The Homecoming

 

 

 

Homecomings are meaningful reconnections, ideal aspirations for the impossible, grasping for lost coins. As a child, my family home life had been dismantled by rancorous, divorcing parents. As a teenager, I sought refuge in the home of a quite-cosy, co-ed boarding school. In my late teens, I created a home, along with an abandoned dog, in a tumbledown rural cottage. In my early twenties, I found a home in a small gathering. that prayed and tried to live out the bible message, meeting in sitting rooms, each Sunday morning. Eventually I married, and created a home “in my own image”. But what about my inner life, my hopeful thoughts, my poetic inspirations and aesthetic ideals?

In 1980 I was looking after a house at Easter. I randomly switched on the TV one evening. A programme had just started. It was a dramatised biographical documentary, called A Different Drummer. The subject featured was Jack Clemo, a blind and deaf Christian poet from Cornwall.

As a result of that programme, I initiated a long correspondence with Clemo, became friends with him, and visited him twice. For thirteen years, up to his death, he was my main role model, as a Christian writer.

Six months later, I went to view the movie Breaking Away. It was an American coming of age comedy-drama film that follows a group of four male teenage working-class friends, who spend their time together swimming in an old abandoned water-filled quarry. They often clash with the more affluent Indiana University students in their hometown, who habitually refer to them as “cutters”, a derogatory term for local offspring of stonecutters who worked the quarries.

On exiting the cinema I had a distinct mystical experience about my going to America. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know when. Nine months later, I disembarked a jet in O’Hara Airport in Chicago, to attend a summer writing programme. It took place at Wheaton College, a Christian Liberal Arts college, outside Chicago.

That dynamic, creative writing class was facilitated by Larry Woiwode, an established author and contributor to The New Yorker. Inspirationally, I was set on fire, through interacting with English Literature students. After six weeks in the US I returned to my humdrum job in a used bookstore, packing parcels, taking phone orders and doing the post.

That autumn I entered a nationwide competition run by Poetry Ireland. Much to my surprise, I happened to win it. So much was stacked against me winning. Even though I had been writing for ten years, I’d had little published.

My poem was an historical biography, about the accidental discovery of printing in Europe, in the 15th century. I had written the first draft just a few days before, so had little chance for revision. My competition entry was late as the forms had been distributed late. To further complicate matters, some weeks after my submission, I sent a pertinent historical note for the poem’s context. This should have disqualified my entry.

Two month’s later, as I was typing a poem about my Americana cultural experience, a telegram came to my house. It stated that I was the poetry competition winner and was to make myself present at the Peacock Theatre at 7p.m. sharp the next day.

What a watershed moment, for his self-educated poet and writer. Prior to this, my only published output was quite a number of trenchant letters to editors of national newspapers. Only one poem had been published, and that in a woman’s magazine. To see my poem get affirmed by the competition adjudicator, Liam Miller of Dolmen Press, was my biggest breakthrough ever. The Poetry Ireland journal editor, John Jordan’s witty esteem was also beyond my wildest literary dreams.

On the strength of that poem winning I quit my used bookstore job. I took time off and used my £250 prize money to publish a collection called, The Homecoming. Vainly optimistic, I published 400 copies on the strength of the award win. Jack Clemo wrote a back cover puff.

In The Homecoming there were prose accounts about creative friendships, boarding school, a visit to a girlfriend’s family farm, living in a country tumble-down cottage, Carraig Books used bookstore and a bog visit. The poems were about Jack Clemo, my Americana praise poem, persecuted Russian Orthodox faith, Russian pilgrims, a father-son poem and an imaginary romance.

My new-found literary vindication was underpinned by a energetic evangelical Christian faith. Later, in an unexpected development, selling these The Homecoming into bookshops earned me a new bookshop position, in Hodges Figgis, a large Dublin bookshop.

Looking back I now celebrate those organic developments and providential themes in my writing life and my 21 year bookselling career. I welcomed the affirmation, the redemption from generational sadness. My self-doubt “pressed pause” for quite a long period of time….

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Old Abandoned Cars

Beached Oldsmobile by Darren Hunt @DHunt78  www.artfinder.com/darren-hunt

oldsmobile

Old abandoned cars show some neglect:

rust-scabbed paintwork cracks and peels;

crumbling tyres no longer cinema-squeal

but – Detroit-dinosaurs still evoke respect.

 

Cracked windows reveal dusty seat sheen,

body shapes sing, fenders refuse to gleam,

fifties fashionable (lost American dream)

  • Hollywood-hope on cinema screens.

 

Passionate V8 engines grumble-purring,

slippery long bench-seats so ample,

black-top highway, prairie-desert samples,

hubcaps mirror wheels whirring.

 

Rose-tint reminiscent, American auto past,

restless travel, Kerouac-beat escapades,

milkshakes and hamburgers freshly made:

rearview dollar dreams fade far too fast.

 

Will passionate mechanics tool-grip plugs

and spark resting engines into ignition?

Will many men go on mechanical mission?

When do driving dreams become a drug?

 

Esteemed Authors

Bookshop in after-hours by Dora Kazmierak  www.instagram.com/dorakazmierak/

antiquarian-3

Slightly-stiffly opens the windowed door,

worn linoleum reveals wooden floor;

tentatively, many enter this old bookshop

on tiptoe, shop near-silent, hear pin-drop.

 

Quiet most visitors, hush-reverent,

awe for old atmosphere prevalent,

otherworldly this antique atmosphere,

nostalgic scents waft from yesteryear.

 

Older words uttered, long out of fashion,

pleas preached with purest passion,

authors in white starched collars sigh,

high hoped their visions: what, where, why.

 

Opulent leather scent, pungent old ink,

rag paper perfume, gilt-edge wink;

books celebrate our very existence,

elicited phrases scored with persistence.

 

Volumes show bookplates, library stamps,

texts studiously read under varied lamps;

prized books reflect hearts and minds,

esteemed authors heal our brains blind.

 

love-defiance illogical

img021-2

I humbly bow to you:

you serve, you sew,

you kiss, you cook,

you push baby buggies,

you learn, you love

you give and give and give…

from all that you have.

You lavish love on with

pudgy-cheeked little people

who dribble, who dance,

who scream, who sing,

who smile simply and sweetly,

who kiss, who kick,

who take and take and take

all that you have to give…

Punch-drunk on sweet

sensual sap, dulcet baby babble

leaves me dumbstruck.

Endless patience, primal rooted,

female-fierce, love-defiance

illogical, jeopardising maleness:

speechless – I surrender my sword…

Laika, Lonely Stray and Unwitting Astronaut

laika2

Cold-war scientists under high command

designed early rocket, quickly planned,

that capsule required cargo – all in hand.

Stray bitch lifted from Soviet street,

starve-tested stomach, freeze-hard feet,

such tail-wag, eye-smile – so happy to meet.

On last living night with children played,

(was this the first time affection displayed)

all hope aborted when flight not delayed.

Before hatch closed men nose-kissed you,

destined to die, few would much miss you

– animal for astronaut, strange but true.

Sacrifice for science, on one-way flight,

Sputnik-shot to space, surely not right…

terror tripled your pulse, you died of fright.

Unheard your howls over engine whine,

demise kept secret until recent times,

this “space spectacular” an ethical crime.

You never asked to orbit the earth,

materialists state: dogs have no worth

unkind actions, cruel Krushchev cursed.

laika5

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Laika (Russian: Лайка; c. 1954 – November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. Laika, a stray dog from the streets of Moscow, was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laika

Cooler air signals summers ending

gate

 

Sun wanly shines, warmth pretend,

cooler air signals summers end,

this dying season I slowly befriend.

 

Leaves turn tan, downward fall,

swallows follow warm wind call,

wasps get spiteful: stings for all.

 

A stand of trees curate a church

crows caw call from lofty perch,

I cycled on a blackberry search.

 

On Sunday mornings, quiet lanes,

my fingers show some sticky stains,

box by box filled with foraged gains.

 

Crab apples mashed, conkers mangled,

bramble barb with jumpers tangled,

woollen haloes evolve after wrangles.

 

Autumn arrives, summer goodbye,

much greyer now that once-blue sky:

find scarves and gloves, kites to fly.

homeward go with knapsack yield

picking.jpg

Gloved hands hold cold handlebars,

low sun pattern plays with spokes,

I slowly cycle, over-taken by cars.

 

Berry bunches blown off branches,

hazelnut husks clog road gutter,

pigeons wire-balance, taking chances.

 

I dismount after thirty minute cycle,

background traffic sonic insistent,

laneway birds sing morning recital.

 

dew on long verge-grass lingers

bramble snags yoke-coloured scarf

thorns puncture ungloved fingers.

 

I text foraging photo-shot,

close-focus, berry stretched hand:

rapturous, instant reply got.

 

tin-pot bell tolls faith over fields,

three-box-full, hedgerow fruit –

homeward go with knapsack yield.

 

 homeward