Photo credit: Tom Moody

The Interview – Kevin Ireland

Kevin Ireland has such a deep association with the Devonport Peninsula of Auckland’s North Shore it comes as a surprise to learn he was, in fact, born on the south side of the city: in Mt Albert, as Kevin Mark Jowsey, in July 1933. While still a babe-in-arms, he was taken by his parents to London. According to family lore, he spoke his first words with an East End Yiddish accent.

His parents’ marriage began to unravel not long after the Jowseys returned to New Zealand. Kevin spent part of his childhood on a Waikato farm with his maternal grandfather (whose storytelling brilliance was a formative influence) and unmarried aunts, then moved to Takapuna to live with his father. In late adolescence he enrolled at Auckland University College, but he did not complete a degree, preferring to work in a succession of short-term jobs – low-ranking civil servant, Whitcombe and Tombs shop assistant, guide to the Waitomo Caves – while concentrating on poetry.

With a friend, John Yelash, he co-founded the literary magazine Mate in September 1957. An early short story, ‘Albert and the False Alarm’, appeared in the first issue with the imprimatur ‘K. M. Jowsey’. By the time the second issue was published in early 1958, he had had adopted the pen-name Kevin Ireland, by which he has been known ever since.

In 1959 he sailed to Sydney and then on to England, expecting to spend just a year or two abroad. Instead, he lived in Europe for more than quarter of a century, mostly in London, where he worked as a sub-editor for The Times, but also for a period in Sofia with his Bulgarian wife, Donna, with whose help he translated Bulgarian poems and plays into English. He always considered himself first and foremost a New Zealander, however, and throughout the 1960s and 70s he continued to contribute to New Zealand literary journals.

Shortly before his departure from Auckland , he had met and befriended Barry Crump and helped knock the raw material for Crump’s first book, A Good Keen Man, into publishable shape. Crump returned the favour by writing a hearty, vernacular introduction to Ireland’s first poetry book, Face to Face, which was published in Christchurch by the Pegasus Press in 1963. (‘He’s a good bloke. Generous as you’d find anywhere. Give you his last metaphor.’)

Ireland’s rate of production since Face to Face has been steady, with a new poetry book appearing every three or four years. As time passed, trips back to his homeland became more frequent, especially after the dissolution of his first marriage. In 1985, while holidaying in New Zealand with his second wife, Caroline, he decided to return for good and purchased a house in Devonport.

Honours, eventually, have come his way: the Sargeson Fellowship in 1987, the Auckland University Literary Fellowship in 1989, an honorary DLitt from Massey University in 2000, the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2004, the A.W. Reed Award for Contribution to New Zealand Literature in 2006. His sixth book, Literary Cartoons, won the poetry prize in the 1979 New Zealand Book Awards and his memoir, Under the Bridge & Over the Moon, won the Montana Award for History and Biography in 1999.

Although primarily known as a poet, he began writing fiction again in the 1990s. A collection of short stories, Sleeping with the Angels, appeared in 1995. Five novels have followed: Blowing My Top (1996), The Man Who Never Lived (1997), The Craymore Affair (2000), The Jigsaw Chronicles (2008) and Daisy Chains (2010). Other prose works include The New Zealand Collection: A Celebration of the New Zealand Novel (1989), a second volume of memoirs Backwards to Forwards (2002), How to Catch a Fish (2005 – fishing having been one of his favourite pursuits since childhood) and an extended essay On Getting Old (also 2005).

Caroline died in 2007. In 2012 Ireland married Janet Wilson, a New Zealander who is Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Northampton. Ireland now divides his time between England and Auckland. The following interview took place in September 2016. Ireland was soon to embark on another lengthy plane journey although he had been suffering from back pain caused by two slipped discs.

 

Can I start by asking about your beginnings as a writer? Where did the poetry impulse come from? Were you already writing poems at high school?

‘Poetry’ was Palgrave’s Golden Treasury when I was at Takapuna Grammar School in the 1940s. It had some great pre-World War I poems in it, but also a lot of worthy, dull ones. I learnt only to loathe Wordsworth and Tennyson, to accept an insipid version of Byron and Shelley, and altogether to think of English poetry as a kind of literary tea party, with tepid tea and a scattering of splendid crumbs. A smug and lazy English master, who gave weekly readings from his MA thesis on Wordsworth as our preparation for School Certificate poetry, helped reinforce this impression. The one memorable lapse in this systematic indoctrination against poetry was the marvellous Phoebe Meikle [later to give up teaching and work in publishing], who read us Ron Mason in the third form. It never happened again while I was at secondary school, but at least I was able to reconfirm that there was gold to rediscover when I was released from my conformist educational incarceration.

 

palgraves-golden-treasury

 

I used the word ‘reconfirm’ because I already knew that the experience of poetry could be intoxicating. Through the good fortune of unhappy circumstance, I happened to spend a couple of formative years, isolated during a time of wartime petrol rationing, at the age of about nine and ten, in a remote Waikato dairy-farming community, where the nearest boy to play with was a kilometre away. Here my grandfather, ‘Mac’ McKenney, treated me several times a week to solo evening performances of superb baritone singing, plus recitations – almost always from his gigantic memory – mainly of Byron, Coleridge, Burns and Henry Lawson [whom he had known], with a broad assortment of odd poems from here and there thrown in for entertainment. What superb shows he turned on for me and my aunt, who was the sole-charge teacher at the local school. What great performances. And how blessed I was to curl up on his chest, in front of the Champion kitchen range, with the low murmur of a kettle always in the background, in a delicious fug of Tasman Plug pipe tobacco, listening to it all in the snug folds of his thick, woollen cardigan.

I simply didn’t think of being able to write poems while I was at school. Poetry was for reading or listening to. It took a first year at university to discover that I was at liberty to write.

 

There’s a rather cryptic passage in Phoebe Meikle’s autobiography, Accidental Life, where she writes: ‘When I think about my TGS years two forms in particular come to mind, one of them being that very interesting mixed Three B Kevin Ireland was in, the form that in 1946 surveyed their families.’ What was the intention of that 1946 survey? Surely it would have been an awkward and probably painful exercise for you given the separation of your parents.

Phoebe Meikle was my form mistress in 1946 when I was in the 3rd form at TGS. She told me when she came to visit me in London some time during the late 1970s, that she had only two ‘exceptional’ forms to teach when she was at TGS: that 1946 third form and a fifth form she was also in charge of during the late 1950s or early 1960s – I’m sorry to say that I’ve forgotten the date. The 1946 lot all became achievers in one way or another. It was an extraordinary class to be in.

Phoebe taught us a broad and impossible mixture of history, geography, sociology and economics [and probably several other subjects] which was called ‘social science’ – for God’s sake. I don’t know whether it still exists, but it was a daft and fashionable amalgam for a while. One of the tasks she set us was to do a survey of our homes and families. It was interesting but nosy stuff, with lots of questions about such items as degrees of relationship, income and personal activities and habits – and people were not used to such intimate disclosures at the time, though it seems to be the common stuff of so many surveys now, including the nuisances who, almost daily, wish to interrogate us over the telephone. I believe that the headmaster put a stop to it after complaints from several families, including my very upset father. I definitely remember getting agitated about it all and I was very happy the following year to go back to old-fashioned history – it was dead and quite safe.

 

As a little side-question, I notice that in your earlier poems and consistently throughout Under the Bridge & Over the Moon you spell your old Takapuna address Rewhiti Avenue, but the current street sign says Rewiti. Has it changed over the years? Is this a rare instance, running counter to Whanganui/ Wanganui, of an ‘h’ being whipped out on re-inspection, rather than inserted?

Rewhiti Avenue was the accepted spelling when I was a boy. It was spelt thus on the street sign at the top of the road, and on all documents, bills and mail. A zealous and particular Takapuna Council at some time during or after the 1960s investigated and reformed the spelling of several streets in its area. Thus, Rewhiti became Rewiti [named after the son of the chief, Te Kawau] – and Esmond Road, which Frank Sargeson lived in, was corrected to Esmonde Street [named after one of the children of the Napier – who gave his name to ‘Napier Street’ nearby, and who bought and subdivided that part of central Takapuna.

Frank Sargeson’s father picked up a holiday section at some stage and he turned out to be far more generous than Frank ever allowed in his writing or conversation, for he gave it to Frank so that he would have a place to live in and get on with his writing [as well as far away from the family home in Hamilton, I suppose]. The old man may well have been a starchy, one-eyed puritan, as Frank always maintained, but that single gift counts well for him in my reckoning – and alters the picture a bit.

 

sargesonflat

The Sargeson flat, Takapuna.

 

You say in Under the Bridge your grandfather, Joseph ‘Mac’ McKenney, wrote poems too. Do you remember any of them? Have any been published? Did you show him any of your own early efforts?

My grandfather never recited any of his poems to me. And he did not write them down, for they were not to be found after his death. I asked him about them, but he would never open up and tell me, and with the diffidence of youth I didn’t think to pursue the matter. None were published in journals or books, so far as I know, though he was for a while, in his 20s, in the Sydney literary set to which Henry Lawson belonged. I just never thought to question him about such matters. I was used to him being alive and in my teens it did not seriously cross my mind that he was not immortal. His daughters, including my mother, recounted to me how he would raise boards and palings on his farm at Whangamomona and paint his poems on them for all to see, and they also said that no locals thought this to be in any way eccentric. They described his poems to be rather like declarations, which probably suited his strange manner of broadcasting them.

 

You’ve said on several occasions that you see yourself as continuing a poetic tradition begun a generation earlier by Ron Mason, Rex Fairburn and Denis Glover. I’m curious how well you knew these three on a personal basis. Do you remember when and how you first encountered their poems?

It’s really for others to say whether I fit a particular New Zealand tradition, if they are interested to do so, for I think there are now several braids to the flow of it.

I couldn’t help appreciating, as I felt my way along, that Mason, Fairburn and Glover assisted me, sometimes secretly, in theme and form. But I don’t know whether anyone else sees it that way. All three of them were excellent models, but I also think that there’s a time when most writers detach themselves from early influences and discover their own voice. I hope I’ve done so without entirely losing a reliable old accent.

I knew Fairburn only from a distance; he called occasionally into Somervell’s coffee bar, where he was selective about which cubicle he chose to sit in. There was the peril of enthusiastic, young hangers-on, such as myself, but even worse were the several determined and long-winded, arty tosspots, who bored the boots of brilliant conversationalists, such as himself.

Mason also came in from time to time, but in the early 1950s he was already a shut shop; the blinds were down and the door was locked. He was charming and encouraging to talk to, but you soon became aware that it was all front and no longer was there a poet at home.

Glover was marvellous, though I saw him mostly when I was in Wellington. He was approachable, kindly, funny, shrewd and clever – or at least he was before he got completely drunk, which he was busily working his way towards every time I saw him. Glover was up-to-date in his reading and he gave good advice. I liked him enormously and he told me once, in a pub in Molesworth Street, that he thought I sometimes wrote a bit like him. He seemed pleased.

I imitated them all quite consciously and it helped me to imagine that I was an inheritor of their new New Zealand ‘tradition’. This was something that I clung to while I lived in London for a quarter of a century. I believed that I would stop writing without their voice, standards and protection. The younger poets seemed to follow the American ‘new directions’, but I felt that it was vital to me, in my ‘exile’ [the exalted term I used for my expatriation], to think of myself as part of a continuity. I may have been mistaken in my sloganising, but the placard I marched under was real enough at the time.

 

I know you struck up an enduring friendship with Maurice Shadbolt during your time at Auckland University. Were you aware of Karl Stead or Keith Sinclair back then? Were Allen Curnow and M K Joseph part of the English Department at the time? I’m assuming you were enrolled in English literature, but perhaps you studied other things.

Curnow and Joseph were lecturing in the English Department at Auckland University, but you are wrong in surmising that I enrolled in English. I only completed units in history [two], political science and education. I never enrolled or attended any English classes. I knew that it was compulsory for an arts degree at the time, but I put it off because I had little interest in the books being studied. In the end I simply drifted away from university anyway, and I’m a bad example to all those industrious students who knuckled down to their texts for, all in good time, Massey University simply gave me a DLitt and proved my point …

Keith Sinclair was a very good lecturer in a strong History Department. I would have stayed at university if I could have stuck with history and not been required to piss about with such diversions as its then academic notions of ‘English’, etc. Karl Stead made everyone aware of him when he was a very bright student. But he worked hard, and engaged in a mad pursuit of Louise Henderson’s attractive daughter, so appeared very infrequently at Somervell’s or at boozy parties, even though Curl Skidmore’s adventures suggest the opposite.

 

mxb160525blin-0084-matb-freebie-if-i-recall

Photo credit: Matt Bialostocki

 

Where were your first poems published?

My first properly ‘published and paid-for’ poem was published in the Listener, some time during the mid-1950s.

 

Was not wanting to choose between your parents part of your reason for deciding not to use Jowsey as your writing name?

I rather liked being able to choose a name for myself – and I desired independence from both parents – but if I had had the same chance later I would undoubtedly have chosen a quite different label. ‘Ireland’ meant nothing personal to me; I chose it because I had an appointment with Frank Haig to change my name and I hadn’t thought of one [or, more correctly, I hadn’t chosen an outright winner from the dozens I fancied from time to time]. Then, because I had time to kill, I found myself walking down Ireland Street, from Ponsonby, towards Haig’s office, and I saw the street sign and thought on the spur of the moment that that would do for a surname. There are people who have given their names to streets, but I am the reverse: I named myself after a street in Ponsonby.

 

How did you get involved with John Yelash in running Mate magazine?

One issue of Mate magazine was put together [and paid for – 20 pounds was Bob Lowry’s fee] largely by myself, but the idea of it was hatched over much beer at parties or over coffee late at night, by Ross Fraser, John Yelash and myself – and by several others who appeared enthusiastic then disappeared or withdrew. I felt that the journal needed three editors to cast a wider net – and to share the blame if it all turned out to be a fiasco. Ross is dead now, but JY possibly has a different version of it all; I haven’t seen him in decades.

 

I’ve known for a long time you were a kind of ghost writer for A Good Keen Man, but it’s only just dawned on me that this was your first book – published three years before Face to Face and 36 years before your own first novel. Were you always interested in writing fiction as well as poetry? How did you and Barry Crump become acquainted? I’ve always thought he was at least as much of a beatnik as he was a bushman. Was he part of the Somervell’s Coffee Bar crowd when he was in Auckland?

I met Crump at a party in a Grafton Road flat when he was 18 and I was 19 or 20. I picked up on his gifts straight away. He was unique and I told him so on that first night. I certainly had a few beers in me, but when I insisted that he start writing I turned out to be far more percipient than I had any right to be at that age. He filled a gap in New Zealand writing that had once, fleetingly, been occupied by Frank Anthony, who made very little money out of it.

When I took Crump to meet Frank Sargeson, Frank cleverly defined him as ‘an anachronism’. It was true in every sense, but it was a perfect time to be one – the 1950s was a time for the luxury of literary nostalgia for a non-existent golden age of male, outdoors derring-do, good mateship, women knowing their place at the stove or wash tub and men without a care in the world. And in a newly urbanised, socially uncertain New Zealand there were huge sales and royalties in it – Frank Anthony, who was such a good writer and commentator, came just a couple of decades too soon.

I do agree that I more-or-less wrote one of the stories in A Good Keen Man for Crump, and had a hand in certain others, but it was really Crump’s own work. He dictated and I recorded, correcting automatically as we went. At the end of that first story, he got the hang of it, and he insisted on doing the rest himself. I deny writing the book. Jean Watson had a hand in it – and Alex Fry, who worked at A H and A W Reed at the time, before going on to the Listener, put a stylistic gloss on the final proofs. I don’t think that Alex ever claimed authorship himself, but I did hear it put about unkindly and absolutely wrongly that he had ‘virtually written’ the book. Alex certainly didn’t write ‘my’ story in the book and he didn’t write the others I looked at in manuscript – and the several times that Crump was mentioned when I worked on the Listener and saw Alex from time to time he never claimed anything other than that he had had to clean up [ie, edit] a very untidy manuscript, which was true.

 

bcrump-agoodkeenman-harley

 

Crump was no fake bushman and shooter. He was the real thing. I spent a fortnight with him deep in the Ureweras and he was the genuine goods. Brilliant in the bush and a hard and dependable man. He played up to the gallery later and he behaved stupidly; we all did, but by then his stage was larger and his actions seemed more gross – and they were certainly more tragic. Somewhere along the line he lost dependability.

Crump was a born beatnik too. He loved the Bohemian life that had developed in Auckland in the 1930s, survived the war, shot away again in the 1940s and blossomed in the 1950s. He adored being part of the literary world, with all the fun, the parties, the wit, the booze and the girls. When he found himself not being taken seriously and eventually criticised, put down, then censured, he turned his back on it all and denied ever being part of it. Another of his attempts to create his own manly, lonely myth. The real bits of Crump made him exceptional, but they became harder to define as he smokescreened his mistakes and disappointments; he kept trimming and changing his story and by the last time I saw him – when he wrote his final untrue and absurd memoir – he had actually come to believe his fictions. A fatal inner condition. Jean Watson and I were the only two ‘literary’ people who turned up at his funeral.

 

Can I come back to the Mason-Fairburn-Glover-Ireland poetic tradition again for a moment and ask what you’d consider its main attributes? Wit? Economy? Song-like musicality?

All true. But mostly a New Zealand accented ‘voice’. Or, at least, that’s what I felt at the time. I think that not only has the accent changed since then, but that there’s no single voice booming loudest any more – more of a choir, all warbling from different song-sheets.

 

When you began as a poet, metre and rhyme were still the order of the day for New Zealand writers. Was it difficult to adjust to freer concepts of form later on? Did you read American poets like William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound when you were young?

I was lucky to be there just in time for the death throes of Georgian poetry. There was more than a touch of it in Mason and Fairburn, though their best poems rise above it. The Americans saved us all, though I found e e cummings and Hart Crane easier and more useful as models to begin with – and I’ve always found Stevens too cool and stuffy; and I’ve never been able to see much more than a handful of glittering silver in Ezra Pound. The book of poems that most astonished me when I ‘discovered’ it by chance was Seamus Heaney’s 1966 second collection, Death of a Naturalist. It rang every bell in my head.

 death-of-a-naturalist-cover2

 

In an interview with Mark Broatch a year or so ago you referred to keeping office hours and putting in a daily stint of writing. Do you still stick to the same work routine? In recent years you’ve become beautifully adroit at writing poems that apologise for the failure to write poems. (‘Tonight, I am afraid, / I shall have to write you a poem/ about not writing you a poem.’) How post-modern is that? Although I guess you could reply that Coleridge was a dab hand at this too.

I have now totally relaxed my writing routine. Some months before I broke the tape at 83 I decided that it was nonsensical to follow a plan of work any longer. I have acquired a habit of arriving at my desk at some time during almost every morning, so why bother at this age to keep office hours?

And I write a lot of poems most years, so I think you overestimate the proportion of poems that centre on the act of writing. There are always one or two, not because I think that the problem of ‘why bother to write’ is of great concern [in fact, some attempts at this kind of poem can be irritating or boring or both] but because I find that the question remains a puzzle and because I sometimes find absurdity and wry humour in it, the possibilities of which continue to grip my interest. I guess that it also has a post-modern aspect, but that’s not a spur. Coleridge was great at everything. He and Byron are there in the first rank in my pantheon.

 

I was looking the other day at your 1989 book on local fiction, The New Zealand Collection. How did that come about? Have you considered doing a sequel? Which New Zealand novels of the past 25 years would you be keenest to celebrate?

It came about because it was brought out [in spite of the publication date], with state funding, in the sesquicentennial year. It was a rush job, and though I made an early start on it, by the time I got the final go-ahead, I had a six weeks’ deadline to finish assembling paintings and profiles and plot summaries for 52 NZ works of fiction – one a week for a year’s reading. I managed to do half the books myself and farmed the rest out among obliging and enthusiastic helpers, at reasonable rates for the time. I’d need a whole lot longer to attempt the job again and don’t think the challenge would be worth it any more. There are far too many good contenders. I read 37 new New Zealand novels in one year’s overview. How could you ever pick your way through so many, multiplied by 25? Eleanor Catton would be a certainty. And so would Vincent O’Sullivan, C.K.Stead and Fiona Farrell. It wouldn’t be hard to choose another 48, but it would be very difficult to be forced by a neat number to deny some their rightful place.

 

Some of your own novels – Blowing My Top and The Jigsaw Chronicles, especially –strike me as satirical extrapolations from the socialist ideas that you grew up with? Is that how you would regard them?

Yes. That’s the angle they’re written from. But their takes on politics are very different. The Jigsaw Chronicles is really a work of science fiction, so that always allows a writer to take monstrous satirical liberties.

 

In Backwards to Forwards you tell a marvellous anecdote about the painter Francis Bacon’s generosity to your son and you write warmly about distinguished Bulgarian writers you’ve known, such as Pashanko Dimitroff and Georgi Markov, but you don’t seem to have been acquainted with English poets and novelists. Were they a stand-offish bunch, or were you simply not that keen to become part of London’s literary circles or is it just a matter of happenstance that during your years in England you knew Francis Bacon and the Bernard brothers [Jeffrey and Bruce] but not the Amises or Christopher Logue or Craig Raine or Jon Silkin?

I just didn’t have time to pursue a personal acquaintance with English writers and though I may have liked their books, they didn’t appeal to me as company, just as I could hardly have interested them. My days were full enough.

 

I’ve just been looking at the poem ‘Happy twenty-first’ in your latest book, Looking Out to Sea. The inscription reads ‘for MFRS and 4 June 1953’. It took a moment for the penny to drop that the addressee is Maurice Francis Richard Shadbolt, who did, indeed, turn 21 on the fore-mentioned date. I can imagine Maurice enjoying the poem hugely, but, alas, he’s been dead for more than a decade. Which prompts a question about who you see as the ideal audience for your poems. Is it a consortium of literary-minded friends, not all of whom are still breathing?

Maurice Francis Richard Shadbolt’s 21st was the most exciting I ever attended – and that was in the heyday of big 21sts. The Shadbolt uncles trading bruises and spilling blood as they bare-knuckled each other across the back lawn remains forever as the family party to end them all. It had to have a poem to itself one day …

Balladeers and troubadours write for public occasions, big audiences and gate money – and some make a fine job of it. I don’t ever put them down. I’m on their side, for the best of them provide great entertainment, they’re good for business generally and, after all, they operate in one of the many Heinz varieties of poetry. I have done several readings that paid well by my standards, but I think about $800-$900 is the most I’ve ever made on an unusual night, of course counting in my private book sales. I got a four-figure fee once just for a reading – but that was a one-off so doesn’t really count.

Which means that readers are probably what I aim at – though I don’t think of any specialised ‘audience’ as such. I’ve seen my books being read very occasionally on buses and trains, and I haven’t been surprised to observe that none of these non-unusual and un-cartoonish readers would fit any high-falutin’ notion of ‘poem addicts’.

I have just completed my 23rd book of poems – Humphrey Bogart’s great sacrifice – and I can only hope that the usual suspects and the curious, the collectors and [who knows?] the infatuated will continue to buy me.

 

02eb4555f5732d68389da4c63558ffb7

Humphrey Bogart

 

I love the title. Which of Bogart’s sacrifices did you have in mind? Giving up Ingrid Bergman at the end of Casablanca or giving up the tramp steamer at the end of The African Queen? I’ve never been convinced that Rick in Casablanca is all that keen on women anyway. He seems so much more at ease with Claude Rains’ Captain Renault. Whereas Charlie Allnut in The African Queen loves the hell out of his smoky old boat. But perhaps you had neither movie in mind and were thinking of Bogie’s prowess as a chess-player.

This really happened. I hope it answers your question. The poem was published recently in the Australian Poetry Journal [ed, Michael Sharkey].

 

Humphrey Bogart’s great sacrifice

 

Catching a long-haul flight one night from Mascot I heard

the intercom cry out:  ‘Would passenger Mister Victor Laszlo –

Victor Laszlo – please report urgently to the front desk.’

Maybe all the other characters in Casablanca – Ilsa Lund, Sam,

Ferrari and the rest – are waiting to be called for flights as at last

their yellowing letters of transit come through. Even Rick

and Renault would have to be there. The Heart of Darkness

wouldn’t have suited their style and I’ll bet that somehow,

they would have made it back to the bar to play it all again.

Strasser and Ugarte, of course, being dead on film,

would have been let off all these tedious years of hanging about,

swapping airline chitties for cheese rolls while having to watch

each other day and night for bad nerves and a double-cross.

And think of it – the survivors of those passionate, perilous days

in Rick’s Café Américain (and his booze) must now be well over

a hundred years old, confused and coddled in blankets,

with nurses toting colostomy bags, bandages and medications.

They would need to be wheeled gingerly out to their planes –

to carry on to Portugal and a freedom that must now mean

something utterly different to them as they are hoisted

into their seats, then strapped in and wedged with pillows.

I wonder whether Humphrey Bogart’s misted mind

ever wonders whether the pain of sacrifice was worth it?

Life with Ingrid Bergman mightn’t have been such fun.

I know I’m mixing real life with shadows on a screen, but who

could be blamed for speculating after watching Bergman

‘painting Bogart with her eyes’? Anyway, as I distinctly heard

that night in Sydney (and however long and convoluted

the itinerary) they’re definitely on their way – and with no hope

of trying to be their true selves ever again. It’s all confused.

The only certainty is that every time I watch that magic movie

I wonder who could possibly resist risking another spin

of the wheel, cognac at elbow, knocking gingerly on wood?

 

One last collection I can’t resist since I’ve also been re-reading Dreamy Days and Nothing Done [Ireland’s 2012 poetry collection]. Did Pam, in spite of the ‘yellow paint’ and ‘flaky question mark’ after all marry the bloke who tried to woo her with a home-made slogan?

I saw the invitation for Pam to marry some jerk painted in huge letters on a long, solid wooden fence while I was on a bus journey from Oxford to London. I didn’t know either of them, so I’ve no idea of the actual outcome, though we all ought to put our money on Pam rejecting him – on the grounds the poem unequivocally declares.

And now for another lie down and stretch. Bugger sciatic nerves!

 

kevin-ireland-no-credit

Kevin Ireland

 

Iain Sharp is a writer and librarian. His most recent book is Sharing Our Ghosts: Poems by Joy MacKenzie and Iain Sharp (Cumberland Press, 2011).

'...we were there as faith-based writers, as believers in the mana of Oceania...' - David Eggleton

Read more