The poem that shocked me into an appreciation of the power of poetry is lost to me. I encountered it when I was in my teens and had edged surreptitiously across an invisible line into the grown-up section of our public library in Naas in County Kildare.
This was a serious frontier to cross: you could borrow most books if you were over 18 but some had dark red labels and you had to be over 21 to borrow those - and I was under 18.
Among the books in that forbidden territory was a hardcover volume of modern poetry with that plastic covering libraries use. I was intrigued because I had never seen a book of modern poetry before. All the poets we studied at school were long dead: Wordsworth, Shelley, Goldsmith. William Butler Yeats was as close as we got to our own time and he had died ten years before I was born.
I pulled out the book, opened it and read a poem. I think it was by an Australian or New Zealand poet. I also think it was set in a hospital ward.
And that is all I remember - except for the shock of the sense of reality conveyed in a short poem of (probably) fewer than twenty lines. I closed the book and put it back on the shelf in case Mrs Burke spotted me and herded me back to the under-18s.
But that sense of shock has never left me, nor has it ever been repeated with full force.
What I value about that moment is that it led me into modern poetry. By modern poetry I mean poetry that is written by people who are more or less alive when you are reading it.
My shock moment in the public library in Naas happened in the 1960s when, as I said above, the poets on our English curriculum were not only dead but well dead.
I read them on Thursday afternoons when the more sporting boys were out playing Gaelic football on the school sports field. That was the Christian Brothers' rule: if you didn't play football you stayed in and studied.
I would have done better to have got out on the football field and have learned to give and take hard knocks. Still, I don't regret my reading and rereading of these old English poets.
But now, after that moment in the library, I knew modern poetry had the power to deliver a shock of recognition I could not find anywhere else.
Had I not come across that book on that day, poetry might have left my life, as it did that of many of my classmates.
Since then, the poet who has brought me closest to that original shock has been Patrick Kavanagh:
Every old man I see Reminds me of my father When he had fallen in love with death One time when sheaves were gathered.
That man I saw in Gardner Street Stumble on the kerb was one, He stared at me half-eyed, I might have been his son. (Memory of My Father in Collected Poems, Martin Brian & O'Keeffe Ltd, 1972)
Partly, I think, Kavanagh caught me through an imagery that spoke to my life in a way the long-dead poets never did:
The barrels of blue potato-spray Stood on a headland of July Beside an orchard wall where roses Were young girls hanging from the sky. ( Spraying the potatoes)
Was it because I grew up on a farm and had, indeed, sprayed potatoes that these lines went straight to my heart? Or was it because of Kavanagh's way of zooming off into unexpected realms as with the final line of that stanza?
Whatever the reason, my copy of his collected poems which I bought in 1972 is one of the most dog-eared on my shelves.
I came across Pearse Hutchinson's poetry a couple of years later and got that shock of reality again, even of worlds that were closed to me at the time. Hutchinson, who died in 2012, was born in Glasgow of an Irish father and an Irish/Scottish mother but moved to Ireland at the age of five and is thought of as an Irish poet:
Drinking Mozarabic wine we played Buraku music in the gardens beyond the porchless ghettoes, in the gardens planted by black slaves, each one the price of a garden. The harpsichords fountained fireworks. (Mozarabic Wine in The Frost is All Over, Gallery Books, 1975)
In the 1970s I couldn't Google "mozarabic" to look up the Moorish/Spanish references but I knew I was a long way from the rain-sodden fields of Kildare and dead poets.
Pearse Hutchinson's work continues to give me that shock of reality, decades after I first read it:
Sometimes I lift the dark dark brown, almost black hair to kiss your nape and before I can eat I'm stopped in my tracks I can never believe my eyes: it looks so young SO YOUNG. I thought you were young but it looks years younger still and so white and so smooth and so soft so I kiss so I kiss.
There it is, then, that's my drug: the shock of reality. If I could go back to that poem that started it all in Naas public library, would I still get that shock from it? I'll never know but I will always be glad I edged over to the shelf where the poem waited quietly like a literary grenade. Padraig O'Morain