I don’t talk about writing poetry often, and I’m unsure why I feel uncomfortable with the label ‘poet’. There is a gravitas associated with it that doesn’t settle well on my shoulders, despite the fact that my work has been published, and I write poetry regularly.
During the last two years, and especially during our COVID-19 lockdowns, I have been writing a lot more. Prior to the first lockdown I was part of a new poets/writers/artists group in south Galway (organised by local powerhouse, Anna O’Donnell) which began meeting for monthly recitations. I found it an added incentive to produce new work. The pandemic stopped our meetings, but it didn’t stop us writing poetry.
Every year Poetry Day in Ireland is celebrated with poetry events around the country, which became virtual by necessity. This year Anna collaborated with the Kiltartan Gregory Museum to record – safe and socially distanced – poetry and music by local people. This was stitched together as a YouTube video, thanks to the skills of director/editor Susanne Wunsch.
You can watch the Hedge School Poets and Travelling Bards of Kiltartan Gregory Museum online now… I come in around 3:15 with my poem ‘Breathing Room’
Here’s the text:
By love and restrictions
We tug and pull,
Testing the tethers that bind
Flight is not possible;
So we pace the patterns
Etched into familiar territory,
Letting mean grooves guide us, unthinking,
Into replaying old grievances
And parroting tired tunes.
Our thoughts settle,
Like radioactive dust,
Lending them the ghostly heat
Of artificial vigour,
To sap our strength,
Dissolve our bonds,
Corrode our passions.
Who knew that love
Requires so much space?
Acceptance is a deep, humbling breath
Which widens with practice.
How difficult in an era
When fear constricts each inhalation.
At every chance,
We must relearn ease,
And rehearse connection,
Even in our smallest cell.
A whisper of remembered trust
Can grow into a chorus of celebration,
Given breathing room.
Shortly after this was filmed it should have been time for Kinvara’s annual Fleadh na gCuach – the Cookoo Festival – which always hosts a ‘Poet’s Breakfast’ on the bank holiday Monday in May.
I attended my first Poet’s Breakfast last year, which was also my first proper group ‘cultural Zoom’ of that original lockdown. It was a joy during a genuinely difficult period.
This year I attended the second virtual ‘Poet’s Breakfast’ – hopefully the next one will be in person! For the 2021 edition I decided to write a poem that would be joyful and celebratory. (Let’s just note that some of my lockdown poetry had been a tad downbeat…)
My daily walks in the woods have been a lifesaver, and prior to writing this poem I had been uplifted by the riotous Bealtaine growth. We don’t have snakes in Ireland, but there was a definite feeling of that energy in the fresh leaved woods, dripping with rain.
Thus, ‘Python’ was birthed:
Spring, in the green misted woods:
Water slips off new-born leaves
Into muddy pools lined with last year’s growth.
Sunlight slants through swaying trees,
Then winks out, thanks to scudding clouds;
I am small among these giants.
Sorrel soothes hunched boulders,
Moss crowns adorn the twisted root
Of dead winter windfall,
Ferns puncture the bluebell haze
And confetti petals dapple
Cresting waves of grass.
Life boils in every spot,
Spewing the thick scent of loam;
To breathe its heady aroma is to be
Stupefied and ecstatic.
Above, the trunks, scaled with ivy and lichen,
bend and shape to each other’ growth;
Their branches stroke my hair.
There may be no snakes here
But great Python lingers,
Eternal serpent who
Uncoils within growth,
Surges in the Spring
And slithers in the vibrant soil.
It urges the seed to crack
And risk the upward quest
To needle through resistant earth,
Navigate unyielding rock,
And finally burst out
Into shocking light
and the clamour
There is no guarantee,
No promise of ideal conditions,
But Python insists you try.
Here’s a recent photograph during one of my rambles that is evocative (for me) of Python: