Ger Reidy: a pastoral gaze with a hard edge
‘I place myself on the edge of society, suspicious of its demands. A writer has to be able to stand outside to see anything and be prepared to pay the inevitable price’
Ger Reidy with his two latest works: “I started writing the odd poem when the late, great Dermot Healy published me in his journal, Force 10. He took a stern look at me after reading some poems and commanded me to ‘take off that bloody tie and stop being the town engineer or the town clerk or whatever you call yourself’.”
Apart from school books which were forensically analysed, revised and memorised for regurgitation at the relevant exams and promptly forgotten, books didn’t feature much in my childhood. Some things stuck. Patrick Kavanagh’s poems resonated with my small farmer’s annual rhythms as did the fiction of Liam O’Flaherty and Mary Lavin but it was the darkness in John McGahern that rang true.The lyrics of Bob Dylan and Lenard Cohen together with Van Morrison detonated the thought processes and provoked me into my first scribblings.
Years earlier my brother Tony was buying LPs at 14/11 in old money on the Marble Arch label and I found myself listening to Desolation Row and Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands as a 10-year-old while going to a rural national school, being regularly assaulted by a fundamentalist teacher for not knowing the difference between sanctifying grace and actual grace, which may have resulted in a blueprint being set up where contradiction and detachment were concepts I had to embrace.
I was preoccupied with the weather and the daily menu set up by the Atlantic. My father, I’m sure, observed a bit of a dreamer and kept me facing the earth as much as was possible. Farming had its dark side, the burying of dead animals and the killing of others while studying the Punic Wars and Pythagoras’s theorem.
Blues music resonated with my suppressed anger and I would lose myself in the long guitar solos of Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and our own Rory Gallagher. Maths and physics came easy. Soon engineering beckoned at UCG, where I started living as an adult and reading the odd poem. The lyrics of Pink Floyd began to impinge – Dark Side of the Moon was by now several years in the top 50. That album resonated with my alienation and the awareness of mortality I had had from the earliest of times.
I submitted some nostalgic rantings to the college magazine which thankfully were not published. Back in the west after living in Kildare, I started working for Mayo Co Council. Married with small children, I started writing the odd poem when the late, great Dermot Healy published me in his journal, Force 10. He took a stern look at me after reading some poems and commanded me to “take off that bloody tie and stop being the town engineer or the town clerk or whatever you call yourself”.
My first book came out in the late nineties, Pictures From a Reservation, the title a nod to Mussorsky and also referring to Mayo as an EU reservation, with emigration bleeding the villages and small towns. It was a pastoral gaze with a hard edge. I continued to write as a county council engineer and part-time farmer who also had a guest house. My next collection, Drifting Under the Moon, didn’t appear until 2010.
A woman from Belmullet had said to me earlier: “so you’re Ger Reidy, I hear you’re a great poet but too lazy to bother getting a collection published”. These words went around in my head. By now I had several hundred poems to choose from as one should have when culling inferior work to hone a collection.
I was also writing the first drafts of what would become a short story collection, many of which were written in Hamburg after I had separated one summer, but nothing to do with the city.These were attempts to shine a light on elemental existence on marginal farms where the headage cheque was a lifeline and brutality, bleakness and desolation had to be wrestled with on a daily basis.There is a nod to Samuel Beckett too, I think, in the gombeen rural characters who seem to be always on the road. Often one needs to be totally disconnected, as I was in Hamburg, from the subject in order to write a cold, accurate account of it, like describing flowers in the depths of a winter’s frost.
The Tyrone Guthrie Centre was and is a place where the editing is done. An intense week or two there and the superfluous bits fall through the floorboards. After that, one hopes that a good editor will not be shy with the red ink.
The influences of Philip Larkin, Louis MacNeice, Tom Murphy, Charles Simic and Yehuda Amichai continue. I often think, too, that if I could feed in Shostakovich or Chopin into a black box and extrude poetry from the other side it might be worth reading. Pedro Almodovar, Federico Fellini and David Lynch jump-start lines too to add to the civil war in my head between Tom Waits and Arvo Part.
Alice Maher comments that I place myself on the cusp or on the margins of things, in the borderlands looking out and looking in simultaneously. It’s something I hadn’t known about myself. I know that I place myself on the edge of society, being suspicious of the demands a society can impose. I guess a writer has to be able to stand outside in order to be able to see anything,to achieve any objectivity and be prepared to pay the inevitable price.
I sometimes am invited into a liminal world as a reward for placing myself outside and get glimpses of a place I could occupy in order to crystallise what floats invisibly. Most days I leave the cage open and forget about it; some evenings I return home and words are singing in it. I’m slow to lock the cage until the words allow me to.
Anyway it’s not for me to comment on the two books that came out recently – poems, Before Rain, and short stories, Jobs for a Wet Day. They have to find their own audience as I’m busy finishing the next poetry collection and still avoiding the crossfire between the contradictions of being an engineer, writer and farmer.
Before Rain and Jobs for a Wet Day are both published by Arlen House