George Looney

Raising a Guinness to Forgetfulness

Under the Bandon, no redemption.
For that you need water
farther from the sea, a local says.
This close, water remembers too much.
Tis memory, he goes on after a swallow
of Guinness, that ties us to this life

rather than some other. Eluard would’ve
raised his Guinness to this bloke,
forgetfulness his prescription for the health
of the individual. Who could handle,
finally, remembering it all? Even
the Bandon lets go something every day.

Questions of Space & Time in Kinsale

No place can keep us from doubting
what it would take to reach it,
statement, as rhetoric goes, a sham
of certainty that leaves us somewhere
we’ve lived all our lives but don’t recognize.
The more folks come to a place

the harder it is for it to remain
where it is. Motion’s not always
a matter of from here to there. Often
it’s a question of when. Time is
insidious, & something the dead have
forgotten about. Here, the ruins

they gather in for their equivalent
of a Guinness with friends at the pub
have the dead, without being
aware of it, drifting the lit rooms
of the living. Past & present
sharing the same space, though it’s not

Only a local phenomenon, is,
with homes built amid what remains
of a sixteenth century castle,
part of what defines Kinsale.
Light carves the morning
into something lost, remembered.

Abandoned Stone Cottage in the Hills Above Kinsale

Thinking about it in a storm—
arrogant rain trying to carve it
into a vague memory of
a stone cottage—makes me shiver
& want to find a way
to open this gate so rusted

it’s an insult of iron, to walk past
the rubble besmirched with weeds,
knock on the door not there
& be invited in by some ghost
with a brogue so thick
it would be years before I understood

a single word, the Guinness the whole while
tasting of the degradation
called history these hills have
witnessed through wind & rain the sea
has thrown at them. This cottage
has seen better days, & nights much worse.

A raven struts on the stone ledge
of a missing window, a symbol
of the years a family shivered nights
of persistent storm inside these walls
built to last. No one is
more dignified than this stone.

Between the Locals & Their Past

Sun on the other side of coastal rain
is restorative, light
almost always an enabler. We need it
to remind us how clear
things can be. Especially in Kinsale,
where time doesn’t come between

the locals & their past, & weather
is influenced by mythology
as much as by the Atlantic
not far off. Here, a woman’s
love can comfort a giant,
& has. His shoes hang in

the local museum. Despite
the awkwardness of his size,
he navigated these narrow streets,
though he was seldom invited to
parties. Down at the pub
he had his own stool. In the dark

of the pub, he could almost forget
what made him other. The woman
who loved him has been forgotten,
but not her loving him. That
is how it can be, with memory.
Things get muddled. Loving clarifies.

Study in Motion with Ruins

Dusk, & wind picking up. A gull
impersonates a mime, hanging
without wing beats. The sky, looking tired,
twitches. A small sail boat, anchored
for weeks in one spot, looks to be
abdicating to the waves. This is no still life,

except for the ruins that can’t keep wind
from coming on. The inevitable
loon cries out & is gone under waves
as if it knows something the gull,
focused on its mime act, needs
to know. Wind’s not to be trusted.

Author’s Note

Correspondences: Introduction to Kinsale Poems

During a sabbatical from my teaching duties, I spent most of a February in the town of Kinsale on the southern coast of Ireland. I chose to go to Kinsale, in County Cork, because that was where my ancestors on my father’s side were from. My idea was to write notes for poems to be written after my return to the States, but instead I ended up writing poems, not notes for poems. That February ended up being one of the most prolific periods in my writing life. Something about the place, the landscape as well as the town and the people of Kinsale, as well as the local history I learned while there, inspired me.

The poems I wrote there quickly started to demand a particular form—stanzas of six lines, sestets, the poems ranging from a single stanza to four or five (and occasionally more) stanzas. It also soon began to become clear to me that the dead were demanding to not be ignored; the dead were insinuating themselves into the poems in various ways. Through local lore and imagined local lore, as well as through physical settings connected to the past in ways that, having lived all my life in such a young country, I had never experienced. The presence of the past became impossible for me to ignore as the place and its history and language and beauty impressed me and began to offer me a new relationship to my own language, my own perceptions.

Seven years later, kept by social and political unrest from a planned trip to Ephesus, the home of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose fragments from his treatise On Nature were leading to a different manuscript of poems, I returned to Kinsale, this time only for a couple of weeks. During this visit, I completed another set of poems that ended up completing the manuscript which contains these five poems, The Indefinite Clarity of Sky: Poems of Kinsale.

I also must acknowledge the influence on these poems of one of the poets I most admire, Richard Hugo. His poems in The Right Madness on Skye, poems he wrote while staying on the Scottish isle of Skye (a place connected to his ancestry), were in my mind as I worked on these poems of Kinsale. In fact, that book was one of the books I took with me both times to the Irish town of Kinsale. Obviously, Hugo’s title for his collection of poems connected to the Scottish landscape influenced my title for my collection of poems connected to the landscape of the south of Ireland.

Place is significant, I would argue, to all literature. After all, if you’re not somewhere you cannot go anywhere. And the search for the self, and for an understanding of the relationship of the self to the world, to others, is at the core of the impulse to tell stories. Lawrence Durrell wrote of the genius of a place, arguing that “all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you—are you watching yourself in me?’” He argued we are all looking for our “correspondences,” for a personal landscape “where you suddenly feel bounding with ideas.” I found such a landscape in Kinsale.

George Looney’s books include the just published Red Mountain Press Poetry Award-winning What Light Becomes: The Turner Variations, the novel Report from a Place of Burning which was co-winner of The Leapfrog Press Fiction Award and was published in September 2018, Hermits in Our Own Flesh: The Epistles of an Anonymous Monk (Oloris Publishing, 2016), Meditations Before the Windows Fail (Lost Horse Press, 2015), the book-length poem Structures the Wind Sings Through (Full/Crescent Press, 2014), Monks Beginning to Waltz (Truman State University Press, 2012), A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011), Open Between Us (Turning Point, 2010), The Precarious Rhetoric of Angels (2005 White Pine Press Poetry Prize), Attendant Ghosts (Cleveland State University Press, 2000), Animals Housed in the Pleasure of Flesh (1995 Bluestem Award), and the 2008 Hymn of Ash (the 2007 Elixir Press Fiction Chapbook Award). He is the founder of the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, editor-in-chief of the international literary journal Lake Effect, translation editor of Mid-American Review, and co-founder of the original Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.