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….

Old abandoned cars

Beached Oldsmobile by Darren Hunt @DHunt78


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 once portrayed on screens.


Passionate V8 engines grumble-purring,

long leather bench-seats slippery, ample,

black-top and prairie-landscape samples,

hubcaps reflect highway 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?


Without esteemed authors, who are we?

Bookshop in after-hours by Dora Kazmierak


Slightly-stiffly opens windowed door,

worn linoleum reveals wooden floor;

hesitantly many enter this bookshop

tentatively on tiptoe, silent pin-drop.

Quiet most visitors, hush-reverent,

awe for older authors most prevalent,

otherworldly this antique atmosphere,

nostalgic scents sing from yesteryear.

Older words uttered, out of fashion,

pleas preach with purest passion,

authors pronounce, sometimes sigh,

high hoped visions, or existential why.

Opulent leather scents, pungent old ink, 

paper perfume, gilt-edge gold winks;

books celebrate our very existence,

phrases underlined, pencilled persistence.

Some show collector bookplate stamp,

texts read under haloed library lamp

– without esteemed authors, who are we?

Cherished books reflect our philosophy.

love-defiance illogical


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


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.



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.

Cooler air signals summers ending


Sun wanly shines, warmth pretending,

cooler air signals summers ending,

this dying season I’m slowly befriending.


Leaves turn tan and downward fall,

sparrows follow warm wind call,

wasps get spiteful: stings for all.


A stand of trees embraces a church

Crow caw calls, beech lofty perch,

I cycled from suburbs on berry search.


This Sunday I explore country lanes,

my forefingers now show sticky stains,

box by box filled with foraged gains.


Silent cyclists speed by, Lycra equipped,

backs bent low, drop handlebars gripped,

I climb banks for berries, trying not to slip.


Crab apples, conkers roadside mangled,

bramble barbed, my jumper gets tangled,

thread-made haloes from thorny wrangles.


It’s the last of summer: goodbye, goodbye,

much greyer now that once-blue sky:

don scarves and gloves, find kites to fly.

homeward go with knapsack yield


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.