World Poetry Day “Back Up Quick They’re Hippies”


Today, March 21st, is World Poetry Day.  

Yes it matters, yes poetry counts.  

Now grown up, semi-responsible, semi-respectable, a member of the Establishment, property owner; over breakfast in Berlin on the second day of spring I read a poem which, in fewer than 20 lines, brought me back almost five decades, perfectly evoking an era. As we age, I try not to look back in anger.  We all do age children, we all do, even we hippies, who were convinced that, not only did we invent sex and drugs and rock and roll, but they were the fountain of youth, the elixir of of eternal life.    

 

BACK UP QUICK THEY’RE HIPPIES

by Lani O’Hanlon. Reproduced by the Poetry Foundation. 

That was the year we drove
into the commune in Cornwall.
“Jesus Jim,” mam said,
“back up quick they’re hippies.”
 
Through the car window,
tents, row after row, flaps open,
long-haired men and women
curled around each other like babies
 
and the babies themselves
wandered naked across the grass.
 
I reached for the handle, ready, almost,
to open the door, drop out and away
from my sister’s aggressive thighs,
Daddy’s slapping hands.
 
Back home in the Dandelion Market
I unlearnt the steps my mother taught,
bought a headband, an afghan coat,
a fringed skirt – leather skin.
 
Barefoot on common grass I lay down with kin.
 

                                                        —————————————————–

This happened.  

I can smell the Afgan coat. 

I knew those mothers, though mine, when I returned home with a rash from a sparsely habited Wild Atlantic Irish island, said “if you lie down with hippies, you get up with scabies.” I knew the naked babies….and I knew two who died. One, too small to extract herself, asphyxiated between her parents, sleeping in a van after a folk festival up the country, drunk to the world.  A baby boy, of dehydration after diarrhea. Both families would have frequented the Dandalion Market.

I wish I had archival photographs to add (but they are in another country and besides, the whore is dead) and this is about how poetry paints a thousand pictures.  The Dandelion Market was our ‘Donnybrook Fair.’ Held annually in the Dublin village from the 13th century until the mid 19th century (probably ended by The Famine, during which there was no cause for celebration, no food for fiestas) its reputation as a hooley became a slang term for a brawl or riot. It also gave its name to an Irish jig, an upscale supermarket chain, a broadsheet ballad and an eight minute song by the band Dr. Strangely Strange.

 

 

 

 

 

Isabel Healy

Isabel Healy

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