Poet of Honour: Ian Duhig

Poet of Honour, an accolade by Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation, celebrates our best contemporary poets we should have read by now. They are iconic and a major inspiration.


Writer Judith Chernaik once said to me, most poetry is melancholy, which is true. Hence we have to treat poets like Ian Duhig as a rare national treasure. Where Wendy Cope can be light-hearted, Ian is far more word-mischievous poet. From his palette comes a great mixture of intellect and humour that is highly inventive, eccentric and witty. Whenever the gloom descends on me, I head to Ian’s FB page with the confidence that I will find enough playfulness to relocate myself with the glass half full of Irish whiskey! I dare you to give it a shot. However, when you remove the cover from his poems, you will also discover him as a serious poet. ‘From The Irish’ makes my point; he raids the game of lexicon with love, educating us about how not to get into trouble with the love of your life! There is a reason he has won the National Poetry Competition twice; his lyricism and craft are masterful and inspiring. Do not miss this poet’s work if you want to enjoy a poker-faced Irish delivery of satires in poetry that has echoes of the late Dave Allen. Ian also is about his charity work for the homeless. Like all poets honoured previously with our rare Poet of Honour citation—yes, this series is not endless—Ian also honours us this month with his presence.

-Yogesh Patel MBE


Poems by Ian Duhig

From the Irish

According to Dinneen, a Gael unsurpassed
in lexicographical enterprise, the Irish
for moon means the white circle in a slice
of half-boiled potato or turnip. A star
is the mark on the forehead of a beast
and the sun is the bottom of a lake, or well.

Well, if I say to you your face
is like a slice of half-boiled turnip,
your hair is the colour of a lake’s bottom
and at the centre of each of your eyes
is the mark of the beast, it is because
I want to love you properly, according to Dinneen.

From The Bradford Count. Bloodaxe. 1991. ISBN 978-1-85224-138-4


The Names of the Plague

after the Middle English

The blame gamer, the ill-shamer,
the brave-killer, the grave-filler,
the buck-passer, the eye-glasser,
the sight-saver, the night raver,
the faith-shaker, the rule-breaker,
the duff ruler, the bluff fooler,
the world-beater, the word-eater,
the first aider, the worst-paider,
the spit-sailor, the inhaler,
the high fever, the deep griever,
the dry cougher, the hat-doffer,
the cold creeper, the old-reaper,
the youth-wrecker, the truth checker,
the head-cracker, the lost tracker,
the host-racer, the slow tracer,
the job-loser, the lost boozer,
the cramped-homer, the spread coma,
the room slayer, the doomsayer,
the sick-tricker, the nit-picker,
the mad chatter, the foil-hatter,
the mask-hater, the nurse-baiter,
the flock fleecer, the palm greaser,
the deal-lander, the back-hander
the wrong richer, the song hitcher,
the rhyme rider, the time bider.

(Its chief name is Legion.)

From ‘New and Selected’ via ‘From Irish Fever to Chinese Flu: The Racialization of Epidemics’
(event on YouTube)


Toast

Chinese hosts at feasts once floated bowls of wine
on water mazes to inspire poetic toasts from guests:
I toasted one Chinese New Year in an artist’s maze,
Li Xiadong’s, there to make an exhibition of myself

with a new poem glossing perfection, his hazel text
enclosing a snowy night garden, a mirror hanging
in its centre to expand upon black and white space
where guests drank in the silence and Chinese wine.

So I toasted the maze’s night for ink to pen the day,
its snow for covering the labyrinths of my missteps,
its hazel twigs for weaving hurdles round my head,
its mirror for hosting faces borrowed from the dead.

From ‘New and Selected’ via ‘Sensing Spaces’ at the Royal Academy


<strong>Ian Duhig</strong>
Ian Duhig



Ian Duhig became a full-time writer after working with homeless people for fifteen years. He has published since then, among other things, seven books of poetry, most recently ‘The Blind Roadmaker’ (Picador 2016), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation shortlisted for the TS Eliot and Forward Prizes. A former Royal Literary Fund Fellow, he was Trinity College Dublin’s International Writer Fellow in 2003. He works with musicians, artists, film makers and socially excluded groups. Duhig has won the Forward Best Poem Prize once, the National Poetry Competition twice and been shortlisted four times for the TS Eliot Prize. His New and Selected Poems will be published by Picador in December 2021. He is a Cholmondeley Award recipient and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen

Tishani Doshi

Martina Evans

Sinéad Morrissey

Moniza Alvi