Poetry Ireland Review Issue 121 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 121 :
Eavan Boland's first issue as editor of Poetry Ireland Review aims to encourage a conversation about poetry which is 'noisy and fractious certainly ... but a conversation nevertheless that can be thrilling in its reach and commitment'. There are new poems from Thomas McCarthy, Jean Bleakney, Wendy Holborow, Paul Perry, Aifric Mac Aodha, and many others, while the issue also includes work from Brigit Pegeen Kelly, with an accompanying essay on the poet by Eavan Boland. Eavan Boland also offers an introduction to the work of poet Solmaz Sharif, while there are reviews of the latest books from Simon Armitage, Peter Sirr, Lo Kwa Mei-en, and Vona Groarke, among others. PIR 121 also includes Theo Dorgan's elegiac tribute to his friend John Montague – a canonical poet, in contrast to the emerging poets Susannah Dickey, Conor Cleary and Majella Kelly, who contribute new work and will also read for the Poetry Ireland Introductions series as part of ILFD 2017.
I’m honoured to be editing Poetry Ireland Review, and particularly pleased to be following Vona Groarke’s fine editorship. Taking on my own, I have had very strong support. So before I go further I want to thank Paul Lenehan and Maureen Kennelly for their generous help with this issue.
An editorship is a vantage point. Even so, it’s never easy to have an overview of what’s happening in poetry. So much changes, and so quickly. In addition to that, poetry can struggle in both a social and private context, and fashion and neglect all too often overlay both.
But looked at closely, something does emerge: a conversation. Noisy and fractious certainly, and given to monologue at times rather than dialogue. But a conversation nevertheless that can be thrilling in its reach and commitment. And that’s what I’ve wanted to suggest here, however briefly: A conversation made up of poems, of course, but also of the energies that swirl around them – the ideas, the debates, the disagreements.
Since I divide the year between Ireland and the USA, I meet with poetry in both places. Different histories, different traditions. I also keep bumping into the realization that the world is contracting. Technology and travel allow me – as it does so many other people – to be a reader and writer in both places. Editing this issue gives me a chance to bring some American voices with me, while pointing, as PIR always has, to the vitality of Irish poetry.
The poetic conversation is a fixture: it doesn’t change to comply with change. Technology has not, I believe, shaped it so much as revealed it. It’s easier now to see links between the excerpt in this issue from Yves Bonnefoy’s interview – reprinted here from decades ago – with his reverence for Yeats’s ‘admirable poems of time passing’, and Theo Dorgan’s sense of learning ‘craft, duty, fidelity to the self-intending poem’ from John Montague. Kenneth Fields’s fine poem on age gestures towards themes of Yeats. ‘Look’, one of two featured poems by the remarkable young American poet Solmaz Sharif, is charged with a menace and self-awareness Yves Bonnefoy would have recognized.
Inevitably, this is also a conversation of contrasts. Paula Meehan’s lectures, given as the Ireland Professor of Poetry – perceptively assessed here by Colm Tóibín – commend a generous life for the working poet: an outreach to the earth, to the planet, an insistence on our imaginative obligations to both. But the remarkable American poet who died recently, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, who I write about in this issue, made no obviously purposeful statements. Her exemplary poems tend to the hermetic, the pure and inward reflection. Yet there can be no doubt that both poets, Meehan and Kelly, from different viewpoints, add texture and depth to the conversation.
The most exciting part of this editorship has been reading the submitted poems. Going through them – poem after poem, image after image – brought back a cherished memory. Standing in a bookstore in Dublin when I was a young poet – Greene’s in Clare St, or Hodges Figgis perhaps – taking a journal down from the shelf and opening it at a new poem. And, if I was lucky, feeling there and then the intense lifelong companionship of good poetry. The poems I chose for this issue shook out that memory. Except this time they were in the present not the past. There are poems here from several countries, written under various skies. But the Irish work was a special revelation of the un-derivative vitality of poems on this island.
Even if the continuance of a poetic conversation – given the constraints of space – can only be hinted at here, its reach into the lives and work of poets and readers makes it a permanent resource. And yet, in our time, often a fragile one. It always needs the protection of its stake-holders. Since I was a young poet, right up to the present, Poetry Ireland has been a mainstay for poets and readers – all the way from workshops to events to publications. Never failing to remind a community of the importance of this art. Generating at every stage new parts of this conversation. And never failing to protect it.