“Explain yourself”. How often did you hear that command from grown-ups when you were young, and hadn’t a hope of providing a coherent response? No doubt you struggled with words, as we all do when our emotions are running high, and when we would like to say a great deal more in our defence than we are permitted. Helpless by being little and in someone else’s power, we remain silent.
Since my poetry collection Easter in March was published eight weeks ago, the phrase ‘explain yourself’ has started to haunt me. Not that I can recall anyone using it directly to me these days, rather it has taken a sort of residency in my head, in that very room my poems hang out. The question people are more likely to ask now is, ‘what is it all about’, and I find myself searching for the right kind of answer.
Now this fact is interesting, at least to my internal audience, because it takes me back to a time when I had started to write again after a brief hiatus of thirty years. Thirty years maturing to a point where ‘explain yourself’ no longer bothered me much. I had entered a delightful time of life, which I like now to call ‘the freedom fifties’: a time when I wasn’t concerned about what other people thought about me anymore. I was prepared now to take risks in ways that I hadn’t since I was in my mid- teens’ and discovering the world sparking fresh with life. I found myself returning more and more to my school years and beginning to identify with my younger self, recalling incidents and reassessing their consequences. Unexpected things found their way into the poems I was writing at that time.
While writing this article, asking myself, ‘explain yourself’ repeatedly, I have turned to an early incident, not anything traumatic, but nevertheless I believe of consequence to the task.
One fine morning when I was about fourteen, I got thrown out of the school choir. We had been singing ‘The Star of the County Down’. I had been making the most of it, completely unconscious of the key I was supposed to be in, when the performance was called to an abrupt halt, and I, in my position in the back row, was asked by the choir master, a po-faced Presentation Brother, to explain myself. I would have liked to tell him on the spot ‘that life was just bloody marvellous’, but mercifully the right words failed me. Without a spoken defence, I was asked to leave the hall and not to bother coming back.
The realisation that I couldn’t sing for peanuts took me completely by surprise. Moreover it came as breaking news to my inner Garfunkel, henceforth condemned to the sound of silence. Fortunately, Art was not alone in my headroom, and so I turned in wounded pride to the wordsmith of the celebrated duo, Paul. In short I discovered Paul Simon, poet, a man who worked with words ‘that stretch and strangely rhyme’.
It didn’t take too long to fill my headspace with the whole crew of poets we were reading, and start to write poems for myself. My early efforts were pretty awful, but nobody had to endure listening to them. Free of criticism I got on with the work. But the day came when my English teacher, a mild mannered Cork man, discovered an effort of mine at the back of a copy book. It was called ‘Here Comes Autumn’. It was all about the pain of falling leaves and the joy we get watching them fall, kicking them about. He insisted I read it aloud there and then to the class. When I finished, the boys offered their disinterested applause, and Mr Walsh mumbled in his rich voice ‘extraordinary’ and resumed the lesson as if nothing had happened.
Now here’s the point. He hadn’t asked me to explain myself, and I went home that day uncertain what he meant by the word extraordinary, but feeling ten feet taller. I believe now that I, the quietest boy in the class, had taken teacher completely by surprise. I wish I could tell you that the confidence I felt that day stayed with me, and that I went on to have a career in writing, moving like the adolescent Yeats through the many masks of poet. I did not. There would be other occasions when the fear of singing the wrong note would leave me voiceless. Life is not what we imagine it when we are young. Not only did I cease to sing for years, but after I had left college, I had stopped writing.
And then at fifty years, I gave myself permission to start the wonderful process of immaturing beautifully. Firstly, I took out of the attic the old fiddle I had been given in my teens and had failed to master. This time I did not allow for failure. I learnt, albeit poorly, to play for my own pleasure, reels and jigs and just for the hell of it ‘The Star of the County Down’. I also finally started to write poetry again, this time learning the craft, and finding in it, the only way I could explain myself to myself.
When people ask me why I write, or what a particular poem is about, I still find myself tongue-tied for an answer. I write as any writer will tell you; because I have no choice but to write, and being alive in this world is, at the end of the day, quite extraordinary. We all need to sing out in our unique voices anytime we get the opportunity to make ourselves heard.
Near Banbridge town in the county Down/ One morning in last July/ Down a boreen green came a sweet colleen/ and she smiled as she passed me by.
It’s bloody marvellous, isn’t it?
(c) Daragh Bradish
About Easter in March
From the opening and title poem, which is set apart from the three subsequent movements, Daragh Bradish sets out his stall redemption is possible from the disillusionment of modern life. Beauty will save the world (Dostoyevsky, The Idiot). The poet advises us to re-enchant the ordinariness of our lives, and find new meanings in old objects. Recharge and recycle what we find in our personal histories, and come out dancing each new morning.
The poems in Easter in March are drawn from such diverse sources as children s story books and games, Renaissance paintings, pop songs, the streets of Rome, the Dublin coastline, and landscapes of west Clare. Out of this kaleidoscope, the collection, moves through circuits and undercurrents to the premise that, not only will Beauty save the World, but it has potential to change each of our lives if we are willing to awake it from its present slumber. This is achieved by Daragh through a sharp and shaped perception.
There are three prose books driving the collection forward, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life by Thomas Moore; Ordinarily Sacred by Lynda Sexton; and John O Donohue’s Eternal Echoes. The poet casts his own life story against the philosophy expounded in these works. His poetic influences are wide and include Denise Levertov, Fred Marchant, and Jane Kenyon.
Easter in March is now available from Liberties Press
Daragh Bradish was born and raised in Terenure, Dublin, spending formative years in Bray, Co. Wicklow. He was educated in TCD where he studied Fine Arts and History. In recent years he has lived part-time in Liscannor, County Clare. He has coordinated and run the ‘Soundings for Simon’ December readings in Dublin for the past five years. Published widely in Irish, UK, and European journals, Easter in March is his first collection. www.daraghbradish.com