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Pagan to the Core

Pagan to the Core is a new edition of my first collection, together with a hitherto unpublished sequence of eighteen poems. The title of my first book was suggested by my then partner and still friend, Gerry McGovern, who has gone on to become a major Internet guru. The word paganus originally meant 'rustic', 'villager', 'non-combatant', as opposed to miles, 'soldier'. In Christian Latin, it meant non-Christian, non-Jewish. So I suppose you could say it existed as a negative designation: 's/he who is not us'. The Making of a Pagan was an appropriate title for a book that followed, in spotlighted snatches, the trajectory of my awareness up to then. While most of the poems tell immediate sense impressions, the book was written at a time when I was sensitive to political powerplay, so there is comment, some angry. Style-wise, the effort is to reflect in form and sound the event presented. There are one or two poems in there that I wouldn't write now, but they exist, and so much is history. The second part of Pagan to the Core, a new sequence entitled 'The Disaffected Country Girl and a Minor Metropolis', revisits the territory of the earlier book, but with a different, cooler eye. Most of these poems arose from a commission for the literary festival, Imram, a few years ago. I was asked to write about Dublin, and found that I could only do so by tracking my journey there from what I suppose was also a minor rusticity in this miniature country.

SARDINES

our house is divided
one part for him
one for all of us
we’re like these sardines
i’m twisting their key
to let them out
to let me in
like he twists her key
and she moves like he says
and she stays in at night
like i’d like to twist
a knife in his gut
especially on fridays
with one tin for him
and one for all of us

(From 'The Making of a Pagan')

*  *  *  *  *

THE ANGEL WOOS

The ex-priest left his school for a Kerry cottage,
thereby proving he could so love the world.
His mind, that might slay a man with one slicing blow,
would not be decommissioned but laid down
among the homesteads in an old, ambitious project.

Born to cottages herself, and expected to love small worlds
baked into faces that burst from the tart ground,
she played quiet and swiped at inarticulate heads of flowers.
Her intellect deschooled among the green tongues,
unlike her brother, who glugged on culture-whorls.

Genes, maybe, held her to the pre-conditioned; wizards
turning data into acts. She was something like her father,
masterless. What wouldn’t he have given to belong to Ussher’s
troop, have the wide sky to walk under and realise the error?
Instead of shoeless Limerick and a rare taste for Dickens.

The link between a ranting man and the heroes was foggy,
hard to see through the slammed door to a path beyond.
What was she to history but the subatomic text in a mote’s eye?
Or was that it, at all? Shakespeare and Eliot grooved like pop,
all sound no sense. Life goes singalong – a neglected study.

You imitate a cat sometimes, clawing back on time, ask
why you did this, not that, why you wandered clueless
when there was so much to achieve and by now you could
be somebody. History’s habit of repeating, regurgitating,
knocks you flat, and you wake atop the same cliff, hanging.

So, among the clay-faced, little one trying to be big,
she’s still wandering. The ex-priest never did the distance
of her father’s early-to-bed, his labourer’s hands clutching
Tristram Shandy or writing to the Herald with a chess move.
All thinking to be angels, in this singularly human groove.

(From 'The Disaffected Country Girl and a Minor Metropolis')

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