Seven poets share their poetry-related highlights of 2007, with one or two of their disappointments and a state-of-the-poetry-nation-address
(Poetry Ireland News, January/February 2008)
John W Sexton: The poetry revelation of the year for me occurred at last autumn’s Cuisle Festival when I heard the British poet Hugh Dunkerley recite work from his latest chapbook, Fast (Pighog Press). Investing in the collection was one of the smartest buys of the year. An incredibly satisfying read. Here you will find poems that are precise in their structures, with a clarity of image that is remarkable. Naked on the page, Pete Doherty’s lyrics are a total train wreck. But when you have an electric guitar or two even the most rickety lines can sound good.The latest Babyshambles CD, Shotter’s Nation (Parlophone) sounds very good indeed.And lines like “I’m a crumb beggin’ baghead baby yeah” still miraculously manage to pull every derailed carriage all the way up the hill to home. Another discovery was The Overture Bird ( iUniverse) by Brian McSherry, currently living in Japan. A beautifully elevated poetry, suffused with love, Zen and the pouring rain. Finally, Knute Skinner’s Fifty Years: Poems 1957–2007 (Salmon Poetry), gives us all a chance to re-live a life worth reading. Skinner does the lot: the sacred, the profane, the formal and the loose, and does them all wonderfully well .
Nessa O’Mahony: The poetry book that I got greatest pleasure from in 2007 was the Collected Poems of Francis Harvey (Dedalus press). Harvey is the ultimate landscape artist of Irish poetry; to read his poetry is to get a sense of a man growing up and becoming assimilated into nature, in particular the nature of West Donegal where he lives. The poems are full of precise, loving but utterly unsentimental description of this harsh country in which one manages to survive rather than thrive. Harvey has an uncanny ability to empathise with his subjects and to show that innate beauty and misery are intertwined in the solitary lives he depicts. The greatest disappointment of the year was the cancellation of the Adrienne Rich reading for the Dublin Writers Festival in June. After the huge
success of Poetry Ireland’s International Women’s Day Reading with Carol Rumens, Carol Ann Duffy and Paula Meehan, among
others, it would have been wonderful to follow up with a reading by this American master poet. Ah well, man (and woman) proposes…
Maurice Scully: In September the great Bill Griffiths died suddenly in his late fifties. He was one of the most original, incisive and extraordinary British poets. Sadly missed. A discovery for me this year was Ralph Cusack’s Cadenza (Dalkey Archive Press). Extraordinary book, fine writer. In the post as I write is Trevor Joyce’s new book, What’s in Store (The Gig). An occasion. Good to hear recently too that David Miller’s reading series ‘ Crossing the Line’ at Lamb’s Conduit Street in London is still going strong. In book form at long last Stuart Montgomery’s – he of Fulcrum Press – three long poems, ‘Sirens’, ‘ Circe’ and ‘Calypso’, from etruscan books. These crisp, unique poems have been in composition since the Sixties. Now available as Islands. Go there.And finally, several places to go : Gardens of the Lake District (Frances Lincoln) from Tim Longville. Lovely.
Maurice Harmon: What is unusual about the portrait of Shiki Masaka (1867–1902) in Now, to Be! (U-Time Publishing) is the intensity of his observations. Shiki, meaning ‘little cuckoo’, relates to his physical suffering: he identified with the bird that sings until it bleeds to death. Experiencing intense pain from incurable spinal tuberculosis , he focused on the literal: the gourds in his garden , the begonias , the frog , the Morning Glory.
He focused also on the food he ate – porridge, plums, fish, bread.
In the process he became the father of modern haiku, which contrasts with Basho’s more meditative art, in that all his attention is directed at what he sees. His aim is to observe, to capture and to reflect the life of an image. Countering pain with precise observation and embodying a working aesthetic, Now, to Be! is a deeply moving and illuminating account of Shiki’s last years .
Oh, Morning Glory,
My heart races
Wishing to sketch you!
One withered before he could finish painting it…
Dave Lordan: My poetry event of 2007 was the hug I got from Pat Ingoldsby on Westmoreland Street the Saturday before Christmas. I received it as a free gift alongside Can I Get in the Bath?, Pat’s latest book of hoots, howls and cackles. Pat’s the Pelé and the Elvis and the Joan of it as far as I’m concerned, our greatest loafer, our most inspirational of old laughing lovers. His cat’s - eye level visions are the only ones making nonsense good and plenty out of the whirl of exotic, unknown, forbidden and indescribable sensations that is Dublin today, the heart of the isle. Pat hawking in the cold rain shows me that struggle is the dynamo of all creation. Hopefully that nasty superintendent will soon stop ordering his gang of silly blue-hats to ‘moove Pat on’. Alter-wise, as is obvious, the movementum was entirely offpage and right in there behind the thousand-limbed synaesthetic carnalvan that is Irish live poetry / spoken word/ performance art / live art / stop trying to classify us please we ’re not dead butterflies. I went to stay last April for a night in the top floor of Hotel Ballymun and didn’t come back down again until after the Electric Picnic. Here comes the summer!
Moyra Donaldson: At the Cúirt Festival in Galway I listened to American veteran of the current war in Iraq, Brian Turner, read from his collection of war poetry, Here, Bullet (Alice James Books); its discordant flares of horror rising in the quiet theatre. I couldn’t help but wonder about the poet’s story. How did his enlistment fit with his MFA in poetry? Why did he sign up? Did the poetry help me to understand the minds or lives of soldiers? What was the US military’s reaction to his poetry? Then a friend sent me Poems From Guantanamo: the Detainees Speak (University of Iowa Press), a collection put together by Marc Falkoff, the lawyer who represents seventeen Yemeni inmates of Guantanamo. Detainees used pebbles to scratch messages into styro foam cups and secretly passed the cups from cell to cell. Not coded messages: they were sending each other poems. For years the US militia refused to declassify the poems, claiming that ‘poetry … presents a special risk’, and Falkoff was still not able to include all the work he hoped to, but those in the collection, translated from the Arabic, and gathered by the lawyers, provide a harrowing insight into the prisoners’ lives . Falkoff got his idea for the Guantanamo book after reading Here, Bullet. Neither book is the best book of the year in any literary sense, but in a war that we hear about mostly through statistics and news bulletins, they are important dispatches from the front.
Gabriel Rosenstock: There are no headlines when it comes to poetry. And thank God for that! Or poetry might make news but for the wrong reasons, as when Seán Ó Ríordáin’s publisher refused to sanction Greg Delanty’s English-language
translations. Hardly a headline.And did this news break anywhere else on the planet? Doubt it.Will someone chase this story, The Phoenix, TG4, the Sindo, The Guardian, Poetry International, this newsletter? Doubt it.
A headline in many countries abroad announced the death last year of Sri Chinmoy.Who? He held (holds?) the record for the largest number of poems produced within the space of 24 hours: 1,301 poems in 22 hours and 45 minutes , on 7 August 1996 (one poem every 63 seconds), printed in a 13-part series Two God-Amusement Rivals (Agni Press).A staggering amount. The figure could be used in a trivia quiz. But his life was not trivial. What life is? The sage’s passing went largely unnoticed in the Irish media. Maybe this is as it should be. Let newspapers deal with sensations, cocaine - related deaths, overcrowded hospitals, unemployment levels, Shannon shenanigans, sport triumphs and the like. Newspapers should keep away from poetry (which they largely do) since the space allotted to the occasional review in newspapers is such as to allow nothing of significance to be said. Poetry Ireland Review has an important function but the number of poetry titles NOT reviewed by PIR would greatly surprise a lot of us. I would love to see a bumper issue devoted to all those books over the past decade that were not reviewed , for one reason or another.Will that happen? Doubt it.
Poetry is the undercurrent that becomes visible later on, thirty years from now, when headlines have long faded. But – as far as monoglot English speaker is concerned – poets such as Seán Ó Ríordáin will remain a closed book. Should we do something
about it? If so, what?
Towards the end of the year, UCD announced an upgrade of Irish studies, reversing a previous eclipse of that discipline. I do not have much faith in universities. UCD holds valuable Seán Ó Ríordáin manuscripts. If UCD (or UCC or DCU, etc) announced an international Translator in Residence scheme to encourage translations of Ó Ríordáin into Greek, Hindi, Chinese, etc, I would take my hat off. Until then, nothing doing. Of course, I use the name Ó Ríordáin to represent the whole Irish-language canon and would be just as happy to see Biddy Jenkinson or even Séamas Ó Céileachair appearing in Chinese.Will that ever happen? Doubt it. Could it happen? Of course it could. Treble the staff in Ireland Literature Exchange and Poetry Ireland for a start. Is that likely to happen? Doubt it. But… you never know! Think of that little old lady who gave all her millions to Poetry Chicago – and them after rejecting her little verses and all!