Poem of the week: Words and Music by Fred Johnston

A new work in memory of Ciaran Carson, 1948-2019

Ciaran Carson. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ciaran Carson. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


i.m. Ciaran Carson, poet, 1948-2019

Not by music only, no
Though your flute airs drew words along, or seemed to,
Staves of street upon street

Over the derelict spaces
Through the dialects of a many-musicked people
Ghettoed by gantries, small bricky terraces

Pubs where it’s prudent to
Weather-eye the door, listen for an engine revving up
The feather-light tick of the out-of-place -

You had the right words
In the right order, as the diktat goes, and so could
Put words and music in their proper place

Now and then let them scatter
Off the leash, they’d dander where the weather’d
Take them, in and out the badlands

Long murderous roads punctuated
By black taxis, back home through the radio-squelch
Of Army check-points. Still, you held the long note,
Had the last word.

Fred Johnston was born in Belfast and lives in Galway. His most recent collection is Rogue States ( Salmon, 2018)

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