Winter by WestWords #poetry

Today’s show is all about the Winter season with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Carl Sandburg and John Betjeman accompanied by music from Craig Armstrong, Tori Amos and Emile Waldteufel!

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Cloonfower Winter by Tracy Gaughan


Summer by WestWords

Our Summer show features poetry by Jane Kenyon, James Tate & Mary Oliver with music from The Gloaming, Abel Korzeniowski & Coldplay!

A Poem For Ireland

This weeks show features poetry from our recent national competition to find Ireland’s favourite poem of the last one hundred years. Paula Meehan, Sean O’Riordan, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Louis MacNeice and Paul Durcan all make an appearance along with music from Planxty, Kate Bush and Van Morrison among others.

WestWords Perfect Pair

2064105440_0d89ff73cd_mAmerican poet, literary critic and academic Dick Allen was born in New York in 1939. His award winning poetry has appeared in journals including The New Yorker and The American Poetry Review, his collections include Present Vanishing: Poems (2008) and The Day Before: New Poems, 2003. Allen has also co-edited several science fiction anthologies, including Science Fiction: The Future (1971) and Looking Ahead (1975). He is currently serving a five-year term as poet laureate of the state of Connecticut from 2010 through to 2015. From The Day Before this is a stirring narrative and reminds me of an old cottage I used to holiday in in Conemara:

By Dick Allen

Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
and look out the back windows first.
I hear the view’s magnificent: old silent pines
leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,
I’m sorry but there’s no Chinese takeout,
only a General Store.
You passed it coming in,
but you probably didn’t notice its one weary gas pump
along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
If you’re somewhat confused, think Vermont,
that state where people are folded into the mountains
like berries in batter. . . . What I’d like when I get there
is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
on one thing at a time. I’d start with radiators
and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
take small steps into what they never do,
the first weeks, the first lessons,
until they choose something other,
beginning and beginning their lives,
so never knowing what it’s like to risk
last minute failure. . . . I’d save blue for last. Klein blue,
or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
That would take decades. . . . Don’t forget
to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
make sure your socks are off. You’ve forgotten, I expect,
the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:
In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
on at least seven more. We’re here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
to slalom into joy. . . . I expect you’ll find
Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmud’s, or Qur’ans,
as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
You might pay them some heed. Don’t be alarmed
when what’s familiar starts fading, as gradually
you lose your bearings,
your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
until finally it’s invisible–what old age rehearses us for
and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.
Take it easy, take it slow.

When you think I’m on my way,
the long middle passage done,
fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the
checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch’s shadow,
pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
until you tell them all — the sceptics, the bigots, blind neighbours,
those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses–
that I’m allowed,
and if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected,
I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming too.


I’m thinking about Greece today and their rejection of the terms of an international bailout.  As one young Greek woman said on the news this evening “we are a free people; poor, but free”. Greek banks are running out of money so a deal with 8297948879_c0932dbb4e_mthe Eurozone has to be struck fast. Moreover, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has to try, somehow, to unite a divided country, as many Greeks are deeply unhappy at what has happened.  Anyway, I stumbled across this interesting Cavafy poem, written around 1928, the poem is placed at the decline of the Hellenistic period, before the Roman-Seleucid war 192-188 BC but with uncanny parallels to what’s been happening between Europe and the Greeks in recent months.  Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1863, Cavafy’s poems exhibit a skilled and versatile craftsmanship, drawing on themes from personal experience, along with a deep and wide knowledge of history. Since his death in 1933, Cavafy’s reputation has grown and he is now considered one of the finest European and modern Greek poets.

Personally, I’m behind them 100% –  Καλή τύχη Greece! This is:

In A Large Greek Colony, 200 B.C.

By C P Cavafy (trans. by Edmund Keely & Philip Sherrard)

That things in the Colony aren’t what they should be

no one can doubt any longer,

and though in spite of everything we do move forward,

maybe – as more than a few believe – the time has come

to bring in a Political Reformer.

But here’s the problem, here’s the rub:

they make a tremendous fuss

about everything, these Reformers.

(What a relief it would be

if they were never needed.)  they probe everywhere,

question the smallest detail,

and right away think up radical changes

that demand immediate execution.

also, they have a liking for sacrifice:

Get rid of that property;

your owning it is risky:

properties like those are what ruin colonies.

Get rid of that income,

and the other connected with it,

and this third, as a natural consequence:

they are substantial, but it can’t be helped –

the responsibility they create is damaging.

And as they proceed with their investigation,

they find an endless number of useless things to eliminate –

things that are, however, difficult to get rid of.

And when, all being well, they finish the job,

every detail now diagnosed and sliced away,

and they retire (also taking the wages due to them),

it’s a wonder anything’s left at all

after such surgical efficiency.

Maybe the moment hasn’t arrived yet.

Let’s not be too hasty: haste is a dangerous thing.

Untimely measures bring repentance.

Certainly, and unhappily, many things in the Colony are


But is there anything human without some fault?

And after all, you see, we do move forward.

Haris Alexiou is a favourite of mine, used to listen to her all the time when I lived in Greece in the 1990’s. Great memories 🙂


American poet essayist and journalist Walt Whitman was born on Long Island 1819. He was among the most influential poets of the American canon often being referred to as the father of free-verse.  His work breaks the boundaries of poetic form and is generally prose-like.  His major work Leaves Of Grass was first published in 1855 and was a collection of poetry which he continued to edit and revise until his death in 1892.  This is:
By Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

An Image Of Love And Oats

Every morning, I open Neruda’s One Hundred Love Sonnets on the breakfast table and escape to his Chilean Isla Negra.  I let him fold his wings over me and get an insight into his romantic mind: his sexual longings and love for his wife Matilde; his celebration of the the body, the female form and all its comparisons to food, birds, stones, water and mountains.   For ten to fifteen minutes I am where he is.  

On his island, its shores and mountains, vineyards and harvested earth, I feel, for the briefest of moments, his mind and vision and wish that breakfast could last all day long.  The tender sonnets of one of Latin America’s foremost love poets, bestow my humble oats with ambrosial qualities, making the mundane passionate and extraordinary. Born in 1904 in a small town in central Chile, Neruda became one of the most renowned poets of the 20th Century. He shared the World Peace Prize with Paul Robeson and Pablo Picasso in 1950, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetry in 1971.   His poetic genius is unmatched and I love how his writing can be so simultaneously affectionate and astute.  I don’t normally post my own work here but there is no cause for alarm! This is just my morning, my

Breakfast With Neruda
By Tracy Gaughan

Open on my breakfast table, your book
of Sonnets. They bear the aroma of warm grain
from the Black Island, a measure of romance
and oats, milled by the buhrstone of your poet tongue.

Spoons of sand in an ocean of moon, I draw in
the perfume of your labour: earth, chaff, threshing
de-hulling; sweet carnal desires ripening
under the hot Chilean sun.

You transform this cereal ritual
Into an impassioned banquet of words
From your heart to my mouth – before sonorous steel
Pilfers me from our constellation of breath.

I return each morning like thirst, unquenchable.
Refill my empty nets with your shoal of syllable.