Read about your 2018 Pocket Poem!
If you've been lucky enough to pick up a Pocket Poem on Poetry Day Ireland this year, then find out more about your poem in this handy guide by editor and broadcaster Niall MacMonagle.
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Poetry Day Ireland 2018 Pocket Poems gorgeous mini cards featuring Poetry Surprises-themed poems by writers including Tara Bergin, Moya Cannon, Vona Groarke, Francis Harvey, Seamus Heaney, Rita Ann Higgins, Sinéad Morrissey, Padraig Regan and Gabriel Rosenstock. Pick up a Pocket Poem in participating arts venues, libraries and bookshops, then read about your poem in our handy guide below.
‘Dirty Dancer’ Rita Ann Higgins
Picture an old man in a city park. It’s something one sees the world over. But if that park is in Hong Kong, chances are that Hong Kong’s seven-thousand high-rise buildings surround it. The old man, in Rita Ann Higgins’s poem, lives in one on the 80th floor. Lonely, walled-in, trapped, the park, ‘the Tai Chi garden,’ should be a place of calm, a place that restores you to your senses. But Rita Ann Higgins having named the place in the opening stanza immediately paints a surprising scene and contradicts expectations. No Tai Chi for him: he smokes, flicks through a porno magazine and ‘has a huge wart on his lip’. This ugly detail is given an emphatic sentence all to itself. That Hong Kong means ‘Fragrant Harbour’ adds irony. But the poet neither disapproves nor condemns. Higgins views the old man sympathetically, gives him a context and a defiant voice in which he justifies his behaviour. Being ‘in the park with porn’ – the phrase itself given an alliterative boost - is preferred to the cold loneliness so effectively captured in the closing lines where in his small room ‘the icicles of lonely/ jerking at my heels.’ The pornographically-suggestive, deliberately-reckless title, Dirty Dancer, suggests a stirring of youthful life in this old man.
‘Do the Sums’ Moya Cannon
Three familiar, different images, a single match-stick in its box, swan feathers along the seashore, a dripping tap remind the speaker of the passing of time. The match box was once full and ‘snugly’ suggests an easy, comfortable togetherness. But, one by one, the matches are spent. And so too are the years. A single match ‘rattles about on its own’, rattles a lonely, unsettling sound. Stanza one contains something one could hold in the palm of your hand. In stanza two the tideline conjures up a wide expanse. We are outdoors, the curved breast feathers of ‘a hundred swans’ and that wonderfully alive image of ‘a fluttering feathered boa’ suggests something soft and beautiful and exotic. But the tide comes in, goes out and so do our lives hasten on. The poem’s third image also features water but we are back indoors. A tap drips ‘all night slowly’. That is it night time, that the drip falls ‘all night’ and ‘slowly’ makes for sadness, sorrow. And yet a brimming bowl is an achievement. The years go by and the speaker has now lived ‘at least half of my life’. Though everywhere and familiar, images of transience surprise and astonish the poet, yet the poem ends on a resilient, intelligent, clear-sighted note. Life reminds us that we live in time. It all adds up.
‘This Poem’ Vona Groarke
It’s no accident that ‘poet’ means ‘maker’ and many poems are like well-made boxes, boxes that can spring open, slide open. Or lift the lid to reveal what’s inside. But not this one. This poem ‘won’t open’ in any expected way. Each one of Vona Groarke’s ten neat couplets begins with an emphatic ‘This’ and the poem takes us to such different places reminding us that poetry is everywhere, on street corners, in dives, in other people’s cars. And poetry is versatile: ‘it understands/ what it is to be a dog’, a poem can contain little hidden messages like ‘a teensy tattoo/ you’ll never get to see’. Poetry never ceases to surprise. It has an edge, it is beautifully secretive, it’s street-wise and the speaker here speaks in a voice with a quiet but confident swagger. Though each couplet clicks close on a full-stop, Groarke invites the reader to open up to poetry and in confident and playful assertions and statements This Poem recognises not only poetry’s democratic and ubiquitous qualities but its deep pleasure. And the modest tone in the final lines pokes fun at poems that are self-important. ‘This poem has no big plans for you,’ it doesn’t harass, preach, manipulate. It plays. And nothing is boxed in.
‘Ekphrastic Haiku’ Gabriel Rosenstock
A haiku, quiet and triumphant, contains a strikingly big idea within a small space. Martin McDonagh, quoting ‘Reflected/ In the eye of a dragonfly/ Mountains’, admires how a three-line poem can suggest that even ‘the most ugly and insignificant of creatures may have more importance than the most seemingly majestic and lasting.’ ‘Ekphrastic’ tells us that Gabriel Rosenstock’s haiku began as a painting and it then opens up and flowers in four languages: Japanese, Irish, Scots Gaelic, and English. Not every haiku follows the 5,7,5 syllabic count, this one doesn’t but it does connect the small and large, the tiny and the plentiful. Visually and imaginatively, a bullfinch perched on a plum tree suggests spring, beauty, promise. Each haiku here begins with the plum tree. The Japanese version mentions bough or branch [‘eda’] and the poem captures how the bullfinch’s eye, in mirroring the flowering tree, somehow holds the secret of spring and keeps it to itself. The different languages and the different poets’ versions from Kyoto, Edinburgh, Dublin unite rather than divide readers and remind us of the universality of the moment. That the plum tree is flowering ‘too’ in the bullfinch’s eye suggests that it’s also flowering in the viewer’s eye and the viewer’s mind’s eye.
‘Postscript’ Seamus Heaney
This get-away-from-it-all poem was written quickly. ‘Now and again,’ says Heaney, ‘a poem comes like that, like a ball kicked in from nowhere.’ Postscript captures a windy Saturday afternoon when Seamus Heaney and his wife Marie went for a spin in the car with Brian and Anne Friel along the south coast of Galway Bay. In the opening line, the easy, casual, welcoming tone invites us to head west, just as they did, and not in high summer but in September or October. The poem’s opening sentence, flowing through eleven lines, gathers momentum and captures in its rhythm, the freedom and delight of such a trip. The wind, the light, the greys of limestone, ocean, inland lake and white wild waves and swans’ feathers bring alive the restless world of sky, sea and lake. The brilliant wordplay of ‘roughed and ruffling’ is pure poetry. But the poem is also filled with the car’s movement and Heaney though delighting in this world of light and movement knows it’s ‘seless to think you’ll park and capture it/ more thoroughly.’ This, the poem’s shortest sentence, reminds us that the experience is fleeting, beautiful. Park the car and the magic is diminished. Heaney calls the poem a ‘holiday postcard - a PS of sorts – to the Friels’. This wonderful holiday snap, this postcard ends with a surprise, an explosion, an explosion of joy.
‘Six Haiku’ Francis Harvey
One man and his dog, another man and his dog and there’s room for them all in the wind and rain and the rain and wind of Donegal. In Francis Harvey’s regular 5,7,5 haiku sequence one haiku leads to another; these haikus step through the landscape revealing mountain, frozen lake, spring grass. They move through the seasons. And the speaker is at ease with himself and the world. In the opening haiku we realise that he’s happy to be alone with his dog: he’ll skirt a mountain to avoid another man, another dog. And he’s accepting of the persistent wind and rain. The one-word sentence, ‘Ireland.’ says this is how it is, this is Ireland. And bad weather doesn’t stop creativity. Trees get planted, poems get written, including, of course, this very poem on the page. The first three haikus are filled with movement but haiku number four stands still. Silence by a frozen lake. The speaker is silent, the two crows are silent. And then the interesting question ‘Who will break the ice?’ No one waits around for lighting to strike twice. Make your own lightning the poem suggests. And in the final haiku, a man is named and the lines are filled with warmth, growth, the feeling of spring without and within.
‘Stitches’ Sinead Morrissey
People hope, people dream and sometimes those hopes and dreams are shattered. Sinead Morrissey, in twelve lines, enacts a drama in which characters are never named, the situation is never spelt out but the powerful emotions rings true. The thrill of becoming a parent is there in the speaker’s awareness of the ‘extravagance’, the ‘spilled, exploded’ words. And by the final line that feeling is one of heartbreak, loneliness. A ‘stitch/ in a blanket made for an imaginary baby’ is a positive gesture and looks forward to new life, a happy time. But the baby is ‘imaginary’; it exits only in the imagination and the poem’s dominant symbol, the stitched blanket, though imbued with hope, is also imaginary. Parents stitch together, weave a story of what’s to come. ‘The words went south where the sun was, but stayed hungry’ paint a picture of anticipation and longing and yearning. All that looking forward to. Time plays its part, time passes: ‘the third month’, how face, hair, footprint followed and then the devastating truth that the stitches didn’t hold. And the grim surprise when the stitching comes apart. The stark reality of ‘no spine, no heart’, the monitoring dark screen contrasts starkly with the warmth and comfort of a baby in a baby blanket. Both now can only be imagined. The stitches came apart. It’s past tense. Every once excited, exploded word has been silenced.
‘Love Poem with Sandwiches’ Padraig Regan
Here’s a poem in the making. And how its twenty-two lines flow! A full-stop would be an impertinence. Immediate and engaging from the get-go, there’s a deliciously playful tone throughout as the speaker pokes fun at clichéd, poetically-titled poems. ‘Nocturne’, ‘Sparkling Wine’, ‘Aubade’ and ‘Figs’ conjure up romance and new beginnings and it’s not that the romance isn’t happening for Padraig Regan, it’s just that romance takes a wonderfully surreal turn. When evocative, sensuous words are written, ‘using/ blue ink & a brush’, on slices of white bread and when ‘tamarind & Roquefort &/ whole thickets of herbs’ are added the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Gourmet sandwiches. And all by way of seducing a lover. In the closing lines all wacky gestures are explained and the explanation is both gloriously sensuous and grounded. Forget nocturne and aubade, forget night time and dawn, the poet celebrates their lover’s naked body in broad daylight and their lover’s belly hairs are compared to soft, eatable bread. That belly has eaten the bread, now that belly covered in soft hairs is eatable. Eaten bread – not soon forgotten. The poem’s wonderfully tactile final image of a bread loaf pulled softly open captures the softness of sight and touch. The reader hears its quiet, whispering sound.
‘Wedding Cake Decorations’ Tara Bergin
The picture contained in the poem’s title should usher in everything to do with togetherness, celebration and happy-ever-after. Him and her, he and she on their special day. A new life is all magnificently about to begin. But the opening lines alert us. The white is not the white of the wedding dress or wedding cake but the white face of the bride. The groom is thin. And they’re stuck: no shoes, no feet, ‘They cannot run away!’ A blackly humorous response to a white wife, white groom. And yet the poem is not totally bleak. This couple will stick together. They will have each other. Repetition and rhyme in the opening stanza create a sing-song, nursery-rhyme tone but the changing rhythm and longer line in stanza two adds a seriousness. The three-line and two-line stanzas also register a different note. These stanzas slow down the poem. The mood darkens. And when the voice of the married man and his married wife is heard, and though they are only given one line, ‘Let’s hold each other tight’, that one line captures a mixture of emotions, their determination, fear, commitment. The word ‘So’ in the final stanza suggests resolve and acceptance. ‘Frightening’ in the final line is not the adjective one wants to hear when one thinks of a bride and groom together at night.
- Niall MacMonagle