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Friday 14 June 2024

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Ceasefire Soldiers by Nick Burbridge

Mar 21, 2015

Nick Burbridge won the ‘Songwriter of the Year’ category in the Spiral Awards 2013. Now, there is a strong chance that you have never heard of him, his performances are rarer than hen’s teeth, he has no industry or PR support and he completely lacks the ego that propels many artists. What he does have is a prodigious talent, originality and a streak of humanity that marks his work out as a cut above the rest. As well as a singer songwriter he is also a supremely talented poet, with a full length collection, The Unicycle Set, published by Waterloo Press.

Here is an excerpt from an article that Pete Bennet wrote about Burbridge’s most recent solo album ‘Gathered’ that gets to the core of the man: ‘From those areas of liminality that his work has always skirted and settled with the arid plain at times all around him he has ‘gathered’ all of himself and much of the rest of us and given it voice. These are not songs of defiance but neither are they resigned: they are compassionate and resonant. Though there is a sense of mortality here, this is not about making an end but rather re-establishing the foundations of a life’s work devoted to the real subject of writing and making: the project of being human and being alive: that shared potential that is daily undermined in all of us by routine, by “ploughing underground” by scenes turned too readily “to monochrome”.’

Read the full piece on the Spiral Earth website

Burbridge has a new set of poems heading for publication, here is one to whet your appetite…

Ceasefire Soldiers

The last time I saw Niall he swore
the volunteers were after him
for secrets he’d been forced to spill;
the rough hands he confessed had handled
butt and barrel, shook with Stelazine;
only prayer that his stained fingers learn to dance –
like Sharon Shannon’s – up and down
the keys of the accordion, and recollection
of his mother tongue forgotten, could redeem him:
so the shotgun union of Columcille and Lenin
would be broken, all intense and present passion
bolted in the stronghold of the past.

Now he calls me, after years apart,
(what agent offered him my number?)
tells me he has built a farmhouse
out in Donegal, shaped like a mandala,
totem to the process we call peace,
guarded by a watch-tower to the east
manned by wailing souls of soldiers
taken from the roll of honour,
set to expiate for hate-filled murder
so their mortal souls will be released,
and staffed by whey-faced angels:
the remains of victims killed in innocence.

No bitter cause or influence is fed there.
War belongs, he whispers, in the fields
of the heart, and so it must be fought.
At the mirror his own features muddle and contort
into a host of well-worn masks,
foul-mouthed minister to snide-eyed grass.
When he steps back to take in his whole form
he finds a troupe of separate parts
posing in black balaclavas, tricolours, red hands,
bowlers and tam o’ shanters, ringed by a flute band
and a dozen Sean Nós dancers, twirling jigs and reels.
He flays his hirsute shoulders till they bleed.

Who am I to disagree? It pains me
to refuse his offer of a flying visit.
I watch my own back to this day.
Lost again in silence, I can’t help but wonder
if he mastered the accordion, and struggled free,
or do his hands still shake too violently?

Perhaps I should have told him,
on this islet off the West Cork coast,
past evening prayers, fisherman wear earplugs
when I take up the melodeon
to plough through songs long rooted in me,
and sow seeds of reconciliation;
for as I till the fields of my heart
(though accompaniments are reedy
and my voice a gravel pit)
it purges me of violent thoughts
and offers hope that one day
some new crop will grow.

None us made mad by cruel memories
yield any dream that keeps us whole.
We are the ceasefire soldiers.
We shall pass. Let all the rest
give thanks we are at last
a state of unbelievers, rational and European,
set to marry currency and kitsch,
where what has been is sworn to chastity,
and what will be from its own history divorced.

So I go back to my cracked glass and howl,
like Niall, until the merry ploughboys in us die.
Now after me: low lie the fields round Athenrye.

Nick Burbridge

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