Joe Neal


Tom & Joe Neal at his launch of his book The Next Blue Note in The Book Shop Wexford (Copy)

I know of few poets who are as prolific as Joe Neal. The conclusion of one volume is the stepping stone to another. He moves between different worlds so fluidly, so seamlessly.

He is deeply knowledgeable, and neither his observation nor his curiosity has been diminished by the passage of time.

Joe doesn’t forget easily, and so when this current run of books began some years ago, and this is volume number five, Joe had a treasure trove of content.

And if this trove had chapter headings, I would suggest music, nature, the past and above all, love. It is curious why a writer as gifted as Joe, with a voluminous command of the language, should choose poetry and not prose.

The answer might be in his Welsh roots, where the cadence is unlike anywhere else: swagger, pulsation, Biblical, metaphorical. I think this caution or caveat by Dylan Thomas to the first cast of Under Milk Wood in New York, ‘to love the words’, is imprinted on Joe.

Why poetry and not prose for this seducer of words? Readers demand of prose that a subject is developed completely and logically, from A to B etc. It moves like a hot air balloon.

But from poetry we demand leaping from A to Z, implying everything. No walking, but flying. No hot air balloons, but a shooting star. Explosive, and brief. And as fog leaves no scar on the landscape it invades, so too poetry.

While metre and form and rhythm are the building blocks of a poem, the blueprint, without which there would be no beginning or end, is truth. If a poem is alive and is true, it connects with the touchstone of the life within us.

That is the only tuning fork you need. Acute vision, acute memory, acute use of words.

Joe Neal


What do we mean when we talk about poetry?  What do we do with the tools at our disposal: assonance, alliteration, metaphor, the iambic pentameter, free verse.

Like a dictionary, a poem is a gathering of words. But a dictionary appears to answer, not in an abstract way, the requirements of the reader.The poem however, and much depends on the poet, exacts requirements.

For example, poets are encouraged to be honest. I’d prefer accuracy. You have a thought or an image or a feeling, and you see accuracy in your hijacking of that moment.

It can’t always work because, as you will discover in Hear the Colour, poems must exceed their definitions. If a poem lacks the volcanic impulse to come to the surface, it is probably not worth writing.

In Gotcha, the marooned hermit crab Joe spots on a beach is, within a handful of short lines, compared to Sugar Ray Robinson and transformed into a moving mountain of a shell. It didn’t start out like this.

It is a small poem with an epic theme. It is an invocation to the reader, and is instantly a picture woven by simple words.

Elsewhere, there are many examples of Joe’s recognised aural pleasures, the Welsh fiddling with words, the poet in the playground of his soul, the arrangement of syllables within the tight marginal frame of a blank page.

From Matterhorn

No other profile

Of a peak so tattoos

The meniscus of the mind

The meniscus of the mind: I first came across the word meniscus as a cartilage on the surface of water, where a trout might take a fly. To me it conveyed the image of an inescapable pod of water, once the fish moved in.

In other words, a fishing term. Joe, of course, living by the river Sow, is a proficient angler, blessed by the murmuration of nature in Eden Vale, a pulse beneath his work. He long ago learned to look, to listen and to learn.

From Yellow

Nature’s quantitive

Easing keeps

The dazzle tint

In front of petals pink

And purple, red and blue

And gets the vote

Of insects too

Back in the day, Horace wrote Un pictura, poesis:  As the picture, so the poem. Poets, like painters, operate in both shadow and light, and present abstractions.

But poems, unlike paintings, depend on the spoken word to inhabit more than one world.  Uttered by the mouth, as Joe will demonstrate shortly, there is music. We have his lines, seen by the eye, set down by the hand, but formed by the breath.

I can imagine hearing Joe speaking aloud the last verse of Changing of the Light in his study, the better to nail the rhythm.

ust you wait until the night when moon

Is mooding blue again and stars cast

Shadows like violet violations

Of all the lore we’ve come to understand.

 Moon is mooding,  stars cast shadows, violent violations. The alliteration works perfectly because the picture painting of the words is exact. Mood is mooding blue  – yep – we can all imagine that.