;
Square leaves of the ivy moved over us, binding us down to our rest.

- W B Yeats