Crow’s Altar Boy

For ten years (1998 – 2008) the London Irish poet and musician Niall McDevitt was a key player in the presentation of my epic work, The Southwark Mysteries. He played John Taylor the Water Poet in the premiere of the Mystery Plays in Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral and performed my ‘Goose and Crow’ poems, setting some to music, as part of a small band for the annual ritual drama The Halloween of Crossbones. These works of magical intervention and cultural activism were an integral part of the work to create the Shrine to the Outcast and the Garden of Remembrance for Sex Workers at the Cross Bones Graveyard. Niall immortalised this part of our lives in his poems The Drum and Liberty Caps (I was touched when he dedicated the latter to me) published in his first collection b/w. Back then, he liked to call himself ‘Crow’s Altar Boy’ or ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’.

Ours was a turbulent relationship, though an enduring one. As Blakeans we agreed that ‘Opposition is True Friendship’. As he emerged as a poet in his own rite (and in my estimation, il miglior fabbro) we often performed at each other’s events including On Blake’s Steps and The Dylan Celebration. I read at the launch of his Porterloo and he at the launch of my Spark In The Dark. In his last years, and especially after I left London, we didn’t see so much of one another, though the friendship and the connections remained strong. Niall died in the morning on the Feast of St Michael the Archangel. I wrote him this villanelle in tribute and performed it at his wake. Whenever I think of him it’s with immense love and gratitude for all he brought to my life, respect for his unflinching radicalism and championing of the underdog (something we shared) and above all a sense of how much fun we had being bad boy poets back in the day. Open pathways, Niall.

Crow’s Altar Boy

for Niall McDevitt
22 February 1967-29 September 2022

Crow’s Altar Boy is with us at The Feast,
The body ripped; the spirit arcing bright;
Immortal song from fragile form released.

With Crow the Cross Bones man, his outcast priest
Who fed the hungry legions of the night,
The crazed boy sang to consecrate The Feast.

They served The Goose, Her brittle bones they greased
And feathered, sang Her into flight;
Immortal song from fleeting form released.

They walked their talk, to pacify The Beast,
To open ways to worlds of pure delight;
Their mantic songs resounding at The Feast.

The boy became The Man; the song increased,
With his voice perfect pitched to Mental Fight;
Immortal song from failing form released.

I hold you here, in mind, Sun rising in the East,
Archangel Day; the dimming of the light;
The Man, complete, The Poet at his Feast;
Eternal Form, from bond and bound, released.

John Constable – aka John Crow