It was dank, dark and misty for most of today here in Tramore but I got to see a magical smile as night was closing in.
I’d brought Puppy Stan to Kilfarrasy Beach for a run and we’d got caught in a downpour. It stopped raining just as we got back to the car and I decided to have one last look – with Dad very much in mind.
First a seal appeared all black against the rough seas and then it was as if nature smiled with all her heart.
And how not to love this shining stone that the high tide left as a present for us:
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:
Knowing that Brendan Kennelly celebrated his 75th birthday this week, I am prompted to recall my reaction to his collection ReservoirVoices (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.
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.
The world is full of highly complex and challenging issues ~ wars, starvation, greed, absolute poverty, inequality, quiet desperation, physical agony, homelessness, hopelessness …..
I often think that there is far too much of an ‘I’m alright, Jack,’ attitude out there and that there is a ridiculous level of crazy positivity knocking around, which essentially acts as blindfolds and earplugs to the hurt that is just around the corner, if even that far away from any of us.
I really worry about the message that the massive emphasis on positivity sends out. In short, I feel that stuff like: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ essentially makes people who are in horrible situations feel like it’s their fault for not being able to get out quagmires that would be overwhelming to absolutely anyone.
Some people, though, have a way of doing very simple things that reveal all that could be great in a world that often seems to be losing its way and imploding into ‘I’ ‘I’ ‘I-ness.’
Here’s one example of such simplicity which I happened upon, as I was out and about the other day here in Co. Waterford:
I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.
( Diane Ackerman)
I love this quote and it made me think of the road out near Ballyscanlon Lake here in Co. Waterford. You could be driving along this lovely winding road and not think to look over the high hedge. Lying beneath is one of the most delightful lakes I know:
There are times when I seriously doubt my sanity and those doubts came in massive waves the other morning when I went for the two hour walk around Tramore Beach on what was the most bitterly cold morning we’ve had in years.
I just couldn’t resist it and was heartened by a teenage memory of walking on Baltray Beach, Co. Louth with my father when our faces were battered by the hardest, cruelest hailstones that ever fell from the sky! It was a day we laughed about right up until he died over half a century later.
As I huddled into the wind, determined I would never tell anyone I’d gone for this mad walk, I doubled back to take a second look at a chair which someone had lodged securely against the elements and which was obviously a special place for him/her. It was at the half-way point where one walks up the ‘channel’ towards the Backstrand.
That chair brought me to this poem from one of my poetic heroes, Billy Collins. It’s a poem that I read over and over and is one which never fails to inspire me.
Advice to Writers
Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.
Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.
The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.
When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.
From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.
(Source: Billy Collins, 2000, Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes: Selected Poems, Picador)