Mary Hogan

I, Mary, the youngest of James’s siblings, like to learn poems by heart. My favourite poets to learn and recite over the years have been WB Yeats, John Keats and William Blake, but I’ve also chosen others: ee cummings, Hilaire Belloc, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Patrick Kavanagh, UA Fanthorpe, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Frances Ledwidge, Tennyson and Shakespeare. In recent years I’ve learned several of James’s , including The Gift, Marsh Lilies, Even in Dark Times, The Toad and A Gift for My Blackbird. Apart from The Gift, which recalls childhood memories we share, the appeal of these poems lies for me In their loving perception of the natural world, their astonishing syllabic form, and above all their musicality. James’ poetry, like many other poets, is often best recited, or read aloud.

I enjoyed Light Years, James’s journey as an Irishman in Britain, and the humour in his Storytime, but my favourite of James’s books is m.emoire (Duras Press, 2014). Written after the death of his late wife, my sister-in-law, Margaret, the book captures in poetry and in prose both Margaret’s physical form – the egret, the flamingo – and her witty, steely character.

Recently retired myself, I now take my cue from the first half of a poem in m.emoire, called Steps.


Life is a step, step on it.
Upwards for the intrepid
Whom dizzy heights do not faze.
The trip down is a cliff face.

You always took the switchback
Rather than straight up. ‘Attack
Directly like a sportif,
You said, ‘and you’ll come to grief.

‘Wherever your foot landed
Can be taken for granted.
Gravity is a good hat.
Never shuffle on the flat.’

          The second half of ‘Steps’ is a peerless love poem:


I loved your step, such small feet
For your height made it a feat
To keep your equilibrium.
Once you broke into a run
And I caught you just in time.
Together we climbed the incline.
Never downhill. The spiral
Of enchantment was gyral.

Gradients are always uncertain
In this world. Your last step came
Aerially, in your stride
Walking on air out of life.

Keep writing James. I am so proud of you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Duras Press

The Duras Press