Poetry Ireland Review Issue 104 Editorial

Issue 104

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 104 :

Includes poems by Thomas Kinsella, Miriam Gamble, Kate Noakes, Vona Groake and Tom French, alongside translations by Colm Breathnach and Derek Mahon, Harry Clifton’s essay ‘The Physical World of Seamus Heaney’, and reviews of Brendan Kennelly, Billy Collins and two anthologies of Irish Poetry. 


To edit Poetry Ireland Review is to be faced with an embarrassment of riches on a daily basis. The journal has an unusually high number of submissions, the majority of which come from Ireland, but many of which are sent from the UK, the United States, and other anglophone and non-anglo- phone countries. The responsibility of selection is ever-present but in the end rarely difficult. Reading through each submission in turn, quality work rapidly reveals itself. It has been my intention throughout my editorship to give each submission a fair shake; however no editorial filter is infallible and there is the unavoidable problem of taste and other unacknowledged or unconscious biases. PIR’s revolving editorship saves it from the continuation of such biases and from the inevitable staleness of any single editorial position.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the more recent phase of my tenure has been the sense that poets are still willing and able to write to the moment; that the spirit of Swiftian spleen is not entirely extinguished. It is a difficult task to make poetry relevant in that way, since to increasing numbers it is – entirely correctly – seen as a rather self-indulgent academic game, a preening irrelevance. Then, just when one is about to give up on it completely and stomp off in a huff, someone saves the day by reminding everyone that it is the bounden duty of the artist to be a fully paid up member of the awkward squad. Harry Clifton’s speech on the occasion of his election to the Ireland Chair of Poetry was just such a delicious occur- rence, following our former Taoiseach’s intimation that poets should do their bit to boost the busted brand image of Ireland plc. After all, we’re in this together, aren’t we? Shortly thereafter the spat spawned an unfortunate article in The Irish Times entitled ‘Why shouldn’t poets do the State some service?’, in which Enda O’Doherty seemed to be suggesting that artists, particularly poets, should not bite the hand that feeds them. As if there were a shortage of deferential snouts in that particular trough.

But people are rightly suspicious of poets and poetry. From Plato, who would not permit poets in his Republic, to Marianne Moore's fastidious contempt: ‘I, too, dislike it’; multitudes have smelled a rat and been entirely correct in doing so. In no other sphere of human endeavour is there such scope for egotism, self-delusion, intellectual narcissism, immaturity, embarrassment, and excruciating self-exposure. But there are still poets in this country honest, brave and self-aware enough to risk massive pratfalls in witnessing, implicitly or explicitly, how the outrages of our times regis- ter on the moral compass of the individual. It is a tricky business. For many writers, Picasso’s comment ‘I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict. ... But I have no doubt that the war is in these paint- ings I have done’, is the truest summary of what they are trying to achieve. It has been a privilege and a pleasure reading the fresh work in which this occurs and being reminded on a weekly basis that there are indeed still ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’ to be enjoyed. 

- Catriona O Reilly


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