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New Selected Poems

New Selected Poems

by P. J. Kavanagh

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Drawing on the work of 45 years, starting with his debut collection, One and One, this collection of P. J. Kavanagh poems demonstrates his understanding of how contradictions coexist in nature and in us. Out of that vexed coexistence he makes poetry that, formally poised, packs the punch of revelation. Kavanagh has done so much to revive interest in British nature writing, and has contributed so much to it himself, nowhere more so than in his poetry. Internationally acclaimed Irish poet Derek Mahon provides an illuminating foreword, to set Kavanagh’s work in context.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847775412
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 06/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 166
File size: 396 KB

About the Author

P. J. Kavanagh has worked as a lecturer, an actor, and a broadcaster, as well as a writer. His memoir, The Perfect Stranger, won the Richard Hillary Prize, and his first novel, A Song and Dance, was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize. He is also the author of A Kind of Journal and Something About, and the editor of Collected Poems of Ivor Gurney.

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New Selected Poems

By P.J. Kavanagh

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2014 P.J. Kavanagh
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-543-6


    Dedication Poem

    Curled in your night-dress on the beach,
    Corn-yellow ghost, pale with sleep,
    Head to the starry North, bare toes to the burning East,
    Tracking the sun's climb into our seaside perch,
    I watch you at the fringe of this other island
    Our public love makes private for us two;
    Your face in floating shadow like a moon,
    Stretching your arms around the bay to yawn,
    Ebony trees in your fingers turning to green.
    I stand alone, in the dark, with the birds in the bush.
    Like the pewter lagoon I am flustered by day,
    Which turns, turns, like a pin to prick out my eye.
    Now Sun, the angry bo'sun, straddles the sea.
    'Is that you?' your murmur,
    Grateful and blind my whisper,
    'You and me'.

         Bali 1958


    Little men at work reconcile me to the great.

    Dogs barking. Men with guns.
    The foul canal, brown-swollen by the rains,
    Is lined with trigger-happy mothers' sons.
    And not one simple man to clear the stinking drains.

    Above my window cockney-sparrows build ...
    Hard to doubt the gay congruities,
    Hard to live without complacencies.
    Things are just as bad as we were told.
    These busy squatters seem accomplices –

    Straw from a beak blurs the page as I write.
    Out in the street this morning there was a fight.
    One of the men fell jerking in a fit.
    I took my watching white-face on my well-shod feet
    Down to my garden gate.
    One barefoot watcher looked at me and spat.
    Well, build from spittle and sparrow-straw bricks for a
    Why, when it is impossible to Belong
    Do all of us long for that more than anything?

    Perhaps to write and rhyme a sense of loss
    Makes one isolation briefly less.
    Steel-helmets make that seem ridiculous.
    For us no quasi-romantic State of War:
    You scarcely notice when you live with fear.
    If little lights were little one by one
    Could any of Europe's bonfires have lasted for long ...?
    But who has words to say all that again?

    Meanwhile the dogs are barking. Sentries yawn.
    Someone, somewhere, switches the street-lights on.
    Domestic sparrows end where they began.
    We must leave tomorrow to the morning.
    Perhaps tomorrow we shall wake up grown.
    For if some bayonet or bomb cuts short the growing,
    We know that nobody's better off, and that's worth


    Yeats's Tower

    The rain is the same.
    Some of the trees original.
    Certainly the stream
    Is the one that woke you, lulled you,
    The tiny bridge identical.
    And what has happened since you climbed the stair
    Would neither have surprised nor killed you.
    Behind that outhouse wall you kept your car,
    Deprecatingly – salaried senator –
    Which took you south in the winter
    To die, advisedly, before the war.

    I was a child when you died
    And now I stand beside
    What remains of the tower
    You took your gift inside
    To raise it like a chalice,
    Maliciously smiling, out of reach of malice,
    Over the small and sour
    Country of your birth;
    Over the lunatic earth.

    The roof and the floors are gone.
    Stolen your sea-green slates,
    And smithy-work from Gort.
    Your blue distempers run
    In cobalt-coloured rain.
    You will forgive the thought
    That made me in your hall
    Write with a tinker's coal
    My small and grateful name.
    Things being as they are
    You'll understand the fear
    That I may never pass this way again.

      Thoor Ballylee, August 1957

    Intimations of Unreality

    A square-skulled moonfaced monotone fowl,
    because it is twilight has caught my eye
    and slowly insultingly turned its neckless back.
    Snubbed by an owl.
    One skirt hem of the sky is torn by day still.
    Night continues to mend it, ignoring me,
    As I move, nervous against my reason,
    there are rustles and splashes I cannot mistake for

    Blind white moths half my finger-nail size
    zig-zag about my feet about no business.
    I catch one in my hand, just to make contact
    with some part of a world that's mine as well.
    It even disdains to flutter,
    but waits till I open my hand, then goes on as before.

    I feel as though I, hungry,
    have entered a room
    where there was only just enough to go round.
    Because I live in brick and change my clothes
    must I allow the world and sky to ignore me?
    Stay, Light! There is something you showed then that I
    Well then come, Dark! In your tunnel I'll be more
    What did the river say?
      Ordeal by bats is beginning.
    How cold this dew is!
      So it is really true then
    That I neither inhabit this world, nor any other?

    Merton Garden

    These walls infect the air
    With pale Nostalgia.
    See, through the garden comes
    That languished Lady under whose black thumbs
    Our past grows waxen fruit
    Our present cannot eat,
    And fades, and dies.

    Listen, (and argue). She never says but sighs:
    'Stone upon stone well and truly laid
    In a noble manner now forgotten –'
    (The stones themselves are rotten.)
    'Tops of the trees ruffle like sleeping birds
    A bitter generation has no words
    To consecrate the meaning of this garden.'

    Well then, let us on this meaningful,
    Ancient, uncomfortable,
    Breeze-petalled seat,
    Catalogue some things She misses out.
    Cemented boles,
    Rusted iron chains and poles
    That prop
    Her tattered Lears, Her bird-cage lime-trees up ...

    Under their branches, up and down
    The beat now sacrosanct to dog with don
    Once patrolled the Ladies of the Town ...

    As you carefully lean on the pox of the parapet
    Think of the poet Collins taken for debt,
    Exactly, historically, there, just under it,
    Drunk in the afternoon ...

    Where Her false-gentle memory glides
    Kissing smooth corners (which are not),
    Is roughly four yards from the spot
    Where poor Colonel Windebanke,
    For giving way to undue funk
    At the sight of Ironsides,
    One paint-fresh morning such as this
    By some outraged friends of his
    Was brought and shot ...

    No need to go on.
    The Lady's gone.

    A cow in the Meadows blows her horn
    Across the liquid green.
    Were it not for milking-time
    No cow no grass no water-colour scene.
    One meaning of our catalogue is that.

    Lady, agreed this silence
    Is solace. But You must confess the violence
    Blending us together,
    Past, present, future,
    Calm beauty, rough weather.
    Not one without the other.

    Beggar at the Villa d'Este

    No legs. I must sit still.
    People pass who are,
    More or less, amused at falling water,
    Treasures of this hill.
    He was rich. I'm poor,
    But share his pleasures.

    I shan't risk my virtue for Perhaps,
    When here expensive fancies are secure.
    'It's obsessive – the fountains – the
    whole idea'
    That posh-faced tourist says.
    I have to laugh
    At fear afraid of fear.
    'Then you love water you mean?
    The more fool you' I say.
    (He's much too tall to hear.)

    I was born near Lake Trasimene.
    Nearly every evening that expanse
    Of land-turned-liquid
    Turns to grey, to green,
    Flamingo to bloody carmine.
    There's no sense
    In frightening one like that!
    In all those colours, reeds like dead men's fingers
    Break silences and mirrors ...
    I tell you there's no laughing on those banks,
    On any beach or shore or not for long.

    You get to think. Say prayers even.
    Ugh! It cares a lot for you! No thanks!
    But here's a prince, a cardinal, fly as they come,
    By tricks and cheats puts water in his purse,
    Makes something you can drown in, something cruel,
    Dance in front of him like a hired fool.
    Then you forget you have no legs ... That's Art.
    Made him, they say, forget he had no heart.

    And yet his house is damp ... And yet it's grand! ...
    If I could walk I'd go
    As far from water as there is and oh!
    If I could fly, as far away from land!


On the Way to the Depot


    Saint Tropez

    Cast off in a boat without even a head for companion
    You washed up here and I must say they gave you a
    Renamed their gulf and their village and every so
    often Fire guns at the ground in your honour.
    You couldn't have known you'd so noisily float to the
    When someone in Pisa repeated
    The claims of a dim Jewish mystagogue thirty years
    So what made you refuse to deny them
    When Nero your master requested and thereby lose your

    Those who back the wrong cult have to do without bangs
    On their nameday. And it's hard, surely,
    To lay down your neck for a long-shot, all alone?
    Well, now you've a life-size painted porcelain portrait
    Complete with moustache (a chocolate-coloured
    A trellis of red paper flowers and, every day, roses.
    An unthrifty aureole, even, of high-watt bulbs
    Burns all day and night in the dark of your church.
    Today the obedient carry your head in procession.

    Teach us, Signore, to love a good thing when we see one:
    Also the perfect moment to disobey.

      16 May 1962

    The Spring

    The paper house was empty in the middle of the paddy
    So we took it over. The electricians
    Fixed up some wiring; we had a crate of
    Guinness in the lorry; we'd come a long way
    But first we must get settled.
    The partitions, the rooms, were small. The locals were
    But the owner must have been a man of some
    There were plenty of rooms, and the house miles from
    Soon there were yellow bulbs swinging from black flex;
    All had their quarters; a dry-patch for the lorries ...
    Then somebody smelled the burning.
    Something wrong with the wiring.

    Up to our anklets in mud
    We watched it burn down, drinking Guinness.
    Nothing for it now but put up tents on the dry-patch.
    A man floated face downward in the mud.
    There were helmets and webbing equipment we didn't
    Inquire under. Now there was kerosene
    In the tents, and wooden duck-walks.

    In front of the smouldering house,
    In the shallow pond where the man lay,
    Was a bubble of spring; in the morning
    We went there to wash. It was warm.
    Out of the earth, dribbling on to the mud
    Between two stones, came a spring that was warm.
    We used it to shave in; while around,
    Women patiently gathered with their washing:
    The people whose blessing it was
    Waiting for us to go.

      Korea 1951

    August by the River

    Hunched-up, muttering along the quais
    Of deserted, bus-ticket-blown SW3,
    After one too many a table d'hote me7al
    Eaten alone with a book, I think of Jules
    Laforgue. As I zig-zag along beside
    The only river that openly solicits suicide,
    I think of St Barnabas, Addison Road,
    Only a couple of postal districts away
    Where, oddly enough, he married a Miss Leah Lee.

    With my pockets stuffed full like confetti with telephone
    Numbers I'll never ring up, I stop to stare the moon
    Over Battersea full in its diesel-fumed eye,
    For I'm terrified stiff of the quiet in my chamber
    Why do I think of Jules Laforgue and his bride?
    Because by this stretch of the river, whose arms
    Offer their piss-yellow, typhus-ridden charms –
    Because it's probably wiser and safer in this quartier
    To think of them and not of you, or me.

    Westwell, Oxfordshire

    Sky mother-of-pearl. Oyster-colour sun,
    A furry lemon,
    Silent, full of silences.
    Birdless windless trees hold breath;
    Stream tinkles to pond to be frozen to death.
    Silence: a hand clapped over a mouth;
    Violent, with suppressed violences.
    Earth is preoccupied, waiting to know
    The soft grope of snow.
    Muscles of a bough crack, pistol-shot, echo echo ...

    On a little mound
    Near stream, by pond,
    A church: a square of yellow stone,
    Some of it ferried over seas from Caen
    In boats too light, you would have thought,
    To bear the weight,
    Ages of faith ago.
    Moss on the church-yard gate.
    Green grass prickles the hoar-frost sheet.

    And then the moment like a film-shot freezes.
    Perceived, not seen, almost out of frame –
    Joy – a presence,
    Transforming all the other presences:
    And leaning against a new-cut yellow stone
    A splash of carmine
    A scatter of frozen
    Bokhara roses ...
    And then the blur of snow. Time to be gone.


Excerpted from New Selected Poems by P.J. Kavanagh. Copyright © 2014 P.J. Kavanagh. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Foreword by Derek Mahon,
from One and One (1959),
Dedication Poem,
Yeats's Tower,
Intimations of Unreality,
Merton Garden,
Beggar at the Villa d'Este,
from On the Way to the Depot (1967),
Saint Tropez,
The Spring,
August by the River,
Westwell, Oxfordshire,
On the Way to the Depot,
Afternoon in Sneem,
The Temperance Billiards Rooms,
In the Rubber Dinghy,
Perfection Isn't Like a Perfect Story,
Not Being a Man of Action,
Satire I,
Goldie sapiens,
No One,
from About Time (1970),
One: Son and Father,
Seven: from Albert Poems,
Nine: 'Domesticities',
Ten: Father and Son,
from Edward Thomas in Heaven (1974),
Occasional Birds,
For Bruno,
All I Want,
Real Sky,
A Box of Sons,
November the First,
Child's Walk,
Driving Back,
Opened and Fastened,
Picture a Father,
And Light Fading,
The Clapham Elephants,
Edward Thomas in Heaven,
from Life Before Death (1979),
A Hard Setting,
While the Sun Shines,
Where You Watching Are,
A Single Tree,
Don't Forget the Keeper, Sir,
A Great Gale, 1976,
Breakfast in Italy,
Ivor Gurney,
The Dead,
Beyond Decoration,
The Moon in Charge,
Sun Overcast,
Borris House, Co. Carlow,
For C.E.K.,
Spring Arrival,
Thank-You Letter,
from Presences (1987),
Birth of Middle Age,
Walmer Castle,
A Small World,
Late Acknowledgement,
Ars est celare artem,
Birthday Visit,
Prayer in Middle Age,
Nature Poet,
from An Enchantment (1991),
A ghost replies,
The old notebook,
Memorial service,
No more songs,
January evening,
Blackbird in Fulham,
They lift their heads,
Minimal prayer suggestion,
Natural history,
Falklands, 1982,
In the middle of the wood,
The belt,
Quieter than Clichy,
Severn aisling,
from Something About (2004),
Slow as grass,
The new man,
Tug o' war,
A gottle o' Guinness,
Mood indigo, tune Irish,
After Westwell,
'Constancy to an ideal object',
Ascension window at Fairford,
Vox pop,
Small voice,
What I didn't say to Thomas,
Two syllabics,
For Kate,
Three score and ten,
London Bridge,
Something about,
Index of Titles,
Index of First Lines,
About the Author,
Also by P.J. Kavanagh from Carcanet Press,

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