Noel Duffy was born in Dublin in 1971 and studied Experimental Physics at Trinity College, Dublin, before turning his hand to writing. He co-edited (with Theo Dorgan) Watching the River Flow: A Century in Irish Poetry (Poetry Ireland, 1999) and was the winner in 2003 of the START Chapbook Prize for Poetry for his collection, The Silence After. His work has appeared widely in Ireland, as well as in the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium and South Africa. More recently he was the winner of the Firewords Poetry Award and has been a recipient of an Arts Council of Ireland Bursary for Literature.
Noel holds an MA in Writing from the National University of Ireland, Galway, and has taught creative writing there and at the Irish Writers’ Centre, Dublin, and scriptwriting at the Dublin Business School, Film and Media Department. He currently lives in Dublin.
In the Library of Lost Objects (Ward Wood Publishing, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2010 Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Prize for the best unpublished first collection by an Irish author, receiving a special commendation from the judge, Brian Lynch. It contains a selection of poems which won the START Chapbook Prize and others which won the The Firewords Poetry Award.
“Duffy understands poetry, it’s his tradition; he obviously loves it and has curatorial urge to see it thrive. He exhibits only the good stuff, the best work, there’s no small talk, no gimmicks, nothing insincere, he just gets down to the heart of things and gives us poems that matter.”
– Grace Wells, Poetry Ireland Review
“In this collection, the poet’s scientific background is brought to bear on his poetry as interesting connections are made in a universe where the legacies of the past pervade the present … Nature is present in many guises: awe-inspiring, hideous, watchful and yet, at the same time, non-seeing … This collection isn’t only about lost objects, but also about lost feelings and human frailty in the face of constant change.”
– Poetry Book Society, Summer Bulletin 2011
“A tremendous sense of ease, of fullness, informs these poems, both individually and as a collection. It suggests they have been allowed to ripen over a long period into their appointed shapes. They present themselves to the reader at exactly the right moment to be picked, full of flavour, the indefinable flavour of how things are …
Here you will find the human mysteries of knowledge, endurance, memory, fate, absence, inseparable from the vivid images in which they are held: stone, bee, daisy, book, ring, dragonfly, photograph.”
– Mark Roper, adjudicator in the START Chapbook Prize
Sometimes on Sundays we’d take
the old canal bank walk
from Broom Bridge to the Ashtown Cross,
my father picking daisies as we went
between questions of How is school?
and Did you score any goals this week?
My embarrassment at his interest
saying, Fine or Only one this time.
Often he would talk about the past,
of how his grandfather passed this spot
every day for nearly twenty years
as he drove the train from Castlebar
to Connolly Station, the canal water
his sign that he was nearly home,
until his early death in a red-brick
terraced house near Great Western Square,
my father saying, I only knew him
by a photograph the way you know my father
through me, as an image and likeness,
as a man about whom stories gather;
and all the while his fingers working
the stems, binding them together one
by one, a chain of flowers slowly forming
in his hands until joining first to last
the circle was complete and he’d
give it to me to throw into the canal waters.
And forgetting school and football,
we’d watch it floating on the surface,
bobbing slightly in our world of lost
connections, the frail wreath pulled
slowly downstream by the current, towards
the distant, steady thunder of the lock.
The Bee King
Precocious, fearless, funny: he was
the kid of the street we wanted to be,
gathering around him as he placed
a row of jam-jars along the wall
and waited for the bees to come
to his calling. And they did come,
tumbled into the jars one by one
as he quickly screwed the lids back on,
the bees buzzing frantically
behind the glass and growing weaker.
Half-dead and earthbound,
he took them up with tweezers
and laid them out on the pavement.
They reminded me of dusty insects
I’d seen in glass cases
at the National History Museum,
except they were still moving,
their wings flecked with pollen
as they shifted uneasily in the breeze
and he pinned them to the tar macadam
with short needles.
He smiled down at his collection,
then glared at us as he sat
among the heavy blossoms.
We watched in silence, knowing
we should turn away but unable to.
I remember it clearly.
I must’ve been there:
glass-eyed, staring, half-dumb
and curious as his mother called to him
from the porch to come for his dinner
– and he ignoring her.
All day he has waited for the light to fade
as carts and carriages rattled by in the courtyard
below his window, the shouts of traders
in the marketplace filling the air till dusk.
Now all has grown quiet in the narrow streets
as Orion climbs from the south and the cathedral bell
intones the solemn note of the Angelus over Padua.
He warms his hands by the dying embers of his fire,
then aims his telescope above the rooftops
of the merchants’ houses on the square,
high above their world of commerce and trade,
their balanced ledgers and numbered hours.
And how, on looking closer, the sky explodes
in the viewfinder, the night more profligate
than he could’ve ever imagined it,
the Seven Sisters, shimmering and familiar,
rising above the horizon and Jupiter, brightest point
in all the darkness overhead, swims into focus
its four moons fixed in their circuits,
circling like ghostly presences across the shifting
weather of another planet. Such strange seasons
he has witnessed in the heavens but none like this
giant storm churning in the distance, its blooded iris
searching him out across the empty spaces
as though it were the eye of God that had found him
framed in this window, his failing sight
his only proof against all ignorance and doubt
that sometimes the heart can miss a beat
and is never quite the same after.
‘During the Old Kingdom, swallows were associated with stars
and therefore the souls of the dead. Chapter 86 of the Book
of the Dead specifically instructs the deceased on how to
transform into a swallow.’
– Egyptian Myth
The day after I wrote your poem
the swallows came, flashing by
my window in the smoky light of evening,
their new nest the eave above my bedroom.
It was as if you had offered
a reply to my question, a sign to one
who had lost faith in such meanings,
these creatures who have navigated north
for millennia arriving at my door
when I least expected them.
They have plotted a course through
my hesitant brain as though
in each sweeping trajectory of flight
I have heard, finally, your voice.
from In the Library of Lost Objects (Ward Wood Publishing, 2011).