John’s third poetry book comes four decades after his first two, Seasons of the Spirit and Bearings, were published while he was still a Jesuit.
With all but one of his four children now living away from home, John said retirement interspersed with some relief teaching, had provided him with a “freer creative playground”.
His fascination with and love of words has been with him “as far back as I can remember”.
“I grew up in a family with four brothers and a sister, which ensured regular, lively conversation – no computers, mobile phones or, for most of my childhood, even television,” he said.
“My mother and father were of Catholic descent from the west and south of Ireland. My grandparents spoke with lilting accents. Singing was part of everyday life at home, at school and at Mass where I imbibed the beauty and majesty of the liturgy and the dramatic quality of the sermons.”
John said his interest in poetry was initially ignited by his grandmother’s recital of nursery rhymes and his father’s bedtime reading of Banjo Paterson and John O’Brien on Friday and Sunday nights.
During his secondary school years at St Ignatius he delved into Shakespeare, Chaucer, Wordsworth and others but it wasn’t until his post-school years that John began to write poems on a regular basis.
“Poetry was an inexpensive pastime: it cost only attentiveness and time; materials were as close at hand as circumstance, memory and imagination; and receiving positive response was at least an indication that one wasn’t simply talking to oneself,” he said.
His latest work was initially intended for his children as a memento of his own childhood and adolescence but by the end of 2020, encouraged further by friends and colleagues, he decided it was time for a final edit and the start of the publishing process.
John acknowledged the support of his old school St Ignatius’ College and Sacred Heart College where he taught until 2016.
He hopes the new book will have wide appeal but admits that his Catholic upbringing, education and 40 years of teaching in various Catholic schools were a significant influence on his writing.
“To be a Catholic in the times my life so far has spanned has meant almost continually to be challenged – emotionally, intellectually and spiritually – with rapid and at times radical societal change, locally and globally,” he said.
“While this can perhaps prove confusing, daunting and enervating, it is at root, I think, a God-sent opportunity for renewal and growth.
“I’m gladdened if my poetry captures and conveys something of this because the faith initiated in baptism is something for which we can be eternally grateful.
“Poetry, I find, can be a significant way of celebrating and sharing faith’s gifts and benefits.”
The launch of A Schoolbag Full will be held at St Ignatius College, Athelstone, on May 19 at 7.30pm. Interested readers are very welcome. Bookings can be made online by May 16 through https://www.trybooking.com/BOZMV