7. Poems for occasions


To celebrate the opening of the exhibition Lithosphere by sculptor Eileen MacDonagh, at the Visual Gallery in Carlow:


Steel & Stone & Sticks & Styrofoam

We stand outside, and catch with straining eye

Bright stainless fingers reaching for the sky

And muse, perhaps in wintry afterthought,

That The Medusa Tree has somehow brought

Its chilly gaze to rest on flesh and bone,

This six-hand reel of dancers turned to stone.

And over there, seduti in terrazza

The camera of some vile paparazzo?

Ah, poor Medusa, mythic beauty queen

You suffered much for that one bout of spleen…

We vow to make amends, this Imbolc tide

And warmed with Brigid’s fire, step inside.


At first, we are transported back to school

When igneous described the daily rule

And hear the teacher quizzing us which rock

Was pretty much the toughest on the block?

We stop before the reddened oven grill

Of granite test bed for the diamond drill

And think of that first joyous chink of light

On miners trapped within eternal night,

Then read the seeming ogham in the face

Of standing stones and find the nerve to place

Our fingers in the notches for the cleave,

Each Doubting Thomas wanting to believe.


The next will bring us farther back in time

When all was number, composite or prime

And of the five Platonic shapes, their peer

icosahedron is the model here:

And this recalls the old role-playing game

Dungeons & Dragons, where the final aim

Of seeing off the monsters must rely

Upon the throw of twenty-sided die

And now they are to hand, both big and small

(we’re tempted then to roll one down the hall)

How apt that twenty faces can cohere

Twelve vertices to calibrate this year!


Meanwhile, up in the attic smaller boys

Are woken from their dreams by all the noise

They struggle to their feet on spindly legs

Stone heads and feet connected by stick pegs;

We fear they will some day pontificate

As solemn building blocks of Church & State

With truss and buttress, parliament and nave

All pledged to Kali, India’s Queen Maeve?

Too fanciful, they’re all tucked up in bed

And when their children’s story has been read

Instead of sleep, egged on by double-dares

come slowly creeping down forbidden stairs


As if they know about the big event

Cathedral promise that seems heaven-sent

Where geometries of space and time conspire

To send our spirits floating ever higher

A magic forest of Medusa trees

Where we create our own mythologies.

Cold steel transformed to nimble styrofoam

Reminding us that we have feet of loam;

They are the shadows of our school Debs’ Ball

When all the girls are beautifully tall

We choose our partners, risk one upward glance

Await the summons: Music, Maestro, Dance!


© Iggy McGovern 2012



To celebrate 300 years of The Medical School at Trinity College Dublin:


A Tercentenary Ode


The enterprise begins, of course, in verse

A Scholar’s scorn of English, much less Erse;

Virgilian, the fragment spared the flame

Has ninety-five hexameters proclaim

The right to plumb the depths where Nature hid

In days of passage tomb and pyramid.

One hundred pounds of Widow Parsons’ boon:

Laboratory and Dissecting Room,

In unadorned red brick, two storeys high

Though lacking drainage and water supply;

Professor, lecturers, Anatomist;

Three King’s professors added to the list

Are funded by Sir Patrick Dun’s estate

The balance building in 1808

The hospital that proudly bears his name

To close a century of growing fame.


The second opened with uncertainty

The absence of expected poetry

Reflects the swift departure from the scene

Of parliamentary friends in College Green.

Stokes and McCartney, once “United” men

(but judged the sword less mighty than the pen)

Pushed on, in proof they never ceased to strive,

The New School opening in ’twenty-five.

McCartney never shy to lend a hand

Or shovel with cadavers in demand

Might lead to Graves (forgive me!) first to bring

The students to some bedside tutoring

And thence his protegé, the younger Stokes

Among the first to value stethoscopes

And just as swift as Haughton’s hangman’s drop

A golden century comes to a stop.


The third, despite the rhyming repartee

From scalpel nib of St John Gogarty,

Must see the College altering its stance

Towards another kind of governance,

That sea change separating two World Wars

When Medic staff and students earn their spurs.

In aftermath, like battles then are joined

As fierce competing acronyms are coined

And hospitals are merged, but from the flames

A Centre, phoenix-like, rose at St James;

The Biomedical Sciences Institute

In this centenary year then followed suit

Where students witness at first hand the quick

Of teaching and research that is Physick

A treasure trove of scientific wealth

The patient in the very best of health!


With opportunity on every side

What better end can poetry provide

Than this, the College poet’s sweet refrain:

Begin (something insists), begin again!


© Iggy McGovern 2011

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