"Young’s book tells the story of his people frankly, brutally even, but with grace, skill and humanity, love in fact. This is a compelling and accessible book"
- Hugh McMillan on 'Shrapnel'
"A socialist poet par excellence. His poems have the rare and authentic quality of the best of folk music"
- Brian Patten on 'Lagan Voices'
A Shankill Mantel
Each back-to-back had one as its shrine
and matriarch as guardian who sheened
its photo-gallery as if to neglect
just one day’s dust would be a betrayal. She was
the keeper of myths the wars leaked out
down every narrowed lane; she was
the one who tuned or hardened hearts
to extremities; the insulator to gluts of grief.
A brother’s, father’s and uncle’s coats
still hung beneath the stairwell. Though they
could never return to shoulder them
normality draped from those old pegs
as surely as if the Good Lord had ordained it so.
All outside might change to reds and blues
of a louder lens, but this world
had the certainty of date-stamped monochrome.
Each day as the kitchen clock struck seven
she’d kneel to scrape the grate
and spruce the uniforms and smiles
that kept un-ageing kind expression
in the aspic of their last going-away.
Hushed talk and jokes could be overheard from the hall;
mementoes – buttons, badges, stubs
of dance-hall tickets – she kept in a childhood biscuit tin.
At supper-time, as coals glowed low,
she’d smarten the picture-frames as if
to brush the hairs off dead men’s suits
and parade-wear epaulettes.
They would be there to greet her
again after breakfast; she would be there
in her apron, with tinder, wax and cloth.
This poem was first published in Poetry Ireland Review
My granny’s elbow defied the Luftwaffe,
caught a spear of molten shrapnel lead
that ricocheted through the front room window
and would’ve struck her cradled Betty’s head
if she had turned that instant to the right.
That night in 1940, streets turned red
with gales of flame. Lord Haw-Haw laughed
there’d been “Easter eggs” dropped on Belfast.
Next day the toll was near nine hundred dead
– and not an anti-aircraft gun in sight;
But Betty grew. And mindful of that past
she’d take the blunted shrapnel from a case
where it was kept at her bedside, always near,
and tell of how her mother’s love had shaped
the stuff of war to bloodied souvenir.
From the slim volume Shrapnel, Poetry Salzburg, 2019.
This poem first appeared in The Morning Star
Elegy for an Anarcho-Marxist Poet
i.m. Pete Laver
What’s left to say when a dishevilled ghost
turns up when you least expect
grabbing the last free seat on the bus,
passing out jokes like cannabis Smarties,
talking as if we were off to the pub
and it was all jest – this death malarkey, and loss?
Except that it attests to how
the memory leaks obscurely, spins on what
is never the main event; its party trick
is summoning from the back-lanes
the ones we hardly knew we still cared about
while those who filled our diaries are left
as footnotes. Leave them there. It’s those
who catch us out who gave the best
like you, my friend. All that except
you’d’ve said it better. And have said it first.
From the slim volume, Shrapnel. A version
of this poem first appeared in The Honest Ulsterman