—for Phyllis Thorburn


I heard him first in London

on a cassette (this was 1996) I found

in a bookstore near the National


Portrait Gallery, where I’d gone

like a pilgrim to find him

not currently on exhibit (I asked


why not) though they had his books

in the gift shop and his portrait

on a postcard. I still have it.


That’s how I came to hear him

standing on the pavement on a rainy

afternoon and for weeks after


in my headphones on buses, trains,

all the way to Ireland, and how

I hear him still: full-throated,


large-hearted, articulating his clear

insistent music of mud and saints,

rain sticks, bog cutters, rivers


and birds, pens, guns, the lived with

as much as the wished for,

and all in that unmistakable voice


that made me feel at home there,

in place there, when—scared as I was—

I’d never been farther from it.



Matthew Thorburn‘s latest book is The Grace of Distance (Louisiana State University Press, 2019), a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. His previous book, Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016), won the Lascaux Prize. He has new poems appearing or forthcoming in Conduit, Hotel Amerika, Southern Review, and The Best American Poetry 2020.

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