Poetry Ireland Review Issue 92 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 92 :
Includes poems by Fergus Allen, Thomas McCarthy, Gerard Smyth, Kerry Hardie and Fred Johnston, alongside translations by Gabriel Rosenstock and Belinda Cooke, Maurice Harmon’s essay ‘Journey into Poetry’ and reviews of Sydney Bernard Smith, Francis Harvey and Galway Kinnell.
I imagine, not sitting down in a warm, recently vacated chair. Taking over the wheel of a ship in full sail.
I, the incoming editor saluting you now, have never laid hands on a literal helm, but I imagine a sensation of something buckling and heaving, with a mind of its own, a chorus of contradictory voices shouting advice, and a strong sense that one ought to do at least for a while as one’s predecessor did, rather than changing course. And then one notices that the hour is later, the horizon is changing, the promontory that basked is now in shadow, and, on one’s own watch, something has to be decided and attempted. That’s enough of the Conradian metaphor and its associated imperatives.
My predecessor Peter Sirr, like me, is drawn to many different kinds of poetry and especially to translation. My first thought, beginning my shift as editor of a distinguished poetry magazine, would naturally be to swamp the readers with new poetry from European languages, but I’m conscious that the policy of switching editors periodically entails a gesture towards a new start. It would help if I did something that has not been done very recently, and hasn’t been done at all by me. So I am initiating in this issue a short series of articles on the ‘where’ of poetry, running for three numbers. ‘Where’ in the sense the places where we see it, caged in inscriptions or paraded in the trappings of colour and texture; ‘where’ we hear it in the spoken form, ‘where’ we find it, on the train, on the internet. What are the scaffolds that surround it, upholding and confining the words of the poet, what are the fashions that use it as a prop? Watch out for media jargon and probing critique.
What Poetry Ireland Review contains has always to a great extent been decided by the contributors who send in their work. An editor has to admit to preference and prejudice in selection, and readers as well as writers ought to expect this. Those who have themselves sent out work to editors will all have their stories. I have not yet done all the disappointing I am capable of and must expect to make a few new enemies in this job. However I will promise to be guided by likings rather than dislikings, believing that both critics and editors can tell most truth when guided by delight.
My promise is addressed to readers as well as writers of poetry. The former do exist, though it has been argued that in recent times they are far outnumbered by the writers. Why do we feel uneasy? As when Patrick Kavanagh declared that the ‘standing army rarely fell below then thousand’, many of my generation believed that the ideal was a small guerrilla force. I do believe that readers exist and (paradoxically in view of what I say next) that writers of poetry should multiply.
There are public prejudices as well, such as the idea that an editor ought above all to be looking out for ‘new’ talent. Many of us have grateful memories of those who encouraged us when we were young, and still stick pins in the effigies of those who slighted us. The shade of John Jordan, editor of Poetry Ireland in two incarnations, receives periodic libations still, and I invoke his blessing in part because I belong to the generation he (and James Liddy, happily not a shade, in Arena) helped on its way. Not that either ever published me. It’s as a reader that I first had occasion for gratitude, discovering ‘Kavanagh Tells All’ in Poetry Ireland on the shelf in Eason’s in Cork in the early 1960s; and not just for the delight of the poem. It was the discovery that the author of the droopy ‘Memory of Brother Michael’ could be light and energetic and challenge his juniors, cutting corners and rhyming ‘dodgery’ with ‘menagerie’ and ‘Cydnus’ with ‘Chatto and Windus’.
It can never be an editor’s job merely to encourage the young. I have recently found myself saluting Patrick Galvin (in the Examiner, where else) in his eighth decade, and meditating on his ‘idiom that grew out of and was reinforced by a probing of memory, an exploration of memorable forms with their repetitions and (unpredictable) refrains, a rehearsal of litanies of people, places, great and terrible events.’ How right I was. A whole long life, a life lived with the eyes open, is not too much to fuel a new poem, and I am really happy to be publishing in this issue a new work by Pearse Hutchinson and Fergus Allen. And to be saluting another kids of survival and endurance in Maurice Harmon’s account of Salmon Poetry. I hope to include more work by older poets in my time.
Pearse Hutchinson’s work is the subject of a celebratory symposium at Trinity College, Dublin, on 14-15 December, organised by Philip Coleman. He wrote a poem in Irish called ‘Cinlae na gorta bige’, which is about survival and poverty. May I wish us all the plenitude we need, and the strength to survive the famines that punctuate our lives.
- Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin