Duron Maire C. Holmes, (Baile Atha Cliath, Coisceim 1988) 24 pages, Ir £ 1. 50
When Sean 6 Riordain's first collection of poetry Eireaball Spideoige was published it confounded and, in some cases, annoyed the critics. Where had this Cork poet formed his ideas and mastered his technique? What right had he, a beginner, to write on the nature of poetry in a polemical preface? How could a patent learner of the language be so sure of his medium? The answer is that he had spent his twenties suffering in anguish and isolation as a result of T.R and its after-effects. Not quite in isolation, for as Sean 6 Coileain's masterly biography (Baile Atha Cliath, 1982) and Eibhlin Nic Ghearailt's book now under scrutiny show, he spent his time thinking and reading.
Ms Nic Ghearailt studies the echoes and reflections of the work of key writers in 6 Riordain's work, Yeats, Hopkins, Ibsen, Blake and Beckett. She understands the difficulties in such research; although we have'the richness of 6 Riordain'spoetry and diaries to mine, it is unlikely that his reading was systematic. Hence the echoes are often unconscious. However, she has found enough direct evidence in both sources to portray a convincing and sometimes fascinating picture of the formation and reinforcement of the poet's mental defences against his situation.
She sees the first three, Yeats, Hopkins and Ibsen, as being his 'masters' while Blake and Beckett are more 'kindred spirits'. In short her thesis is that Yeats supplied the connection with the traditional past (even though he wrote in English), the view of the honesty of the poet and the importance of inspiration. Hopkins supplied the theory of the essential nature of everything and the fascination with works and technique. In Ibsen he found the means of dealing with a tortured existence, especially in Peer Gynt. In Blake he saw visionary imagination and the daring
symbolism to express it. And Beckett showed him the sordid (and morbid) emptiness of reality. These could all be expanded, questioned or debated.
1 learned so much from this small book it seems wrong to try and add to it. Perhaps this is one of its virtues that it inspires readers to search in their own storehouse and to say 'what about so-and-so?' For instance, it is hard for me to believe that Padraic 6 Conaire's story 'Na Lig Sinn i gCathll' might not have influenced 6 Riordains conviction of the isolation of the artist. Likewise, 1 cannot help feeling that he would have recognised a kindred spirit in Dostoyevsky's Letters from the Underworld. 6 Riordain's diaries are full of passages like the following which 1 quote from the Everyman translation:
'I am ill; 1 am full of spleen and repellent. I conceive there to be something wrong with my liver, for 1 cannot even think for the aching of my
head ... Also I am extremely superstitious, which, it may be, is why 1 cherish such a respect for the medical profession. I am well-educated, and therefore might have risen superior to such fancies,
yet of them I am full to the core'.
Yet perhaps he never even read Dostoyevsky. And that is why more of this literary detective work is necessary.
The only quibbles I have are stylistic and editorial, none of them important. For example, when Ms Nic Ghearailt expresses an opinion 1 would prefer her to acknowledge ownership by using the first person singular rather than the first person plural. An index would have been useful and a list of the books in 0 Riordain's possession if that had been possible. All in all this is an iJTlportant contribution to the study of Sean 6 Riordain's personality and his work.
Duron is Maire Holmes' first collection of poems. It is indeed a slender volume and many of the poems themselves are slim to look at as she often chooses a 'rose' type metre. Such compact form can be deceptive and her poems are more substantial than they look. Commonplace objects, events and thoughts are often the starting points of the poems; visits to hospitals, gardening, the dentist's chair, graveyards, public telephones, a sideboard etc. These are then developed as symbols for other dimensions of the poet's existence-her hopes, fears and speculations.
I enjoyed these poems especially the ones which dealt with relationships, 'F6graiocht Speire', 'An tOthar', 'An Gairdin' 'DMai, 'Ju~bo' and :Spai,steoireacht'. They reveal a sympatheti~ and unsent.Imental Imagmation and there are verbal gems in them even If they are uncut and unpolished in places.