On Writing / Kevin Cahill

Issue Ten of The Lonely Crowd features two new poems by Kevin Cahill.

I was dying. The four walls were closing in. At thirteen it was already easier to see the end of the world, than the end of school; the end of my life than the end of the grammar books. The kinks in my mental atmosphere were being disentangled and tidied up. A sane root in the curriculum bore fruit, and blocked the chthonic frenzy going on under my feet. The ear-plug of the education system was in my ear. The sand-bag of adolescence was up my nose. The groyne of an inchoate common sense was perverting the natural courses. I walked around numb, hearing what you hear after a bomb – a clean bomb – has gone off under your chair.

But a dirty bomb, a bomb filled with the rusty nails of superstition, the broken glass of subconsciousness, the plutonium of the surrreal, was ticking under my seat also. Unlike the clean bomb, the dirty bomb was thrown in through the window suddenly. All I heard was something that didn’t seem right, didn’t sit right. It made me put my nail underneath it where it sprayed sparks in the textbook, signalling a revolution that has not yet subsided. When my teacher’s mouth opened my life changed. It was as though I had grown a new head. I went home and looked at the lines he had uttered. They resembled a monster. An unearthly salamander, living in the corrupting fire of the Enlightenment, choosing not to be consumed. I watched as it sat on my desk, felt it look into my eyes, and winced as it leaned forward to give me a mouth-to-mouth that is even now saving my life.

The words were ‘drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence.’ PLANETARY INFLUENCE, that is all. Uttered scoffingly by Edmund, in King Lear, but for me the Hermetic ‘as above, so below,’ was suddenly upon me. Sitting at the table like a giant goose-pimple, I felt possessed, commanded to pick up a pen, and write. Like a footballer’s darting run up the channel, his proverbial putting his laces through it, I had a sonnet in three or four minutes. A poem about the moon, the moon’s influence upon us. I was slightly electrocuted, and different. Being a hypochrondriac, I wondered was I having a haemorrhagic episode. I looked at myself in the mirror, examined my very first cerebrovascular incident. But my arms still went up. My legs could move. I tried them again, I looked at my hands, and though they were not mine, I could move them.

The next day the road going to school felt loopier. Like an Alpinist twenty-five thousand feet up, dying of thirst, I could now smell the water in the ice. I could taste it. I had a way out. I had been given the antidote. The school looked as if it had been given a broken lip overnight. It was shunted an inch to the left. Everything was out of place, and where it should be. I was bringing my prescribed poetry book to school as if it were my pet rat. The lunatic streak inherent in the system was suddenly exposed. Hopkins, Scott, O’Casey, Shakespeare were satisfyingly rhapsodical, and wonky. Even the awful moraliser and fuddy-duddy Maria Edgeworth seemed to cock a snook at the schoolmen. It was one great squib. Life was joyful again because of the folly, the uselessness, the orgasm and hooley of the great works of literature. Poetry’s special contribution was to be utterly impractical, and to teach us to waste our time. The poetry teacher was getting us interested in the ‘surest path to starvation’. There was a thrusting-on to write, to produce, to do, with words. To be ‘out there’, ‘out of hand’, ‘out of the world’, ‘out and out’. There was no other place on earth where you could ask the teacher to repeat her ejaculation about enjambment. Or to get commended for describing the geo-cultural underpinnings of Castle Rackrent as a piece of schist.

From the beginning wisdom had nothing to do with it. It was always about the mischief. Choosing (being chosen) to write was choosing to be more scurrilous and fatal than a punk rocker. It was a suicidal career path and way to survive, courting danger on so many different levels. It held the door open to a force outside oneself, and therefore was tantamount to a succumbing. Everything that happened afterwards was a work of fate, working with words as damnable and undammable as a sneeze. When I was thirteen I heard the words ‘planetary influence’ in class and it is still in the act of rescuing my imagination. I have no concept of my origins or my purpose, only that my father compounded with my mother under the caduceus of Pollox, and my nativity was under The Ram’s horn. So it follows I am both headstrong and susceptible and I could not have been other than I am. Without any acceptance of responsibility I have let the compulsion to write turn everything I know into that original, unrepentant pile of stars.

Kevin Cahill was born in Cork City, Ireland, and graduated from University College Cork, with a degree in Government Studies. He subsequently worked for The European Commission, Cork Institute of Technology, and as a Reiki practitioner. His poetry has appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, in journals that include The Edinburgh Review, The London Magazine, Magma, The Manchester Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, Southword, Agenda, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, gorse, Crannóg, The Oxonian Review, and The SHOp.

Image by Jo Mazelis.