Mark Roper was born in England in 1951, moving to Ireland in 1980, since when he has lived in Tobernabrone, near Piltown, Co. Kilkenny.
His poetry collections include The Hen Ark (Peterloo, 1990), which won the 1992 Aldeburgh Prize for best first collection; Catching The Light (Peterloo, 1997); and The Home Fire (Abbey Press, 1998). Reviewing the latter for The Irish Literary Supplement, Bill Tinley described Roper as “one of the most accomplished and engaging poets writing in Ireland at present”. Whereabouts was co-published in 2005 by Peterloo & Abbey Press. Even So: New & Selected Poems was published by Dedalus Press in Autumn 2008.
Mark Roper was Editor of Poetry Ireland for 1999. In 2001 he edited Ink Bottle, a selection of new writing from Kilkenny, and was awarded Kilkenny’s Father Sean Swayne Art Bursary. In 2010 he received an Arts Council Literature Bursary.
An experienced Creative Writing teacher, he is currently working in Adult Education in Waterford, Sligo and Kilkenny. He has run courses and workshops in many different settings, including schools, prisons, and senior citizen centres. From September 2002 to May 2003 he was writer-in-residence at Waterford Regional Hospital.
The River Book: A Celebration of the Suir, a collaboration with the Waterford photographer Paddy Dwan, will appear in October 2010. A new collection of poetry, Keeping The Distance, is due in 2012.
Three extracts from The River Book w. photographer Paddy Dwan
The river picks the wrecks clean
and dresses their bones in green.
May, and the whimbrels are back:
the Maybird, the Beltane Bird,
the Spool Whaup, the Seven-Note Bird.
Over the parishes they dash,
down the river, up the coast,
ringing and ringing their seven bells.
In tweed jerkin and herringbone sleeve
to and fro they rush like fevered clerks,
making sure everyone has the news.
And then they’re gone.
And Spring is here.
Then there’s the story of the Seven Whistlers. Seven shore birds, in some accounts seven curlews. At the dawn of time, one of them got lost. Ever since, the other six have been searching and calling for it. Should they ever find the seventh bird, and should the seven then all call at last together, that call will signal the end of the world.
Click for 9 more Mark Roper poems.
curled inside like a cat,
turning up your nose
at the milk of everyday.
exiled in flesh,
making the best
of the temporary.
When the senses shut,
when their door closes
where will you go?
with no one
to take you in,
what will you be?
You who sneered
who said you saw
what will you do
At the end of the short ceremony
none of us could keep our eyes from
the undertaker’s attempt to position
the stone. The hole he’d cut out
wasn’t quite big enough. He tried
to widen it with his heel, he took
his short spade and tried again,
he fetched a black plastic bag,
laid it over the stone, trod down
with a toe of a polished black shoe.
I remembered how once we swam
in a wide bay somewhere and how
your one false tooth fell out,
how we tried to mark the spot
and how that night we came back
when the tide had gone out to find it
on the uncovered, puckered sand,
exactly where we’d expected.
How you picked it up, put it back,
how your smile was restored.
Glued hard to the heels
of my best shoes,
as if someone else
had been wearing them
and putting their feet
in where I wouldn’t,
a sticky black pitch
I couldn’t fathom.
Just some fifty yards
into the tunnel,
bumping hard against
roof and wall and track,
trying to keep clean,
to stay on my feet,
total darkness when
Seamus cut the light.
And when we got out,
eyes burning, possessed,
to stop the stories:
On my back, hacking
in running water…
The boy’s body
being lifted out….
The shoes stood waiting
to be filled, their soles
pitted and thickened
with grit, insides clean
as my clean pair of heels.
From the air it’s without end,
OOOeven up here
you feel the soaked green combustion,
you see the vast, spread machinery
well greased by rivers, wiped down
The sky has not been heard of
OOOinside, you think
light must be round the corner
OOOOOOObut it never is,
underneath the leaf ceiling
OOOthe present tense
of the verb to be conjugates
and each one thing becomes another,
OOOa morpha’s wing
transparent and yet through air
OOOOOOOit opens out
the bluest blue and a machaca’s head
OOOis a monkey nut,
potoo’s a treestump, palms can walk
OOOOOOOto angle for light,
insects are leaves and a scrap of forest
OOOtorn from forest’s
a poorwill and on the ground
OOOOOOOit leaves its egg
alone unmarked and open to all,
OOOleaves its egg
on the leaf which keeps it secret
OOOOOOOkeeps it warm.
You come out on the big river
OOOwith wood canoes,
lorries, diggers on barges.
OOOOOOOYour bus follows
black pipes through the settlements.
OOOFrom the air now
you see the clearings and fires,
Giddy as children they hurtle
from their world to ours,
finding time to roll over
in that least likely flight.
Only the massive splash
tells you what they’re made of.
As if they could bear no longer
their wrecked element they throw
themselves out, to be greeted
by boats, despair taken for joy,
their helpless return acclaimed.
Whalefall, natural death, the body
on the seabed becomes a restaurant,
providing for a whole community,
for as much perhaps as a hundred years.
Not one taken the entire voyage.
Surely, said the Captain,
we haven’t slaughtered them all.
Words you cannot decipher,
in a language you’ll never learn.
Your small shadow darkens the water.
Just the grebe
on the lake
Just the wedge
of its head
Then the swallow
Then the ink
of its wing
on the water.
In the stomach
of a fledgling Layson albatross,
one shell, one toothbrush,
four cigarette lighters,
over four hundred scraps of plastic,
of differing thickness
and colour and shape.
So much rain, the waterfall many times
normal size, heard half a mile away.
The placid pool at its feet in uproar,
water hurtling in circles, whipping froth
up into branches – haws hanging on, wrinkled,
maroon, each one sporting a raindrop. Twigs
in ancient lichen, ochre, silvergrey.
We followed a streamcumtorrent through fields,
it bunching, jostling, lurching out of bounds.
Came to barbed wire, a pine plantation.
Once I’d have ploughed on, you, under protest,
would too, we’d end up stuck, me pretending
we weren’t, you thinking told you so. Now
we turn and walk back together, the fall
pumping up the volume, spray from its grindstone
beginning to drench us, scent-freshening,
sparkling on our skin in early dark.
When the sky-coloured fishing boats come in
they’re met by huge flocks of pelicans,
blue-footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds.
As men trudge in through the surf
shouldering plastic crates heavy with catch,
the frigates swoop to snatch their share.
Da Vinci would have liked the frigate bird,
as he liked kite and swallow, for what
a forked tail could teach him about flight.
Pelican and booby dive for thrown scraps,
vultures stalk the beach for what’s left over,
tides dissolve the crab-cleaned bones.
Today let’s not try to improve on things.