You were the one I wanted most to know

So like yet unlike, like fire and snow,

The casual voice, the sharp invective,

The barbed wit, the lapsed Irish Protestant

Who never gave a shit, crossed the palms

Of the great and good with coins hot with contempt

For the fakers and the tricksters whose poetry

Deftly bent to fashion’s latest slant.

You wrote from the heart, feelings on your sleeve,

But feelings are all a master poet needs:

You broke all the taboos, whores and fags and booze,

While I sighed over books and began to snooze

Until your voice broke through the haze

Of a quarter century’s sleep. “Wake up you git

And bloody write!” I did and never stopped

And like you told the truth about how bad poetry

Rots the soul and slapped a New Gen face or two

And kicked some arses in painful places,

And so like you, got omitted from the posh anthologies


Penguin and Picador fill the pages

With the boring poetasters you went for in your rages,

Ex-friends like Harrison who missed you out.

You never could see the envy in their enmity.

Longley was the worst, a hypocrite to boot,

All you said about him never did come out;

I’ve tried myself to nail others of that ilk

Hither and thither they slide and slither

And crawl out of the muck white as brides’

Fat with OBE’s, sinecures and sighs

And Collected Poems no one buys.

Yet ‘Mainstrem’, your last but one collection,

I had to wait months for, the last borrower

Kept it for two years and likely I’ll do the same

Your poetry’s like no other, no one could tame

Your roaring fury or your searing pain.

You bared your soul in a most unfashionable way

But everything in me says your verse will stay,

Your love for your fourth and final wife,

The last chance marriage that went right

The children you loved so much but knew

You wouldn’t live to see grown up, so caught

Their growing pains and joys with a painter’s eye

And lyric skill as fine as Wordsworth’s best

They drank her welcome to his heritage

Of grey, grey-green, wet earth and shapes of stone.

Who weds a landscape will

not die alone.

Those you castigated never forgave.

Omitted you as casually as passing an unmarked grave,

Armitage, I name you, a blackguard and a knave,

Who knows no more of poetry than McGonagall the brave,

Yet tops the list of Faber’s ‘Best Poets of Our Age’.

Longley gave you just ten lines in ‘Irish Poets Now’

Most missed you out entirely for the troubles you gave

Accusing like Zola those poetic whores

Who sold themselves to fashion when time after time

Your passions brought you to your knees, lashing

At those poetasters when their puffed-up slime

Won the medals and the prizes time after time

And got them all the limelight while your books

Were quietly ignored, the better you wrote,

The fewer got bought.

Belatedly I found a poem of yours ‘Leeds 2’

In ‘Flashpoint’, a paint-stained worn out

School anthology from 1962. Out of the blue

I wrote to you but the letter came back ‘Gone away

N. F. A.’ then I tried again and had a marvellous letter back

Full of stories of the great and good and all their private sins,

You knew where the bodies were buried.

Who put the knife in, who slept with who

For what reward. They never could shut you up

Or put you in a pen or pay you off and then came

Morley, Hulse and Kennedy’s ‘New Poetry’

Which did more damage to the course of poetry

Than anything I’ve read – poets unembarrassed

By the need to know more than what’s politically

White as snow. Constantine and Jackie Kay

And Hoffman with the right connections.

Sweeney and O’Brien bleeding in all the politically

Sensitive places, Peter Reading lifting

Horror headlines from the Sun to make a splash.

Sansom and Maxwell, Jamie and Greenlaw.

Proving lack of talent is no barrier to fame

If you lick the right arses and say how nice they taste.

Crawling up the ladder, declaring shit is grace.

A talented drunken public servant

Has the world’s ear and hates me.

He ought to be in prison for misuse

Of public funds and bigotry;

But there’s some sparkle in his poetry.

You never flinched in the attack

But gave the devils their due:

The ‘Honest Ulsterman’ you founded

Lost its honesty the day you withdrew

But floundered on, publicly sighed and

Ungraciously expired as soon as you died.

You went with fallen women, smoked and sang and boozed,

Loved your many children, wrote poetry

As good as Yeats but the ignominy you had to bear

Bred an immortality impossible to share.

You showed us your own peccadilloes,

Your early lust for fame, but you learned

The cost of suffering, love and talent winning through,

Your best books your last, just two, like the letters

You wrote before your life was through.

The meeting you wanted could never happen:

I didn’t know about the stroke

That stilled your tongue and pen

But if you passed your mantle on to me

I’ll try and take up where you left off,

Give praise where praise is due

And blast the living daylights from those writers who

Betray the sacred art of making poetry true

To suffering and love, to passion and remorse

And try to steer a flimsy world upon a saner course.

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