Although I think of myself now as a writer of stories, most of the writing I did in my teens was poetry (and songs, since I used to sing in pubs and clubs and fancied myself as something of a singer/songwriter). At the time, very few people saw any of my work; I look back at it now and feel proud of many of the pieces I wrote when I was relatively young. So - let them come out into the light; they're probably not up to much by modern poetry standards, but they say a lot about the person I was then, and the child is mother to the woman.

Vision     (January 1975)

Probably my favourite of all the poems I’ve written

In the sweet dark hours of the drifting night
I dreamt I was fishing
For reasons and rhymes;
And the ocean, for all its dread mystery, seemed
A familiar part of my being and knowing –
Its depths were the wells of my mind.
In a jungle of shadows and fancies
And languishing weeds and a myriad shades,
Words and ideas like ethereal fish
Played with my line of thought.

All through the cold still stretch of dawn
In my silent sleep
I was gazing down through those soundless deeps,
Glimpsing the flashes of silver tails
And sensing their size with a thrill;
Shoal upon shoal of inspirations
Weaving and winking and darting away
Down to the deep unreachable hollows
Of shivering anguish and age.
And I swore I would harvest them, every one –
Wait and wonder
Till chance and longing had drawn them forth
To savour and share.

But I cried as the conscious morning neared
For colours unconquered and tales untold,
For the passing glances of beautiful dreams
That vanish forever and leave behind them
The heavy grey hollows of hopelessness
And the slow sad waves of despair.
And turning to count the comforting catch,
Worst of all in the wasting dark
Was the sight of the dry, dead dreams
That lay like bitterest truths
In the blood of their raw reality;
Only shining slightly now
In the hard cold light of day.

I wept for the paradox
Of the ones that got away.


I lived in Michigan for two years (1968-70) and towards the end of that time I sang in folk clubs occasionally. Although I wasn't really aware of the politics involved, I absorbed a lot of the anti-Vietnam feeling and songs of that time; I remember school friends who lived in fear of their brothers being drafted. I wrote this song much later, but with those memories and feelings at the forefront of my mind.

Soldier   (January 1975)

Out of the fire and the screaming smoke
He ran like a beast possessed,
Branded and baited and bruised with blood
From the bullet in his breast.

They carried him back to the nearest camp
Where the army trucks rolled past,
And he talked all the time of his New York home
But he thought of Chicago last,

Of the wretched beasts in the railroad vans
And the blood on the butchers' knives,
And he thought of the troops in the army trucks
And he wept for their wasted lives.

He heard a scream as the red mist rose
And he knew he was going to die
And he begged for a reason to bear the pain
But nobody told him why...

With the measured tread of the staunchly sure
In their righteous ranks they came
To stand like crows round his raw, red grave.
And the sky was sick with shame.


I studied art (badly) to A-level, and began painting for my own enjoyment at around the same time. I embraced Impressionism and had a bit of a thing for van Gogh in particular.

Wheatfield with Cypresses    (February 1974)

Clouds, like crumpled manuscripts
Cast to the wind, bleed their pale ink
All over overalls of scarecrow trees
That creaking bend to the brush and drink
Of your tortured tears and twisted strokes.
And you, russet convict, crawling there,
Sweep back the colour-captured sentence
Passed in scarlet through your hair.
Dark eyes gaze from the cypress shade
And dance their doom on the whirlpool's tide,
Spinning through eyes of the hurricane tree
To me and the eyes that I sense inside.
The ever-red blossoms bleed your pain
And the wheatfield begs you on bended skies,
Drop by drop, to the sea-blue hills
And the meadow-green heavens that bless your lies;
In that scarlet vortex, suffer your spinning -
Clutch at the pictures that pour their round
But for one moment, and one thrust brush
Can spanner the wheels of the spun gold ground.
The dark that sickened your mad, sad soul
Burned out the eyes that the easel bought
And, bent in three with the pain, you plunged
Into those spirals of sense-divorced thought
With the blood of the poppies squeezed and eased
From the white-limbed canvas to colour your powers.
Morning tossed sheaves of sunlight over
Her shoulder, and Vincent brushed out the hours.

Ireland and the sea figured strongly in all my artistic pursuits, especially during the years when every summer was spent in West Cork. I spent a great deal of time feeling homesick for the place which inspired and energised me.

Smithereens          (November 1972)
(written about the cottage, of course)

Now, as I see you shaking in my tears,
Empty and cold, your lifeblood drained away,
There seems so little left to call to mind  -
No dream can bear me west to yesterday.
I gaze into the dark, and in my mind
The cold gulls drift, and drop with sickly cries
And in the shadow of their paper wings
I see my world within their frozen eyes -

The skin of sky, the tattered clouds below the sunset,
Flaking from the picked bones of my crumbling thought,
And the harbour crusted round you, and the sun-gold gorse
And the water where the heather blooms are caught.
Where is the firelight dancing on your prisoned walls?
I am lost - I am longing for the light to spring
Into your shadowed eyes, till the fields fall through your windows
And the moths come out to plough them while I sing and sing...

Strange evening, this; I lie and stare at nothing
Till I look back through my eyes and watch you stoop,
See you straight and leaning above the shackled harbour
Where the lonely heron turns to swoop.
Strange evening, this, when summer grasses whisper
And shake their heads and set next summer free,
And the gold sunlight crawls across the basking islands,
Mellow on the tarnish of my memory.


And another - remembering the lads who used to let me go out mackerel fishing with them in the days when there were still mackerel to catch...
(and in loving memory of those who have lost their lives since - Patsy, Pad, Lawrence, and John)

Last Day Fishing       (September 1973)

The islands bled red through the wound of the west
And the scarlet sea throbbed with delight
As the light-fingered mist caressed it, and kissed
All the cold green foreshadows of night.
Straggling seabirds plunged down and away
As we toiled through the swell of the tide
And the frothy wake boiled in a wedding of white
As the billows leapt back from the side.

'Give me!' I shouted, and all the sea shivered
And danced on my merciless line,
And I hauled all the mysteries up from the deep
And sank them again in my mind.
The rainbow-spun mackerel snapped at the barbs
To escape from the sea's chilly breath
Just to burn in the glory of sunset, before
They slapped into the frenzy of death.

We paid the sea back for her bounty with songs
That the clamouring seagulls ignored
As they cried in their pitiful hunger for scraps
That the fishermen flung overboard
And just for a lifetime, I almost believed
That my soul was as raw as my hands
And my heart was as true as the blue of the sea
Which only the sky understands.

Too soon the sun withered, and slithered to rest
And the gulls all took to the wing;
We searched for a farewell song to share
But none of us cared to sing.
And the mackerel mocked through gasping gills
At the price I had to pay
As I stood full of pain on the empty quay
And the fishermen went their way.


And on the same theme of departure -

Last Morning     (August 1973)

The seagulls gazed their pity
As they hovered like sympathetic aunts
With the wordstricken eyes of tongue-tied poets.
Grimly they balanced, and grieved with me
On stiletto wings in the drunken breeze,
Falling, and rising from suicide
In the arms of the hunchback trees.

Time crawled past, ignoring
The hoarse and tear-bled voices,
And the tide crept in obedient ignorance over them.
Only the faintest echo stretched
To topple me from the rusted hill
And the clutch of sunwarmed stones in my hand
Lay strangely cold and still.