Graham Reid | | 2 min read
When reading Kevin Ireland's 2021 collection of poems Just Like That, it was easy to imagine a mischievous twinkle in the author's eye as he alighted of phrase or line with a glissando between meaning and wit.
Not so with this slim but dense and thoughtful third volume of his memoirs which explore memories, the passage of time, old friendships with some people long gone and still moments in a busy life.
Now an astute, insightful 89-year old, the poet, novelist and non-fiction writer – who acknowledges “the final reserves of my time and energy must soon be running out” – Ireland set himself a somewhat tangential approach to this memoir: to simply sit every day for a month and write what dominant memories came into the foreground of consciousness.
And so a flash on memory to be explored and teased out may be of rural life during the war where Hamilton was a distant city to be visited once a month and kids rode to school on horseback in all weathers.
Or empathetic portraits of friends, not blind to their faults or his own, such as Maurice Shadbolt, Peter Bland, Karl Stead, Jim Baxter and a truly moving and beautifully crafted reminiscence about an Irish neighbour in London half a century ago.
There is humour here (a wedding and a funeral which swim up are well-polished but still hilarious) and also pathos as the mind can wander from Boy Scouts to Prince Philip II of Spain.
So here on a daily basis are anecdotes, yarns, philosophical musings and a cast of characters pleasantly encountered or endured.
There is also his pleasure taken in fishing and birds in the back garden's fruit trees as the pandemic lurks outside the door.
“I am forever reminded of a remark of Blaise Pascal's to the effect that we sometimes can't help thinking a friend's death as a desertion.
“One old friend in London, whom I know of so far, has even contrived to die of Covid-19 – which I class as not merely a desertion but a willful display of crass incaution.
“The only way not to end up stamping a foot and shaking a fist at the heavens, in justified fury at wayward, cherished renegades, is to join them in the glorious echoes of their laughter.”
There is plenty of laughter, wine, friendship, long lunches and screwed-up notes in the writer's wastepaper basket woven through these digressive pages where also celebrates a brief foray into oil painting (the cover art is a self-portrait), family and marriage.
Here too are 13 of his recent poems from Just Like That given context.
A tip: don't rush through these days of Ireland's month because the conceit does become a little strained as he settles down at his desk once more. Slow down to enjoy the memories and digressions as much as he does.
In the middle of his month, Ireland writes, “Sometimes I look around and am bewildered by so much change in so many ways of the world and in our surroundings. Much of this process has been misdirected or is not up to scratch.
“I'm afraid I'm like that too, though I refuse to bang on about it. A few bits of me remain pretty near intact and all the rest has generally got into the habit of more-or-less merely keeping going”.
It is that understated tone of easy familiarity which is at the heart of this measured and very engaging memoir as he gently reminds us our lives are not necessarily made up of grand events or life-changing moments. Rather they are an accumulation of small, sometimes half-forgotten incidents, friendships fleeting or enduring, and unpredictable randomness which shape us just as much.
As he notes in one of those recent poems, An Unforgettable Day, (one distinguished by its sheer ordinariness): “In a world of endless possibilities/it is amazing/what doesn't happen”.
A MONTH AT THE BACK OF MY BRAIN by KEVIN IRELAND. Published by Quentin Wilson Publishing. $40