John W Sexton – The Dead, The Undying

Profile John W Sexton LE P&W Dec V Two 2018

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The Dead, The Undying – Four Transversions, poems by John W Sexton

John W. Sexton was born in 1958 and is the author of five previous poetry collections: The Prince’s Brief Career, Foreword by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, (Cairn Mountain Press, 1995), Shadows Bloom / Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock (Doghouse, 2004), Vortex (Doghouse, 2005), Petit Mal (Revival Press 2009), and The Offspring of the Moon (Salmon Poetry 2013). He also created and wrote The Ivory Tower for RTE radio, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes. His novels based on this series, The Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed are both published by The O’Brien Press and have been translated into Italian and Serbian. Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. He is a past nominee for The Hennessy Literary Award and his poem The Green Owl won the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His poem “In and Out of Their Heads”, from The Offspring of the Moon, was selected for The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. He is also the changeling-other of the blog-poet Jack Brae Curtingstall.


after Orb by Marie Under (1883 – 1980)

Groundward house, to water crookened,
shoulder slouched –
echoed to the ceiling by wavelet sound;
gull-fronted threshold.

Home, the orphan with her single lamb,
the hill now dusk;
rough gibing boys in a clotted gang,
she held her voice.

Deep to the night she sat and wept,
feet in lake-froth.
The yellow wicker she braided tight –
her two locks.

Was that her name in the tern’s krit?
Moon-gilded surface:
both at once it was dark and light –
the lake her necklace.

Groundward house, to water crookened,
shoulder slouched –
echoed to the ceiling by wavelet sound.
Tear-fronted threshold.

Daphne Taken into Laurel

after Dafne in Lauro by Giovan Battista Marino (1569 – 1625)

Ah, why the running away, o Daphne,
from those who follow you with love
and want nothing more than to be acknowledged?
Are you a vaporous spirit, or perhaps a dense
shrub on the flinty slope,
unyielding and deaf to those who implore you?
But if you’re a shrub,
why are your roots fleet from their place?
How can you not be rooted by my advances?
Thus as he spoke, (the true trunk
of Apollo aroused), he apprehended
the beautiful fugitive,
now immobile upon the blossoming shore.

The Wraith

after Le Revenant by Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867)

Like an angel of predatory stare
by stealth your rest I’ll share,
and slide you to the subtlety of sleep
where night submerges deep.

I’ll dress your hair, dim as twilight,
with kisses touchless as moonlight,
touchless as the snake’s slither
in the grave where I wither.

When night bleeds its wound of dawn,
but for grease on pillow I’ll be gone;
only damp will herald my return.

As others might tend with care,
on your life and years so fair,
I will tend my reign of fear.


after Contro Cupido by Tommaso Campanella (1568 – 1639)

Over three thousand years have ground their way
since first we bowed to that eyeless Cupid,
with his quiver and his fletchings, stupid
as love itself. Now deaf, our lovelorn bays
can’t melt his earwax. He covets tarnish
on silver, and dresses in turd-brown tweed.
He’s twisted and no longer a cherub.
Since the invention of the gun, no swish

of arrow now – just coalsmoke, sulphur, flame,
thunder and lead. Our love-wounds suppurate,
poison our minds, blind us to nought but lust.
Our entreaties die as echoes of blame:
“Stop, Hyde-selves, blinded by porn and self-hate;
bring us back to our state of innocence!”

© John W Sexton