The Children of Alcoholics (a poem)

“I think that’s what the purpose of poems is, to step outside of easy and polite conversation, and sometimes to say something ... that begins in shock but afterwards ends in intimacy.”
On the latest episode of the podcast Words Lightly Spoken, Pat Boran considers the “emotional truth” of poetry before reading his recent poem ‘The Children of Alcoholics’.

An Interview in The Examiner, July 2019

'My biggest challenge in life so far has been keeping optimistic.' An interview on making poems, and other matters, published in The Examiner, July 2019. READ IT HEREPB

A review of Then Again in The Irish Times

Martina Evans reviews Then Again in The Irish Times, 01 June 2019

Pat Boran’s seventh poetry collection, Then Again (€12.50, Dedalus Press), is described by the publisher as a mini Odyssey. The poems travel outwards taking in Paris, Sicily, Cyrus and Ireland, often focusing on paintings in galleries and churches or objects in museums. A magnificent prose poem for “an old friend … who fell in love with compost” meditates on “Death and the remaking of the world”. The fermentation and renewal that occurs in compost layers, especially “the gradual return” of growth, is central to Boran’s odyssey.
Like Homer’s, the journey is all about return. This is beautifully, neatly expressed in The Password, where a couple try and fail to remember a password, then “ … somehow, with the cuff of my shirt sleeve/I manage accidentally to touch Return/and as simple as that it opens and we’re in … ”
There are many returns here. In Virgin of the Crossroads poet turns a bend “to find her/stood there still/ in this winter’s night, a solitary girl/waiting for her bus,/her face beatific/in the light of her mobile phone.” There is a tremendous amount of warmth here in fine elegies for friends and all humanity. Boran’s gaze is equally tender resting on the fellow travellers in Stalled Train and Bus Stop or a 19th-century Indian painting as he finds parallels across distance and time.
In Race Meeting, Baldoyle, a photographed couple spring from the page, “He smokes, she holds/something beneath her nose, a sprig … ” the ending miraculously conjuring “the one thing that the photograph commemorates/ but has no chance of capturing: their breath”. References to breath and lungs recur frequently in these existential poems. Desire is a visual, convincing argument for human connections. Boran’s characteristic light touch is exquisitely deft. He opens intriguingly, “Lift the roof off this row of houses/and who might we prove to be:” before an assortment of characters appear and then, the sonnet turns or “zooms in … that could be you and me down there, /waltzing around our steam-filled kitchen/as if on the deck of an ocean liner/inching outwards through the thickening fog.”

Selected poems in Portuguese transation

o sussurro da corda (the swoosh of the rope) is a selection of my poems, beautifully translated by Francisco José Craveiro de Carvalho, published by Eufeme in December 2018, and available here.

A review of Then Again (2019) on RTÉ Culture

"These are splendid poems, comprehensive and wide-ranging in their subjects and themes, profound in their feeling, making for one of the finest collections to appear in recent times."

Read Patrick Kehoe's complete review on RTÉ Culture here.

Video: 'Lining Out', a film by RTÉ Sport

I was surprised and shocked when this video, produced by RTÉ Sport, and built around an audio recording of my poem Lining Out, went viral in 2018 during the week of the All-ireland Senior Football final, with over a quarter of a million views in a few days. It's a testament, I think, to how images can be sensitively matched to words, to make something with a power all its own.

A selection of my Bull Island Haiku, in Portuguese

Here's a link to a selection of my Bull Island Haiku in Portuguese, translated by Francisco José Craveiro de Carvalho who has been an extraordinarily attentive reader and dedicated translator of my poems of late, and to whom I am immensely grateful.

bull island

Video: Pat Boran reading, University of Granada, Feb 2018

Pat Boran reads at the University of Granada, February 2018, as part of The Irish Itinerary events, organised by Pilar Villar Argaiz.(Reading follows general introductions and discussion about 50 mins in)

Granada Reading

Essay: A First Meeting with Philip Casey

STILL COMING TO TERMS with the death of my friend Philip Casey, on Sunday last (04 February 2018).
The Irish Times online has done a wonderful thing in publishing the tributes of a whole range of poets and writers whose lives and work were enriched by Philip. I include here my own contribution to that ever-growing archive, in case it might be of interest to any of his many friends and admirers, but a quick search of the Irish Times site will produce many more that deserve to be read for their celebration of a truly rare and beautiful human being, and a writer whose magic and depth has yet to be fully recognised.


THE FIRST TIME I MET PHILIP CASEY, I embarrassed him so much that I think he did his best to avoid me for the following few days. Thereafter we became good friends.

It was late 1985 (or maybe early ’86), and I’d just moved in to a bedsit in a house on Longwood Avenue, off Dublin’s South Circular Road. That I had come to live in that particular house after routinely answering an advert in the Classifieds section of the Irish Press seems unlikely now, but that’s how it was. No plan, just the strings of fate drawing me along. Little did I know the day I moved in that on the floor above me was the painter Sean Fingleton and, below me in the basement, the poet Philip Casey, neither of whom I had met before, though, as it happens, I knew something about the work of each.

Though I was living in Dublin only a couple of years at the time, I’d already fallen in with a small group of artists and writers and, as I got to know my way around the Dublin scene, I paid particular attention any time I heard positive references to a practitioner working outside of the group (not always a daily occurance!) Many people I met enthused about the energy and committment of the painter Fingleton, (about his powerful, troubled landscapes that seemed to have been wrestled onto the canvas), but they seemed to have a special reverence for Philip Casey which made me keen to meet him.

Coming and going with my bags of vegetables from the stalls on Camden Street, or a collection of wooden scraps gathered for my open fire from the skips along the canal in Portobello (gentrification was already in full swing), in that first week or so I’d take my time on the steps up to the front door of Longwood Avenue, hoping for a glimpse of the basement poet I was too shy to disturb.

And then one morning, without warning, as I came down to head out on some errand or other, there was a noise from below and behind, and I turned around to see the basement door open and a small (to me) man leaning on a crutch emerging. It was Philip Casey.

I was in the grip of an enthusiastic apprenticeship to poetry, and reading everything I could get my hands on, including After Thunder, his poetry collection that had come out only months before. I told him so. Philip smiled warily. I really liked it. He thanked me politely. Neither of us moved. In an effort to put him at his ease, and to relieve my own growing sense of discomfort, I mentioned a few people we had in common – the poets Leland Bardwell and Pearse Hutchinson, Tommy Smith, the owner and heart of Grogan’s Castle Lounge, then effectively my home from home.

And then I did the unthinkable. I named one of the poems from Philip’s book. Machine Buried, for some reason, had made a particular impression on me when I first read it not long before, so much so that in a period where I had more free time than now (and a significantly better memory), standing there in the shadow of the house I began to recite the entire thing to him from memory: ‘The early shift poured into the works, / some hungover, faces drawn and eyes / sleep-caked, sleep-heavy, their mood morose, / unready for its troubling presence …” And Philip just stood there and looked at me, in shock, in wonder, radiating his typical kindness and concern.

Sensing I was trying too hard, I stopped halfway through, and we exchanged a few pleasantries and promised to get together for a chat one day. And then we scurried off, each in his own direction, wisely choosing the neutral territory of a bar or coffee shop for our next encounter, before which I had already begun to understand something important about poets. The true ones are always surprised when anyone reads, let alone memorises their work. They give all they have in its making, but then step away from it and leave it to find its own way in the world. They hope their poems will live beyond them, but fear deep down no such thing will ever happen.

Philip endured more suffering than almost anyone I’ve known, and not just once but again and again. Yet he never complained, and he never gave up making new things, poems and novels, and helping and encouraging others to make their own as well.

There are plenty of poems by Philip that move me more than does Machine Buried; there are things about this fable of men at work that I still don’t entirely understand or can’t apply to the man I got to know over the many years since. And, in truth, it wasn’t a poem Philip himself made any great claim for or returned to often. Perhaps he remained puzzled about it, as poets often are about their work.

But something in it made great sense, haunted and inspired the young writer I was back then trying to become. And that’s why I turn to it again today, as we say goodbye to Philip and have only the poems and the novels in his place (with all the pressure that puts on them now). I turn to it again because there are mysteries in poems, and in poem-making, that cannot be explained away, that always seem to have something more to tell us, something more to reveal. We lose our loves and our friends, but something we write as in a dream, or stumble upon by accident in a public library on a rainy afternoon, becomes our farewell message to the world, and someone's lifelong companion.

The early shift poured into the works,
some hungover, faces drawn and eyes sleep-caked, sleep-heavy, their mood morose, unready for its troubling presence. It had taken root in the concrete, a steel Zeus from a mouthful of dust. Wary, they searched it for a device that might breathe some life into its steel, but it was inert and they withdrew, disconcerted, and deep in their hearts, afraid. As with the precursors of plagues, it had come among them unannounced. In heaven, alias the office, all ranks were blissfully certain that no such god existed, demi- or other, there being no record. The men returned to work but in every mind lurked the machine, which they had christened Colonel Blink. Then came the solution from on high: a hole was dug and as the bulldozer toppled it over the brink, they stared, feigning laughter; but true to his instinct a mechanic sprinkled oil on its complex extremities and they cheered. The clay was expertly cemented over, but each year it subsides just a little and each time a man walks across it he has a strange feeling, like an old night-fear from childhood.
After Thunder)

Obituary for Leland Bardwell

Leland Bardwell (25 Feb 1922 – 28 June 2016)

Leland Bardwell
was a poet and writer who produced thirteen books of poetry, fiction and memoir, stage plays, and radio plays for both RTÉ and the BBC during the course of a remarkable life. One of the founding editors of the literary magazine Cyphers, she was a member of the influential Irish Writers’ Co-operative in the 1970s, and a founder of Sligo’s Scríobh Literary Festival.

Born in India to Irish parents, Leland grew up in Leixlip, Co. Kildare, alongside a brother Christopher and sister Paloma. Her father Pat Hone, a railway engineer, was of the line that included two noted painters Nathaniel Hone, elder and younger, as well as the stained glass artist Evie, of whose work Leland was a great admirer. It was a difficult relationship with her mother, however, that had the most lasting effect. Like the heroine of her partly autobiographical debut novel, Girl on a Bicycle (1977), the young Leland found some refuge in literature, reading her way through “all the books in Foyle’s twopenny lending library” in the town.

In time, however, the shadows of that relationship
caused her to doubt her own ability to love. The grim humour that animates much of her work was, in part, her way of coping, of transforming the experience into something new.

And yet that work is all about affections and allegiances, about identifying with the hurt and the wounded. In the poem ‘A Mother Mourns Her Heroin-Addicted Daughter’ (written for a close friend), she speaks in the voice of the city that has failed the youngster: “I’ll raise my pavements to keep you safe. Open the balcony of my arms …” And in another poem, depicting the nightmare of struggling young mothers like herself in Dublin’s urban wasteland of the 1980s, the chorus (and title) seems to loop incessantly: “Don’t touch them. Them’s your mammy’s pills.” It is no coincidence that her one short story collection is entitled
Different Kinds of Love.

Leland’s movements, geographical and romantic, over her adult life are complex. Her marriage in 1947 to Michael Bardwell, by whom she had twins Anna and Billy, was marked by hardship and infidelity. After she left him, she moved to London to take up with his brother Brian, with whom she had a daughter, Jacqueline. But that relationship too came asunder and in time she moved to Dublin with Fintan MacLachlan, the most handsome man she had ever met and father of her three sons, Nicholas, Edward and John.

In Dublin, Leland just about kept the show on the road, struggling to balance a bohemian lifestyle with the pressures of young motherhood, while Fintan, as she puts it with unaccustomed delicacy, “treated his hangovers with care”. In Soho earlier, and now in Leeson Street, she was part of a lively circle of writers and artists (including poets Patrick Kavanagh and Anthony Cronin, and painters Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun). But somehow, amidst the chaos and distraction, she continued to write, not only poems, but articles for newspapers, children’s stories for radio, and at least one lyric for her growing sons’ fledgling rock band, the barked-out chorus line of which, “I don’t wear uniforms,” expressed her own punky defiance as much as theirs.

By the late 1980s, she was conducting creative writing classes in the city centre, rolling shag tobacco on her knees and already inspiring a rising generation of mostly female writers.

When it comes to anthologies of Irish writing from the period, with few exceptions Leland was either ignored or reduced to a footnote: it was through her that Kavanagh met Katherine Barry Moloney, his bride-to-be.
That her writing shifted between pure lyric (with surreal influences) and narrative impulse, made her, possibly, harder than others to categorise; but the omission was lazy, scandalous and indefensible.

Friendships with other writers, therefore – among them Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Macdara Woods and Pearse Hutchinson, and more recently Dermot Healy, Brian Leyden and the poet Mary Branley – did much to sustain her. Her indomitable spirit survived a sequence of further relocations: from the new suburbs back in to Dublin’s York Street, and from York Street to the gate lodge of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig where custodians Bernard and Mary Loughlin offered sanctuary, succour and love.

And often it was needed. On at least one night a heavy rainstorm diverted a veritable river through the house, filling the living room so full of frogs that visitors had to go on tiptoe to avoid them. Leland, though not oblivious to the problem, calmed the situation with a few lines by Hilaire Belloc – “Be kind and tender to the Frog, / And do not call him names” – transforming the disaster into a memorable literary soirée.

In 1992 she moved for the last time, north-west to the Sligo coast where, in a small sea-lashed cottage, she found a kind of peace.

Her 2002 novel
Mother to a Stranger was a surprise bestseller in Germany. In 2010, she received a short story award from Turkish PEN. In 2011, aged 89, she travelled to the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and was astonished to find herself rapturously received.

But the journeying that had taken her to Paris, Russia and as far as Colombia over the decades was drawing to a close. A stroke in 2013 hurt her in the one place she could still be hurt, in that part of the brain that processes language. She laughed grimly, as she was wont to do; without reading and writing, what would be left for her?
Her restless life was starting to blur.

By times anarchic, hilariously irreverent and heartbreakingly shy, Leland lived life to the full, whether at her cluttered desk under a sprinkle of wild flowers, or stepping out into the chill Atlantic, which she did until recent years, complaining and cursing all the while but fearless as an Olympian. Membership of Aosdána saved her life, and enabled her to complete at least four of her books – extending, in so many ways, the range of contemporary Irish writing.

For such a big personality, her carbon footprint was small. Her radio played Lyric FM, quietly. And for years and years she drove an ancient Triumph Herald, the back seat of which was composed almost entirely of old literary magazines and dog-eared typescripts. And yet somehow, just like language itself, it sustained her.


Leland Bardwell
is survived by her children Billy and Anna, Jacqueline, Nicholas, Edward and John, by her half-brother Christopher, and her many cousins, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

(First published in
The Irish Times, 02 July 2016)