That’s Poetry For You

There’s poetry in Moloney’s bar,
a meditation on much needed mutability
with the finding in the ruins of a tumbled school
of children’s flowers, surviving
well beyond the lives of tiny hands
that planted them. Such is the power
of Nature over Education, or Life
over Death, we’re all quite overcome.

A comic finale, and silence follows,
then warmed, polite applause. Voices
rise to match the tongues of music
that call across the road from Shortt’s.

Here, a dozen players gather to each
other’s strengths – notes are summoned
from the air. Fished out from bags
and cases, a match of fiddles, flutes,
banjos, concertinas, bodhrans,
control their owners hearts and fingers.

Tunes repeat themselves like water
tumbling, like  morning mountain winds,
like flowers found beneath a broken
wall. It all makes sense. Signalling
an end, the leader nods, the final
note is struck. Then glances, nods,
glasses raised to lips for speech.

Feakle, County Clare, Summer 2106
Joe Noonan and The Feakle Traditional Music Festival


4 thoughts on “That’s Poetry For You

  1. Thank you for sending the poem, John
    On first reading, a delightful impressionistic piece. I think the poet is responding deeply to music which delights. He feels ‘overcome’, a case of Stendhal Syndrome – except it’s music. The poem begins with tunes and ends with the player’s lips ready for a drink, to utter speech.

    The Irish songs evoke a Romantic conceit; flowers still grow today from the seeds that children planted, though the children have grown up and long-singed died. The moment draws on Wordsworth’s famous line, ‘The child is father of the man’ (‘My heart leaps up’ known also as ‘The Rainbow’).

    The poet returns us to Maloney’s bar and describes the setting, the applause, players and their instruments. I wonder if the insight about the flowers and children might come later in the poem so the piece builds up to some spiritual insight, which, after all, is where the Celtic twilight pointed (Yeats’ ‘ He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’) Could we have the setting, the players and their instruments described the first few lines? As it reads, the poem leaves behind the BIG QUESTION of ‘Life/Over Death’ and builds up merely to the revelation that this music is repetitive, leaving the reader with the limp three cliched similes at the end, and the player’s lips.

    After the insight about the perpetuity of the flowers, we hear how ‘notes are summoned /from the air’, perhaps the players are tuning up, or practising for a moment or two before starting the next tune. As the music starts up once again, the musicians ‘gather each/other’s strength’, suggesting community, creativity and solidarity. It is significant how the poet becomes aware how repetitive the music sounds, ‘’Tunes repeat themselves…’, a repetitive quality represents a real opportunity for profound insight, I think. Perhaps the water simile doesn’t serve the poem too well – excuse the pun. Repetition suggests ritual, participation in an action or drama that invokes. What could such repetition invoke here, I wonder? What would Yeats do here?

    On re-reading, I sensed this lovely poem was a homage to Patrick Kavanagh, the great poet of County Monaghan, rather than to Yeats. Lines such as,

    ’tongues of music/
    that call across the road from Shortt’s.’

    and ‘control their owners hearts and fingers.’ and especially ‘ glasses raised to lips for speech.’ strongly evoke the moods of Kavanagh.

    After I enjoyed the poem a number of times, I sense that the juxtaposition of Nature and Education is out of place in such an impressionistic piece. And I’m unsure why the poet steps in and gives us a lesson, ‘Life/Over Death’ a bit de-haut-en-bas, comme on dit. Also, I sense an English nineteenth century sensibility in some expressions: we encounter Tennyson’s broken wall (St. Simeon Stylites),

    “Tunes repeat themselves like water
    tumbling, like morning mountain winds,
    like flowers found beneath a broken

    The three similes tumbling one after another, ‘ like water…like morning mountain winds…like flowers’ are not too strong. They weaken the poem when it should be growing more potent in the finale. I wonder, does the weak ending suggest an ironic take on Irish Romantic sensibility? Maybe that’s it! YES! The poet shows its spiritual emptiness, underscoring the message with three worn out Romantic similes from an age long gone. The poem ends with a return to speech. What can lips utter after we hear that flowers outlast us all?

    A fine little poem, John, despite my reservations. Please ignore them – except you might well cut the lines Life/Over Death’. Put the flower planting towards the end, or something stronger.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have allowed the poem to mislead you slightly – the Irish poet Joe Noonan was giving a reading in Moloney’s bar, and that was the poem that caught my attention. I think you’re right in suggesting the intention is to gently mock the nature of Irish sentimentalism, focused on its folksiness, whilst at the same time allowing its genuine appeal. The three images were meant to evoke the earlier poem, and the mood that Ireland creates. I wanted the end to create a sense of emptiness as well as achievement – didn’t we do well? where do we go now? let’s have a drink, lads. tell us another story.

    I see how it might work in reverse order! It came out that way, because that was the order the events occurred. As I read it through, I can still see and hear the moment unfold.


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