Poetry Ireland Review Issue 134 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 134 :
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, William Keohane, Gabriel Rosenstock, Alvy Carragher, Greta Stoddart, and Ciaran Berry are just some of the poets publishing new work in Poetry Ireland Review 134, edited by Colette Bryce. The issue also contains reviews of 18 recent titles, including the latest from Michael Longley, Martina Evans, Rachel Long, Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal, Matthew Rice, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, and Moya Cannon's Collected Poems.
Tríona Ní Shíocháin contributes an essay, 'Foremothers', a revelatory account of a "hidden history ... of women’s oral poetic traditions", excerpted from A History of Irish Women's Poetry; Ben Keatinge looks at the sonnet – a form defined by Harry Clifton in Trumpet 8 as the 'pocket masterpiece' – from an Irish perspective; and Tom French pays tribute to the late and great Belfast maestro, Ciaran Carson.
'Singles Archive' is the title of the cover image, by Colin Martin, who provides all of the superb artwork for this issue of Poetry Ireland Review.
What to write at this stage in the pandemic? A year and a half without the society of poets, the interactions, conversations, and chance meetings that would normally accompany and influence the editorial focus, has left me at something of a loss. The constant thing, of course, is the poems, which arrive with news (that stays news) from the far frontiers of other people’s lives, and through which the concerns of our actual news are reimagined and transformed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the subject of borders preoccupies the opening poems in this summer issue. ‘You’re born on one side / of the line. It’s arbitrary, and it means everything’, writes Jonathan C Creasy in ‘Genesis’: ‘Because you slept late on the day the world was created, / the line drew its weight through your room, unnoticed’. The centenary of Northern Ireland, which would have dominated the news agenda in ‘normal’ times, passed in May of this year relatively quietly, the debate about the future of the northern state muted like so many things during the pandemic. ‘Enduring wrongs endure, nothing / changes’, writes André Naffis-Sahely, a poet who identifies as ‘a citizen of the world’; and while we may read despair in his words that rail against the harsh realities of asylum, he adds ‘so tell me why I still believe in the journey’. Imagined and inner journeys emerge elsewhere in the poetry pages: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin delves into the well of folktale to explore the boundary between the living and the dead, while the speaker in William Keohane’s poems considers transitions within the self: ‘O slow / this passing of self / into man. Slow, this blooming’.
The intensification of on-screen life throughout the pandemic has brought home anew the power of the cyber-swirl of information with which we increasingly live. While most people observe the evolving, science-led advice, setting aside political scepticism in the interests of collective cooperation, an alternate reality of conspiracy theory and disinformation flourishes online. Ideas of belief and objective truth are turned over in Greta Stoddart’s prose poem ‘Second Nature’: ‘I have written not just facts but quotes and suchlike. I am very drawn to these things. They are like little windows that open into my day so I can stand there a moment and look out and have the cool wind of clarity blow through me.’ Clarity may be ever harder to experience in the constant blur of conflicting narratives: language, like borders, is porous, shifting, ‘there are many different ways of arriving at a thing’. What is evidentially true of the past haunts the speaker in Shannon Kuta Kelly’s ‘Dead End’: ‘this photograph, too, will eventually disintegrate into soot’.
Poems by Paula Cunningham and John F Deane speak to environmental concerns: ‘we live here / […] we’ve always had that privilege’, states the owner-polluter of a private beach; while responsibilities of ‘stewardship / not ownership’ are evoked in Harry Clifton’s elegy for a passing generation of women. In our prose pages, the female lines of the oral tradition are brilliantly re-drawn in Tríona Ní Shíocháin’s essay ‘Foremothers’, itself a kind of elegy to the undersung of our literary history. The ‘strip of hesitation’ to the side of the road in our final poem, Maura Dooley’s ‘Hard Shoulder’, seems a fitting place to sign off on the issue – this interim summer of no conclusions – and to wait ‘amongst loosestrife and grit’ for the next phase.
– Colette Bryce