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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

25 Edge Hill Poets: Anthony Keating


Hunting for clothes
In jumble sales 
And second hand stalls
Clothes for her children 
And clothes for home

Good clothes
Laundered and pressed 
That looked shop bought
Packaged in brown paper
Secured with knotted twine
Her letter peppered ‘PG’
Slipped between the folds

The parcel weighed 
Customs declared and stamped 
Posted on her way to char in Golders Green
Waved off on the journey
She could not afford to make

An offering received 
Opened with a sense of delight
Tinged with resentment 
These leavings of a wealthy relative
Over the sea


Embossed, tobacco stained
Magnolia paper
Peeling of the walls.
Red cracked lino, 
Scattered tables with bentwood chairs,
Newspapers, betting slips and pencil stubs. 

A conspiracy of Caribbeans and Celts
Playing dominoes and cards 
In a edgy stillness. 
The silence and muttered words
Occasionally rocked by shouts,
Bricks slammed on tables,
A flurry of abuse 
For misplayed trumps or dots,
Choreographed aggression 
And occasionally a fist, 
Until stillness settled once again
To the sucking of teeth and clearing of phlegm  

Out there the 60s was happening 
In the Junction nothing changed.
They re-emerge in my memory 
Through a fog of smoke, beer and piss.
Scully, O’Gorman, O’ Driscoll 
Jamaican George and Welsh John
In a collar and tie
On Sunday morning their Sunday best: 
For protocol had to be observed 
To honour the utilitarian pleasures of the working man.


Days come and go

Waking, I stretch into loneliness 

Out into the frost
The morning, thick with mist
Teems with concerns 
Some important, some trivial
Most are forgotten 
In the bleak landscape

Thorns, bare and gnarled 
Cling to a few desiccated fruits 
Red leathery allegories   
The trees in the distance, bare and dissipated 
Etched in an icy haze  
A thicket in a barren field
Offers a different perspective
A robin foraging  
The odour of leaf mould 
White fungus fruiting on fallen wood
The renewal in decay 
Gifts from kind ghosts 

Brown earth

My breath on the air

I emerge into solitude 


In many ways I was gifted poetry by my father. Not as an intentional gift but a happy accident. My father was a taciturn unapproachable man who read avidly across genres, fact and fiction. I know this as I was regularly sent to the library to collect or return books for him. I never remember his commenting or discussing any books with us other than to say ‘Read it’ contemptuously if you returned with any titles he had already read. I knew my father was a reader but knew nothing of what he read. Neither did he encourage any of us to read, outside of the contribution he made in teaching us the mechanics of reading. Reading seemed to be a dark sometimes sinister activity that went on in the brooding darkness of my father’s chair. Poetry was the one exception, he would, on occasion, recite poetry and expect me to learn it to recite it to him. This poetry ranged from ditties relating to horse racing to lengthier, rather dense formal poetry usually relating to Ireland and often containing many stanzas. Poetry and the poet are held in very high regard in the Irish cultural lexicon and there was never any question that it was a worthy craft to pursue. Poetry, however, suggested itself to me for reasons beyond a boy's desire to engage with his father.  

Stephen Burt, an American academic, argues that poetry “ creates a presence that is so socially, emotionally and intellectually charged that we encounter ourselves in response to it. An encounter with something more than our learning, our understandings, the nuts a bolts of our lives but our essence something that requires the poem “to provoke in us a feeling of self-forgetfulness” (Longenbach, 2002: 51). The encounter which occurs, in poetry, preserves and enlarges our solitudes and points out our connections ( Ibid).”  

The American poet Gwendolyn Brooks described poetry as “ life distilled” (Brooks, 2005) and for me it is this process of distillation which gives poetry its potency, its anthropological dynamism. The ‘distillation’ referred to by Brooks is an attempt to make the vastness of human experience manageable, it offers a way of making the unmanageable manageable and graspable by those living outside the intensity of feeling being experienced. In short it is a vehicle for empathy.  

There is also a sense in which it allows human beings to create an object of beauty out of the ugliest moments of their lives. This expression of experience may not always be readily accessible to the reader it may be encoded in the desire to ‘distil’, to make manageable. James Longenbach in his series of essays The Resistance To Poetry observes that poetry gives us “..pleasure because it gives us work to do, work that can never be completed no matter how fully explained the poem might be” ( 2004, 97). That work is the business of being humanAdditionally, Longenbach argues that we read poetry to embrace the challenges and complexities of life and not to find a distraction from it (Ibid).   

I was born into a family of Irish immigrants. My father never felt entirely at home with living in England but knew that he could not live in Ireland, which during the period they migrated and for the entirety of my childhood was deeply socially conservative and impoverished. I sense that this reality caused my father immense conflict and shame, a patriotic Irishman living in and on the ‘belly of the beast,’ in his terms a contradictory and cowardly existence that constantly gnawed at his sense of self and family tradition. A dissolution made more evident by the way his children and his wife easily straddled their joint identity The poems, 'The Parcel Home' and 'The Junction Tavern' offer motifs from my early life 

The house I was brought up in Kentish Town, north London, was, for very large stretches of time, steeped in a brooding silence. I consequently spent a very great deal of time in my own head, viewing my immediate surroundings, members of my own family and even the physical surroundings we lived in with a level of detachment, not as a member of the family, but rather as an outsider looking in on their lives To borrow a phrase  from Seamus Heaney’s poem, Exposure, I am an ’inner emigré ( Heaney, 1980),   not an inhabitant of my own life so much as an intrigued observer, not an actor but an onlooker, not a confessional poet but a dramatist and story-teller.  

My family background provided me with an opportunity to ‘cast a cold eye’ and develop an independence of thought offering me the space to create my own imaginings and develop my voice. In addition it strikes me that themes were laid down which I have been driven to explore, over and over again. Namely: Silence, Solitude and the archaeology of the self. Silence and solitude are two elements that I require to write and both return often as unified themes in my work.  

The poem, 'Retreat', is emblematic of my search for the scarce commodity of silence and solitude. Silence for me is a perfect archetype and a terrible tormentor.  As the American/Yugoslavian poet, Charles Simic asserted “Silence, solitude, what is more essential to the human condition? ‘Maternal silence’ is what I like to call it.  Life before the coming of language. That place where we begin to hear the voice of the inanimate. Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them ( Mijuk, 2002: 12).   

Woven through my desire for silence is a propensity towards melancholy, a word I have quite deliberately deployed here, archaic as it is, it denotes a brooding sentimental pessimism, not as acute or profound as depression but more deeply engrained and pervasive than sadness alone. Melancholia it seems to me is hard wired in my familial culture, drawn from the culture of Ireland, a DNA deep bleakness, that pervades nearly every aspect of existence and a feature deeply imbedded in Irish music (White 2008) and literature (Schirmer, 1998. Coughlan, 2008). Melancholy has influenced my reading, world outlook and poetry.  

I am a poet of the lost and found, a gatherer of the detritus of the lived life of the day to day world. The themes I peruse in my work reflect my current interests, or should I say, obsessions and the ghosts and echoes of my journey to this point. I spend my days observing and eavesdropping, mining the everyday for source material. I research my writing from my own life and the lives of others I am a totter, a voyeur. As Yeats observed in his, Circus Animal’s Desertion, I find my material In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” (Yeats, 1996. Pg 346). 

Just as I cannot know what subject matter I will alight on next, I cannot know if my reasons for writing poetry will alter. Therefore if I conducted this exercise again that I may end up with a completely different poetics. As the Nobel Prize winning Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska observed “The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person (Szymborska, 2000. Xiii).  I am, as all human beings are, a mishmash of confused, indeed mutually exclusive, thoughts, desires, feelings and beliefs. The rhythms that drive me are varied and carry their own tensions and my influences are eclectic all of which manifest itself in my work. I do however discern a unifying theme, a focus to this journey, my quest if you like: to move from that state of uneasy groping towards a future that F.Scott Fitzgerald termed “the unquiet darkness” (2013: 21) towards what  Frances Horovitz, articulated in her poem, Evening, written close to the end of her life, as ‘the good dark of this room’ ( Horovitz, 2011, pg 112). I seek an acceptance of life’s and my own unpredictability and contradictions. It is my attempt to make sense of my world and my place in it. My work is simply a platform to untangle and move-on from one concern to the next without ever reaching journey’s end. 

I have no greater scheme other than to continue writing poetry about those things that exercise me, things that change on a day to day basis. Poetry itself is the only thing I feel any certainty about, although what shape and what form it takes, is like the things I focus on; unknowable. Therefore, I will take Wittgenstein’s advice on any further speculation and remain silent on that which I cannot meaningfully speculate (Kenny, 2005). 

Bibliography . 
Abse, D. (2001) Goodbye, Twentieth Century: Autobiography of Dannie Abse. London: Pimlico.  
Allen, D. (1999) The New American Poetry Anthology. Berkley: University of California.  
Burt, S. ( 2012) Does Poetry hava a Social Function. The Poetry Foundation. Accessed 13.5.13. 
Brittain, D (1965). Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr Leonard Cohen (DVD, documentary). Quantum Leap.   
Brooks, G (2005)  Poetry Is Life Distilled. New Jersey: Enslow 
Cavafy, C.P. (2008) The Collected Poems. Oxford: OUP  
Nin, A (1969) The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934. San Diego: Harcourt 
Cohen, L ( 1993)  Stranger Music: Collected Poems and Songs. London: Random House  
Cohen, L. (2009).  The Favourite Game (Kindle Edition). London: Blue Door/Harper Collins 
Coughlan,  P. and  O'Toole, T  Eds ( 2008) Irish Literature, Feminist Perspectives. Dublin Carysfort Press.  
Dalos, R. Draper, R ( 2010) An Introduction to Family Therapy: Systemic Theory and Practice. Maidenhead: OUP 
Garvin, T (2005) Preventing the Future: Why Ireland was so Poor for so Long. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd 
Heaney, S (1980) Selected Poems 1965 – 1975. London: Faber and Faber 
Horovitz, F ( 2011). Collected Poems. Tarset: Bloodaxe. 
Hymnes, D. Anthropology and Poetry. Dialectical Anthropology 11: 407-10 (1986).  
Kenny, A. (2005) The Wittgenstein Reader. 2nd Ed. Oxford: Blackwell.  
Longenbach, J. ( 2004). The Resistance To Poetry. Chicago: Chicago University Press.  
Mijuk, G (2002) Orphan of Silence: The Poetry of Charles Simic Dissertation to fulfil the requirements for the doctorate in the Faculty of Letters of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.  Accessed 31.5.2013.   
Plath, S (1981 ) Collected Poems. New York: Bucaneer Books.Hass told interviewer David Remnick in the Chicago Review, “is a way of living….a human activity like baking bread or playing basketball.” 
Scott Fitzgerald, S ( 2013) The Great Gatsby. Hants: Orion.  
Schirmer, G (1998)  Out of what Began: A History of Irish Poetry in English. New York: Cornell  
Smith, S (2005) Irish Poetry and the Construction of Modern Identity.  
White, H ( 2008 ). Music and the Irish Literary Imagination. Oxford: OUP. 
Wislawa Szymborska (2000 ) New and Collected Poems. Boston:Mariner Books  
Yeats, W.B. (1997).  The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. New York: ScribnerHass told interviewer David Remnick in the Chicago Review, “is a way of living….a human activity like baking bread or playing basketball.’

Details of the MA in Creative Writing at Edge Hill may be accessed here.