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John Patrick Montague (b. Feb. 8, 1929 - present)

...born in St. Catherine’s Hosp., Bushwick Ave., Brooklyn; son of Molly (née Carney) and James Montague. James was formerly an Irish volunteer who fled to Brooklyn after involvement in ambushes and house-burning; he failed in business and became a subway ticket collector, then turned to alcohol. John was raised from 1933 by aunts in Garvaghey [near Fivemiletown], Co. Tyrone. John was not joined by his mother on her return to Fintona.
Educated at Garvaghey Primary School in 1927; he had a problem stammering which was triggered by humiliation by a primary school-mistress; later at Glencull Primary School, then St. Patrick’s College, Armagh, from age 11; he entered UCD on County Council Scholarship, in 1946.
And here we must hedge our biographical information. John Montague produced, published, founded, taught, edited and read in numerous universities in the United States, Ireland and France. At numerous occasions, places and conferences. He also found time to marry, I think it was three, women. When did he find time to write poetry? I'm still trying to find a way to organise, list, date and describe it all. In a way that could be considered digestible at any rate.

For now we embark into his poetry and hope you'll be patient.

All Legendary Obstacles
by John Montague

All legendary obstacles lay between
Us, the long imaginary plain,
The monstrous ruck of mountains
And, swinging across the night,
Flooding the Sacramento, San Joaquin,
The hissing drift of winter rain.

All day I waited, shifting
Nervously from station to bar
As I saw another train sail
By, the San Francisco Chief or
Golden Gate, water dripping
From great flanged wheels.

At midnight you came, pale
Above the negro porter's lamp.
I was too blind with rain
And doubt to speak, but
Reached from the platform
Until our chilled hands met.

You had been traveling for days
With an old lady, who marked
A neat circle on the glass
With her glove, to watch us
Move into the wet darkness
Kissing, still unable to speak.

A Grafted Tongue
by John Montague

bloodied, the severed
head now chokes to
speak another tongue -

As in
a long suppressed dream,
some stuttering garb -
led ordeal of my own)

An Irish
child weeps at school
repeating its English.
After each mistake

The master
gouges another mark
on the tally stick
hung about its neck

Like a bell
on a cow, a hobble
on a straying goat.
To slur and stumble

In shame
the altered syllables
of your own name:
to stray sadly home

And find
the turf-cured width
of your parents' hearth
growing slowly alien:

In cabin
and field, they still
speak the old tongue.
You may greet no one.

To grow
a second tongue, as
harsh a humiliation
as twice to be born.

Decades later
that child's grandchild's
speech stumbles over lost
syllables of an old order.

A Lost Tradition
by John Montague

All around, shards of a lost tradition:
From the Rough Field I went to school
In the Glen of the Hazels. Close by
Was the bishopric of the Golden Stone;
The cairn of Carleton's homesick poem.

Scattered over the hills, tribal-
And placenames, uncultivated pearls.
No rock or ruin, dun or dolmen
But showed memory defying cruelty
Through an image-encrusted name.

The heathery gap where the Rapparee,
Shane Barnagh, saw his brother die -
On a summer's day the dying sun
Stained its colours to crimson:
So breaks the heart, Brish-mo-Cree.

The whole landscape a manuscript
We had lost the skill to read,
A part of our past disinherited;
But fumbled, like a blind man,
Along the fingertips of instinct.

The last Gaelic speaker in the parish
When I stammered my school Irish
One Sunday after mass, crinkled
A rusty litany of praise:
Tá an Ghaeilge againn arís . . .*

Tír Eoghain:Land of Owen,
Province of the O'Niall;
The ghostly tread of O'Hagan's
Barefoot gallowglasses marching
To merge forces in Dun Geanainn

Push southward to Kinsale!
Loudly the war-cry is swallowed
In swirls of black rain and fog
As Ulster's pride, Elizabeth's foemen,
Founder in a Munster bog.
*We have the Irish again.

by John Montague

A feel of warmth in this place.
In winter air, a scent of harvest.
No form of prayer is needed,
When by sudden grace attended.
Naturally, we fall from grace.
Mere humans, we forget what light
Led us, lonely, to this place.

No Music
by John Montague

I'll tell you a sore truth, little understood
It's harder to leave, than to be left:
To stay, to leave, both sting wrong.
You will always have me to blame,
Can dream we might have sailed on;
From absence's rib, a warm fiction.
To tear up old love by the roots,
To trample on past affections:
There is no music for so harsh a song.

The Golden Hook
by John Montague

Two fish float:
one slowly downstream
into the warm
currents of the known
the other tugging
against the stream,
disconsolate twin,
the golden
marriage hook
tearing its throat.

There are Days
by John Montague

There are days when
one should be able
to pluck off one's head
like a dented or worn
helmet, straight from
the nape and collarbone
(those crackling branches!)
and place it firmly down
in the bed of a flowing stream.
Clear, clean, chill currents
coursing and spuming through
the sour and stale compartments
of the brain, dimmed eardrums,
bleared eyesockets, filmed tongue.
And then set it back again
on the base of the shoulders:
well tamped down, of course,
the laved skin and mouth,
the marble of the eyes
rinsed and ready
for love; for prophecy?

by John Montague

My love, while we talked
They removed the roof. Then
They started on the walls,
Panes of glass uprooting
From timber, like teeth.
But you spoke calmly on,
Your example of courtesy
Compelling me to reply.
When we reached the last
Syllable, nearly accepting
Our positions, I saw that
The floorboards were gone:
It was clay we stood upon.

For more Poetry Click the Poetry Index.


Thu, Jul 9, 2015
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1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present
by Kathleen Hoagland

Interested in Irish Poetry?Here's the easy way to collect them all (well, almost all, anyway).
Malachy McCourt says in his introduction, "With the republication of this book, the Irish recover under their roof of stars all the great poets and writers who have been falsely claimed by the saxon crown and its minions - even our reprobates."
Amazon states this is out of stock. They still have used copies for almost nothing (except shipping - chuckle). If you would like a new edition, it was available at Powell's. We can't promise it's still there. Click here for Powell's 1000 Years.
Click here for used at Amazon.


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