How I Got to Know Kavanagh


I spent yesterday afternoon on the couch wrapped in shawls and blankets, reading Kavanagh’s poems, eating oranges and ginger parkin and watching rugby. Not such a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the border counties. A poem in itself, really. I wonder what poetry it might have inspired from Kavanagh.

I had not been a fan of Kavanagh (pleasread as an embarrassed mumble). I could not understand the general adoration the Irish seemed to have of him. I put it down to the occasional Irish streak of sentimentality. I thought maybe because I was a Londoner, I was not able to  truly appreciate his rural ‘bent’. When I came across a Kavanagh poem in an Irish poetry anthology, it seemed to wallow. (Anthologies can be a poet’s worst enemy). Yesterday, I discovered I was wrong.

Despite being a writer of poems, I do not often sit down and spend the afternoon with one poet. I will do this more often now. It was a complete pleasure. That evening I was going to  The Haggard (see blogs Sept/Nov 2013) to watch a one man show by Cavan man, PJ O’Brady on the life of Kavanagh. I thought it might help to have a deeper look at his poetry.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am a blow in. By the end of the afternoon I was trying to recall what on earth had made me blow in, and worse, live in this God forsaken, narrow minded, barren, cold community where little existed except for frosty potatoes, thorns, and a man’s Great Hunger. And, as does occasionally happen, a great longing came over me to leave (I have to say, soon assuaged by another cup of tea and a slice of cake).

But what wonderful and gifted poetry! With a cruel, bleak eye and up right, curmudgeonly hand, Kavanagh was able to capture the bitter sweet taste of the lonely, isolated inhabitant living in a barren land, the wealth of nature toiling on the ribs of poverty, the stinking growth of grievous disappointment, the riches of human life in a rigid rural community defined by religion, pride and conflict. Gerard Smyth, Irish poet and editor, said poetry “recognises the world in a different way,”  Kavanagh certainly does this.

I will forever be in the debt of PJ O’Brady who did a wonderful depiction of Kavanagh, interleafing with intricate skill Kavanagh’s poems with the biography, The Green Fool. I also want to thank Michael Masterson of The Haggard in Longford for staging the show and Julie Shiels for suggesting we go.


2 thoughts on “How I Got to Know Kavanagh

  1. Dear Kate
    I really enjoyed your piece about reading Kavanagh. I have a similar love-hate relationship with the Irish border region (and even more with Northern Ireland!). Have you also read the novelist Eugene McCabe from Clones (‘Death and Nightingales’ and ‘Heaven lies around us’) – similarly bleak and compelling.
    One technical question: do you know how I can respond to your regular (and welcome) comments on my blog without my responses appearing as published comments alongside that blog?
    Many thanks and warm regards, Andy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s