The best gifts are those which are entirely unexpected. A few weeks ago now, at a folk club night, a warm-hearted cider-drinking lady named Dorothy introduced me to the work of the Yorkshire poet Don Walls. In fact, the evening opened with a reading of Walls’ delightful poem ‘Fibs’. Struck, I asked Dorothy if I might borrow her copy of Walls’ book, and she was kind enough to oblige. So in between the twang of banjos, friendly conversation with the amazingly-talented Lynn Vare, and downing my pint of Dunedin’s finest pilsner, I spent the night flicking through a small collection of poems gathered loosely around the theme of the garden shed. [You can watch/listen to Walls reading a number of offerings from this collection here.] A number of poems immediately resonated with me – ‘The Lament of the Door Knob’, ‘Doodling’, ‘Chocolate Cake, Fishing and the Germans’ and ‘When I Retire’ among them. But there was one poem in particular that seemed to so fill my mouth with black-dogged words I’ve ached to speak that I felt like Walls had stolen it from me. The poem is entitled ‘Manic Depression’. I thought I’d share it here:
I keep my manic depression in the garden shed.
You never know what mood he’s in.
Sometimes in darkness he lingers for days,
so you grab him by the scruff of the neck and drag him out,
bawl at him, give him little tasks like cutting the grass,
but he slouches round the garden lawn
and so you try another tack:
hold a rose under his nose
or your head on one side at the recital in the hawthorn tree
– blackbird, thrush, but to no avail.
And then, one morning you open the door and he rushes out,
praises daisies, rolls in the grass
and from his head a thousand thoughts all fledging at once,
writes poems all night, paints,
and marvels how yesterday’s tetchy birds sing today like nightingales.
And then the mists, and his mood dies back like greenness in Autumn
and dark winds whirl round the garden shed.
So thank you Dorothy. And thank you Mr Walls.