Poetry Ireland Review Issue 114 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 114 :
This issue of Poetry Ireland Review includes 45 new poems & reviews of 28 recent books, including poems by Adam White, Gavan Duffy, Sarah Sala, Matthew Sweeney, Eamon Grennan, Annie Elizabeth Wiles, Peter Sirr and Doireann Ní Ghríofa; alongside Philip Coleman’s essay ‘John Berryman at 100’ and reviews of Brendan Kennelly, Rita Kelly, Maul Muldoon, Seán Lysaght and Sinéad Morrisey.
December. The year homes in on itself, tilts towards a nub of darkness before the tilt back in favour of light. This is factual and literal: it accounts for itself in science and experience. It is a known truth made visible through the roofbox of Newgrange on 21 December. On the shortest day of the year there, if the weather is kind, the inner chamber of the tumulus is lit by a beam advancing up the passageway, honing itself to a tip of light against the furthest wall. It gilds stone and shoes and dust in the air. It is factual and literal, yes; but though we may admire its scientific bravura, I doubt if astronomy or maths are why Newgrange matters so much to us.
I think we love Newgrange because we love metaphor, the slip and purchase of it, the way it tells its truth slantwise, as Emily Dickinson, (that master of imagistic shock-tactics), advised. Metaphor is an act of negotiation, at its most effective when it is between an abstract entity and verifiable fact; between, you might say, a rock and a hard place; or, in the case of Newgrange, between two hundred thousand tons of rock and soil, and one beam of light. ‘There is no real knowing apart from metaphor’, according to Herr Nietzsche, and though I’m loathe to inflict him on you at this time of year, you can see he’s got a point.
I wouldn’t dream of pinning that beam of light to a fixed point of meaning. That would ruin the metaphor, the way it suggests and insinuates, its resonance and play. Its meaning is intuited rather than declared, and this subtlety gets closer to a usable truth than most so-called facts ever do. We know it, of course we do, and we know it not on the tongue or in the cerebellum, necessarily, but in the place Mr Yeats once called ‘the deep heart’s core’.
Funny to think that poetry – where language works the hardest and is most sincerely put to the test – is also the place where language slips out of its self-tied ties. But this is exactly the kind of play metaphor makes, between what is known and what is not; between visual detail and abstract idea; between the word in all its physical presence, (its set and shape, the sound it makes), and the un-word, the white page surrounding the words; a poem’s negative space, the containing, encompassing silence into which languages edges incrementally in order to make visible, to see.
Newgrange deploys not a single word to make its one, lit point, and yet seems close to poetry, to how a good poem works. In mystery, in certainty; in silence and in words: it is all a rummaging for some kind of truth that cannot, despite itself, be pinned down to a matter of fact.
Here, though, is a matter of fact: one interview, one essay, twenty-eight recent books reviewed, forty-five new poems. Numbers and words. And something else. Something unpindownable. Like light.
– Vona Groarke