Terry McDonagh – Sehnsucht

Profile Terry McDonagh Live Encounters Poetry & Writing July 2017

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Sehnsucht, 44 Cantos from a 4th Floor Flat, by  Terry  McDonagh

These are the first 3 pieces of 44 set in a 4th floor flat.  The central figure, a man, looks back, forward and tries to live in the ‘real present’ as a writer who simply can’t work out ‘formulae for living’. There is no escaping the terror of thinking. The German word, Sehnsucht, means longing/yearning  in its a purest, philosophical form, free of special attachments and daily needs.

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Before broadband here, there
and everywhere,
a long-haired youth
with an invitation to manhood
in his deep pocket
slunk so far into foothills
that he lost sight of home
and home lost sight of him.

He traipsed and tracked
from land to land
to village to seashore to city
chasing star after elusive star
dreaming from inside out
wondering about the source of cynic
he chanced upon a room
just a stone’s throw
from a voice in first person
yet far enough from the yelps
of his home crowd.

At first, he turned to himself
wondering if it was best
not to have a now at all
but looking up at cloud pockets,
sunsets, life and half-life,
he knew he’d have to comment
on the underbelly of fortune
– if only to blame.
Then, out of the blue, like a wayward eruption of
anvil sparks in a gutful of hardball and pig iron,
he blurted out
I will.

            Words are mine.

                                               Mine to speak.


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But that’s history, lore, impetuousity
and so last Friday. I could shout
come back youth but that’s as
futile as near kisses and whinging.

I’m content on the fourth floor
but would happily settle for
the warmth of a fig leaf
if it provided me with strong lines
that kept me out of touch
with reasons for and cliff edges.

I flick through day and dark
in the spinning world of
homespun yoga, witchcraft
and hymns of jerky homage
to lost youth – in the mood
for a biscuit that’s me…but
I’m clean out – my last biscuit
a silhouette – my cupboard
silent and mocking: you are
subject matter for a paper
on research into survival
without biscuits. Diet, diet
on the wall who’s the skinniest
of them all? 

Grasshopper notions bounce
like unsorted spirits – can’t
breathe the same air twice,
not even when reading to
children on the crown of
the tree of knowledge.
What’s natural isn’t wonderful
is not much of an answer
either, but tell me: where’s
the magic pool or dancer
on a sparkling donkey that
points to where mulling over’s
located, or rhythm is whipped
into place and virused up?

God has gone, so maybe
when sloes are ripe
I’ll get my hands on a fairy.


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I stroke my balding patch
because I know it’s there
while my friend, Black Mouse,
nibbles away in the corner
in a way known only to itself.
I’m on a roll. Radio and me
going full blast with versions
of can’t get no satisfaction.
Then without pause or change
of pace I slap my eyes shut,
jump into a jig with a gaggle
of geese and an academy of
high-stepping fillies on the brow
of a hilltop. Stop staring Mouse.
I jive, twist, do the coy thing,
duck into threadbare quickstep
hissing with melancholy and
innocent as a young antelope.
Come to my grove if you’ve
got jingle-jangle feet to jig on.
I clap myself on the back a
few times. Mouse has done
with crumbs and left. I turn
to my shoes for guidance.
They look up and I look down.
We try an awkward Ali shuffle
routine sort of thing before
diving into weed and daydream.

The starting gun won’t give up.
I place my flat hand on my jaw
and pose, yearning to inhabit a
houseful of notions – formulae
for opus. I’m no longer the youth
I left wounded and short of guts in
the corner of a field of fresh spuds.

The flat of my hand still rests
on my jaw. I prowl, then open
the kitchen window to the
distant wow of a disgruntled
jackhammer. At the corner
a deaf, near-sighted violinist
with eyes for heroes only
scrapes a requiem to lost wars
in rough wind.
A requiem to battle
A requiem to battle.
I’m sure there must have been
a hint of hope for him
before wars and grimy time
swallowed up his idols.
He will play till his terror fades
into his playing. I pick up on



Terry McDonagh poet, translator, dramatist, taught creative writing at the University of Hamburg and Drama Director at the International School. Residencies in Europe, Asia and Australia. Publications: 9 poetry collections, letters and prose. Translated into Indonesian and German. 2015 Out of the Dying Pan into the Pyre, long-listed for Poetry Society Poetry Prize. 2016, highly commended in Gregory O’Donoghue poetry comp.. 2016, Lady Cassie Peregrina – his latest poetry collection published by Arlen House with beautiful cover design by South Korean artist, Mikyoung Cha. 2017, included in the Galway Poetry Trail on NUI Galway Campus. 2017, included in Fire and Ice, poetry for sec. Schools in Ireland.


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© Terry McDonagh


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