A Poem And…


The other evening, Thursday actually, I was lucky enough to get to MC this event in Bridge St., which is a lovely pub here in Castlebar. The event was part of the annual Wild Atlantic Words Festival and it was called ‘A Poem and a Pint’.

It does exactly what it says on the tin. The attendees are called upon to come up to the mic and share a poem with us. It could be an old favourite, it could be one they wrote themselves. One person, one poem… and a pint… or a G&T. Whatever you’re having yourself.

It sounds like it might fall on its arse, doesn’t it?

But it didn’t. Quite the opposite. The pub was full and lively and people were keen to come up and share their poem and also keen to hear everyone else’s. There was a general relaxed air and the mood eased from fun to reflective and back again, depending on whatever poem was being shared at the time. Looking back at it, I think a visitor to our shores would have found something here of the quintessentially Irish welcome that we like to pride ourselves on. I think they would have liked it.

I’m quite the ingĂ©nue when it comes to matters of poetry. I remember a few scraps of what I did in school and I know a few things that I’ve happened upon in my own reading and listening and, last but not least, I know something about the poems that people have told to me. Beyond that, I'm pretty much lost.

I don’t think that makes me unusual. In fact, as with a lot of other things, I think it makes me Mr. Average.

A lot of us tend to say that we don’t understand poetry or even like it very much. But, when I think about it, that’s a bit like saying we don’t like food or socks or… anything really. There might be lots of it we really don’t like but, if we find the bits that work for us, we might find that we like it very well indeed.

I think that’s why an evening like Thursday evening can work so remarkably, so surprisingly, well. If one person stands up and says a poem that means something to them and if there are twenty or twenty five such persons, the odds are good that we will hear something that also touches us in some way.

Poetry is like distilled emotion, I think. It gets boiled down to some kind of essence and, if that essence is not chemically similar to our own then, chances are, it will not bind. But when that alcoholic distillation fits our palate, then a little magic can happen. The brew can hit home in a way that a book or a movie cannot. It hot-wires, it short-circuits, and it goes right to the heart. A song can sometimes do it too because that’s a distillation as well.

If we go into an evening like this actively looking for that hit, we may not get it. It’s too much pressure. But if we simply venture into a lovely pub and find a lot of friendly faces there and a warm chatter about the place and the prospect of a small drink and, just incidentally, a wee woman over in the corner, sharing her favourite verse. Then the evening may be subtly elevated such that you may end the night and head home without even fully realising that something a bit special has just happened to you. 

That you have been touched by a verse.

I had a highly enjoyable evening. I got to blather on a bit and there were plenty of people to back me up so that I was never very far out of my comfort zone.

I hope they ask me again next year.

I think l might go.

x

Earned Rest




I can’t pin my mind down today. I can't extract a single coherent thought from it, something that might be sensibly corralled into a blog post.

I woke up thinking that, if I were God, I might have a selection of pet owners come back as their pets with some sensibility of their situation. Fifty percent of those chosen would have been given the greatest gift imaginable, a life of warmth and care and companionship. The other half… well, not so much.

A nice enough thought but not a ‘full blog post' one.

Then, earlier in the week, I had been contemplating my vegetable peeler. It’s a brilliant one and I’ve had it for many years. I never want another. Lately, though, it’s been getting ragged and tired. The rubbery handle has been becoming visibly distressed and a bit floppy. Still it held on (no pun intended) and so did I. Then, a week or two ago, Patricia brought home a new vegetable peeler. It’s all metallic and sleek and designed and, to my mind, it doesn’t work at all. I gave it a try and instantly hated it. It only removed a small width of veggie peel from the veggie and took fifteen times longer to do a spud than my old one. After completing one copiously peeled carrot, I laid it down in disgust and pulled Old Faithful out of the drawer. However, on the first swipe of the first veggie peel, the rubbery handle of my old peeler separated and broke in two. After years of service, it gave up the ghost on the day the new kid arrived. 

Not bad but not really a full blog post.

On Friday, while driving back from Galway in the afternoon, I found myself taking pleasure in seeing the schools I drove past all quiet and closed up tight for the weekend. It reminded me how this is something that I enjoy seeing. The little buildings I was whizzing past had all been centres of work and striving and fun and tension through the entire week but, for now, they were done. The work was complete, at least for a little while. Pupils and teachers alike were on their way home, the prospect of a little rest and leisure time in their sights. The dust motes in the rooms, agitated and bouncing all week long, could settle slowly down. Until Monday, when they would righteously bounce once again. 

I like that.  

Silly, stupid, overly introspective? Yes. A blog post? No.

That’s why this Sunday, this late in the morning, after a very early start, I had almost resolved to write nothing here this week. Let it lie. But I’ve been away for a few weeks and, if I ever stop, I’ll want it to be because I chose to stop not because I simply lost momentum and allowed it to peter out.

So here I am, with three rather random thoughts for your delectation. Nothing much, really, but still words on a page and that itself is something.

Also, looking at these three thoughts now, I wonder is there not a sort of loose theme running through them? And if the thoughts are as randomly formed as I think they are, then does that not perhaps mean that any loose theme might be a key to something which is really important to me? It’s possible, isn’t it?

So what is this theme of themes?

For me, I would summarise it as the title of the piece (which I’ve just come up with right here at the end). Earned Rest. And yes, looking at it now, I can see that it is a concept that I value and an end that I am often trying to achieve for myself.

Rest, in itself, is not such a valuable thing for me. I’ve done nothing all day and now I get to sit down and watch telly? That’s doesn’t really rock my boat. For me, there’s a sort of restless guilt hue attached to any downtime like that. Rest that hasn’t been earned. That’s why the newly vacated Friday school pleases me so much. That place has been all-abuzz and flat out all week, now it can rest. I like that. It goes to why I like Christmas so very much. I can work and work to get there and then I can rest awhile.

It’s also why the veggie peeler struck me as it did. It kept going and going until the new veggie peeler arrived, then it gave up.

It’s why, as my version of God, I might give the pet owners the rest they had earned, be it a place of love and warmth or a place of something considerably less than that.

To rest is good. It’s fine. But to rest, having tried hard to do one’s very best?  

That’s the prize, that is.

Gotta Make the Morning Last




Astute readers will have noticed that I’ve not been blogging for a few weeks.

“Is this it?” some will have perhaps said, “Is he finally going to give up on this silly pointless outmoded blogging lark?” Channelling ‘Gladiator’ I will answer that by implying that it will certainly happen someday but “not yet… not yet.”

I’ve been away because a rather bad thing happened. Things are okay now, thanks. We’re back on track. Knowing me as you do, you would expect that I would probably tell you about the bad thing but, no, it’s not my story to tell. I was only a witness to it, not the actual recipient, so I don’t feel it’s my business to discuss it. Plus I don’t much feel like writing about it anyway.

So, let’s channel something else (there’ll be quite a bit of channeling today, I think). This time it’s a memorable quote from Peter Straub’s novel ‘Ghost Story; “What was the worst thing you've ever done? I won't tell you that…” In this case, I won’t tell you the worst thing that happened in the past few weeks but I’ll tell you the second worst. And, don’t worry, it’s pretty funny and at least it won’t mess you up.

So…

I always do the bulk of the grocery shopping on Sunday morning and Sunday morning three weeks ago was no different.

Except for one thing; it was raining.

Okay, granted, it’s often raining. Drizzling or mizzling or pizzling or something second rate like that. That morning, though, it was pouring, really pouring. And I was rushing around, huffing and puffing and totally hassled. Now, looking back, I literally have no idea why I was in such a fuss. Whatever was hassling me is as nothing to me now. And that’s the lesson for the week, folks, but don’t worry, we’ll return to that at the end and drive it home a little excessively as usual.

First, the carnage.

So, yeah, it was raining. I came out of the supermarket and raced my overloaded trolley to the car as the rain drenched me. I had cereal boxes and a newspaper, all of which were rapidly turning to porridge in the deluge. I had some porridge too but, ironically, that seemed to be doing okay.

I got to the car. I was mithered, I was drenched. I wrenched open the boot of the car to chuck all the bags of groceries in. There was a radiator in there, taking up all the useful space. Why was there a radiator in the boot of my car? Okay, that’s a rhetorical question, I know why there was a radiator in there and you don’t need to know. It’s enough to know that there wasn’t any room in there for the grocery bags.

I swore. I tend to do that. Then I raced around to the back door of the little car and wrenched that door open too. The plan was simple, I would relay the bags from the shopping trolley on to the back seat of the car. It was a good plan and this is what I did. Using a movement that must have looked a little like a stevedore on a dock passing cargo from one man to the next, I swayed my bags out from the trolley and into the car.

Suddenly I was done. All I had to do now was race back to the trolley bay to retrieve my Euro coin deposit on the trolley – I wasn’t leaving that behind. But wait, the boot was still open. I had to nip around to the back of the car and slam it down. Easy. Except the trolley was in my way. But, wait, I didn’t have to go around to the back of the car to do that. From where I was standing at the side door, I could simply reach up and slam the boot down, no need to go to the back. Easy.

I reached up and grabbed the edge of the boot and made an impromptu decision. I would express my dissatisfaction with this day by slamming the boot lid down as hard as I possibly could, making as much of a bang a possible, so that everyone in the town would know of my ire.

So I did. I slammed it down hard. Very hard.

I wasn’t accustomed to standing at the side of the car and slamming the boot down (hard) and, in fairness, I hadn’t reckoned it right.

And my head was in the way.

I felt a remarkable thud on the top right-hand side of my head and knew immediately what I had done.

Suddenly, rain or not, it seemed like quite a good idea that I should sit down. So I sat down on the tarmac. It didn’t seem like an imperative that I sit, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Then, from the sitting position, it seemed like a terribly good idea to lie down. So I lay down, arms outstretched, legs akimbo.

Then I thought I must look a bit like the guy from the Shawshank Redemption, right after he escaped from the sewers, in the rain, arms outstretched to the deluge. Except he had been standing up and I was now patently lying down.

This struck me as funny so I started to laugh. I called myself a few choice names and then I struggled back to my feet.

As I leaned against the car, quietly berating myself for the fool I was (and am) a nice lady came up and offered me a tissue. I took it and put it to my head. I wasn’t surprised to see that it came away bloody, I had slammed that old boot down pretty, pretty hard.

After assuring the nice lady that I was indeed fine, I decided to make my way back into the supermarket, to use the bathroom facilities and generally clean up. On the way, I met lots of people who asked me if I was all right and I remarked to myself how thoughtful people were. After all, I was only holding a tissue up to my head, nothing particularly remarkable.

It was only when I reached the bathroom mirror that I could see why they might have been a wee bit concerned. The tissue had not done its work as well as I might have imagined. My face was an entire bloody mess. Have you seen ‘Carrie’ after the Prom? It was quite a bit like that.

All’s well that ends well. I cleaned up nicely and, three week’s later, my head is fine. But I remain the man who slammed the boot down on himself because he was rushing and racing for absolutely no reason at all.

And there’s the moral of our story again and also one final bit of channelling. I always thought that Simon and Garfunkel had one particular intention when they told us to, “slow down you move too fast, you’ve gotta let the morning last.” I thought it was just about being cool and enjoying things. But now I see that they might also have been thinking how if you don’t slow down you might not actually live to see the whole of the morning.

I'm going to try to keep that in mind.