John McCullagh May 17, 2004
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A student here, from Ballintoy
A laughing fair-haired country boy
Felt now and then fit to employ
His Sunday leisure
In turning verses to enjoy
Poetic pleasure.

I showed him how with little cost
His thoughts were better far engrossed
In the blank verse of Robert Frost
And as a duck
Takes to the burn in which it’s tossed
He tried his luck.

The lines came supple, steady, clear
True to the country atmosphere.
There was no flowery discourse here
But honest phrasing;
And half a dozen times that year
He sought my praising.

But once he read his verses o’er
To some oul’ caillaigh at her door
Who had a name in three or four
Townlands for rhyming
That he might hear how much he’d score
By her skilled timing.

Awhile she listened to him, dumb
With not so much as haw or hum
Then, sucking at her toothless gum
She said, ‘I think
I’d rather hae the thochts that come
In lines that clink’.

By John Hewitt from ‘Loose Ends’ Blackstaff 1983.

I just LOVE this!  The wonderful Brother Barney Liston taught us a love of poetry some 57 years ago at the Abbey Grammar (long before Hewitt wrote this!).

The young are reared on simple rhymes (nursery, to begin with) and doggerel – or trite pop lyrics.  It takes time, tuition, practice and loving guidance to progress – in any enterprise.

I was initially dumb-founded that ‘prose’ – to me, i.e. non-rhyming poetry – could be counted in that exclusive company.

Hewitt, I suspect, is nodding in the direction of blank verse, but subliminally showing a personal preference for rhyme.  He is also extolling his own roots (in the Ulster-Scots tradition) and his admiration for those who champion that – and local poetry – doggerel, if you like.

The cailliagh here (I think of our own Alice Kelly of Rostrevor – apologies Alice – I know you have your own teeth, and physically do not fit the bill – but you are an inspiration for the youthful budding poets amidst us!) ) is counter-arguing with the tutor, Hewitt.  Like her, I prefer ‘lines that clink!’ 

I also like a laugh!  This poem never fails to bring a smile to my wrinkled old face!

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