Saddened to hear that Dennis O’Driscoll, the great Irish poet, died over the Christmas period. I met this wise, gentle and funny man while lost on the way to a reading at Aldeburgh. He left such an impression that I wrote this directly after that reading.
On the way to the reading, the two of us
are joined by a third: a bearded man who emerges from the drizzle
as lost as we are. A raincoat the colour of caramel preserves his suit
but his tie-knot sags and his soft shoes are already damp.
The jacket’s cut is a little too square, as if he has stepped out of Joyce.
Friday night, and the street is deserted, like the set of a town.
He searches for a landmark then up at the stars over the sea.
Are you here for the festival? We ask. Oh yes. And yes,
I have travelled some distance, he says, from Tipperary,
twenty miles outside Dublin. I would have stayed, he murmurs,
with a friend in the next village but not this time.
This friend of mine grew apples, but found he could not sell them
despite being so sweet – they told him they were the wrong shape.
He suggests a side street but we tell him it must be the next.
He seems used to having his council ignored.
I was here ten years ago, he goes on, but it seems to have changed.
There are so many things that fall out of favour, he suggests,
like stout – people have lost the taste for it. Things move on.
The reading has already begun and we are bundled in at the back.
The next thing we know, he clambers on stage, and becomes,
suddenly, the man on the front of the programme: the major poet,
the quiet prankster, who breaks into a smile that fills the room with light.