Sunday Poem – Louis Mulcahy

Poor John Foggin is going to have to read the Sunday Poem on Monday morning instead as it will be well past midnight by the time I finish it.  This morning I went to run the Hoad Hill Half Marathon.  It’s the first time the event has been held and as well as the usual 13 mile distance, the organisers thought it would be fun to add in climbing up to the Hoad monument right at the end.

I’ve been feeling a bit upset for the last couple of days and a little bit lonely.  Mr C (as my husband will be known hence forth) flew to Australia to be with his family – his mum died at the beginning of the week.  Sadly, he didn’t get there in time to see her before she died, but he was there for the funeral and has been spending some time with his family.  So he’s been gone just over a week now and I’m really starting to miss him.  At first I quite enjoyed leaving the washing up and not having to worry about offending Mr C’s more enhanced levels of tidiness and being able to scatter my books about the house – but the novelty of that has worn off now.

We were both supposed to be doing the half marathon together today so this morning I felt really down, getting up my on my own, making my own porridge (can you imagine! having to make my own porridge) and then turning up to the race on my own.  I did know people there but I felt very teary before the race started.  Once I got going it was fine.  The weather was not good – it rained all the way round and I was soaked before we even started.

Last time I did a half marathon in Lancaster last November, I really didn’t enjoy it.  By the time I got to the 12k mark, every muscle in my body was aching.  This was my own fault of course.  I hadn’t done enough training.  I think with a 10k race, you can basically blag your way around it.  If you haven’t done lots of training, you can still run it without causing yourself an injury, but with a half-marathon, if you haven’t done enough training, you’re basically screwed.

This time around, I’d done a lot more running and I had a lot more miles in my legs.  Ideally, I think I should have done some more long runs but I was coping really well throughout most of the race.  Some of my lovely running friends from Walney Wind Cheetahs were waiting at the top of Birkrigg Common to cheer us on and my running friend KP had even brought jellybabies.  I actually thought my running bestie, who will from now on be called The Flying Duchess was there, but it turns out I was hallucinating as she was on her way to Turkey.

Anyway, there I am, running along, feeling fairly smug with myself that I’d been averaging around 5.15 and 5.30 a kilometre until the 19th kilometre, when we got to the Hoad Hill monument which we then had to run up and this was where I became undone.  I think I ran about half of it and then had to walk, which I was gutted about.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had to walk up a hill and at one point, I thought I would have to stop!  Up to this point, I think I would have had a chance at beating my personal best time for a half marathon which was 1 hour 52 minutes, but it all went pearshaped as I staggered up the hill and then had to take my time coming down so I ended up coming in at 2 hours and 3 minutes.

So that was this morning.  I had to get back home pretty quickly, jump in the shower and then get straight back into the car again to go to a Rewilding Bowland event which I was due to read some poems at.  The event was to raise awareness of the plight of Hen Harriers and I was shocked to learn that the organiser had been visited by the police at home just for organising this event, which I found really shocking – there was a harp player and face painting for children as well as poetry – hardly a hotbed of anarchy and rioting or an event that would cause any trouble at all, and certainly nothing to warrant a personal visit from the police.

The poet Lindsey Holland has come for a visit and arrived yesterday evening.  As soon as she arrived I dragged her out for a meal so I could stuff myself with spaghetti bolognese ready for the race today.   We have also made a solemn vow to do some writing tomorrow so if you see any of us on Facebook or Twitter tomorrow give us a telling off!

Being on my own in the house this week has meant I’ve got loads of jobs done in a much quicker time than usual.  I’ve sorted out the books that will be reviewed for Issue 2 of The Compass and found four fantastic reviewers.  I’ve sent a course outline and a blurb to The Poetry School for a new online course that I’ll be running in Spring 2016.  I’ve done lots of work on the various Residential Poetry Courses that I’ll be running this year and next year – you can find more info here including the timetable for the Poetry Carousel which takes place from the 11th-13th December 2015.  There are only a few places left on this, so if you are thinking about coming, do get in touch with the hotel and book your place.

On Tuesday I went for a lovely afternoon tea with my friend The Wedge who writes a fantastic Afternoon Tea blog, which I am predicting will one day be made into a bestselling guide book to the afternoon tea land of the lake district.  Although a blog about afternoon tea doesn’t sound like the most auspicious start, it is actually very funny because of The Wedge’s insistence on strange rules to do with her afternoon tea eating.

On Wednesday I went to the university campus in Ambleside with Zoe from the Wordsworth Trust and we both read poetry to about 70 sixth form students.   The tutors gathered them all in one room and Zoe read them a Wordsworth poem and a poem by Neil Rollinson and then gave them the option to leave if they wanted to.  I expected a mass exodus at this point but none of them moved!  Zoe read them two more poems, one by Wordsworth and one by Carola Luther and then I read them some poems.  They were really nice kids and they even laughed at my jokes, so they will all clearly go far in life.

I’ve also read loads this week and one of the books I managed to read was Louis Mulcahy’s second collection, The Clogher Quartet, Book Two.  I really enjoyed his first collection and I’d actually already chosen a poem from this first book, but then I got hold of a copy of the second when I was over in Ireland so I thought it would be better to feature a more recent poem, plus I found this cracking poem in the book.

There were actually a lot of poems in the collection that I really enjoyed, but this was the one that I got to that made me stop reading and put the book down for a minute.  It is a very direct poem but whilst telling a fairly straightforward story, it also manages to pack a lot of backstory in.  There are actually quite complicated attitudes and emotions going on in the poem, which is really exploring the status of the mother in a family – at first the children play ‘a simple prank’.  The fact that this prank is played as sh sits back ‘to her share of the family meal’ makes me imagine that she has just served everybody with food and is finally sitting back to relax herself, which says one thing about her status or her position.  The lovely thing in the poem is the ‘curious/rage of our father,beside himself with something’.  First of all I love the ‘curious rage’ – as if the speaker of the poem still doesn’t quite understand why the father is so angry.  Then I also really like the way Louis has played with the cliche of being beside yourself with rage or anger – instead the father is ‘beside himself with something’.  There is also a real feeling of shame in the poem, and although the poet says the memory or the realisation comes back with less force as the decades heal, saying this and writing a poem about it leads the reader to believe that the opposite in fact is probably true.

Louis is a potter and ceramic  sculptor as well as a poet and in 2004 received an Honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland for his pottery and his contribution to the community.  He has been published in many Irish literary magazines including Poetry Ireland, The Stinging Fly, The SHop and Stoney Thursday.  His first collection ‘The Clogher Quartet, Book One’ came out in 2014 with An Sagart and his second collection ‘The Clogher Quartet, Book Two’ came out in 2015.  ‘Taken Aback’ is from this second collection.  You can find out more about Louis here

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Louis for letting me use it.

Taken Aback – Louis Mulcahy

It was one of those realisations
that resurface with diminishing force
as the decades heal; a simple prank,
pulling the chair from under our mother
as she leant forward, awkwardly,
to sit back to her share of the family meal.
Four of us five children born by then; it took
some years to understand her strangely muted
plea not to attempt that again, and the curious
rage of our father, beside himself with something.

5 comments on “Sunday Poem – Louis Mulcahy

  1. I feel guilty now.. which is apt, considering the way this week’s Sunday Poem brought back all those memories that ambush me; memories of casual selfishness, carelessness, cruelty, stupidity; memories that flood me with shame for which there is no amends. Here’s a poem whose meaning hides in plain sight. ‘Four of us children born by then’ in a house where (my subtext runs) pregnancy is unspoken and carefully unacknowledged, particularly in front of the children. And perhaps there is no language for it. And so here’s this expectant mother ‘strangely muted’, and the father’s rage. Because rage is inarticulate. And children who have no idea what they’ve done. I’m glad that the passing of time has ‘healed’. Except that I don’t believe it. Because the memory is to too clear. Too realised. Too present. Belter of a poem.

  2. Quick comment from Hutson – loved the poem, congrats on the half marathon, looking forward to seeing you later this month.

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