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.


The Poetry Cafe at The Haggart

Wonders Never Cease!

I blogged recently about The Haggart in the depths of rural Longford when I went to see a monologue on the life of Oscar Wilde and got lost on the way. Actually, when you know the way, it’s very straightforward (Left at The Cross and Straight On Til You Get There, a bit like Never Never Land) and last night we sailed through a black, cold, starry sky straight to the door of the Poetry Cafe at The Haggart.

My last blog about the Haggart had inadvertently raised some hackles so when I met Michael Masterson (he who runs the venue) at the Mushroom Festival at Kilbracken House (itself worth a separate blog), we got talking…and talking…and talking. Anyway, the culmination of the chat was the Poetry Cafe at The Haggart last night.

The Poetry Cafe at The Haggart was the first of what I hope might be many. I don’t know how quite to describe it. It looked lovely (thanks to Julie) furnished like a cafe, soft light, red and white tablecloths, flowers, candles, plates of cakes and biscuits and home made bread, tea or whatever beverage people brought with them. And what a fascinating collection of diverse poets from Longford, Leitrim and Cavan (The Haggart is where the three provinces meet)!

There were three key readers, and over nine local poets who recited to an audience of fifty plus, all of different hues and ages. We had ballads, sonnets, eulogies, personal reflections, some very lyrical, sharp, political, others more pedestrian. But isn’t that the glory of such an evening set in the heart of rural Ireland? A motley collection of characters reading their poetry to an eclectic assembly of folk! I hope this description doesn’t get me in trouble but I really liked the bizarre flavour of the whole event, which was perfectly MCd by Jim Williamson, a local historian and a real gentleman.

Photo is Angela McCabe from Ballinmore