top of page
  • NYS Writers Institute

Poetry Friday: John Montague

Photo by Paddy Whelan (Irish Times)
Photo by Paddy Whelan (Irish Times)

For today's Poetry Friday post, we offer a few lines from John Montague, the prolific poet, writer and translator who died at the age of 87 on December 10, 2016.

John served as Spring Poet-in-Residence at the University at Albany under the auspices of the New York State Writers Institute for several years in the 1980s and 90s.

From Poetry magazine, we read: "Montague’s poems often find their shape in extended sequences that engage themes of travel and exile, national identity, and personal loss. As Edna Longey noted in the Times Literary Supplement: 'more than any poet of his generation he opened up channels between the Irish and English tradition, between regional and cosmopolitan allegiances, between Ulster and Irish perspectives.'”

The beloved Irish folk band The Chieftains took their name from a collection of Montague short stories, Death of a Chieftain, published in 1964.

Written a half century ago in 1970, "The New Siege" is dedicated to Irish civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin who was serving a jail sentence for incitement to riot following The Battle of the Bogside, a violent conflict between disenfranchised Catholics and the police force known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

John read the poem in Bernadette Devlin's honor outside the Armagh Jail during her incarceration. The poem makes reference to waves of protests that shook the Western world at that time.

Here are some lines of poetry that capture the spirit of those times,

From "The New Siege"

By John Montague

Lines of protest

lines of change

a drum beating

across Berkeley

all that Spring

invoking the new

Christ avatar

of the Americas

running voices

streets of Berlin

Paris, Chicago

seismic waves

zigazgging through

a faulty world....


bottom of page