Thomas McCarthy









Here is the outcrop of life,

this sunlit inch of holm oak

and chestnut, not to mention the antics of silk-worms

doing their Cevenois duty, and the carpenter’s son

ensconced by the river for centuries.

Here, you miss

your final subject as you burst through a stone cottage


with a gift of burnt umber.


There are goats bleating upon inattentive meadows,

not to mention the pelardons cheese,

thunder-clouds adrift on showers of blossom,

collies basking by swimming holes,

exacting kids bleating still in the high grass.

What delayed you, as the family

fled on their carpet of Cevenol silk, what delayed you

was the deeply cut ravine, the heavy forests of snow,

the Huguenot fiddler at the cross-roads, the sense that instead of

a lump of art materials you might carry the hope of a Greek


or Latin teacher, une intello, right down into the heart

of a beech forest where the King’s cavalier’s would never reach.

Look, here is

Yet another little cheese market in the village of Saint Croix.

Here, then, is a world without art beneath the Canourgue tower:

All of the mulberry for silk-worms, all the beech nuts for flour.







Here in the undergrowth is a people, a petrified forest:


While the language was living the committee died.


While the dead were alive the committee was sitting.


While the committee was sitting the language sat down.


While the committee was alive it sat down on the dead.


Now the dead have no tongue to report to the committee.


The committee sat down where the potatoes had failed.


The dead wished to sit upon the famine of restoration.


The rot that set in was the language of a commission.


While the restored sat down the committee grew trees.


The committee was dead when the trees were a language.


The Committee. The Restoration. The Report. The Dead.






It always intrigued me that you never wanted a thing,

Nor did you ever wish to own. Whatever it was in you

That seemed so certain, so unconcerned with gold

Or diamond or anything more valuable than use,

Must have come from a sense of land. Land as attitude

Or land as art: I mean the sense of acreage

In your Co. Cork soul, the karma of cattle-keeping,


Of having come, deep down, from the precincts

Of a model farm. You carried the poems of possession

When you were very young, a style of not caring

In a cheese-cloth dress. Possessions erode us,

Your eyes said to me. I am a fresh poem by Stevens,

Your hand-hold said, I am tie-dyed and purple,

I am a sculptor and model, here is paper


To work with; here is my long Sunday morning.

I can see you needed something valueless

As poems, a non-negotiable tender

Through which a love-life can’t be bought

Or sold. To see you curled up on a sofa now,

Watching an antiques road-show, is to know an

Ornithologist for wife, know a birdlife of possessions.






Here, grim poet, take up your father’s pen,

You’re the lad with a big education.

Take down this truth as it ebbed away:

How delegates from Dungarvan won the day.


Others voted hard and fast

While you were attached to a useless past.

Let this be a lesson to all Party children:

Embrace the unfeeling and modern,


Be contemporary and calm

And quite unlike the regressive arm

Of the Party cadre in the past:

For destiny has only one chance to last


In a world beyond Belleville Wood.

Lest we be misunderstood

In places where power now resides,

Speak for us, poet, who live outside


The realm of State policy and reason.

There will never be another season

Like the one your Party childhood had,

Never a campaign as trees and rivers made.















Thomas McCarthy was born at Cappoquin, Co. Waterford in 1954 and educated locally and  at University College Cork. He is a member of Aosdana. He was an Honorary Fellow of the International Writing programme, University of Iowa in 1978/79. He has published The First Convention (Dolmen Press, 1978), The Sorrow Garden (Anvil Poetry, 1981), Lost Province (Anvil Poetry, 1996), Merchant Prince (Anvil Poetry, 2005) and The Last Geraldine Officer (Anvil Poetry, 2009) as well as a number of other collections. He has also published two novels, Without Power (Poolbeg, 1981) and Asya and Christine (Poolbeg, 1992) as well as two works of non-fiction, Gardens of Remembrance (New Island, 1996) and Out of the Ashes (Cork City Libraries, 2006). His new collection, Pandemonium, was published by Carcanet Press in 2017. He has won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize and the O’Shaughnessy Prize for Poetry as well as the Ireland Funds Annual Literary Award. He worked for many years at Cork City Libraries, retiring in 2014 to write fulltime. He was Humphrey Professor of English at Macalester College, Minnesota, in 1994/95. He is a former Editor of Poetry Ireland Review and The Cork Review. He has also conducted poetry workshops at the Arvon Foundation (Lumb Bank), Listowel Writers’ Week, Molly Keane House and Portlaoise Prison (Provisional IRA Wing). His work has been translated into Italian, Chinese, French, Japanese and several other languages. He has been represented in many anthologies of Irish poetry, most notably in An Anthology of Irish Poetry (Edited by Wes Davis, Harvard University Press, 2013)) and The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry: Volume II (Edited by Jefferson Holdridge, Wake Forest University Press, 2010).  Bernard O’Donoghue, writing in the Irish Times, observed that McCarthy ‘is a classic instance of the writer’s virtue that Auden compared to a valley cheese: produced locally but prized elsewhere’ and Dennis O’Driscoll claimed that he was ‘along with Paul Muldoon, the most important Irish poet of his generation.’ Ian McMillan has written that Thomas McCarthy ‘shines his torch on subtle, difficult and almost unclassifiable areas of experience and thought, almost in the same way that Andrew Motion does, but with an additional and indefinable musical quality.’  McCarthy lives in Cork with his wife, the photographer Catherine Coakley. They have two adult children, Kate Inez and Neil.

Articles similaires