Sunday 22 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Both adults and children alike love Gabriel's poems - they add the extra to the ordinary'

Keane's Kingdom

Farewell to Poetry: Gabriel Fitzmaurice is launching his last book next Friday. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Farewell to Poetry: Gabriel Fitzmaurice is launching his last book next Friday. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The old travelling man came in to our pub on a slow day and my dad was writing away at the counter.

"What are you writing about, John B?" asked the old travelling man.

"I'm writing an epic poem," replied Dad.

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"Ah," replied the knight of the road, "sure isn't poetry bad enough without it being long."

It was great advice and Gabriel Fitzmaurice took it very much to heart.

Gabriel's poems about his dad bring me back to my dad.

It will be my ad's anniversary on Thursday next. He'll be gone 17 years. I miss him every day and these days are the saddest and the funniest. I'm writing away upstairs, over the pub, in our old home.

This big Kerry Group creamery lorry passed by and a tourist asked Dad what was the lorry carrying?

Said Dad, "Ink for Writers' Week."

Gabriel Fitzmaurice wrote poems about his dad. His father did all the housework as Gabriel's mam was invalided. Here's a few lines from Dad:

A man before his time, he cooked and sewed,

Took care of me and Mammy in her bed

Stayed in by night and never hit the road

I love the simplicity of the line "stayed in by night and never hit the road".

His dad Jack was faithful to his wife and son. Jack Fitz did his duty. Like all great poets the seemingly simple lines are laden with meaning and all sorts of subtle nuances that might only travel from the subconscious to the immediate a few days after you hear the poem for the first time.

Gabriel has had enough of poetry. His new book 'Farewell to Poetry' is a compilation of his greatest hits. He says he is worn out.

Gabriel writes of his dad's burial and it brings me back to this week 17 years ago. The poem is called 'Requiesat':

And as we lowered you, father, a generation knew

That the time had come for passing on

Now I inherit you

If I keep on thinking too much, I'll drown the laptop. That's the thing about anniversaries, you miss the dead but you know at the same time they are still alive in your head which is in itself a life after death.

Time for a funny Fitzmaurice poem.

Gabriel was a teacher and his children's poems transcend age. It's a bit like 'The Simpsons'. Adults and kids laugh at the same jokes, very often for different reasons, and very often for the same reasons. 'Nanas' is one of my favourites and is written in the voice of a child:

Nanas give you goodies

When mammies say they can't

'Cos nanas always give you exactly what you want

And mammies can't give out to them

'Cos they are very old

And that's why they are allowed to be

Very, very bold

I know 'Nanas' is seemingly a straightforward bit of fun, but if you think about it Gabriel has defined the role of the grandmother.

He is very much in love with the grandmother in 'Nanas'. Fitzmaurice is the man who has fallen in love with his own wife.

Her name is Brenda and she is a talented artist and a gentle sort of muse who gives her man plenty of space to write.

'Just to be Beside You is Enough' is his love sonnet for Brenda:

Just to be beside you is enough,

Just to make you breakfast tea and toast

To help you with the ware, that kind of stuff

Just to get the papers and your post;

To hold you in my arms in calm embrace,

Just to sit beside you at the fire,

Just to trace my fingers on your face

Is more to me than all of youth's desire;

Just to lie bedside you in the night,

To hear you breathe in peace before I sleep

To wake beside you in the morning light

In the love we sewed together that we reap.

Together we have taken smooth and rough

Just to be beside you is enough.

I hope you make a comeback, Gabe. If you don't, thanks for putting the extra before the seemingly ordinary.

Gabriel Fitzmaurice's 'Farewell to Poetry' will be launched next Friday at Listowel Writers Week. He shares the podium with the rumbustious but highly melodious Stephen Murphy - a poet for our time, and all time

Irish Independent

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