Terry McDonagh – 44 Cantos

Profile Terry McDonagh LE Poetry & Writing April 2018

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44 Cantos in a 4th Floor Flat by Terry McDonagh

The following are three Cantos taken from Terry’s poetry manuscript: 44 Cantos in a 4th Floor Flat. The protagonist in this collection is the Everyman in us who leaves the yowl and yelp of his home crowd to shape a future – to distance himself from the familiar, so-called tried and tested. He finds his place, space and voice in a 4th floor flat from where, in 44 Cantos, he grants us access to his hopes, dreams, expectations and thought patterns.

Terry McDonagh taught creative writing at Hamburg University. Was Drama Director at International School Hamburg. Published ten poetry collections, letters, drama, prose and poetry for young people. Translations into Indonesian and German. 2016 poetry collection, ‘Lady Cassie Peregrina’ – Arlen House; 2017, included in Fire and Ice 2 Gill  Education; 2017, ‘UCG by Degrees’ included in Galway Poetry Trail; 2017, Director of WestWords, Germany’s first Irish lit. festival in Hamburg. www.terry-mcdonagh.com


1– Setting Out     

Before broadband here, there
and everywhere,
a long-haired youth
slunk so far into foothills
that he lost sight of home
and home lost sight of him.

A glutton for pilgrim habits,
he traipsed and tracked
from land to land,
village, seashore and city
chasing star after elusive star
dreaming from inside out,
considering a bond with
the devil and alien recipes
when he chanced upon a room
just a stone’s throw
from a voice in first person
yet far enough from the yowl
and yelp of his home crowd.

At first, he turned to his nag
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 – when suddenly
out of the blue
like a whole shebang
of hammer and tongs
in a gutful of pig iron,
he blurted out from his high horse:
I will. Words are mine. Mine to speak.


4 – Holy Jesting

In spite of the grace of God, Imams
and Prelates, I’m still only a him
aching to be a charmer and
fearless minder of word – might
even be a legate on a pedestal
with a host of holy pies at a window
exhorting eruptions to sprinkle
purple dust and folk karma
on the greedy. Let’s hymn together.
If sheep and lambs followed me
I’d have a flock to turn to.
I’m told I’m a ringer for a singer
strident among briers and berries
but I’m not just a singer – I’m a
scribbler under house arrest
in a sacristy of hard limestone
and sound bites without
a whisker of a vesper to my name.

As we speak there are rough drafts at large
but if needs be I’ll roam
with jackdaw and gypsy
to snatch pure chant off the horizon.
Hang on, Mouse, there’s more to come:
Bishop, Imam high up and tall,
who’s the sexiest of them all?
I am whispered the woman on high
and all in his head. Oh, Oh!
Holy Joes in costume are a howl.
No blood left, hallow as bamboo
and just look at the get up of them:
bag ladies with no bags.
Some clerics write psalms in secret
but hide sisters in grim grey to black
to knee and full length, who grin,
bear, manage the club, buy buns
for tea parties in Paradise or
the four-poster. Give you a kick
in the privates, ye auld codger,
said she after prayer and fasting.
Don’t know how he responded but
I’d have outed, oops or careful Lady.


I’m at home in a foreign place
without a parrot to remind me
of far-off fantasies. Dressed to
kill in cowls of finery, I inhabit
these sacrificial streets – my
dreams worth baskets of blackbirds.
Evening Sir, could I interest you
in a tasty bird? What if a sprig
of family spirits were to tune in?
Ah, I’m giving myself the creeps.
I’m here and know so little.
Perhaps it’s time to take a blind leap
into the corner of the next giggly breeze.



2 – I’m Here Now

That past of mine was quirked,
discordant and full of black wind
but it’s history, impetuosity
and so last year. I could shout
come back youth
but that’s as futile as near kisses
and whinging – the heart asks joy.

I’m content on the fourth floor
but I think I could be happy
in a wilderness of rock pool,
gorse, hawthorn and hazel,
a place where plant touches plant,
songbirds focus the sun
leaving me free to go round in circles.

Up here I flick through day and dark
in the wriggling world of witchcraft,
homespun yoga and hymns of
jerky homage to a lost youth.

Night has lodged in my bloodstream
and road is spinning and shedding
all around me – I crave calm.
In the mood for a snack, that’s me
but I’m clean outmy last biscuit
a silhouette – my cupboard quiet
and mocking: diet, diet
it’s your call
who’s the skinniest of them all?

What’s natural isn’t wonderful
isn’t much of an answer
but tell me
where is the magic pool
or dancer on sparkling donkey-back
that points to where mulling-over is located?

God doesn’t reply so maybe
when sloes are ripening and
bees are out in summer finery
I’ll get in touch with imps and elves
to learn more about brazen winds
that have so much say
in songs we sing or screams we scream
when lights crash into each other after dark.



© Terry McDonagh