Aidan Mathews latest book of poetry Strictly No Poetry, Lilliput Press, was launched by writer and poet Harry Clifton on Wednesday 28 April, during Poetry Ireland week. Aidan, a producer with RTE Radio, is a Gonzaga alumnus and the author of last year’s Lenten retreat for Irish Jesuit Communications. Jesuits, including Thomas Morrissey and Brendan Duddy, colleagues, and friends of Aidan from all walks of life, packed into the Poetry Ireland building in Parnell Square, and were by treated by Aidan to a reading from his latest work.
Harry Clifton told an amusing anecdote that he thought might possibly shed a light on the intriguing title of Aidan’s book. He recalled a visit to RTE some years ago to do an interview about his own work. He offered to read a poem as part of the interview, much to the horror of the programme producer who claimed reading poetry on radio would lose them listeners! “Strictly no poetry”, he said, “seemed to be the order of the day!”
He also referenced the religious backdrop to all of Aidan’s work, and his continuing exploration of the inescapable body/soul duality that is part of the incarnational experience of being human. He welcomed this poetic conversation in the context of a secular Ireland where this type of religious discourse was markedly absent.
Taking the floor, Aidan confirmed Harry’s insights, noting that his writing drew on what he called the “‘wave form of human existence’, namely dying, death and resurrection”. With typical wit and insight he added, “And it has to be death – comatose or catatonic won’t cut it!” Given this three-fold process, he remarked, it was appropriate that the book was being launched on the feast of St Mark the Evangelist, the original articulator of this pattern as it showed itself in the life of Christ.
Aidan’s introductions to his poems were almost as moving as the poetry itself. He spoke of Bridie, the beloved country woman and housekeeper who was such an important figure in his childhood. And he read an intimate and loving poem about his wife, Patricia, who was sitting close by. In typical Aidan Mathew’s fashion he introduced his poem ‘The State of the Church’ by telling us to prepare for a story of hope.
For his final rendition, he chose the poem AMDG, which also serves as the preface to Strictly No Poetry. The title is an initialism for a well known Ignatian phrase that students down the centuries wrote on the top of their copy books. It means ‘For the greater glory of God’. In this beautiful poem which you can read below, the poet takes us through the sweep of his own life as a poet.
Strictly No Poetry by Aidan Mathews is published by Lilliput Press. €13
Chalk on a classroom slate
Kick-started the process:
Capital letters mating
In a stick insect cursive
In the shadow of Mother Power,
Now Vera, a centenarian
Astray in the convent parlour
And staring at an aquarium.
From the nights of diary entries
In the Ancient Greek alphabet
Of the strange seminal ventures
My mother failed to interpret;
To the pages my daughters proof read
To protect me from myself
And to keep my high and my low-grade
Shelf life above sea level.
From the cut-and-thrust of Querty
To the cut-and-paste of Apple,
From the holiness of dirt
To the sanctity of debacles
When it hurts to write in longhand –
No flick of the wrist for physios –
But I persevere in my plan
Which is G minor con brio.
I wrote about Death and Time.
Now it’s sex and alcohol,
And a troll’s slow-motion rhymes
Of the All with the Individual.
Microsoft Windows next stop.
Yet the arrow and the hourglass
Hover still here on the desktop
To honour the lovely impasse
As my first imperial purple
Flow pen in olden schooldays.
Open my lips again. I will marvel.
I will marvel out loud and praise
Worlds and their wives’ entreaties
To the ladychapel’s Lord,
The margin ruled with AMDG,
My first four-letter word.