Poetry Ireland Review Issue 133 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 133 :
Among the poets featured in Poetry Ireland Review 133, edited by Colette Bryce, are Mícheál McCann, Áine Ní Ghlinn, Damian Smyth, Michael Longley, Majella Kelly, and Maria Stepanova, the acclaimed Russian poet, translated here by Sasha Dugdale.
Poets Liz Quirke, Seán Hewitt, and Mark Ward talk with Sasha de Buyl about queer poetry in Ireland, past and present; Hugh Haughton assesses the rich legacy in poetry gifted to us by the late Derek Mahon; and six poets, including Frank Farrelly, Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe, and Victoria Kennefick, reflect on their route to a first collection.
Books reviewed include new collections from Geraldine Mills, Paula Meehan, and Greg Delanty, plus a round-up review of new pamphlets, including titles from Audrey Molloy, Breda Spaight, and Joe Carrick-Varty. The cover artwork and images for Poetry Ireland Review 133 are by photographer Tommie Lehane, showing scenes of outdoor activity and play for the spring and summer months to come.
As its opening lines will unerringly announce a dull poem, so they do the surprising and lively one. A common experience of redrafting one’s own poems is the realisation that the first line or lines is not the opening at all, merely a ‘way in’ to the subject that can be later dispensed with.
Our best (or more active) opening line may be lying in wait further down the page. The ability to recognise it and the courage to do away with
our preliminary scene setting is one of the ways in which we improve, if not as poets then as editors of our own work. Browsing the index of first lines in a good anthology can be a refreshing reminder of the function of that opening gambit, to entice the reader to want to read on. Which poem would you feel compelled to look up, based only on its indexed
line? ‘The first line test is a good one’, noted the critic Edna Longley; ‘has the poet seized an irresistible momentum from the flux of experience and language, or is he merely looking out the window, telling you it’s a nice day, and casting around for a subject?’ Once in place, a good first line will exert an extraordinary influence on the form, rhythm, tune, tone, and subject of the poem; it is fair to say that it determines all that follows.
Beginnings abound in this spring issue. Some debut poets were invited to reflect on their routes to a first collection. There can be an assumption these days that poets emerge exclusively through the portals of creative writing programmes, and this is sometimes an experience related here: the creation of a peer group and the collective energy generated is high- lighted as a positive gain. Which reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s wry remarks: ‘Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.’ Yet, the free-range poet is also always with us, as is the loner, the outlier, and the late starter. The routes to publication remain as various as the poetries we write. As Grace Wilentz notes, hearing the stories of others can be useful as a guide, or spur, in the formation of one’s own journey;
it can demystify the sometimes impossible-seeming goal of the first book.
Also in this issue, we listen in on a conversation regarding the Queer Body in poetry, chaired by Cúirt Festival director Sasha de Buyl. Again, we have the perspective of relatively new poets, from a generation of queer writers working in a context of increased acceptance and more equal rights. Seán Hewitt talks about the moment of risk, in some poems, when you must ‘wrangle with the words or with yourself ’, the necessity for courage in the transformative act: ‘the more poems you write, the braver you are’. The transformation of experience into poetry is a process through which we are often laid open. The poet’s vocation has always required, it seems to me, a coming out, whatever one’s identity or how we are positioned in the social world.
Each submission received at Poetry Ireland Review is opened with optimism, and I find myself often transfixed by a poem’s initial utterance, and then thankfully carried forward by all that follows. One of the sustaining aspects of our art is that it allows us always to begin again, each poem the impossible-seeming thing to be conjured from the swirl of our interior lives; and each followed by a silence into which we hope another poem might, eventually, begin to speak.
– Colette Bryce