Conor Kelly was born in Dublin and spent his adult life teaching in a school
in the Dublin suburbs. He now lives in Western Shore in Nova Scotia from where
he curates his twitter site, @poemtoday, which is dedicated to the short poem.
He has had numerous poems published in Ireland and abroad in such magazines
as Poetry Ireland Review, Boyne Berries, The Honest Ulsterman,
Revival (Limerick), The Irish Times, Envoi, The Southern Review (Louisiana)
and The Ofi Press (Mexico City). He has also been a poetry critic for The Irish
Times, The Sunday Tribune (Dublin) and Poetry Review (London).
He was once shortlisted for a Hennessy New Irish Writers award. At the ceremony
one of the judges, Fay Weldon, asked him, “Where are you in these poems?” He is
still asking himself that same question.
In Praise of the Azure
Nothing sinks the editorial heart more swiftly than the sudden appearance of an
archaic word in the middle of a colloquial sentence, when it seems to be there
just to sound “poetic” – in other words, to strain after an effect. “Azure” is
example that comes to my inbox with depressing frequency. Has it actually
earned its place in any good poem of the last hundred years?
As you're not fond of that "poetic" word
Azure, I'm mailing onto you this rhyme
Assuring you that it is not absurd
To sing of the azure when you have time.
A jury's out on whether to indict
Azure; is it or is it not a crime?
Assuredly a misdemeanour, right?
I sing of the azure while doing time.
"Ah, sure," the Irish poet wryly said,
"Azure, 'tis just a word that's neat, sublime.
Assure yourself, I keep it in my head
and sing of the azure while beating time."
A sure and simple guide on how to use
Azure; is it, of blue, the most sublime
Assurance of the best of all the blues?
It is; sing the azure one final time.
(from the Welsh-English dictionary)
I am homesick for what was never home,
For what has always been a world elsewhere.
No matter how far and how long I roam
I grieve for what was never really there.
(from the German-English dictionary)
Imagine hedgehogs on a carrousel
of loud carousing and al fresco sex,
lasting an hour or more, while they propel
their spiny bodies on our garden decks.
(From the Finnish-English Dictionary)
The feeling that you get when you decide
To stay alone at home and drink your beer
While wearing just your underwear inside
As all your social worries disappear.
(from the Norwegian-English dictionary)
What you call a hangover, a rough queasiness,
Is called in Norwegian, to be precise,
According to what I've read, "an uneasiness
After debauchery." It isn't nice.
(From the Irish-English dictionary)
When you go visiting your neighbour’s house
to find out what your other neighbour's at,
you act like you're as meek as a church mouse
pretending to be there just for a chat.
(from the Icelandic-English dictionary)
The shadow of the shortest winter's day
covers the world in darkness that can pierce
the contours of the landscape and the way
the soul sustains itself, fragile yet fierce.
A butterfly drinks from a turtle's tears,
another one sips from a crocodile’s eye.
Should I upset you and a tear appears
a Monarch may attend you, by and by.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge sways
above a park of Douglas Firs. I fear
the imminence of what I cannot sense
or see or feel or find. I’m rooted here.
I have a fear, each day, of words of more
than one or two brief sounds. They give me pause.
It is as if a great white swam to shore
and moved up close to me with its huge jaws.
All these dictionary poems were first published on The Asses of Parnassus Tumblr
Translations of two poems from the Latin of Catullus
My mistress says she’d rather marry me
Than any strutting hunk on MTV.
That’s what she says: but words, in lovers’ dreams,
Are written on the wind and flowing streams.
I know about the love her/hate her bit.
I can’t explain it and I feel like shit.
Both translated poems above were originally published on The Asses of Parnassus
You could stand at a bus stop in a small town
south of Boston, north of Frankfurt, east of Canberra
and watch the vapor trail from a distant plane
so far away you cannot hear a sound
as a trans-continental jet soars high above
a world from which it's never quite immune.
You could stand at a bus stop in Gaza City
and use your camera-phone to photograph and tweet
a disembodied hand, in blood, beside your polished shoes.
There is a loud explosion. Then you see
a woman's hand; her bright engagement ring
has diamonds sparkling in the mid-day sun.
Originally published in The Ofi Press Magazine
W. B. Yeats at Bondi Beach
Neither is this a country for old men.
Bronze boys on boards the curling crest has flung
Bow as the surf propels them and, again,
Bow in the shallows as they glide among
That laughing, waving, sun-tanned regimen
Of girls―bare-breasted, beautiful and young―
Whose beachball bounces past a poet dressed
In a dark suit, terminally depressed.
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul?
Who can, in post-coital solitude
Or in that unrelenting lust which stole,
Amongst these visions of the semi-nude,
Upon a bard tired of the bardic role,
Redeem those bodily and unsubdued
Desires or the intellect’s dying spark
From the pure and aboriginal dark?
Last night I wrote my verses on the sand
Beneath the stage lights of the Southern Cross.
Though waves retreated at my mock command
And spared those chronicles of human loss,
A tidal flow mere words could not withstand
Surged and the poems drowned in a wave’s toss:
An image, that, of life’s audacious scurf
Cleansed by the superscription of the surf.
Lord of the stars that shine, the waves that sing
The limpid plain chant of eternity,
Relieve me of insistent questioning
On cabbalistic themes and let me be
Some bearded, ageless, underwater king
Cavorting in the shadow of the sea,
Beyond both human thought and human speech,
Among the mermaids, here, at Bondi Beach.
Originally Published by Huffington Post
Translations of two poems from the French of Jules Supervielle
One day the earth will be no more
Than a blind space which turns
Confounding night and day.
Under an immense sky of the Andes
There will be no more mountains,
Not even a small ravine.
Of all the houses in the world
Nothing will remain but a balcony.
And from the map of all humanity,
A sadness with a high ceiling.
From the late Atlantic Ocean
A faint tang of salt in the air,
One flying magical fish
Which will remember nothing of the sea.
From a coupé of 1905
(Four wheels but no road!)
Three young girls of that epoch
Lingering in a vapid form
Will look beyond the car door
Thinking that Paris is not so far
And they will smell only the scent
Of the sky which tickles the throat.
Where there was a forest
A bird's song will rise up
Which no one will place,
Nor prefer, nor even hear,
Except God who, Himself, listening,
Will say, "That? That's a goldfinch."
THE POINT OF FLAME
All his long life
he loved to read
by candle light.
He often passed
his hand through flame
to show himself
he was alive.
He was alive.
Now, since he died,
he lies beside
a candle flame
but hides his hands.
Both translated poems above were originally published in The Honest Ulsterman.
THE GUN AND THE GOWN
for a dead student
The gun has gained against the gown again
and you lie dead beside an upturned chair.
Stuff happens, someone says when we complain.
We clean the classroom desk, remove the stain
of blood and wipe away the traces where
the gun has gone against the gown again.
The library books you borrowed will retain
no sense of your intensive reading there.
Stuff happens, someone says as we complain.
The essays you were writing will remain
undone. You’ve no assignment to prepare.
The gun has gained against the gown again.
There are no future grades you can attain,
no graduation gown for you to wear.
Stuff happens, someone says, then we complain.
Those who loved you endure the constant pain
of finding you beyond the range of prayer.
The gun shall shred the blood-stained gown again.
Stuff happens. Stuff will happen. We’ll complain.
Originally published in the Rattle Poets Respond Series
The Writing Spider
They left the poet's desk the way it was
the night before he slept and never woke,
the night before his final heart attack
left one last sheet of paper on that desk
half-filled with spider-like and scribbled words
with some encircled and with zig zag lines
leading to changes in the margins where
his latest words were fatally ensnared.
There are no spiders in the poet's house.
A woman cleans and dusts it every day
before it opens to the few who come
to visit, for a modest entrance fee,
and see the poet's desk the way it was
the night before he slept and never woke
and see, also, the view from where he wrote
of sunflowers wilting in the summer sun.
There is, for those who wander round the back,
behind the dustbins, near the café door,
between a freshly painted metal bench
and the next door garden's large camellia bush,
a writing spider busily at work,
its stabilimenta (those zig zag lines)
catching the sunlight as it shines beneath
the black and muted yellow banded legs.
Desolation and determination:
the poet and the writing spider both
weave and unweave their patterns day by day.
While every emendation of the words
evokes a sense of solitude and loss,
the ritual rebuilding of the web
affirms a zest for life. Nevertheless
we all zig zag our way to certain death.
Originally published in The Rotary Dial
... that in Aleppo once ...
The last flower seller in Aleppo
has died, killed by the shrapnel from a bomb
that dropped from blue and cloudless skies above
the plant-filled roundabouts that he supplied,
the bombed-out balconies without bouquets,
the gardens of his customers now dead.
Someone has locked his garden gate
and left the red and pink geraniums
to wilt beneath the blue and cloudless sky
from which, or so he said, the sound of war
was like Beethoven's music in his head.
He has become his customers, now dead.
There are no flowers here to decorate
the grave wherein he lies. Instead, I plant
rosemary for remembrance. I plant rue
for grace, the grace with which he cut the fresh
and fragrant roses for customers now dead
and buried next the grave wherein he lies.
I place, also, beside his plain headstone,
some hazelnut, some loquat and some pear,
a sprig of mistletoe, a laurel wreath,
some calla lilies, a thin hawthorn branch
and, imported from a distant nursery,
a single, small, intricate Bonsai tree.
Originally published in Snakeskin