Like poems, the landscape comes alive in death,
in your poems, the rabbit's blood in evening sun
has wobbled to set for Plath's moon.
Alive behind these fine poems
there must have been a powerful loneliness
that crept like some great darkness.
Like the thought fox with his clever eye,
you are he thought fox trying to escape the cage
of disturbing consequences, or feminist rage,
ready to pounce on these platitudes of prey,
Sylvia a victim of that day.
Now innocent too poets are,
with all our deep and hidden hearts
like all true lovers of the arts.
Now I know who these women are,
how they hold their heads at night
and sought a reclusive soul for light.
(After the death of Ted Hughes)
James Kelly is a Kerry poet who I first met on February 14 2005, in the Focus homeless charity canteen in Temple Bar. This is a "penny dinners" like place offering a choice of two lunch dishes made with only the freshest of ingredients. One euro fifty and eighty cent for a desert, 30 cent for a pot of tea.
Most of the clientele are down on their luck, many with drug and/or drink problems, and many "normal" people who recognise the logic of dining in the city centre for next to nothing, like James and myself.
There are penny dinners places in most large towns in Ireland, a residual effect of the famine, or "great hunger." This defining tragedy that shaped the national psyche and caused half the population to die or emigrate is the one cultural bind all Irish people have, as a sort of unconscious collective and one reason why in this country, no matter how far down the ladder of depravity one has sunk, there is always a human connection between the highest and lowest in the land.
However in the new prosperous Ireland, most would rather pay 15 times the price for inferior quality food, rather than dine with their fellow citizens who are on their uppers, understandably I suppose if one is wealthy. But being a regular here means one is always aware of the less well off, and naturally, being amongst them, has to view and treat them as humanly as one does everyone else, and it also means compassion and understanding for those at the bottom of the heap is never lost, the common touch if you will.
And James Kelly is very much a human and compassionate poet, one of the last true wandering bards. He traverses all over the country, constantly here and there, selling his chapbook of poems and supporting himself as a poet on his own terms.
He is also mesmeric live. His Kerry accent like human birdsong.
I had heard of him and wondered when we would meet, and it was very apt we did on Valentines day, as I was in Focus having lunch, on the first day of trying to sell some love poems I had printed on flock-gold 90mg A4, rolled round one and a half inch plastic pipe and sealed with wax, a novelty, just for the sheer balls of seeing what would happen.
I introduced myself and we swapped our wares, he gave me a chapbook and I gave him one of the rolled up poems, and read it during the afternoon, learning a few tips from him, one of the most underrated contemporary poets around. Completely off the radar, yet absolutely brilliant.
I stationed myself in the disused doorway of Bewleys on Westmoreland Street and waited, selling a fair few over the course of the next few days, and writing the one below for a guard, who wanted me to compose one for his girlfriend, called Karen.
Your curled red hair like sun-flame
Streaming through the ether
Of a February day, has captured
Every moment of the time it took
For love to ripen and the suddenness
With which I fell for you
Who makes my spirit quicken
To the music of the thorn bush
And the cherry blossom, sung
In spring to the lilting beat
Of love-song singing, Karen.