Tadpoles, Dead Cats and Seamus Heaney


pumper 2

Tadpoles, Dead Cats and Seamus Heaney

I wrote a nature poem once
it went like this:
You call yourself a tree?
My bank has more branches!
Not much of a poem really
I wrote it at a time when the Irish poetry scene
was dominated by rural poets
or to be more precise, by Seamus Heaney,
whose childhood memories
of peat bogs, tractors, ploughed fields, hard won harvests
of curlews and corncrakes of snipe and gannets
did not resonate with me
my childhood having been spent
in the newly spawned suburbs of south Dublin
where my friend Dermo and I roamed back lanes,
and vacant lots that promised prosecution to trespassers
a world of nettles, thistles, dock leaves for the stings
crows and magpies, a rumour of foxes
gardens of roses, dahlias, rhubarb, gooseberries
the ubiquitous potato
tadpoles in jam jars,
their embryonic frog legs kicking
and let’s not forget that dead cat we found
half consumed by maggots
in a cardboard box in the woods
behind the cavernous church
where Dermo liked to sit of a Sunday
close to the aisle, listening to the sound
of the women’s girdles as they strode up
for Holy Communion, according to Dermo
this is the sound that the girdles made:
whick whick
whick whick
but I digress…

I met Seamus Heaney once
north of the Liffey
a creative writing class,
this was before academia
and Nobel prizes
he was living in a cottage in Wicklow
he came, read some poems
and joined us in the pub afterwards
where I asked his opinion
of some of my heroes:
ee cummings, “a bit of a lightweight”;
Roger Mc Gough, the Liverpool Scene,
“a bunch of tricksters”;
James Simmons (a firebrand contemporary)
“does not understand the finality of print”.
These judgements were delivered
with a smile in a soft Derry accent,
a nicer man you could not meet
and one of two Nobel prize winners
that I have shared a drink with…
buy hey,
that’s more than enough name dropping for one poem.


Taking part in Sarah Connor’s challenge over at Earthweal.

Here’s Sarah’s prompt”

“So, for this prompt, I’d like you to think about how you first felt connected to nature – maybe as a child, or as an adult. Some of those lost words may inspire you, or you may have your own lost word (or world?) that gave you a sense of wonder at the natural world around you. Maybe you collected caterpillars, or watched birds on a bird-table, or squatted down to watch beetles, or looked up to see squirrels in the treetops.”

14 thoughts on “Tadpoles, Dead Cats and Seamus Heaney

  1. earthweal

    Guess what I just started reading – North, Heaney’s 1974 collection. Those tiny soundplasts of gannet and snipe, how they grow such amazing roots under the poem … Anyway, I’m a suburban kid too so my rural reference is mostly imagined and/or much darkened by human intrusions into such. (And I’m an even more distant Irishman, my ancestors sailed from Cork Harbor in 1778 though my Gaelic last name O’Cobhthaigh is 2d C BC — an imaginary Iona man …) You were lucky to have a beer with Seamus, thanks so for including that in your field work … Brendan


    1. sdtp33 Post author

      Funny you should mention “Field Work”, that’s the book I pulled off the shelf when I was writing the poem, to try and find my inner Heaney. There’s a really good poem in that collection about Robert Lowell. Enjoy North!…JIM


  2. Suzanne

    What an interestng insight in your life. I grew up in the suburbs but luckily on the edge of the wild when I was very young. The houses encroached later and stole my hidden pathways. How wonderful to have met a Nobel prize winning poet. You move in illustrious circles.


  3. sarahsouthwest


    Anyhow, as an edge-of-town northern kid, I understand the liminal (never used that word in a sentence before, but you deserve it) spaces you describe here very well. I love the way a child can find those empty lots, those unused spaces, and explore them like jungles. We used to play on the “waste ground”. I never really thought about that name before I read this poem, but, of course, it was just exactly that. I love your indiscriminate piling up of tadpoles and rhubarb and dead cats and potatoes.


    1. sdtp33 Post author

      Now you’ve made me look up “liminal”! Thanks for the prompt, I think you said it before, but when I first read these prompts I have nothing, then by about midday Tuesday I have found my way into something.
      Surprisingly, you were the only one to ask but the other Nobel winner was Mike Smith, and English Chemist who lived in Vancouver, I knew some of his post docs and he would turn up at parties, nice guy, very much the prof!


  4. Steve Simpson

    A very enjoyable read Jim, and, perhaps because I grew up in what would have been suburbia (had anyone built anything) beside a large swamp with plenty of mud as well as the other delights you mentioned, and which even back then was used for dumping industry waste, I relate more to your vividly-presented childhood than to tractors and harvests. No brushes with the famous at all. Alright, I’m jealous, I admit it.



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