New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Featured in this issue – Poet in Focus: Shane Martin on Poetry Matters! by Niamh Clarke – followed by 5 poems by Shane Martin

Niamh Clarke : Niamh is originally from Dundalk, Co.Louth. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from NUI, Galway. She is currently studying a Diploma in Journalism from The Irish Academy of Public Relations and has a FETAC certificate in Print Journalism from Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute. She is the writer at the blog The Essay Yeti. She has edited several books and has an ITEC certificate in Proofreading and Editing. Niamh is based in Louth and is working as a freelance journalist. She is also editor and writer for the newsletter at National Learning Network, Dundalk branch.




Shane Martin is first and foremost a poet, but he is also a psychologist at the National Learning Network. Originally from Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan, Shane went to boarding school in Monaghan town. This made him feel like a bit of an outsider at the time but he settled in. He has now lived in Monaghan town for 30 years. For 4 months of the year Shane lives in Sligo: a destination Yeats was fond of and a place where Shane writes his poetry and finds peace and solace in the bohemian atmosphere. Shane is an accomplished writer having published many of his poetry books and also a popular book on psychology. Shane first started writing poetry from a young age and in secondary school he wrote roughly 70 poems; his first collection was called ‘Where the Shadows Meet the Hill’. For this collection, Shane remembers how he paid someone to professionally type up his work! This was before the times of laptops and tablets!

During his first year at university, Shane received success as a poet when his poem ‘Lent 1983’ was published in a reputable journal. This gave him a real incentive to write more. Shane’s first published poetry book was called The Dark Room and he describes poems as being ‘developed in the dark room of the soul’. The Dark Room was dedicated to his father and edited by Isabelle Cartwright. ‘Isabelle challenged me in a good way’, adds Shane, and he hopes to work with her again on his latest poetry book. Many poems from The Dark Room were also published in the prestigious journal The ShoP: ‘The Bishop’s Hat’, a poem mocking Palm Sunday was published there, and the journal also featured accomplished poets, Paul Durcan and Brendan Kennelly. So, Shane was in good company!

Shane, who also worked as a secondary school teacher doing Leaving Cert Irish and History, believes that the best poets are the fulltime ones, and he longs to devote more time to his poetry. Although he has a love of psychology, having received his BA and Masters in psychology from the University of Ulster in Jordanstown, it is clear that his first love is poetry. Unfortunately, as any poet in Ireland and further afield can testify, it’s financially difficult to make money full-time as a poet. Our culture does not reward the bravery and ingenuity of poets, and often does not provide them with a decent living. Even well-established poets struggle to make ends meet. This is something Shane hopes will change. He adds that over the years he’s ‘spent a lot of money on stamps!’

But Shane is not deterred! He is about to publish his third poetry book in 2018, Thin Lines. This collection of predominately new poems draws on the subject matter of psychology, so it is a blend of Shane’s varied work as both a poet and a psychologist. Thin Lines explores the fine lines between ‘life and death, believing and not believing, sanity and insanity, youth and old age’, explains Shane. Shane takes inspiration from the people he encounters. He talks a lot to different people, being a psychologist. ‘There’s vulnerability in all of us’, Shane points out and ‘everyone is entitled to the best possible life!’. Shane’s work as a psychologist fits in nicely with his poetry. He transforms his experience as a psychologist into his poetry.

For Shane, writing is a craft not unlike painting. The poem is like a canvas one must revisit again and again, redrafting. To help inspire him, Shane takes long walks on the beach for hours in Sligo with no pen. Then he spends time with a pen and paper and finally moves to Microsoft Word. It’s the ideas which come first for Shane. The craft of poetry is a process: ‘the most important thing to do is park a poem and come back to it’, according to Shane. He approaches his writing like any good artist – creatively and meticulously. A lot of Shane’s superb poems deal with the theme of the collapse of religion. He deals with religion from both sides: the positive aspects and the negative. This is a theme he explores excellently in his poetry: the grey area of religion and his poem ‘The Bishop’s Hat’ is one to refer to time and time again.

Shane has great respect for Irish poets, mentioning Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly, and Dennis O’Driscoll. He humourously adds: ‘you’d need a hacksaw to get into Heaney!’ Shane has great admiration for O’Drioscoll’s poem ‘Someone’ – a poem that sticks in the memory for a lot of people: ‘someone is putting out milkbottles for a day that will not come’. Not a poem that’s easily forgotten.

So, what advice would Shane give to budding writers? The same advice he received from poet Brendan Kennelly on a chance encounter: don’t write solely about yourself. Step outside of self-indulgent writing and try to see things from the other’s perspective. And Shane’s new poetry book, Thin Lines, features 30 poems with the names of other people in their titles, so he clearly has taken Brendan Kennelly’s advice to heart!

Shane Martin marries together his two passions: psychology and poetry, and it is clear that both feed into one another. From the psychology perspective Shane is a busy man with another new book to be published called ‘Bouncibility’- a book that deals with resilience. This is following his other popular psychology book ‘Your Precious Life -How to Live it Well’, which was the top book in many prestigious lists including the top 5 in the Sunday Independent. Shane is also the author of the ‘moodwatchers’ psychology course and more information can be found out at www.moodwatchers.com. All of these projects are testimony to Shane’s hard work in both the psychology field and the field of poetry.

Ultimately though, poetry is from the inside, Shane believes, whereas psychology deals more with the outer symptoms. In this personal, internal way, poetry is more intimate and more therapeutic. And as accomplished psychologist, Shane draws on his experience of psychology for inspiration for his poems. His passion about writing and poetry is evident from the way he speaks about the subject. Be it poetry or psychology, Shane applies himself fully to his craft. And even though he is a part-time poet for now, Shane is successful and well respected for his work. We can only imagine the heights he will reach when he becomes full-time!




Climbing up the staircase
On the wicker floor
Fondling the banister
As my shoes are heeled off on the second step
And the grandfather clock catches me up this late
Pendulum swings as if to scold
And beer rifts its way up
To a hush
And I hear breathing
I follow breathing to life itself
My daughter spread among the half-sheets
Breathing her way through a dream
Faceless in a journey I cannot see.

And I hear a twist
The cot mattress squeaks at me
Reminding me of more breathing
My baby son cushioned in blankets to his chin
Smiling in some adventure unknown to me
Maybe recollecting his first steps
Without fondling the walls or armchairs.

Poppy eyes peep from a raised head
And then plopping back to the dreamworld
My wife will not even remember her moment
But soon family will cross the threshold to the land of faceless people
And never meet each other
Until the alarm clock rings.


The Bishop’s Hat
Palm Sunday 2001


The Bishop walked up the middle aisle
Like a jester with a silly hat
But his face was frozen in solemnity
No riddles or jingling bells
Lips sealed together like gummed scripture
To match the gloom of his garbs

And he took his tower off his scalp
Uncovering a purple flap
Him standing so high and wide
Behind a marble casket
Like an unmanned trawler
At the mercy of the angry waves.

If Jesus walked into this Temple
No stall would be left unturned
No scarred soul untouched
The Nazarene in sandals and cotton cloak
Would cast the roadshow out
Starting with the Bishop’s hat.


Farney Street

I lay in bed,
the damp air

between me and the bells
of St. Joseph’s
as it rang a selection
from its jewellery box
and God pushed his hand
through the curtains
letting the glow of new day
lure me
to play ball
and green my knees,
then seize
my yesterday.


When The Dishcloths Dried

A wooden armed seat
Sleeps left of the smoking range
And damp dishcloths hang
From a steel bar, steaming.
Bush transistor whispers
From a shelf that watches
Downward upon a people 
That chat over china cups
The sips, crunches and crumbs
Breaking unheard silence
Tearing it in parts
As voices grow louder
While the Wag-of-the-Wall’s
Pendulum hypnotises a child,
Who falls into a comic strip,
Sitting there in that wooden seat
Unaware of the moment 
The cloths dried.
Deaf to the silence,
Until it roared.



I Thought I Heard Him

I thought I heard him in the yard
As the steel coal buckets kissed
His boots munching on the gravel
As the coal lumps were scooped
And slid into rows along the wall.

I thought I heard him in the grasses
Scattering hen-meal, eyeing birds
Him overlooking the roof-tiles
Towards the swans on Lisanisk
As his thoughts dashed and dived.

I thought I heard him with his paint tins
Stirring new colours out of the old
Striking lines with chalk and cord
On the white plywood boards
Him muttering with the transistor.

I thought I heard him at the gable wall
Letting potato bags slump in line
Dragging sacks of blocks for the fires
That would burn until the nights died
Like memories smouldering in my dreams.


When the Discloths Dried and  I Thought I Heard Him are taken from Stilling the Dance of Time and the other poems are taken from The Dark Room.



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