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Sydney Bernard Smith

By Mattie Lennon

I was one of a motley group which included a German male with very thick glasses, a Castlemaine writer who looked like a farmer, a female poet from Cardiff exposing very attractive limbs, and a Dublin publisher. It was at Listowel Writers Week 1999.

A bearded man with a black beret, a neutral accent and cosmopolitan mien stood up to recite a poem; "The Ballad of the 46A." Being slightly involved with the public transport of our Metropolis in general, and the Dun Laoire route in particular, I asked him for a copy of the tribute to what is now called "The Stillorgan Flyer". He sold me a copy of his "Comrade Dao Jones Reassesses Tienmen Square"' which includes "The.....46A" and thirty other satires.

And, so, for less than four quid I acquired a gem to be dipped into at any time and made the acquaintance of Sydney Bernard Smith. Sydney was born in Glascow on 04th August 1936, at Tunberry Road and shortly afterwards the family moved to Victoria Drive West.

This was to set the pattern of a life of address-changing of Joycean proportions. When he was two year old they moved to Portstewart, Co. Derry. And when I first met him on 04th June 1999 he was living at Hawthorn Drive, Listowel. It was his FIFTIETH address (27 of them in Ireland).

At the time of writing, I have visited only one of his ex-residences, at 4 Lucan Heights, Lucan, Co. Dublin. I sneaked up there on a Sunday morning. And I'm sure the present occupants wouldn't believe that my mission was to do a progress check on a Rowan tree that Sydney's mother planted there in 1971. (Did she know that eleven years later her son would be elected to Aosdana). Anyway, I'm pleased to report that the tree is flourishing.

When his travels come to mind, I feel compelled to quote Robert Louis Stevenson; "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

HE describes himself as "a common or garden poet" but his work would indicate a lack of commonality in what is surely an intellectual garden. He was educated at Clongows Wood, Ushers College, and Wallasey Grammer School.

In 1955 he got a scholarship to the Joint Services School for Linguists and he attended The Queen's College, Oxford (1957-60) getting a BA in French and Italian. An MA from Liverpool University was followed by an MFA, in Poetry, at the University of Iowa, where he lectured in the late sixties.

He has moulded the minds of the young in seats of learning as diverse as Clare Island National School, County Mayo, and Mutriku Gipuzkoa in Spain. He lectured in Clongowes, Barcelona, Sandymount, Ithaca College, and SUNY Geneseo New York.

Since 1963 he has published poems, short fiction, essays, and book-reviews in Ambit, The Gorey Detail, Poetry Ireland, Transatlantic Review, Arena, Dublin Magazine, Salmon, Hibernia, Irish Times, Irish Press, Irish Independent, Pyramid, Kilkenny Magazine, Aishling, Aquarius, Broadsheet , Cyphers, Era, Etudes Irlandaises, Structure, The Penguin Book of Limericks, Irish Poets 1924-74, and many more publications.

This man of many parts, who has worked as a writer, broadcaster, actor and director, has been described: " polished, pithy and vivid" as well as being:"nuance and innuendo perfect". I have just finished his "Flannery" which is a biography of the "Bard" Flannery's exploits in Dublin and on Illaunaspie island off the west coast of Ireland.

The saga starts in Dublin in 1971, where the "Bard" is one of that colourful bunch of "artists, writers, musicians and eloquent bums." From the Metropolis he takes himself to Illaumaspie where he experiences some hardships and, and in his less adventurious moments writes, and produces, a drama with, and for, the locals. The Bard comes back to Dublin for James Joyce's birthday celebrations in 1982, and I'm sure he could have echoed the words; "Is there one who understands me?"

I won't tell you the ending.

Sydney Bernard Smith lived in Dublin in 1971, and his home base in the mid and late seventies was Inishbofin. While on Inishbofin he wrote and directed a play for the islanders, and anybody else who was interested. And the Bard Flannery.............. but I'm sure it's a coincidence! And if you ,dear reader, are looking for refugees from Anthony Cronin's "Dead as Doornails" in "Flannery" let me tell you; " The old ones are all dead and gone and the young turning grey."

Apart from his novels and books of poetry, Sydney has made a name for himself with Verse Plays.

    "How To Roast A Strasbourg Goose" is based on an actual case brought against the British Government. It reached Strasbourg in 1979. It was rapturously received (Sydny's solo performance,now, not the Strasbourg hearing). And one lady from the New York Psychoanalytic Society said: "Everything I've been thinking for forty years in an hour and a half- how does he do it?"
    Critic, Fintan O'Toole, described the same play as: "Poetic, satire,....savagely indignant odyssey through the convolutions of torture, legality and corruption".
    In "The Emerald Oil Company" a fictional seer envisions the effects of criminally misusing the world's resources.
    "The Houseparty at Baldrigga Lord Maulte " is an angry yet funny farce. It is difficult to hold a stage for long period " without the aid of ropes or pulleys." Devoid of props, the performer relies on his talent and light changes.
    But, as Con Houlihan said: "The bould Sydney made it seem no problem at all."
    Sydney has written "The 2nd Grand Confabulation of Drum Cat". (Seemingly the 1st Convention of Drum Cat, in 593 A.D. was summoned as a Poet-Cull- the poets had grown to number one third of the entire population. I think it's approaching that proportion in Dublin again.

Apart from acting in his own plays, he has performed with many Companies, amateur and professional. In the early sixties when I was young and on the fringes of amateur drama in West Wicklow, I saw Sydney in "An Trial," with the Moate Players, Naas. He has since tread the boards in venues as diverse as Tinahely, Buffalo, Barcelona and Manorhamilton.

He is at present developing a stage work titled "Power Point." His novel "Alexander" is a work in progress. I have seen the first draft and don't miss it when it hits the shops.

All his works are a must. You can sample his wit and wisdom on his website. Click Here.

And if you are traveling by Dart in the Capital, and you disembark at Landsdowne Station, you will be confronted by one of Sydney's poems there gracing the platform.

And if you opt for alternative public transport remember when;

The party is over and time has run out
fond expectations are all up the spout.
You're on your last legs, and your money's all spent
You can't afford fags, let alone pay the rent:
And the X-ray said-buster, you haven't a hope....
Don't lie down aisy, don't sit there and mope:
It's round the next corner, it's headed your way-
Where there's life there's a chance of a 46A.
 

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