Poetry Ireland Review Issue 115 Editorial

Issue 115

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 115 :

Edited by Vona Groarke

The latest issue of Poetry Ireland Review includes poems by VP Loggins, Ciar​án Parkes, Monica Corish, Jessica Traynor, Mícheál Ó hAodha, Andrew Deloss Eaton, Tadhg Russell, Geraldine Mitchell and Séamus Barra Ó Súilleabháin, with Irish-language content chosen by Liam Carson, an interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and reviews of Tom Paulin, Ciaran Carson, Louis de Paor, Thomas Kinsella and The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry Volume III.  

Editorial

It is sixty years since the publication of A Cold Spring, Elizabeth Bishop’s second collection, but nothing about its title poem seems to have grown creaky or stiff. It opens with probably the most famous line of all about this season, Fr. Hopkins declaring that, ‘Nothing is so beautiful as spring’. It’s a plain line, considering the poet, but he knew how to be direct when directness was required. Of course, he knew how to be something else also, and this first line is chased by another seven in the stanza that careen through aural hoops, spinning through assonance and image and phrasing with breath-taking derring-do. He was a poet to swerve between excess and the quiet minimalist of bald avowal: ‘… that blue is all in a rush / with richness’, he wrote, sounding for all the world the way a Bishop line sounds, precise and yet supple; lucid and yet open to a sumptuous loveliness.

Elizabeth Bishop tags an article and an adjective onto Hopkins’ title: not just ‘Spring’ any more, but ‘A Cold Spring’ now. The phrase kicks off the poem, and by the time we arrive at the final word (which, of course, was always going to be ‘summer’), we have been through change. A change of climate, certainly, (from coldness to chill sunshine to warmth and colour), but also a change of tone. In the first stanza, the leaves are described in the kind of language one finds in a technical handbook: they ‘… waited / carefully indicating their characteristics’, but that diction warms up once the poem gets through the windy gap to the second stanza, nudging from pure fact to something more speculative and imagebased. I love her description of the sound of bullfrogs: ‘slack strings plucked by heavy thumbs’, and her way of likening the rise of fireflies to the bubbles in champagne. This is a poem that moves from plain fact to a register and vocabulary that teem with visual and aural energy. It shoulders its language, in other words, from winter into spring.

A fascinating notion, this one, of how to make language not just sound one way or another, but actually be it. In the case of this Bishop poem, this means language that doesn’t just describe winter or spring, but that is wintry or spring-like. Witnessing the transformation is oddly transformative: I tend to feel a little warmer by the end of reading this poem. Perhaps it’s the workings of a master-craftsman (why does ‘mistress-craftswoman’ sound so odd?), or perhaps it is something to do with spring, with how keen we are to be transformed, this weather. We are all anticipation, eyes forward, counting the extra minutes of daylight, leaping over the fences of months like Bishop’s four deer. ‘What is all this juice and all this joy?’ writes Hopkins about spring. Here, then, with its Irish-language content chosen by Liam Carson, is the Spring Issue lit, as Bishop’s fireflies, ‘on the ascending flight’.

Winter is behind us, and we are on the up.

– Vona Groarke

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