The Boy with the Radio by Cormac Culkeen

Longlisted for Laurence Sterne Prize 2021


Cormac Culkeen is a writer of poetry, fiction and short stories. He lives and works in Galway and is currently completing a BA Connect in Creative Writing in NUI Galway, returning to university full time as a mature student in 2018. His written work has been published in The Burning Bush, Skylight 47 and The Wild Word poetry magazines. He believes that writing should knock the air from a reader’s lungs, give them something to go into the world with or sit in their head like a waiting spider. Sometimes all three.


My aim in writing poems has always been to try and understand. Their meanings are hinted at, presented, not stated. Let’s face it, being alive is a complicated business. Nobody knows what it’s about, really, and the art of poetry is to help us see. So in seeing, what are these poems about? They’re about growing up, about life in the West of Ireland. Mostly they’re about snatched moments, something seen in a glimpse, or recognizing the beautiful everyday that’s there if we’d only notice it. Sometimes they might be concerned with where we’re going. Sometimes they’re raging or casting back to the past with a sad eye. My hope is that they give something to whoever reads them.


The Local
For the Four Seasons, Bridge Street, Dunmore

Drunk saints no longer meander here,
Leaves dance winds into the soft bend, roofs
Dulled to the sun lean into themselves, whispering
To boards cured with drizzle, gutters meet 
Closer every year as the sky shrinks,

Its windows tense with grime, a dim mirage of forms
Wait for Saturday nights left rescinded,
Picks of light glint through, giving sharp relief
To a tree slowing into varnished walls, blackening
As a name fades daily from pale wood,
Nothing but a mind to give it life.

Bottles pant sentinel in their dust,
Moss buys up a table’s green felt, mold blooms
In milky glasses holding their edge’s warp and wend
Of a still opened till, bell absent in a spill of rust,
The jukebox cargoed with wishes mutely slaps flakes
Of moments in its thread of waiting, as

Banners slowly peel into spooling cobwebs
Growing towards the phantoms they could be,
Waiting on their Guinness shunt of gliding balls
Hooked frostlit cigarettes, the red dashes of passing cars,
A dartboard with its last markers catches a stripe of headlamps.
Nightly metronomes to time silence that now owns it all, 
Old laughter to breathe under our stars undying.


Inquiring knocks still him
Like a mouse in open grass
Beneath a hawk’s shadow
Shifting on thermals,

Where cold lamps light  
Gathers night damp rooms
Growing dust into 
His daily path,

Curtains latch lying windows,
Folds of drawing fabric swing
Watching aged moments
Pass into never

Floormap layers of newspaper
Accretions marking past’s mould
Where brief conceit
Did immerse worlds.

Slowly, another knock moves him
Through his curt, ancient trail,
His listening chair,
His mumbling radio,

Where infinity becomes a stifle
Of small gestures glimpsed unseen,
A stained mug,
A kettle’s hiss,

Rheumy squints through glasses
Bring him a sleeved arm,
Some tuneless whistling
Stills his pulse,

Movement muted to breath
Seeing quieter figures shrink,
Rain strums upon

Praise for the author

“Every now and then a collection of poems comes along that just blows you away and is astonishing when they are a debut collection. If the role of poetry is to move you, then Cormac has succeeded brilliantly. This collection goes on my top shelf, alongside the books I return to again and again.”  Ken Bruen,  an Irish writer of hard-boiled and noir crime fiction.

“Cormac Culkeen is the sort of poet Ireland desperately needs right now. His poems throw a sharp, interrogating light on places and people contemporary Ireland generally likes to omit from its official version of itself. A plain-speaking neo-surrealist in the manner of Richard Brautigan has arisen from the rarely written of townlands of north county Galway. I have been a fan of Culkeen’s writing since I first stumbled across it in a literary magazine in 2002. The publication of The Boy with the Radio is a true cause for celebration. If I ever become Minister for Justice, Culkeen’s poems will be force fed to Sandymount liberals as part of their cultural re-education.” Kevin Higgins, poet, political writer, founder of Over The Edge Writer’s Centre, latest work out with Beir Bua Press.

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Background, cover image and cover design by Michelle Moloney King.
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