Lifesaving Lines: The Gift, by Brendan Kennelly

I was at a thing. Very rarely for me, it was my own thing, only my second in front of non-screened humans since before-when. A beautiful thing, with beautiful music. At the end (beginning?) of the week, in an out of the way place. And, being one of my things, a tiny audience, some of whom I knew by name, but mostly not. Not quite the fingers of one hand, but almost. An improvement on the last of the before-when time, when four turned up. (As Krapp would say, getting known.)

I had made an effort. I had put on a jacket. I had prepared. The words of my first poetry mentor Stewart Henderson came back to me in the half-dark: ‘It doesn’t matter if you are only reading to your mother, a cat and two children, you still honour the text of your words and knock it out of the park.’ So I did.

I read and read and read about death, my-not-quite-my-own, and others’, what that does to you, your body, your mind, your capacity to live in the fullness of life having not-died even though sometimes you think you might have.

As it grew darker, another voice from the beginning-of-things came back to me, this time in the form of a poem: Brendan Kennelly’s magnicifent ‘The Gift’, specifically his line about ‘places that were badly-lit’.

About ten seconds before going on, the organiser had asked me if it was light enough to read by. I replied that it was. But by the time I was half-way through I felt as though I was lancing my words into the outer darkness, a strange sensation for a thing that was at once so grand and intimate. (This reminds me of certain books I have written, still available here and here.) I could not see a soul. I found the experience bizarrely comforting. The universe seemed to be saying: poetry has always been like this. You want to play at Wembley? Do something else.

Somehow, for reasons I cannot explain, I was put in mind of this again as the week came to a close and I noodled around trying to sit still and breathe. The film below is of a man coming into a printing workshop. He takes off his jacket. He unrolls the blinds. He goes to work. It begins in darkness, and though the lights do go on, it still has the feeling of being badly-lit. Like a poem. Like my poems? Like these words now also winging their way to be read in the void by you. By the end, I was completely in tears. (Treat yourself: the nice people at Cult Pens have got these on offer at the moment. And no, I am not on a commission.)

For more reasons I am at a loss to explain rationally, this has reminded me of another piece of music, the ineffably beautiful ‘Life Story’, by Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm, which has pretty much been my constant companion over the last two years.

Photo credit: Marie-Claude Petitpierre


  1. A beautiful and important post, Anthony. Thank you for this. And for the music…I can understand why you like it. There are times in our lives when we all need to visit a place where we can simply relax and let our best, true selves have the day…or night.

    From across the pond,

    Liked by 1 person

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