Thursday, January 08, 2009
Shug's Favourite Poets Number 1: Patrick Kavanagh
Strange to say I am attracted to poets’ lives rather than their work. This is because I am a shallow fellow. My reviewing career was short but splendid – in Northlight magazine, anyone remember it?-and I am glad, because apart from giving my paltry tuppence worth to friends whose work I come across, I do not actually enjoy reading much poetry. There are exceptions, of course, but I often wonder if I am missing anything by this general neglect. I am very easily confused these days and last year’s TS Elliot Shortlist just about finished me off.
Nevertheless I have my favourites and I am going to inflict some of these upon you now and then. The first is Patrick Kavanagh, who, I lately discovered, is also Russell Crowe’s favourite poet. This is only one of many things that Russell Crowe and I have in common.
Kavanagh was born of country stock in Ireland and lived in London and Dublin. His work reflected the realities of life in rural Ireland and often fell foul of libel and censorship laws. His life was colourful, his output patchy, but after legal and health problems in the 1950s (he lost a libel case against a Dublin paper which had profiled him as an alcoholic sponger, then had a lung removed) his poetry went through a renaissance and he wrote many beautiful shorter lyrics, some on a favourite seat near the Grand Canal in Dublin, where his statue still commemorates him. He died aged 63, a bad age for poets, same age as Philip Larkin.
O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water, preferably, so stilly
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully
Where by a lock niagarously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges -
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
And other far-flung towns mythologies.
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb - just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.