Rathcoole poet puts the estate in verse

Adrian Rice. INNT 51-604con
Adrian Rice. INNT 51-604con

BORN in a wooden bungalow at the bottom of the Doagh Road and among some of the first families to move into the estate, Adrian Rice has become somewhat of an unlikely poet.

A pupil at Whitehouse Primary School, Adrian was determined to follow his mates to nearby secondary schools, however, his father had other ideas.

Adrian Rice's new collection The Clock Flower, INNT 51-605con

Adrian Rice's new collection The Clock Flower, INNT 51-605con

“At Whitehouse we had a legendary football team with Jimmy Nicholl as captain and I wanted, like everyone else, to go on and do what he did.

“I even failed the 11-Plus on purpose to go to the same school as all my mates. I wanted to go to Rathcoole or Hopefield, but my father knew I would end up with a gun in my hand, so I got sent to Ballyclare.”

And it was at Ballyclare High School that Adrian got “infected” with poetry and his work has gone on to be celebrated by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin.

Adrian continued: “I blame the great ‘Sammy T’ - as we called him.

“At the beginning of our O-Levels I remember I was intent on creating havoc for the teacher. I was still just a Rathcoole tearaway, but then Samuel Thompson walked into the room and recited Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats completely by memory and I was just stunned.

“I was a really good rugby player and into all the usual things boys my age were at the time. But then my mates realised instead of stealing stuff I was buying books - I always said loving poetry was my coming out.

“And I was very lucky, my mates Martin Beattie and Marty Rae were both into books at the time so we had a booky thing going on and from the age of 14 I knew poetry would play some part of my life.”

It wasn’t until the age of 26 that Rice penned his first poem after almost being forced to by his artist friend Ross Wilson, who has also helped publish this latest work.

Adrian continued: “I was almost scared to write something, probably because I had so much respect for poetry.

“Then Ross just said to me ‘you’re going to be a poet and I’m going to be an illustrator’.

“But I wanted to write something that was good, that Keats or Heaney or Shakespeare would want to read. I didn’t need to write for therapy, I had rugby clubs, mates and bars for that.

“That’s how Muck Island, my first collection, came about which was purchased by the Tate Gallery. And from there everything just snow-balled. I was getting requests to do interviews, school talks, lectures and I was getting paid for it.”

The 54 year old’s latest work, The Clock Flower is his fifth book and his second major collection of work.

In the first section of the book it deals with Rice’s “wonderful” friendship with Billy Montgomery, a former shipyard worker he lived with in Islandmagee.

Continued Adrian: “It’s a very Irish section and almost like love songs for someone who was a mentor, a father figure and a working class hero and speaks of the joy of living beside him for 10 years.

“It was a joy to write some of those poems, because it took me right back. It was also very emotional and I wept when I finished, because I did not know If I would ever write about that part of my life again - I almost didn’t want to finish because I was enjoying being back in that part of my life.”

The second section of the book deals with Rice in his new life in Hickory, North Carolina. There the 54 year old teaches English and Creative Writing at Catawba Valley Community College as well as looking after his two-and-a-half-year-old son.

He continued: “Strangely I find myself in a very rich vein of form for writing that I have never experienced before.

“I have the American home, with the white picket fence and a tiny porch that I have written so many poems on. I have even wrote a poem about it - The Kingdom of the Porch.

“It has been extraordinary for me to realise the power that that porch has, and I find myself strangely prolific and I hope I don’t put the scud on by saying that. Maybe I am at the right age; or have had enough experience; or read enough; or had enough sorrow or joy. I don’t know, but it certainly feels like it comes from above.

“Poems just seem to come to me and it is such a great feeling.”

As well as teaching, the father of three also plays in the band The Belfast Boys with good friend Alyn Mearns from the city.

“Alyn is an amazing guy,” continued Adrian, “he is about 20 years younger than me and he will be a famous musician in years to come.

“It has been extraordinary. We met in a book shop and I believe it was no coincidence, we were supposed to meet. As well as being a great friend is one of my most trusted editors.

“I’ve dedicated three poems to him in this new book and he has played a big part in its production and painstakingly scanned every line.

“He is a smart guy and it would have been hard to do this book without him.”

There has been a limited number of copies printed of the Clock Flower and Adrian is hoping another publisher comes on board to provide a bigger release.

He added: “Ross Wilson, who illustrated the front cover helped put together the production and put together the money to print 250 copies.

“And for me I feel it is done now, I would so love for it to be taken on for the big boys, but I have done it.

“In the book I wrote a poem called around the Tour of Fire about the characters around the bonfire in Rathcoole on the Eleventh night.

“And I feel a real burden - a good burden - to revisit that period, to go back to my house in Rathcoole doing ‘spot the ball’ in the Telegraph with my mum or opening the Christmas presents, getting my Raleigh bike, or my United top or football boots and reliving those experiences in that small house.

“Because that is the beauty of poetry it allows me to go back there and relive those experiences.”

Adrian’s oldest son Matthew, who lives in Whitehead, is trying to forge a career in his father’s footsteps.

Adrian added: “I don’t know if there is a father and son poet combination out there, if there is, it is news to me, but he is good.

“It’s funny because I wrote my first poem at 26 and he wrote his first at 27.

“I didn’t try to lead him in that direction, but I said to him, if you are going to do it you better be good. And he is, which has made me very proud.”