Poetry Ireland Review Issue 132 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 132 :
Poetry Ireland Review 132, edited by Colette Bryce, features memorable new work from Denise Riley, Kayo Chingonyi, Luke Morgan, Katie Donovan, Nick Laird, and Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, among many other excellent poets. Books reviewed include Seán Hewitt's Tongues of Fire, Caitríona Ní Chléirchín's The Talk of The Town, Bhanu Kapil’s How To Wash a Heart, and The Historians, the incomparable Eavan Boland's valedictory collection.
The issue also features Ailbhe Darcy's perceptive analysis of Documentary poetry in performance, focussing on Kimberly Campanello's MOTHERBABYHOME; while Emily S Cooper connects two father figures – her own father and the Irish-American poet Michael Donaghy – through their shared love of traditional music; and Adam Wyeth conducts an interview with poet and dreamworker Paula Meehan, to mark the publication of her Selected Poems. Kathy Tynan is this issue's featured artist: her domestic workstations and solitary suburban scenes perfectly capture the zeitgeist for this end-of-year issue.
At a recent online poetry event, the poet’s mouth very slowly disappeared through the bottom of the screen, leaving only the eyes – a slippage of the phone or whichever device relayed their virtual appearance. This year, in the absence of communal gatherings, poets have ventured gamely, and in some cases reluctantly, into the online sphere. We’ve positioned ourselves in unforgiving light, loomed absurdly towards the small eyes of laptops, framed in the questionable décor of our living rooms, or the multi-coloured tumult of our bookshelves. Since events have entered the domestic space, it’s even possible to cook in the company of poets, as they read to us live from New York or Galway on a screen propped up on the kitchen scales. Or we’ve Zoom-attended, in speaker-view, our face in one of the tiny boxes bordering the poet’s performance. Those of us less acclimatised to the virtual sphere have been gently prodded out of our comfort zones and into the twenty-first century.
How odd it is to miss the poetry reading, the gathering in person from time to time to listen to an author speak aloud their words. And stranger perhaps that such a simple, fairly unchanging format has endured for so long. “Aren’t the persuasions of poetry private?” the American poet Kay Ryan once asked. “The right sized room to hear poetry is my head, the words speaking from the page”. This year, with the ongoing Covid restrictions, the perfectly-sized venue of our own heads is overdue an airing. The social connection fostered by live events, allowing for the meeting of minds, has been a significant loss. The cause of our disconnection, lest we forget, is that breath – so integral to the poetic endeavour – is temporarily dangerous.
Breath has been much on our minds as we’ve looped the strings of face-masks around our ears and steered clear of confined spaces. We’ve noticed anew the pale breath-clouds of others in the freezing air. Paula Meehan, a mesmeric performer of her work, has spoken of the primacy of breath to the poetic line, of the speech act to the art: “Physically to make a poem is to shape breath in space. The text is the record of that”. In this issue, she takes a look back along the roads that have led to the milestone of her new Selected Poems.
The poem as breath-map, utterance – or more specifically, the imitation of an utterance – makes its performance by the author as fitting a destination as the page. Ailbhe Darcy considers documentary poetry, and – as if in sympathy with our confinement – takes us to two pre-lockdown performances, where body, voice, and text intersect in fascinating ways. Emily S Cooper explores a personal connection with another charismatic performer, the late Irish-American poet Michael Donaghy. Like Meehan, Donaghy held his attention to craft and performance in equal balance. Speaking his poems word-perfectly from memory, he seemed to inhabit the rhythms of the lines, his expressive hands reminiscent of the great Jacques Brel. Cooper notes the unreality of listening to online recordings of the poet, his living voice not only through the window of a screen but, indeed, of time and mortality.
The online event has its limits, of course, yet manages to harness at least some semblance of the buzz of its physical equivalent. And we’re grateful for it, and to the tireless directors who have adapted and ‘teched up’ their programmes this year. While we await the return of poetic proximity, of the breaths and coughs and greetings in a room, the smells of damp coats and municipal wine, perhaps the journal may also serve as a useful, particle-free meeting place. One aspect of being published in a magazine is the unexpected connection with the other poets in that space at that particular time. The small venue of the journal empties and refills issue by issue: the chairs are stacked and reset, glasses are rinsed, as an ever-widening community of poets comes and goes. We welcome you to this winter gathering.
– Colette Bryce