Paula Meehan's 'My Father perceived as a vision of St. Francis'

Paula Meehan 1955-

I first heard Meehan’s voice when she was being interviewed on ABC Radio, back in the day when the ABC had its token one hour poetry program. She had the kind of voice I wanted to borrow and bring home. I would invite it to stay and ask it to read bulky instructional booklets for long lost appliances. I would be attentive to every syllable the voice uttered no matter what it was reading.

Some voices are like that.

I scrambled to find her poems. it’s a poetry of Dublin domestic, and that is more compliment than description. You can sometimes be forgiven for thinking all British and Irish poets were born wearing cloth caps, and grew up on farms speaking obscure but ancient dialects. While writing odes to vegetables, they can effortlessly help a cow calve, skin rabbits with their teeth, and name the fifty two different species of flowers growing on the family dung heap.

Meehan’s is an urban poetry of streets and small houses, gardens, markets, meetings. The view from the upstairs window to the fields beyond. Flecked through with humour and rage and non-sentimental compassion. I come from Coventry. It makes sense.

This poem is the first in the collection ‘Pillow Talk’, Gallery Press 1994

Ciaran Carson, five sonnets from 'The Twelfth of Never'.

Ciaran Carson (Born 1948).

When I started doing this podcast, I knew there were some poets I had to read, and Carson was one of them. But what to read? And then how to read it. His characteristic long lined poems which mimic speaking voices are superb, but whenever I tried to read them I could hear myself drifting into a faked Belfast accent which made me sound exactly like someone trying to do a Belfast accent and failing.

So here are five of the 77 sonnets in the playful, lunatic, inventive 'Twelfth of Never'.

Tib’s Eve
Catmint Tea
The Horse’s Mouth
Fear
Envoy

Acutely sensitive listeners will realise these sonnets are written in Alexandrines, not Iambic pentameter.

Anon: 'Dom Niperi Septoe' or 'The Dairy Maid'.

I first heard Seamus Ennis tell this on the LP ‘Forty Years of Irish Piping’ where it serves as an elaborate introduction to ‘The Smoky House’ reel. It’s a strange story. It could be going anywhere, including towards something nasty, but when it gets to its extraordinary ending, it feels as though it could not have gone anywhere else.

It also dictates its own pronunciation which is also strange.

It’s printed in Ciaran Carson’s magnificent ‘Last Night’s Fun’, which is a book riding the same immaginative currents Ennis was sailing on. It is the only book I’ve ever read that captures what it’s like to play traditional music.

The printed version has a tail that reads:

Now, I knew that little girl years later
said Seamus Ennis,
and whenever we’d be playing music
we’d have to be careful
not to play ‘The Smoky House’.
Becuase if we did, she’d run a mile.
So we never played it,
after we found out that she was allergic
to this reel.
He took up a whistle and he played a reel he called ‘The Smoky House’ or ‘Whatever you Please’.

Seamus Heaney's 'The Given Note'.

In 2009 RTE issued a box set of Heaney reading all this poems, and once you’ve heard him read his own work, it never sounds right spoken by anyone else. But I like this poem. It evokes the traditional musicians and singers I’ve known over the years and suggests something more general about the creation of art.

You can also hear Heaney read this on the Cd ‘The Poet and the Piper’. As he approaches the end of the poem, Liam O’Flynn’s pipes bleed in to play a slow air. It’s perfect.

From ‘Opened Ground’…(1998/2013)

Derek Mahon's 'Everything is going to be alright'

Some poems stick in the memory, sometimes the whole poem, sometimes a phrase or phrases and resurface at the appropriate time. In this case ‘The poems flow from the hand unbidden/And the hidden source is the watchful heart.’ and ‘There will be dying, there will be dying/but there is no need to go into that.’

Sometimes the world is just too ugly to deal with and you have to find a reason for getting out of bed to face the day.

This particular poem, taken from Mahon’s ‘Selected poems’ (1991) is almost an invocation or prayer for the morning, but a complex one I’m not going to simplify by attempting to summarise in prose. Though I think the final line is more wish than prediction.