Summer Poets: PJ Kavanagh
Educated in a monastery, poet, author and journalist P J Kavanagh’s early thoughts of becoming a monk were thwarted because he 'liked girls too much'. The Catholic influence though remains (he once appeared in Father Ted).
Kavangh said in an interview: ‘I want to express, without frightening the horses, that there is something about. It would be treason to deny it. Not something religious, that is a slippery word. Or spiritual. There is joy or hope. I think it's joy.’
The death of Kavanagh’s first wife, Sally, forms the backdrop to this poem’s description of finding grief mysteriously contained – and yet not removed. It is a wonderful, funny, poignant, but also hopeful piece about being met by this ‘something’.
Stalled, in the middle of a rented room,
The couple who own it quarrelling in the yard
Outside, about which shade of Snowcem
They should use. (From the bed I'd heard
Her say she liked me in my dressing-gown
And heard her husband's grunt of irritation.
Some ladies like sad men who are alone.)
But I am stalled, and sad is not the word.
Go out I cannot, nor can I stay in,
Becalmed mid carpet, breathless, on the road
To nowhere and the road has petered out.
This was twenty years ago, and bad as that.
I must have moved at last, for I knelt down,
Which I had not done before, nor thought I should.
It would not be exact to say I prayed;
What for? The one I wanted there was dead.
All I could do was kneel and so I did.
At once I entered dark so vast and warm
I wondered it could fit inside the room
When I looked round. The road I had to walk down
Was still there. From that moment it was mean
Beyond my strength to doubt what I had seen:
A heat at the heart of dark, so plainly shown,
A bowl, of two cupped hands, in which a pain
That filled a room could be engulfed and drown
And yet, for the truth is in the bowl, remain.
Today I thought it time to write this down,
Beyond decoration, humble, in plain rhyme,
As clear as I could, and as truthful, which I have done.
(From Collected Poems, Carcanet Press 2001, and reproduced from here)