Poetry Day Poems on the DART
DART commuters can enjoy great Poetry Surprises-themed poems on poetry posters across the DART fleet for two weeks from 23 April 2018, thanks to the generous support of Iarnród Éireann. If you've already spotted one, read more about it in our handy guide below by editor and broadcaster Niall MacMonagle.
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‘Shoe Politics’ Katherine May
Both flip-flops for half-nothing or the £276,237 for shoe designer Kathryn Wilson’s diamond-decorated high heels, will save you from going barefoot. But the difference is not only in the price tag. There’s the comfort factor, not to mention that phrase of our time: health and safety. Tottering on high heels is a high price to pay even if the feet are squashed into beautiful-looking shoes. Katherine May’s shape poem, in one way mirrors an elegantly stylish shoe but it also invites the viewer to ponder the painful consequences of wearing it. A daughter, washing her mum’s feet is very aware of hurting the hammer toes resulting from tight-fitting, stylish shoes and the poem prompts many questions. Do women choose this footwear or are they expected to turn up in heels? Who says women should add inches to their height? As the title suggests, it has become a political issue. When May presents the facts - in 2017 the Philippines banned the wearing of high-heels to work, open-mindedly claiming that it was sexist and painful but that same year the UK refused to do so - her tone is matter-of-fact, never angry. But the poem’s closing words, ‘women must wear shoes’, encapsulate an inflexible and stubbornly unsympathetic ruling. Injustice is clearly implied in the contrasting attitudes of these two countries. Forcing women to ‘put dangerous pressure on joints’ is misogynistic. Women should at least be allowed to choose. Standing tall is all very well but as Katherine May’s mother and her daughter well know, if you click those heels today, you could end up crippled tomorrow.
‘A Phone Call from Peter’ Mary Melvin Geoghegan
Mary Melvin Geoghegan son’s on top of the world when he excitedly phones home from New York. The phone call from Peter not only paints her son’s thrill at the view from the top of the Empire State building but summons up a wonderful mix of emotions. There’s nothing soppy here. The Big Apple buzz is felt down the line even if she’s the one who’s paying; the mundane detail of ‘the reversed charges’ have not gone unnoticed but nor have they dampened her joy. His voice and the setting transport her to NYC and other worlds come to life. The speaker’s mother and father, Peter’s grandparents, knew this city. She worked at Macy’s, he played in Central Park and those stories are better known to daughter than grandson. But the generations are united in this one moment. Peter’s voice, italicised, ‘Mum, this is great,’ is heightened, eager, elated. By contrast the mother’s reflective voice is calm, gentle, wry. In two sentences Melvin Geoghegan tells a family story that spans the generations. The opening line is dramatic, it is now and then, the present gives ways to the past but with ‘Also’ we are back in the immediate moment. Mother and son have been apart for two months. Their relationship has had its moments but their time apart has ‘cleared the lines between us’. Down the line there’s a renewed love and symbolic proof of her son’s love for her in remembering a book she had been looking for. A poetry book. Of course.
‘Cinderella Backwards’ Claire Dyer
Here is a poem that tells a wonderfully happy-ever-after story backwards. And in this instance it’s heading in the wrong direction, it’s a journey towards unhappiness. Both John Glenday and Angela Carter, who are acknowledged here, have interrogated the fairytale and Glenday’s poem ‘A Fairy Tale’ reverses the tale of the Princess happily- ever-after waltzing through imagined ballrooms and he returns her to illness and waltzing the laundry. Clare Dyer’s Cinderella story poem also brings us back through familiar scenarios. The opening stanza paints a picture of a man not going down on one knee to place a glass slipper on the perfect foot. The very opposite occurs and the reader’s expectations are unsettled. That the sequence is all wrong is evident in the many ‘uns’ throughout: ‘unbends’, ‘uncurls’, ‘unprinted’, ‘unplanned’, ‘unchime’, ‘unsearch’, ‘untunes’. This reversed love story is, step-by-step, the story of lost happiness, lost possibility, a lost future, until we are left with a Prince somewhere/ who unbelieves in love again’. The dream is shattered and ‘unbelieves’ becomes the loneliest word in the poem. The Prince no longer dreams of meeting his Princess. Not to believe in love and its potential is a dark and bleak way of viewing the world. When Cinderella is back in the kitchen sweeping the floor and sweeping a fairytale’s opening words ‘back in through the door’ we are down to earth. The often-heard words Once Upon A Time contains a magical and happy future but Dyer in a wonderfully inventive word tells us that, just as Cinderella’s dress ‘re-rags’, everything is dull normal again. We can dream, can’t we? But they won’t always come true. And Dyer here suggests that even if they do, they can unravel.
‘The Poets’ Orla Martin
It seems that Kavanagh’s ‘standing army of 10,000 poets’ grows and grows. Orla Martin sees them everywhere. ‘There they are.’ And though she pokes fun at them and though The Poets are given capital letters throughout she is also reminding us that poems and poets and poetry are vital. She herself, after all, is a poet too but the poem reminds us that no one, not even The Poets, should take themselves too seriously or think themselves too important. Poetry has been called a major art with a minor audience but we know that millions of people turn to poetry at those crucial, heightened, moments. W.S. Merwin reminds us, ‘poetry addresses individuals in their most intimate, private, frightened and elated moments . . . because it comes closer than any other art form to addressing what cannot be said.’ Funerals, Weddings are poets’ speciality says Orla Martin and the jaunty tone of ‘Handy at weddings’ keeps things light. That poets are different there is no doubt and there’s no doubting their versatility either. Their work is found in missalette and sex texts and always ‘Eloquently worded, grammatically correct’. They themselves are found in pub and café, in Tesco and in Aldi and the bicycle is how they get about. They get about too, of course, through their work, and the final image is one of poets keeping going, surviving in good times and bad, ‘in publication or rejection,/ in darkness, as in light’.
Martin’s tone for her fellow soldiers is ultimately affectionate. She is one of them. She is that soldier. There they are, a standing army.
‘Mindfulness’ Colm Brennan
The word mindfulness, a translation of the Buddhist term sati, has been around for some time. It occurs in Holinshed’s Chronicles, late 16th C and has meant different things through the centuries. Now it means being centred, being in the moment and it’s all the rage. Colm Brennan, who has been there, done that, is impatient with those mindfulness enthusiasts who urge and encourage others to live in the moment. ‘Don’t tell me’ occurs four times in the opening eight-line stanza. The speaker is clearly impatient with navel-gazing, mindful moments and the italicised words spoken by one who spends time in the zone, ‘Without your phone, like, truly alone’, is gently mocked: ‘gotta’, ‘you know’ and ‘like’ are jaded words. Colm Brennan thinks the whole think fakey. The insistent tone in stanza one gives way to confident statement with ‘I already know what it’s like’ at the beginning of the second stanza. Here Brennan paints different pictures of his being alone and content, indoors, outdoors. Lying in a darkened room, stomping over a forest floor, looking up at a bright grey November sky are ordinary experiences that become extraordinary and extraordinarily sensuous. For Brennan, those deeply appreciated moments are his kind of mindfulness. No need to sit cross-legged on a bedroom floor. His concluding stanza beings us to busier worlds. He knows all about the frenzied life but even while queueing, wiping a fugged-up window or hurrying through throngs this man seems in tune with Jane Austen’s belief that ‘A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing and can see nothing that does not answer.’ He knows the value of being totally at ease with oneself even in a frantic, frenetic world. His concluding line with its repeated ‘Don’t tell me’ returns to that impatient earlier tone. Yes, he knows about Mindfulness, he also knows that he knows hassle and he’ll do it his way, this mindfulness thing, when he gets the chance!
‘Planet Farage’ Jackie Kay
There are words that immediately meet with a definite, opinionated, strong response and some of those words include politicians’ names. No one is wishy-washy in their thinking or feelings about Trump or Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage. And the response is usually and understandably negative. Jackie Kay’s poem gives Farage a voice and with every line the irony is upped a gear. The title suggests that Mr Farage exists in a world of his own, that Mr Farage thinks he’s the centre of the world. In the poem’s nineteen lines, Jackie Kay uses No forty-eight times and each and every No is a grim reminder of the speaker’s arrogant attitude towards everyone and everything and every place. About Farage’s dislikes, the reader is left in no doubt. The poem’s opening line is direct and confident. ‘We’ implies a speaking-to-the-converted tone and though the use of ‘folks’ is chummy, the negative words ‘closed’ and ‘nailed’ are triumphant. Kay knows that a list is a powerful and persuasive technique and she uses it here to full effect. Everything is dismissed from trees to polar bears to euros. Jackie Kay uses exaggeration and humour to captures Farage’s absurd preposterous objections – ‘no vegetarians, no lesbians, no vegan lesbians’ - a technique that highlights the ugliness of prejudice. The xenophobic ‘no immigrants’, line 2, occurs again in line 16: ‘No immigrants, no immigrants’, in a particularly ironic framing device given that Farage’s great-grandfather was born to German parents who moved to London at the beginning of the 19thC. His grandson wouldn’t let Great-grandad Farage in now if he had his way. The smug and vulgar closing lines sum up planet Farage, a planet best avoided.
‘Dear Ugly Sisters’ Laura Mucha
In this farewell poem, Cindella’s speaks in sing-song, nursery-rhyme tones. And why wouldn’t she? The mood is jaunty. She’s been to the ball, she’s met her Prince, she is ‘leaving tonight’. And she’s married. But Laura Mucha leaves you in no doubt of the drudge, drudge, drudge of housework that Cinderella is now leaving behind. Everything is done and dusted. This Cinderella is house proud and thorough. The lines are wonderfully balanced and end-rhymed. The brisk verbs allow those lines to skip along – it’s as if the work involved was just no bother at all. But now that she’ll never have to work again, the poem contains Cinderella’s feeling of release. The picture painted contains little details and broad strokes: from chopped veggies and cleaning the sink to washed skirting boards and polished floors. This domestic goddess is a multi-tasker and though the place is shining Mucha enjoys getting her dig in. Cinderella reminds us of the awfulness of some chores – washing the Ugly Sisters’ stinky socks. It’s also a thoroughly modern poem, this Cinderella has had the car serviced. She’s thought of everything. She even wishes them ‘good luck with the chores’. The reader is certainly on her side by the final line when Cinderella removes her apron, leaves the keys to her imprisonment behind. Her happily-ever-after is about to begin. One can only cheer and enjoy imagining how the ugly pair will cope.
‘Sa Bhaile/At Home’ Aifric MacAodha/David Wheatley
This poem quietly celebrates a woman’s kindness, a woman’s giving, caring nature, a woman’s intuition, and above all else a woman’s wise and practical good sense. And though it has a universal reach it is also very much a poem rooted ‘in Éirinn’. The very title, ‘Sa Bhaile/’At Home’, suggests a safe and comfortable place. The opening lines, ‘Tá, in Éireann,/ bean anois ann’, conjures up a wonderfully engaging picture of a female presence within an entire country but also within a room. This larger and smaller setting, a country and a domestic setting, empowers the individual at the heart of this poem. The lovely music of ‘a léann . . . a leannáin . . . na leapan’ is matched in David Wheatley’s translation in ‘reading . . . bedridden’ and the poem tells a story that goes beyond that initial scene of a woman at a bedside to include a very realistic, complex and difficult situation. But it’s a situation that is governed by love. The unnamed woman will read to the old man, will care for the young girl and all for her sweetheart, her lover. What binds her is this love, so much so, that ‘She must and she must/ not walk out’. Here, the very repetition of ‘must’ captures the woman’s inner conflict, as does the ‘tá agus níl’ of the original. The woman at the centre of the poem feels sidelined, out of place but a memory of her granny’s coping technique reminds her of how to be resilient. ‘Ní chloisim thú, John M’ is clever, humorous and above all a brilliant object lesson in self-preservation. In calling her man ‘John M’ she distances him from her very slightly but in a necessary way. She knows that she needs her own space. In Wheatley’s version, the closing lines achieve a wonderful complicity, provide a fine survival guide and remind us that amongst woman there is an easy wisdom and that women possess fine coping mechanisms. Though ‘at home’ and though everything isn’t perfect or harmonious, being ‘sa bhaile’ needn’t be limiting.
- Niall MacMonagle