Poetry Ireland Review Issue 130 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 130 :
Poetry Ireland Review 130, the first issue from editor Colette Bryce, contains new poems from Michael Longley, Tara Bergin, Mícheál McCann, Emily S Cooper, Martina Evans, Gerard Smyth, Julie Morrissy, Afric McGlinchey, and Gabriel Rosenstock, among many others. There's an interview with broadcaster John Kelly on coming out as poet in his middle years, while Doireann Ní Ghríofa provides an extract from A Ghost In The Throat, her essay/memoir about coming-of-age as a poet through the poetry and passion of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill.
There are 26 titles reviewed in this issue, including new collections from Paul Muldoon, Paddy Bushe, Julie Morrissy, Enda Coyle-Greene, Caitlin Newby, and Peter Sirr, along with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's assessment of the lifetime achievement of the late Dorothy Molloy. Louise Leonard provides the cover art and image insert for this issue, a series of superb etchings from parkland, river, and glade, all safely within 2 kilometres walk of every reader of Poetry Ireland Review.
Settling the text of my first issue has coincided with extraordinary events that seem impossible to ignore in these few words of introduction. Staff at Poetry Ireland, like many people across the island, are working remotely from home, while government advice on social distancing increases in its imperative day by day. In this fast-moving and news-saturated moment, it is hard to predict in which context you, our readers, will be receiving and reading this issue. Thoughts of spring and new phases – both editorial and in the leadership of Poetry Ireland – have been quickly displaced by a sweeping international panic, the fear itself perhaps more contagious than the virus, Covid-19, for which scientists are urgently seeking a vaccine.
Such subjects have challenged poets in the past, and will do so again as this pandemic continues to unfold. IMMA’s recent retrospective of Derek Jarman’s work reminded us of the art and literature of the AIDS epidemic, a crisis equal in fear but unequalled in the now infamous influence of homophobia and tabloid hysteria in slowing progress on treatment and cure. Alongside the art and activism of Jarman and his peers, poets wrestled with the subject in their lives and in their work: ‘My body insisted on restlessness’, wrote Thom Gunn in his powerful collection The Man with the Night Sweats, ‘having been promised love, / as my mind insisted on words / having been promised the imagination. / So I remained alert, confused and uncomforted. / I fared on and, though the landscape did not change, / it came to seem after a while like a place of recuperation’ (‘A Sketch of the Great Dejection’). In ‘The Missing’, he conjures a dance of transmission: ‘Contact of friend led to another friend, / Supple entwinement through the living mass / Which for all that I knew might have no end, / Image of an unlimited embrace.’
While the concept of self-isolation may be less of a stretch for poets, whose work has always necessitated solitude, it is nonetheless other to the nature of poetry, which is to connect and connect (a tenet central to the work of Poetry Ireland). The mind-mapping impulse inherent to image-making, where one thing links unexpectedly to another, may remind us of molecular patterns of connection, that everything is in everything else. ‘Poetry is energy, it is an energy storing and energy releasing device’, observed the poet and immunologist Miroslav Holub when interviewed for this magazine many years ago. Dennis O’Driscoll recalled Holub’s description to some schoolchildren of poetry as ‘a virus transmitted by the poet’. He recounted this in relation to what he saw as the ‘immediately infectious’ quality of the Czech poet’s work, with its intellectual precision and clarity (not to mention humour), an effect paralleled in O’Driscoll’s own, with its wry, compassionate gaze. O’Driscoll’s poem ‘Germ Warfare’ concludes with an address to sneezy fellow passengers, with ‘unprotected schnozz’: ‘thoughts wander back to you, / Eyes water, touched by the largesse with which you showered me, // Smitten to the core by your infectious charms. Bless you!’
To our readers and writers at this uncertain time: stay safe. In Gunn’s words, we remain alert, confused and uncomforted. We fare on.
- Colette Bryce