Live Encounters Allows us a New Platform – Terry McDonagh, Celebrated Irish Poet, Playwright, Writer and Founding Contributor of Live Encounters Magazine.
In its six years, Live Encounters has never been mainstream. It has been political, social, a little economic and always critical and left of centre. This time, it’s delving into the rarefied world of poetry which might seem a little strange at first, but, on second thoughts, it makes sense. The Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh said, Poetry made me a sort of outcast and I became abnormally normal. Live Encounters is abnormally normal – it deals with issues that really matter – with people who look to mystery and strange words beyond the everyday for guidance. Michael Longley said, if I knew where poetry came from, I’d go there.
The story of poetry in its many versions is at its best in life-affirming moments such as birth, romance and in the many facets of coming and going. It is a celebration of everyday miracles. It blossoms in epic journeys, heroic battles, ancestoral memories and in character, narrative and landscape. It lives and breathes in stingy uncles and inheritance tax; in black wind and refugees struggling to be polite in a new language. I remember hanging on to every morsel when my friend’s grandfather told tall tales of a runaway nun in the company of happy liars singing hymns of romance to benign demons.
Poetry doesn’t always make sense but it is uplifting, important, remarkable and unremarkable. It needs poets and the wisdom of a child to keep it vibrant and tuned to the sun’s golden rays pouring down on innocent figures. It takes us through days, hardship, weeks, seasons, mixed parties and first nights. But it needs a platform if its journey has any chance of reaching the colourful reality of the dreams hidden between lines. Such is poetry.
Just look at The Divine Comedy. Under the guidance of Virgil, Dante took us on a journey into layers of underworld. Yeats, in the face of his new, unaccustomed Ireland, sough identification and spiritual refuge in the dreams of a rich life among artisans in Constantinople. Dylan Thomas will remain immortal in his tribute to his dead father in Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.
My own poetic journey has taken me on journeys to at least twenty-five countries but the real journey has taken place in my mind. It has been a contemplation on the nature of what it means to be human; to be an observer. One evening, with an hour to spare at the main station in Berlin, I watched a man, looking troubled and seemingly lost in his own world.
(This poem was recently shortlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue poetry prize)
From a Hauptbahnhof Café in Berlin
Here in a Hauptbahnhof café in Berlin, a tall bony man
struggles at being present with Becks und Bismarck Herring.
He’s not a drunk, more a like man cut off from fantasy,
waiting for a train to elsewhere or a threadbare nowhere.
Did he ever stroke a cat or run away from loyalty?
His dark glasses rest like temple veils covering up.
If he’s a dreamer, I must forgive but his mouth
seems lost to lonely hearts research in a single room.
Perhaps he’s a dark horse with a mighty Bundestag wife
choking on words that are almost her own and
he’s a pale shadow of a ballet dancer retreating
to a pale other world or his wife’s a pilgrim mother
in a Berlin flat waiting for pallid widowhood.
She texts her dark daughter – recently made flesh
and wearing that grim grin: I’ve got a lover,
my prince in training for perpetual isolation.
Her husband will be on a train to their address.
When one door closes, abstinence takes over.
He has credit card bonus points offering tips
on how to save a heart-never-to-die-young
Their daughter is recording the perfect sound
of constant silence – reconciled to hurt well done.
All three are absorbed in giving little out but
they cannot blame Berlin for the why and the where.
That man over there wearing the widow’s face
set me thinking in a Haubtbahnhof café in Berlin.
And, now, thanks to Live Encounters, we can rejoice in the opportunity to send our work on a journey to a broader audience. Let’s stand on any old rooftop and shout out cool things to each other. Perhaps one day we will get a glimpse of where poetry comes from. This is a unique chance to go there.
© Terry McDonagh