As I grow older, I find myself thinking about the famous people who coloured my young life. The musicians that I felt were singing only for me. They touched my heart and my personal story; Leonard Cohen, Liam Clancy, Tommy Makem, John Prine, Johnny Cash, Nancy Griffith and further back still Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Joe Dolan.
They are all gone, and while there are great artists out there, one feels that the former can never be replaced. That’s the reality of loss. They are gone but what a legacy they leave behind.
Everyone has a story and a unique identity. It can be influenced and moulded by others but there will always be a secret story that only you can access. It might even be supressed by others forcing you to hide behind a façade of bravery or competence.
Whatever the story is; it is yours. Sometimes music, poetry or song can unearth memories long forgotten
Sharing the secret may erase its magic. Sometimes fear is a factor making the truth difficult to recognise. Whatever the story is; it is yours. Sometimes music, poetry or song can unearth memories long forgotten. You can be right back there again in the moment.
The death occurred last week of Brendan Kennelly and he talked about that secret identity. I was saddened to hear of his death. I have one book of Brendan’s that’s on my bedside locker that I pick up from time to time. Every time I do; it’s like reading it for the first time. That’s part of the appeal of poetry. You can find so much to cogitate upon in just a few lines. The book is called Breathing Spaces. Tim gave it to me one Christmas. It sits with The Desiderata of Happiness a book of poems by Max Ehrmann and The Lyrics of Leonard Cohen which is another book of poetry.
If there’s such a thing as wisdom, it wears a distinctive grin
In Brendan’s introduction he writes very self reflectively: “If there’s such a thing as wisdom, it wears a distinctive grin. That grin told me one thing at least; if blame must be allocated, don’t blame others; blame yourself. It’s saner. And the allocation of blame is likely to have the benefit of accuracy.”
The constant examination of self and everything in our world must indeed be difficult for the poet.
My mother thought the world of Brendan and she would summon us to hear him any time Gaye Byrne would interview him on The Late Late Show. I was captivated by his wonderfully melodious voice. It was described during the week by another Irish poet, Gerard Smyth as having a “bardic tone”. It was soothing, gorgeous and roguish and delivered his poetry exquisitely, making it available to everyone. The literary excellence that Brendan possessed became accessible to me as a young girl because of his voice.
Many spoke of his kindness to people and willingness to chat
Much has been written about Brendan in the last week, his love of Kerry, Dublin and Trinity, his prowess as a teacher and mentor and his ability to regale a crowd with his written works and stories.
Many spoke of his kindness to people and willingness to chat. I had an opportunity to meet him and I botched it! I promised myself years ago that I would go to one of his workshops. I never carried through and I regret that.
One day – it must be about 10 or more years ago – I was in Dublin for a meeting. I had finished my business and I was walking briskly towards Grafton Street for a look. I was passing Trinity College and there was a man standing quite still in front of the bronze statue of Oliver Goldsmith. A few steps on I realised it was Brendan Kennelly. I doubled back. I stood a few paces away and thought of speaking to him. I know from all the writings of the past week that we’d probably have had a nice chat. But, I balked! His eyes were far away and he was locked and lost in thought. I carried on but the moment has always stayed with me.
Other notable stars
Máire Mhac an tSaoi also died last week; another great Irish poet. Much of her writing was through the Irish language. Paddy Moloney of Chieftans fame died too. He graced the TV of my young life often. We seem to have lost a great number of the artists that I enjoy in recent years. There’s probably a nice poem in Brendan’s repertoire that would inform me in beautiful language that it means that I’m pushing on!