This week on the Poetry Programme, Gerald Dawe joins presenter Olivia O'Leary to introduce a new book of poems, with images by artist John Behan.

Below, Gerald Dawe describes the genesis of this new book during lockdown, and how a cache of his father's papers led to his revisiting the past during a period of cancer treatment.


When I was given a cache of papers from my late father’s estate I discovered he had an 'archive’ of material relating to myself, his estranged son – newspaper clippings, photographs and the like. We had had no contact since the late 1950s when he and my mother separated (and eventually divorced). The discovery was a bit of a revelation, to say the least, all these years later, and in response I wrote a poem ‘Only Son’. And then, shortly thereafter, I started treatment in St Vincent’s Hospital Dublin after diagnosis for prostate cancer. I often took an afternoon to relax at the top of the house as both experiences merged, and the Covid-19 pandemic took root in 2020.

A painting by John Behan, from 'Revenant'

A cycle of poems unfolded beginning with Revenant as memories of childhood were recalled, often sparked off by family photographs of the 1940s and 50s. When the sequence of poems looked complete I showed them to a good friend, the artist John Behan. We have been collaborating on various broadsheets and books since the early 1980s. He responded to the poems in his own highly distinctive way with the images reproduced in the book - stark, shimmering, ethereal presences; haunting.

During my treatment I was hugely impressed by the nursing staff at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin and promised that when it was all over I would like to contribute something. After some conversations, the idea to help fund a postgraduate certificate in oncology for one of the nursing staff was suggested as a practical way of support. Revenant is the result. All profit from sales of the book will help fund that postgraduate certificate.

For more information and details of how to obtain a copy, email dawerevenant@gmail.com.

The Poetry Programme, Sundays at 7 pm on RTÉ Radio 1 - listen to last week's edition below:

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Gerald Dawe joins presenter Olivia O'Leary on the Poetry Programme on Easter Sunday (17th April) at 7 pm on RTÉ Radio 1. Also on the programme: Jim McElroy launches his first pamphlet, and Loah's musical setting of Katharine Tynan's poem Easter. Listen to more from The Poetry Programme here.