Annemarie also had this to say about John’s writing John’s writing is driven by his own unique voice, his unique language, his unique turn of phrase. He has a poet’s eye for detail and a poet’s sensitivity for the small, stunning details in the world around him. In his poem ‘The Swim’, John brings swimming bodies to life with “a flurry of arms and the soles of white feet”.
Sure I had To by John
I was shown a photograph of a man. He reminded me of a character who used to frequent our pub, and this is an example of his conversation as I served him his pints over the years.
Me name is Ned Whyte but everyone calls me Snowy.
I’ve been workin on the South Docks all my life. Born and raised in Ringsend in the Cottages, down near the cattle pens. Never went to school, or if I did I mitched, like everybody else. I took up boxin at a young age and bet everyone. Includin some of the girls. Sure I had to.
I don’t remember me mother. She died when I was just a chiseler. Me granny reared me. She never let me go hungry. A big bowl of porridge for me breakfast every mornin and fried bread, done in drippin. Me father, he left. Sure, maybe he had to.
I got married young: 17 and a bit. She was older, at 18 and a bit. We had a son. It was like… let’s go to the pictures, a bag of fish and chips, tea in her house, Ringsend Church, got married, went to work the next day. Sure I had to.
Everyone knew everyone else where I lived, same on the Docks. All the barmen in the early houses knew me; the pawn-brokers, the grocer, the doctor, those in the labour, the priests, the coppers. I knew then all. Sure I had to.
What nobody ever knew though was, I was always afraid, terrified, deep down. Even when I became Leinster Champion Heavyweight. I was so proud when I won the fight. But sure I had to.
She went off to Birmingham when the drinkin got bad, took the son with her, never wrote. I think he was about six. I’d love to see him now. He’d be in his 20’s, I think. But I don’t know where they are in Birmingham. I just kept drinkin anyway. Sure I had to.
Me biggest fear now though is, that somebody will look be in the eye, see the hidden fear, point the finger. Yeah, sure, they’d have to.
At Watling Street Bridge
on a summer’s eve,
the balmy air,
poised beside my opponent Steve.
The mercurial Mr Donegan,
the official starter,
counted us down.
With a splash, there goes Arthur!
The Liffey swim has just begun,
an annual carnival of great moment,
top class swimmers and novices galore
for a race subsidised by The Independent.
I count the bridges, one by one,
a flurry of arms, and the soles of white feet.
I take a breath, a quick look around,
who’s in the lead? Why, it’s my club-mate Pete.
We reach Capel Street Bridge,
dedicated to Grattan,
it’s bottle-green balustrade
and brick-walls half rotten.
Crowds line the quay wall
white faces, flags waving,
take a great gasp of air.
It’s energy saving
We pass beneath the Ha’penny bridge
Supposedly reminiscent of Venice
another half-mile of Herculean effort
who’s that leading? It’s Charlie Ennis!
O’Connell Street Bridge
as wide as it’s long.
One final effort.
I’ve gotta stay strong.
Liberty Hall on my left,
the old Scotch House to my right.
Butte Bridge comes closer.
The end is in sight.
Three swimmers abreast.
The boom looming larger.
The crowds are screaming
Who’s the winner? they wonder.
Our supporters surround us
as we climb up the ladder.
We long for a hot bath
carbolic soap, lots of lather.
And now for the prizes
First ten home on the river
friends and family clap proudly,
as we receive awards of pure silver.