Throughout October, Trasna will focus on the Celtic festival of Samhain, known better to Americans as Halloween. The holiday originated in Ireland and celebrates that time of year when the veil between this world and the next grows thin, and life seems more mysterious.
This week we feature Peter Sirr, a well-known poet, and now podcaster. He and his wife, poet Enda Wyley, are hosts of the lively program, Books for Breakfast, which airs every Thursday morning and includes a “Toaster Challenge” in which guests present a favorite book in the time it takes to make toast.
In addition to select readings from his latest collection, The Gravity Wave, is his poem: “Whatever you were.” The poem, as eerie as a “black road suddenly crowded,” recounts unexplained events one night while Sirr was out walking his dog. It is also the subject of a film by poet Mark Granier and filmmaker Fiachra MacAllister, “About Ghosts: Whatever you were,” which we are pleased to present.
“ABOUT GHOSTS: WHATEVER YOU WERE,” a film by Mark Granier and Fiachra MacAllister, based on Peter Sirr’s poem “Whatever you were.”
“Whatever you were” by Peter Sirr
Whatever you were
you scared the dog
and made him whimper
welcome or warning
your eyes shone
at the edge of the light
and the signs were all there
that absolute dark
the sound you made
as you ran down the road
almost colliding with us
before slipping into the field
or you were nothing
neither curse nor blessing
yourself purely, your eyes blazing
caught in the porch glow
where you circled behind us
to take us in. Cold-eyed
and quickly gone
you left behind
a living dark, the black road
and the night filling like a corridor
all of us are passing through
with hardly a breath
between us. . .
from “The Different Rains Come Down,” in The Thing Is, Gallery Press, 2009
PETER SIRR reads from The Gravity Wave.
This reading was recorded as part of the 2020 Farmgate Café Poetry Award and appears here with permission.
The Now Slice
Breakfast is over, you’ve gone to the hard world.
Ulysses struggles from a speaker, nearly dead.
He flails in the waves, a towering headland
staring him down. Where’s help here?
The floor turns stone, the kitchen Mycenaean.
The dog sprawls on the couch, lost in a dream
of toast and cats. A fruit fly climbs a jar
to dangerous honey. I lift my cup and a star
explodes, a meteor crashes into the moon.
A blue alien looks out along his slice of time.
He’s going to school, maybe. When he comes back
the future will already be over. Only Ulysses
will still be here. He’s found a riverbank now
and friendly leaves. Athena rains down sleep on his eyes.
Deer, Phoenix Park
How many are there? I glance like an actor
counting the audience.
Are we the set they’re looking at?
We don’t seem to have entered yet
or they don’t see us. The road
is beyond them. I slow the car.
I don’t want to count deer, I want
to count in deer. Antler, Forest, Eyes,
Stillness, Speed, Hide … I’d like
this currency to fall between us
where we step invisibly from the car
slipped from ourselves to kneel
grass-lit and concentrated, close to a road
that keeps wobbling and clarifying
like the rim of the world or the end of speech.
‘Some say …’
(Homage to Sappho)
Some say a fleet of ships
some streets in May
some say blood some wine
a summer sky some say
hawk in flight some oak
entrenched but I
I think of you leave
the torn world to brood
and stew if Helen
can do it so can I without
a thought or turning back
forget ships horses muscled
soldiery there’s this
swooping from the air
pinioned to the ground
my own hawk tree
quick ship gliding
to its shimmering coast
some say moor grass, marigold
some a kestrel hovering
above the marshland
some say silk some snow
dusting the city pavement
the green chill
of winter meadows but I
I say it’s cold outside
these landscapes will return
it’s the room that havers the bed
that will abandon us
some say run some stay
but I I think of your hands
combing the grasses
your lips fly your heart
some say earth some sky
some hesitate some fly
but I but I
Peter Sirr has published ten poetry collections, of which the most recent are The Gravity Wave (2019), a Poetry Book Society recommendation and winner of the Farmgate Café National Poetry Award, and Sway (2016), versions of poems from the troubadour tradition. The Rooms (2014) was shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award and the Pigott Poetry Prize. The Thing Is (2009), was awarded the Michael Hartnett Prize in 2011. His novel for children, Black Wreath, was published in 2014. His radio dramas are broadcast on RTE, the national broadcaster. His most recent, Krakow, was shortlisted for the New York Radio Awards and Irish Music Rights Organisation Radio Drama Awards. He teaches literary translation in the Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation, Trinity College and is a member of Aosdána, the Irish Academy of Artists. With his wife, the poet Enda Wyley he co-hosts the podcast Books for Breakfast ([https://booksforbreakfast.buzzsprout.com]). Books are available from Gallery Press: https://www.gallerypress.com/authors/o-to-z/peter-sirr/