Home Madrid language schools Spotlight: some songs from Mr Liddy

Spotlight: some songs from Mr Liddy


Originally from Youghal, John Liddy moved to Limerick at the age of four and grew up in the city and became an integral part of Limerick’s literary scene.

There is a picture of John hanging on the sacred walls of the White House pub with his poem “Pound Dvalued in White House”. The title was given to John by the late Séamus Ó Cinnéide, who wrote for the Limerick Leader. He tells an interesting story. In the summer of 1975, Robert Graves (English poet, historical novelist, critic, scholar and classicist who produced over 140 works during his lifetime) visited Ireland as a guest of honor at the ” a poetry seminar held at University College Cork (UCC).

Graves, who had Irish ancestors, was to visit Limerick. His father, Alfred Perceval Graves (an Irish poet best known for “Father O ‘Flynn”) was an important figure in the Irish literary revival. His grandfather, Charles Graves had been the Anglican Bishop of Limerick. The planned visit would surely bring him to the White House, renowned as a refuge for local scholars. There was a picture of the poet Ezra Pound hanging in the pub and the owner, Eammon Gleeson, removed it, so Graves (who disliked Pound) would not be offended – hence the title of Liddy’s poem. !

Liddy was encouraged by Professors Eric Lynch and Jack Noonan. When Nora McNamara discovered her first attempts at writing poems (during her typing class), she confiscated them for a few days and then told him that she would like to publish a selection.

It was Liddy’s first book, titled Boundaries (1974). That same year, John won the Under-21 Poetry Award at the Listowel Writers’ Festival. Encouraged by these events, he started (with Jim Burke) a literary review (1975) entitled The Stony Thursday Book.

Liddy had his early poems accepted for publication by The Limerick Weekly Echo (edited by Arthur Quinlan) and the Castle Poets anthology (edited by Kitty Breedin, William English and Claude and Darina Byrne).

The 1970s, its people and places, and in particular the harsh climate of Northern Ireland, were very powerful influences on Liddy’s work. The world outside of Ireland seemed full of mirth as the Irish suffered the daily brutality of news of bombs and deaths. After a seven month (1979-80) trip across America “reading my meager poems and lecturing on Yeats and Kavanagh,” says John, “I attended a hunger strike funeral in Belfast and I saw firsthand the horror and injustice of this devastated place.

In search of new mythologies, he left for Spain, arriving on October 12 (national holiday of Spain). He became a teacher and librarian, graduated from the University of Wales and “started writing what caught my attention, never losing sight of my roots,” says John. He was happy with his new life and a daughter called Pilar whom he later married and with whom he had two sons, Marcus and Seán.

After a few years editing The Stony Thursday Book (1975-1980 and again in 1990/91) and a long period of translation, he published The Angling Cot (Beaver Row Press, Dublin, 1991) which contains poems on Limerick and also his first Spanish experiences. Then came Song of the Empty Cage (Lapwing Publications, Belfast, 1997). It is a book about the departure, the journey he undertook, leaving Ireland and its political pains, and interspersed with selected translations of Irish and Spanish poems.

This brought him back to translating and working with Trudy Kiebala on Wine and Hope / Vino y Esperanza. (Editorial Archione, Madrid, 1999).

This was followed by Cast-A-Net / Almadraba (Editorial Archione, Madrid, 2003) with translations into Spanish by Liddy’s brother, Liam, and illustrations by Gavin Hogg.

Again it went back to early memories, people and places, but the poems were more structured and explored the relationship people have with places where cultures merge into one.

The late poet Desmond O ‘Grady said that “Liddy’s poems reflect the places he lived that shaped his life, the people he met and were moved by and by the paraphernalia of everyday life that inspired him to write poems about his experience. Liddy has received praise for his work by many established poets, such as Knute Skinner and the late Patrick Galvin. The latter, re-reading the poems The Angling Cot and Cast-A-Net said to himself “… once again reassured about the strength of their rhythms, the power of their images, the safety of their language and the capacity of writer to reflect a reality or aspiration through poetry.


Liddy was born, raised and raised in Ireland, so he naturally identifies with the poetic traditions of Ireland. But he also broadened his horizons by living in Spain. “One of the first English-language poets that I started to notice was Thomas Hardy and to this day I prefer to read his poems rather than his novels, with the exception of Jude the Obscure,” John says.

Further study beyond what was learned in school, brought John to a wealth of Gaelic poetry from which he learned about the Bard schools and how a poet was to learn his craft for twelve years before. to be able to be a member.

John’s early influences were WB Yeats, Austin Clarke, and Patrick Kavanagh. Digging deeper, two more writers came into his life as he searched for answers to all manner of psychological and philosophical questions and both were instrumental in helping him unravel some of the complexities of life. “For a number of years, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett became my confessors,” John said, adding, “I fought and meditated on their books and looked for signs, ideas, messages and hope against my most desperate times. ” There were others, like Rimbaud, Rilke, Pasternak, Lorca, Machado, Hernandez, Neruda…

John has some advice for budding poets: “Today the poet must more than ever exercise the two faculties at his disposal: intuition and imagination. Both bring the poet closer to the word frontier to learn from the first experience of silence that real presence can only be entered if it is reached by silence.

His most recent work Arias of Consolation (Revival Press) is a book-length poem in eight parts divided into 50 sections with drawings by John Shinnors. “I guess this is my most ambitious job to date. I hope the people of Limerick identify with it, ”says John.

I asked John “Who is your favorite poet?” Knowing what the answer would be: “Honestly, I have a lot, from North and South America, Ireland and Spain, Chinese, Russians, Europeans, men and women. He deftly dodged my question: “Who is your favorite Limerick poet?” His response – “To paraphrase O’Grady, I would like to see all the poets drink at the common oasis, where no one is better, better or worse.”

Besides poetry, Liddy has written appreciations, tributes, obituaries, speeches, prefaces, prologues, cultural and academic articles, essays, interviews, reviews, translations, art pages in The Limerick People. and journalism in general.

He is currently working on a short story collection and brings together prose and travel accounts written over the past 40 years. “Pandemics are good for tackling the stains that have been left on the long finger,” says John.

In addition to The Stony Thursday Book and its sister publication Pebble Broadsheet, John has edited school magazines, co-edited with Dominic Taylor 1916-2016 – An Anthology of Reactions and Let Us Rise – An Anthology Commemorating the Limerick Soviet 1919. an issue of The Hong Kong Review (he is on the advisory board) and Someone Is Always Watching You by Séamus Mas Aogáin and various children’s books.

The following poem was written by John Liddy for his nephew’s wedding (August 10, 2019) and is one of the poet’s favorites:

UNIT (for David & David)

“A border does not change the terrain. (Marcel Proust)

When north meets south and south meets north

at a point on the Bann river, the precise meeting place

cannot be distinguished from a fish or bird in flight,

and the water where the card says it’s the line

tells a lie, divides and condemns you to delay,

as it flows from your hands like a familiar rinse

after a period of weeding on one side or the other.

When the South meets the North and the North meets the South

in the middle of a meadow under a blazing sun

where two people harvest wheat,

the map will tell you if you crossed the line,

breaks a rule on one side but not on the other,

the flattened stems climb to their natural height – while you sleep together in no man’s land.


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