Poet Portrait-Tom Sheehan
Why I Write
On our summer porch at night, the fireflies hustling about in the near fields, my grandfather Johnny Igoe read W.B.Yeats to me when I was a youngster, rocking in his chair, smoking his pipe, making music and rhythm in his life, and in mine. I was, at the first of Yeats, about six years old.
"Listen," he'd say, pointing his finger up. "Hear the music. Know the sound. Feel the grab."
Johnny Igoe, spellbinder remembered.
On that porch on Main Street, a mere mile out of Saugus Center, he (and Yeats) holding forth, his voice would roll into the field where fireflies lived. His words would mix with the fireflies waiting on my bottle capture or a sense of deeper darkness where they could further show off their electric prowess. The times were magnetic, electric. I knew what attention was.
Oh, I loved those compelling nights filled with Horseman, ride by; Prayer for My Daughter or Old Marble Heads, captivating me with a sound so Irish I was proud. I will arise now and go to Innisfree/ oh, and the deep heart's core. The lineage found me: I didn't find it, and the echoes of those nights ring yet.
But other things came repeatedly for him and still come: Johnny Igoe only ate oatmeal in the morning, a boiled potato and a shot of whiskey for lunch. He made Yeats's voice to be his own, that marvelous treble and clutter of breath buried in it, The Lake Isle of Innisfree popping free like electricity or the very linnets themselves, Maude like some creature I'd surely come to know in my own time. Johnny Igoe wrote his poems, and also yielded me Mulrooney and Padraic Gibbons out of the long rope of his memory, the knots untied all those Saturday evening of his life and mine, on that porch. He launched many of my own poems here, by the dozens, and at the end, at 97, stained, shaking, beard gone to a lengthy hoarfrost, potato drivel not quite lost in it, he gave me his voice and eyes alive to this day, sounding out in his own way.
Later, time hustling me on, in a Caedmon Golden Treasury of Poetry record I heard Yeats read his own material, three short poems, and swore it was Spellbinder Johnny Igoe still at work. I have not forgotten a word or an echo of all that.