The Light ~ Brendan Kennelly

There was a big gathering in Dublin today to  honour the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, who is now 80 years of age. Watching him on the RTE news, alongside the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, I was reminded of one of the very first posts I wrote here on my blog. That was back in 2011 and it was highlighting how Brendan Kennelly was a social bridge in my life.

I know that very, very few people read that post which was  written from the heart about a man who had a huge impact on me, especially in my first year in Trinity College where he was Professor of English while I was a struggling Sociology student.

This is what I wrote back then:

THE LIGHT

kenelly20brendan3
Brendan Kennelly in the 1970s

Knowing that Brendan Kennelly celebrated his 75th birthday this week, I am prompted to recall my reaction to his collection Reservoir Voices (2009).  Seeing the book on the shelf in the  Book Centre in Waterford  gave me a sense of comfort and it was almost like he was responding to a poem I had written about him a few months earlier. The poem,  The Smile,  related to my first term in Trinity College in 1975, when I was  just seventeen and  incredibly homesick.  I had the good fortune to be able to attend a lunch time poetry reading of Brendan Kennelly’s early on that term and it was one of those bridges in my life that I have never forgotten. It was to lift my spirits and give me the hope I needed to press on and  gradually come to thoroughly enjoy my College days.

 

The Smile

That first day on Trinity’s cobbles

confirmed the hard-hitting prognosis

that my dreams of professional tennis

were shattered like my throbbing wrist.

Economic and Social Studies, what a prospect!

 

Brendan Kennelly dissolved my pain

for a fleeting hour, in a packed, steamy

room in Front Square. His voice,

his smile, his dimples inviting

me into his past, his solitude, his heart.

 

Economics was waiting to trip me up.

Tried to drill it in ‘til dawn

with mugs of  black Bewley’s Java.  

Saw familiar words on the dreaded paper;

momentary hope, head too heavy, faltered.

 

I scrambled through the September repeats;

got into my running with Sociology

and tennis. How many times did I

dash past Brendan Kennelly on the cobbles?

He’d smile; but why did I never slow down?

I must confess that I always hoped that I would inspire Brendan Kennelly to write a poem as I ran past him in my short tennis skirt towards the courts in Botany Bay.  And if I am really honest, I hoped that I could be his muse like John Betjeman’s, Joan Hunter Dunn, and that he would  immortalise me forever in lines like:

Love-thirty-love forty, oh weakness of joy,

The speed of a swallow, the grace  of a boy

With carefullest, carelessness, gaily you won,

I am weak with your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

I still regret that I didn’t seize a golden moment to speak to Brendan Kennelly which was presented to me in Ballybunion one hot Summer’s day in the mid-1980s.  I was swimming in the sea at the main beach in the town when suddenly I caught sight of a familiar figure jogging along by the water’s edge. Yes, it was the man himself, in his native Co. Kerry, and there I was paralysed in the water just watching him run with the carelessness of Joan Hunter Dunn. I waited ‘til his back was turned and then sprinted up the beach to retrieve my clothes and disappear into the crowds.

No one was more delighted than I, when Toyota  brought Brendan’s  Kennelly’s voice back into my life with its massive advertising campaign and then, just a few years back, I  heard a haunting programme in which  he was speaking  of his love of walking around Dublin just before dawn.  Suddenly, I was catapulted back to the Dublin of my late teens and early twenties. Yes, I had walked those deserted streets on my way home to my bedsit in Ranelagh.  I had known the peace he spoke of – a city with no traffic and the sound of birdsong at dawn. I also knew the comfort and coffee aroma of  Bewley’s  in Westmoreland Street,  at breakfast time, with Brendan Kennelly sitting within my sights  and reading with such concentration that I couldn’t possibly disturb him.

Plunging into Reservoir Voices, I was stunned to find that it was inspired by an Autumn sojourn in America where he experienced a period of intense loneliness which he tried to cope with by contemplating a reservoir near Boston College.  The very idea of Brendan Kennelly ‘sitting alone … feeling abject emptiness’ stretched my emotions to their absolute limits. How could this be possible?  Here was the man who had dissolved my angst in a mere hour and who I had assumed to be beyond the hand of darkness and dislocation readily admitting to his experience of it over a  period of weeks.  He makes the point that sometimes dark loneliness can lead to light.  If I had happened to come upon him sitting alone at that reservoir, I hope I would have had the nerve to tell him how his presence was once that crucial light in my young life.

 

 

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

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