Poetry Time: Threads…

Most regulars will know we don’t do a lot of poetry here. Paradox, irony, humour are all things we’re in deficit of. But I’m make an exception for this concise piece from Fermanagh ex pat Ian Acheson, who’s been putting up his output on his blog from the last twenty years…

This piece is called threads, and predates the flag crisis. But there’s some resonances in it for what’s been coming apart over the last few months:


We took Narcissus
For our patron saint,
Coming apart at the seams
In our abbreviate cantons,
With no great persuasion.
Our unrequited fealty,
Our nuclear paranoia
Needs a broader canvass
Than the frayed edges
Of this Kingdom will allow.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Bit of a cameo for you there too Mick! More poetry please.

  • Mick Fealty

    Unrequited? I certainly think so…. 😉 More recommendations, and we definitely will have more poetry…

  • between the bridges

    mick i have a few , if you like i will post them…

  • Mick Fealty

    Send them to editor address?

  • David Crookes

    If you like cameos, remember what the Duke of York says in Richard II:

    I am in parliament pledge for his truth
    And lasting fealty to the new-made king.

    A lot o’ boys took Sweet William for their patron saint.

  • Thanks for that quote, David. You could have added this quote from the Duke a few moments later on the matter of family treachery:

    Thou fond mad woman,
    Wilt thou conceal this dark conspiracy?
    A dozen of them here have ta’en the sacrament,
    And interchangeably set down their hands,
    To kill the king at Oxford.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Nevin, but I had to stop where I did. Another two lines would have brought us “the green lap of the new come spring”, which mightn’t have gone down too well with everyone.

    Has anyone come across Narcissus Batt, a Belfastian burgess of former time?

  • Two gentlemen of that name, David, uncle and nephew. The Donegal based nephew has a great account of Belfast in the 1830s , including a mention of the cholera cart and a bathing box in Holywood on piles a long way out – long before Mick’s time 🙂

  • Rory Carr

    I think it was Chesterton who noticed that poets were remarkably coy on the subject of cheese and I know that it was H.L. Mencken who was of the opinion (and one that I share) that “any poet over thirty years old was simply an overgrown child, but I must say that I was much taken by Ian Acheson’s effort, which is really high praise from me.

    In general though, I am strongly of the view that would-be poets should not be encouraged and, if they persist, should be driven off with buckshot.

  • breathingisgood

    Driven off with buckshot ha.

    Other drunks see pink elephants .

    Kurt Vonnegut .

    I think.

  • Mick Fealty

    Something about reaching for your revolver Rory?

  • babyface finlayson

    I suggest driving them off with buckfast.

  • David Crookes

    Nine lines of Shakespeare say it all.

    Narcissus so himself himself forsook,
    And died to kiss his shadow in the brook;
    When half to half the word opposed, he being
    The meered question: ’twas a shame no less
    Than was his loss, to course your flying flags
    In the south suburb, at the Elephant.
    Command my eldest son — nay, all my sons —
    As pledges of my fealty and love,
    Lest he transform me to a piece of cheese.

  • Rory Carr

    Quite possibly the most dreaded words in the English language:

    “I write a bit of poetry myself. Would you like me to read some to you ?”

  • “Nine lines of Shakespeare say it all.”

    That would be nine lines of pic’n’mix Shakespeare, David, a collection of unrelated images.

  • David Crookes

    Nevin, that frivolous species of collection is called a cento. People ‘wrote’ Vergilian centos in the Middle Ages.

    Rory, you’re dead right. Get all the amateur poets into one room, bring in the Daleks, and leave them to it.

  • Rory Carr

    Prolific songwriter (Mountains of Mourne), Percy French once penned a wonderful parody of the nursery rhyme, Little Bo Peep as written by William Wordsworth. But then the man who could break your heart with the poignant lyrics of Come Back, Paddy Reilly when challenged to compose a winning song around the improbably named (to English ears) Cavan town of Ballyjamesduff knew well how to play with a phrase here and there.

    Unfortunately I have not been able to find a copy of it anywhere but you can hear that consumate interpreter of all things French, Brendan O’Dowda recite it here (about 39 mins in):


  • David Crookes

    Many thanks for the link, Rory! I managed to find the text.

    The Garden of Eden has vanished they say
    But I know the lie of it still
    Just turn to the left at the bridge of Finea
    And stop when halfway to Cootehill.
    ‘Tis there I will find it I know sure enough
    When fortune has come to my call,
    Oh the grass it is green around Ballyjamesduff
    And the blue sky is over it all
    And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff,
    Are whispering over the sea,
    Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff,
    Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

    My mother once told me that when I was born
    The day that I first saw the light,
    I looked down the street on that very first morn
    And gave a great crow of delight.
    Now most newborn babies appear in a huff,
    And start with a sorrowful squall
    But I knew I was born in Ballyjamesduff
    And that’s why I smiled on them all.
    The baby’s a man, now he’s toil-worn and tough,
    Still, whispers come over the sea,
    Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
    Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

    The night that we danced by the light of the moon,
    Wid Phil to the fore wid his flute,
    When Phil threw his lip over ‘Come Again Soon,’
    He’s dance the foot out o’ yer boot!
    The day that I took long Magee by the scruff
    For slanderin’ Rosie Kilrain,
    Then, marchin’ him straight out of Ballyjamesduff,
    Assisted him into a drain.
    Oh, sweet are the dreams, as the dudeen I puff,
    Of whisperings over the sea,
    Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
    Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

    I’ve loved the young women of every land,
    That always came easy to me;
    Just barrin’ the belles of the Black-a-moor brand
    And the chocolate shapes of Feegee.
    But that sort of love is a moonshiny stuff,
    And never will addle me brain,
    For the bells will be ringin’ in Ballyjamesduff
    For me and me Rosie Kilrain!
    And through all their glamour, their gas and their guff
    A whisper comes over the sea,
    Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
    Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

  • Rory Carr

    Thank you, David. However it was the lyrics of the Wordsworth/Little Bo Peep parody which had eluded me. However if we cannot read them we can watch and listen to Brendan O’Dowda recite them in the link I provided above.

  • Red Lion

    Well Ive just my Burns supper of neaps and tatties, albeit a day early!

    God Bless your honest sonsy face (sorry)

  • David Crookes

    I walked with her upon the hill, her
    grief was very deep.
    Her tears were running like a rill, for
    she had lost her sheep.
    What were they like, my gentle maid, were
    they some special kind?
    They all had heads in front, she said, and
    all had tails behind.
    Their bodies were between the two, their
    mouths were full of teeth,
    And this may prove a clue, she said, their legs
    were underneath.
    If they have legs, I cried with joy, your
    tears you may refrain,
    For ’tis their legs they will employ, to
    take them home again.

    In the same sort of area, GKC did a magnificent set of variations on ‘Old King Cole’.

  • This poetry-quotation lark is one that cannot be “won”. The whole essence of poetry is the effect of compressed language and experience. Hence, each finds in the expression what he/she wants. For example, I found in Acherson’s piece some interesting expression, but little real “depth”. Where is there any development of that opening declaration:

    We took Narcissus
    For our patron saint …

    Did we? Famous Seamus used Narcissus in For Michael Longley, especially since that poem is a direct response to Longley’s own Narcissus. How does Acherson improve on those?

    In passing, I noticed that Thomas Pascoe, perhaps reprising his GCSE English anthology, dragged Simon Armitage into his Daily Telegraph sketch of PMQs this week. [Ah! the joys of an iPad, on-line, not in one of the dives on Fifty-second Street, /Uncertain and afraid, but, replete and imbibing Berliner Dunkel, in a couth joint in the Nikolaiviertel.]

    Pascoe vamped it like this:

    Of course, now comes the tricky part. “What if the Eurocrats won’t play ball?” one Tory MP asked me earlier. “Then we won’t look so clever.” No, but as a modern poet once wrote, “it ain’t what you do, it’s what it does to you”, and for now, this is the tonic the parliamentary party badly needed.

    Or, as Armitage originally had it:

    I have not bummed across America
    with only a dollar to spare, one pair
    of busted Levi’s and a bowie knife.
    I have lived with thieves in Manchester.

    I have not padded through the Taj Mahal,
    barefoot, listening to the space between
    each footfall picking up and putting down
    its print against the marble floor. But I

    skimmed flat stones across Black Moss on a day
    so still I could hear each set of ripples
    as they crossed. I felt each stone’s inertia
    spend itself against the water; then sink.

    I have not toyed with a parachute cord
    while perched on the lip of a light-aircraft;
    but I held the wobbly head of a boy
    at the day centre, and stroked his fat hands.

    And I guess that the tightness in the throat
    and the tiny cascading sensation
    somewhere inside us are both part of that
    sense of something else. That feeling, I mean.

    Actually, as Armitage the ex-social worker knows, it is what you do, and how it continues to affect you. And, with respect, for me, Acherson didn’t.

  • David Crookes

    When we take back Patrick
    For our patron saint,
    The cloths of heaven
    Will be bright with embroidery.
    The new bards of Ireland
    Will sing of clean primrose,
    Ferns by a tree-root,
    Whin-flowers in winter,
    And the old hawthorn hedges
    Of our kingdom by the sea.