Influential Poetry

This stumped me at first, as a lot of things do! All my poetry books are at home in Ireland and i had to really think what I could draw out of the recesses of my brain.

First in response to Emily’s Simon Armitage Mother’s Day Poem and Patrick and Raef’s Digging by Seamus Heaney, an absolute favourite of mine, here’s a Heaney poem in memory of his mother from a sequence called Clearances (in The Haw Lantern, I think)

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.


Poetry having a strong impact on me.

Well, Yeats of course. The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Stolen Child, Fiddler of Dooney All the stuff set in Sligo because as a child it was familiar and I could relate to it, the love poetry such as The Cloths of Heaven, The Pity of Love, The Cat and Moon, the anarchy of Crazy Jane, the historical poetry such as Easter 1916. I fell majorly out of love with Yeats at 18 in first year at College of Education because I didn’t understand any of the mystical stuff “Turning, turning in a widening gyre…..”. It is only in recent years that I can approach this again.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)

Unfashionable for many years, Kavanagh is now enjoying something of a revival. Cranky, curmudgeonly  and lyrical he was a contentious figure around Dublin for years. Some things I love about Kavanagh are his ability to be lyrical about the mundane, to see the universal in the local. Much of his poetry is angry and bitter; his epic “The Great Hunger” had the distinction of being banned in Ireland on grounds of obscenity but his later poetry is gentler, lyrical and optimistic. He was a strong influence on Seamus Heaney and the following generations of Irish poets. Try Canal Bank Sonnet here – Epic

Brendan Kennelly ( 1936- for sheer joy in poetry and life!

T.S. Eliot – loved Eliot’s work from when I encountered Prufrock at school, got lost in the Wasteland for a long time

Dylan Thomas Fern Hill and Under Milkwood – for poetry as sound and magnificence. following on, for me, from the sprung rhythms and intensities of Gerald Manly Hopkins.

Proving that all poets are not dead white males; the poetry anthology I had for A-Level at school didn’t have a single living female in it. Emily Dickinson was one of the few women represented and she wasn’t on the list for my year!

Maya Angelou – for energy, resiliance

Jackie Kay, patchy but interesting, encountered through her children’s poetry

Sylvia Plath – obsessed with her work for ages

Carol Ann Duffy

Kathleen Jamie – for prose poetry

Paula Meehan (texts to follow), Sharon Olds, Grace Nicholls

For fun: Jean Binta Breeze, Valerie Bloom, Benjamin Zephaniah

Little known in UK – Dermot Healy (more to follow)

Irish language poets: Liam O’Muirthile, Cathal O’Searcaigh, Mairtin O’Direain, Nuala NiDhomhnaill




3 thoughts on “Influential Poetry

  1. pjsars

    Clearances is a fantastic sequence. There’s a Sheers poem that, it seems to me, draws on it. You might enjoy it –

    On Going
    i. m. Jean Sheers

    There were instruments, as there always are,
    To measure, record and monitor,
    windows into the soul’s temperature.
    But you were disconnected from these.
    and lay instead an ancient child,
    fragile on your side,
    your breath working at the skin of your cheek
    like a blustery wind at a blind.
    There was only one measurement
    I needed anyway, which you gave,
    triggered by the connection of my kiss
    against your paper temple
    and registered in the flicker of your open eyes,
    in their half-second of recorded understanding
    before they disengaged and you slipped back
    into the sleep of their slow-closing.


  2. raefonb

    Ah that’s a nice pairing, between us we have a Heaney poem for both his parents. Great Yeats choice, I haven’t read it lately but it’s got some vague memory attached of hearing it aloud so I dunno if my Irish grandparents treated it as a nursery rhyme, or maybe my mate Dermot (a Yeats obsessive) has recited it in the pub at some point… Enjoyed the Patrick Kavanagh; I liked how so many of his rhymes demand that I read his work in an Irish accent, that’s a subtle way for the writer to project themselves into even the sound of their poems when it comes to having an international audience.



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