Saturday poem #7 – Elegy For A Basset Hound

Poetry is a craft as well as an art, and all poets, whether beginners or advanced, need to master the tools of the trade – form, language, pitch and tone. But over and above that, the poet needs to find his or her own individual voice, which takes time. So says Poet Michael O’Loughlin, who spoke at the Irish Jewish Museum on Thursday. He gave a great talk about the challenges he’s faced over the years as a writer, time spent living away from Ireland for 20 years, writing as a vocation (and a pain in the arse). I hadn’t realised but he’s also a short story writer, translator & screenwriter. His feature film, Snapshots (2003), starred Burt Reynolds and Julie Christie and an award-winning Holocaust drama, For My Baby, starred Alan Cumming and Frank Finlay. “I’ve never really distinguished between my activities as a writer of poetry, prose, screenplays and criticism – even translations,” he said in a recent interview with the Dublin Quarterly. “To me, it’s all a question of how the subject matter or the initial impulse presents itself. I suppose, ultimately I see everything I write as part of the same project.”

He believes that the job of the artist is to confront society with a different reality, and not reinforce stereotypes. “One thing that strikes me, as someone who lived abroad for many years, is how low a threshold we Irish have for self criticism. The mark of a mature society will be when we actively encourage opposition to the accepted social realities. There are many Irish writers who while they have created work of real artistic value, do encourage the cosiness, the consensus. I’m thinking in particular of theatre, which is the biggest offender. In general, poetry doesn’t figure very highly in this because nobody actually reads it, and when they do, they don’t usually read it properly. But again, I think the crunch has yet to come.” Michael was born in north Dublin and has published many volumes of poetry and translations, including Another Nation: New And Selected Poems. He’s been Writer in Residence in Galway and Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin. His newly published collection, In This Life, is dedicated to his wife and daughter and is published by New Island. Here’s one of my favourites from his latest work:

ELEGY FOR A BASSET HOUND (by Michael O’Loughlin)

Other dogs feared you, perhaps rightly –

All that weight so close to the ground

The heft of those padded shoulders

The not-so-comical teeth concealed

Beneath your sadman jowls and pouches.

 

English-bred and born, according

To the Basset experts, my neighbour plucked

You off the autostrada near Lucca

Where you were wandering confidently

Like a nineteenth-century English explorer,

His mind gone in Antarctic snow.

 

You settled into an Amsterdam bookshop

Your basket firmly placed between

The New York Review of Books

And Literature in Translation

Where you accepted the ministrations

Of single gentlemen, but fell in love

With my wife and daughter,

Running away from home as often as you could

To climb like a legless man onto Judith’s lap

Where you slept for hours with one eye open.

 

Untrainable, unbiddable, I could barely hold you

Back on the days I took you with me

To collect Saar from her school, and

You made a beeline through the crush

Of mothers and bicycles, to the class where

The children fought to touch your mighty ears

As you gambolled ponderously on giant paws

Like an Ottoman pasha in his harem.

 

And yes I loved you for something else:

How on a brown December night

When the light had soaked into the wet ground

I saw you through the dusk of Utrechtsestraat

With trams and teatime traffic crashing between us

Out of earshot, almost out of sight,

You turned on the crowded pavement

And, like the old God of the Kabbalah

Lost in the darkness and unknowing before Creation,

You raised your nose and sniffed the fouled air

And I knew that you had found me

About junecaldwell

June's short story collection Room Little Darker is published by New Island Books in May 2017. She's a prizewinner of The Moth International Short Story Prize and has been shortlisted and highly commended for many others including: Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award, Sunday Business Post/Penguin short story prize, Lorian Hemingway (USA), RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland and Over The Edge New Writer of the Year. In 2010 she received an Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) bursary for fiction. Her work has been showcased at the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange in Nogarole Rocca / Verona (May 2012), Read For The World (June 2012) and Bloomnibus (June 2013) at the Irish Writers' Centre, Galway Pro Choice (Aug 2013), Over the Edge Galway (Dec 2013), Stinging Fly Spring Launch (March 2014), At The Edge, Cavan (May 2014), The Winding Stair Prizewinner's Reading (Sep 2014), One City One Book: DLR Lexicon Barrytown Trilogy reading (April 2015), Hodges Figgis Book Festival (Oct 2015), Bogman's Canon Fiction Disco (Nov 2015, April 2016), Doolin Writers' Weekend (March 2016), Five Lamps Arts Festival (Mar 2016), National Concert Hall: Kevin Barry Recital Room series (April 2016) and the Eastrogen Rising: A Rebel Cabaret. Her creative writing has been published in Woven Tale Press, The Moth, The Stinging Fly, Literary Orphans and Popshot, as well as a non-fiction biography of a Trouble's moll with Gill and MacMillan in 2006. Her short story 'SOMAT' is published in The Long Gaze Back: The Anthology of Irish Women Writers, edited by Sinéad Gleeson/New Island. Journalism: The Gloss, The Guardian, The Observer, Sunday Times, Sunday Life, Sunday Tribune, Sunday Business Post, Sunday Independent, Ireland on Sunday, Irish Independent, as well as a number of women's magazines and trade journals.

Posted on July 30, 2011, in Books, Poetry, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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