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.

 

 

Stepping Out with Brendan Kennelly

The New Year simply hasn’t begun for me and lots of that is due to the fact that I’ve been waiting to take an acceptable photograph of birds to accompany the one poem that always gets a year going in my crazy mind.

I’ve gone out day after day and the birds are singing melodiously or soaring beautifully but it’s like they are playing hide and seek with me.

So here’s the poem and maybe someone would send me a 2015 photo of ‘summoning birds’ that I can add in to the post.

Begin

Begin again to the summoning birds

to the sight at the light at the window,

begin to the roar of morning traffic

all along Pembroke Road.

Every beginning is a promise

born in light and dying in dark

determination and exhaltation of springtime

flowering the way to work.

Begin to the pageant of queuing girls

the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal

bridges linking the past and future

old friends passing through with us still.

Begin to the loneliness that cannot end

since it perhaps is what makes us begin,

begin to wonder at unknown faces

at crying birds in the sudden rain

Begin to the pageant of queuing girls

the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal

bridges linking the past and future

old friends passing through with us still.

Begin to the loneliness that cannot end

since it perhaps is what makes us begin,

begin to wonder at unknown faces

at crying birds in the sudden rain

at branches stark in the willing sunlight

at seagulls foraging for bread

at couples sharing a sunny secret

alone together while making good.

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending

that always seems about to give in

something that will not acknowledge conclusion

insists that we forever begin. 

From: The Essential Brendan Kennelly: Selected Poems (2011) edited by Terence Brown and Michael Longley ( Bloodaxe Books)

P.S. The photograph that I like best from my numerous expeditions in search of ‘summoning birds’ since January 1st is this one. 

Hope

 

 

 

The Most Uplifting Poem I Know

There is no poem that I find fresher, more uplifting and inspirational than this one from Ireland’s Brendan Kennelly whose poetry, voice and smile are legendary.

Begin

Begin again to the summoning birds

to the sight at the light at the window,

begin to the roar of morning traffic

all along Pembroke Road.

Every beginning is a promise

born in light and dying in dark

determination and exhaltation of springtime

flowering the way to work.

Begin to the pageant of queuing girls

the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal

bridges linking the past and future

old friends passing through with us still.

Begin to the loneliness that cannot end

since it perhaps is what makes us begin,

begin to wonder at unknown faces

at crying birds in the sudden rain

at branches stark in the willing sunlight

at seagulls foraging for bread

at couples sharing a sunny secret

alone together while making good.

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending

that always seems about to give in

something that will not acknowledge conclusion

insists that we forever begin. 

From: The Essential Brendan Kennelly: Selected Poems (2011) edited by Terence Brown and Michael Longley ( Bloodaxe Books)

What’s your choice for ‘most uplifting poem?’

‘A Felt Relinquishing’ ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 365

As the door closes on 2013, I can think of no better way to wish you a Happy New Year than through this poem from one of my all-time favourite Irish poets:

Let It Go

by

Brendan Kennelly

Let it go

Out of reach, out of sight,

Out of the door and the window,

Through the city,

Over the mountains

And the sea.

I do not mean a mere escape,

A deliberate loosening

Of a brutal grip

Like that of church on soul,

Father on son

Or even love on the lover’s beautiful

Surrender to the dear pain,

Or any sin or sickness that could

Swallow a man.

I mean a different thing

Beyond desire to acquire or captivate,

A felt relinquishing

Such as can be seen

When the air yields to the bird

Or the green

Trunk of a tree surrenders

To the tactful advance of moss

Or when the river stirs

Its surface

To accept a drifting stick.

I feel such courtesy

When I let it go

From me to countries

I will never know

And I stand, hoping to discern

Its breath in my heart

At its return.

 

Poetry in Motion ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 204

Rose 'Poetry in Motion'
Rose ‘Poetry in Motion’

The concept of ‘Poetry in Motion’ is one that resonates hugely with me and I even went as far as buying a rose back in February that had that name. It is now in full bloom and I’ve been thinking more and more about who and what symbolizes ‘poetry in motion’ most for me. It has been an interesting ‘internal’ debate because it has made me realise that what I seem to admire most is the natural ~ be it nature itself, natural talent or nature as it manifests itself between people. So, here’s my top ten (out of hundreds) in no particular order:

#1. Tennis player Roger Federer in full flow.

#2. Former Waterford County Hurler, John Mullane whose natural talent and passion was a thrill to behold.

# 3. Irish athlete, Sonia O’Sullivan, as she sprinted to victory on the world stage.

#4. The dimpled smile of Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly when he introduced his poetry at a reading I attended in Trinity College, Dublin when I was a Junior Freshman.

#5. The sheer talent and handsomeness of  golfer, Seve Ballesteros, who I was fortunate to see playing at the Irish Open in Mount Juliet, Co. Kilkenny.

#6. Irish boxer, Katie Taylor, as she danced to Olympic Gold.

#7. The sea kissing the shore here in my beloved Co. Waterford.

# 8. The brilliance of Michael Flatley and Jean Butler as they performed in Riverdance.

#9. The great Liam Clancy with his natural talent as singer, story-teller and musician.

# 10. A deep, enriching hug with someone who truly cares.

I’d dearly love to know what your list would be?

The Voice of Brendan Kennelly ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 124

This week saw the birthday of the poet Brendan Kennelly who has had such an impact on me since I first heard him read during my first year in Trinity College, Dublin in the mid-1970s. I was a young student of Economic and Social Studies then but had heard all about Brendan Kennelly’s brilliance from my brother and sister who had both studied English and were fortunate enough to have him as one of their lecturers.

Brendan Kennelly
Brendan Kennelly

I wrote about the amazing experience of being at that poetry reading in the early days of this blog and thought I would leave it at that.

http://wp.me/p1ip9d-6Y

But, I just can’t let this week go by without saying Happy Birthday to a man who has brought me such solace, laughter and sheer inspiration.  I am delighted to be able to bring you his voice through a short film made by his editor, Neil Astley. Sit back and enjoy it!

 

Overwhelmed ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 95

The word ‘overwhelmed’ is one that I tended to associate with the negative until this morning. I remember once being really upset and a doctor asking me: ‘Are you overwhelmed?’ The question has stayed with me but I can’t remember if I answered or was jogged off somewhere else thinking about the meaning of such a question.

Today, I stepped into the day after St. Patrick’s Day thinking that Ireland had done her bit yesterday. It was early and for some unknown reason, I had dew on my mind. I wanted to capture one of those stunning photographs you see in National Geographic of dew drops. Dew fascinates me because, although it can look so very like a teardrop, it isn’t salty.

Well, Ireland certainly didn’t have a hangover or anything remotely like it. All was peace and everything seemed to be at one with itself.

I could post about 50 photographs here but I just keep thinking of the words from Brendan Kennelly:

A man should clear a space for himself

I saw that man this morning out in Tramore Bay:

Tramore Bay, Co. Waterford.
Tramore Bay, Co. Waterford.

Happy New Year ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 21

Newtown Wood, Tramore, Co. Waterford
Newtown Wood, Tramore, Co. Waterford

I would like to wish all my followers and readers of Social Bridge a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2013.  The poem that I would like to bring you today is one of my all time favourites and it always strikes me as being so relevant to New Year’s Day.

I must say, too, that I love the middle line,  ‘bridges linking the past and the future,’  and hope that Social Bridge will continue to serve as a stopping point  where we meet in the present and take time to build on the myriad of connections and threads of life that we share.

Begin

by

Brendan Kennelly

Begin again to the summoning birds

to the sight at the light at the window,

begin to the roar of morning traffic

all along Pembroke Road.

Every beginning is a promise

born in light and dying in dark

determination and exhaltation of springtime

flowering the way to work.

Begin to the pageant of queuing girls

the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal

bridges linking the past and future

old friends passing through with us still.

Begin to the loneliness that cannot end

since it perhaps is what makes us begin,

begin to wonder at unknown faces

at crying birds in the sudden rain

at branches stark in the willing sunlight

at seagulls foraging for bread

at couples sharing a sunny secret

alone together while making good.

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending

that always seems about to give in

something that will not acknowledge conclusion

insists that we forever begin. 

From: The Essential Brendan Kennelly: Selected Poems (2011) edited by Terence Brown and Michael Longley ( Bloodaxe Books)

A Happy Life ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 7

Brendan Kennelly
Brendan Kennelly

Brendan Kennelly is one of Ireland’s best-loved poets. He is very much ‘the people’s poet’; a man with great intellect, humour and the most wonderful dimpled smile.

His poem  A Happy Life is one which often makes me stop and think.

A Happy Life

What constitutes a happy life? 
Enough money to meet your needs 
steady work 
a comfortable fire 
a clear distance from law 
a minimum of city business 
a peaceful mind and a healthy body 
simple wisdom and firm friends 
enjoyable dinners and plain living 
nights free from care 
a virtuous wife who’s not a prude 
enough sleep to make the darkness short 
contentment with the life you have, 
avoiding the sneer, the poisoned sigh; 
no fear of death 
and no desire to die.

( from: Brendan Kennelly,  Martial Art ,  2003)

Woodstown Beach, Co. Waterford on National Poetry Day in Ireland, 2012

National Poetry Day, October 4th, dawned to perfection here in Co. Waterford. High tide was at 8.30am and Woodstown Beach sent out its whispering call. I arrived there shortly after 9.00 with my swimming gear and was greeted by the the most welcoming sea imaginable.

Tropical blue with sweet little waves embroidering the shell-strewn sand. While I had been thinking of John Masefield’s Sea Fever, on my way there, the moment I ran onto the beach John Keats’ On the Sea immediately took over:

On the Sea

by

John Keats

It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell.
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!

As I floated in the sea, it was as if I could see poetry being written by nature. The moon had decided to stay up for the occasion and was gleaming across the water at the rising sun.

A woman, who was walking her dogs, called out to me, with a smile: You’re crazy.

As I smiled back, saying,  Oh, it’s bliss, lines from Brendan Kennelly’s poem Hope came flashing into my happy and connected mind:

Our skies are brightening up today.
I love your company, dear friend,
and always will, come what may.

I dream of being the living song
everyone would love to sing.
Impossible? No. That’s me. Let’s keep walking

until both our hearts are singing.