Fred Johnston – Three poems

FRED JOHNSTON2Fred Johnston is an Irish poet, novelist, literary critic and musician. He is the founder and current director of the Western Writers’ Centre in Galway.  Johnston is author of four novels, eight collections of poetry. He was Writer-in- Residence to the Princess Grace Irish Library at Monaco. He wrote and broadcast for RTE Radio 1 a four-part series on the literary history of the West of Ireland.



: for Patrick Stack :

Small lies make a fat round noise
Like ripe plums plumping on unmown grass
Deceits whisper as they fall
More leafkiss than substance and breeze-thin
But we’ve raked them all in
Iron tines tough in the knee-tall
Neglected wild cloy of wetness
That stood for a garden and is losing itself
Into itself each hour now like dust on a shelf
Or books mouldering their pages or forgetfulness
Or love that built the house we ghost in –
Yet the twin oaks retain, like an insult, a certain poise.

(from his new collection, ‘Alligator Days,’ just published from Revival Press, Limerick)



The hurtle of a bull never leaves you,
the swagger of cattle to the shed
fits well in a new suit –
lean, now, over hedges of polished wood
into the pen round which promises
are paraded, read the auctioneer’s lists

to every vote its pot-hole
and to every wink its nod:
here is the comfort of the wickle hearth
the sound man for the sound word
blood thicker here than anywhere
say little and say it low

out there in the dead pubs
sodden acres and kitchens slick
with ticking wall-clocks a civil war
beats the breast –
you are one of us, you have the ear
of the wet wind in our throats, our pauper’s cunning.



Often enough we had tea and biscuits
in his old man’s living-room
everything neat but oddly deserted
like a crime scene when the cleaners have gone
and in this space spoke of Eliot
a dozen others who made up his ghosts
the London years when poetry
was its own reward and not yet a boxing-ring

where small kings throned it in brown pubs
yet for all that the punch-your-face honesty
pulled itself together –
journals here and there, a signed book or two
the need to talk, to unhistory intimacies
the small TV in the corner was never turned on
and outside a street of gargantuan trees
hissed and whiffled like escaping gas

these years after, it’s hard to see
what either of us knew of the other
for all the language streaming out and the books
named like vagrant relatives
we’d met once and been, somehow, stung by –
but for sure he was ignored to the last save
by a faithful few, an oracle for them, perhaps
ideally, a friend: the rest couldn’t spell his name.


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