Poetry Ireland Review Issue 21 Editorial

Issue 21

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 21 :


"Everybody writes poetry - they do it the whole time. And I get all their manuscripts". The words are Edith Sitwell's but they could be those of any prominent poet - or of any poetry editor. Having read over a year's submissions to Poetry Ireland Review, they certainly speak for me as - forced by lack of space or lack of faith - I cram yet another poem back into its stamped envelope.

One obvious misnomer which the weaker poems reaching this magazine reflect is the notion that a poem is the shortest distance between two thoughts. Whether the free stroke or the doggerel paddle is adopted, the verse sinks under the weight of the misapprehension that thin lines trickling down the middle of the page are what constitutes poetry. You don't have to take the trouble that a novelist or essayist does to structure his thoughts and attend to the quality of his language. A new gloss on Ezra Pound's maxim about poetry is implied: poetry is easier to write than prose ...
To my mind, the most important poems to reach Poetry Ireland Review are often the borderline ones. They make editorial life difficult because they seem neither good enough to accept nor bad enough to reject. If there is space, one will accept and maybe make a suggestion or two for improvement. Or one may have to throw them a rueful glance and send them reluctantly back. But the importance of these poems lies in the fact that their authors have reached the border and that their papers are almost in order. To such poets and all those who aspire to publication, I would suggest that the best school of poetry is the bookshop.

Regular reading will teach the aspirant how poetry works and what it can do. The word 'Poetry', like the word 'music', is hopelessly vague, though. Poetry has its performers and its composers, its pop and reggae styles, its Lester Bowies and its Witold Lutoslawskis. Booksellers say that there is a buyer for every book; and, similarly, I think there is a poet to meet the particular needs of every reader. Discovering such a poet for yourself will enrich your life-and your support of poetry in the bookshops will encourage both poet and publisher (even if your purchase will not quite enrich either).

I have not had enough room to get a number of recently published poetry collections (not even my own!) reviewed for this issue and will be handing over some books as well as poems to my successor, John Ennis (to whom I wish fortitude and inspiration). One debut which I ought to at least mention is that of Bernard O'Donoghue, who has done so much as editor and reviewer to spread the word(s) of Irish poetry in England.

His poems in Poaching Rights (Gallery Press, £6.60/£3.60), at once intimate and objective, bring proper names and place names, traditions and superstitions, saints and drunks into striking and sometimes satirical focus. Mastery of tone is O'Donoghue's key attribute and there is also cogent imagery (' A sweet summer's evening/That could hardly raise the pigment to grow dusk'), a wry sense of humour, and rural evocations which are affectionate but not sentimental. Among the evocative poems, 'Munster Final' is my favourite but the strongest poem in the collection is 'Out of These Fields', a beautifully-judged and compassionate piece which draws O'Donoghue's qualities together in one strange but deftly-sculpted memorial tablet.

A V.C. (for verse courage!) should be awarded to Adrian Moyes of RTÉ for his gallantry in bringing poetry readings to television without any gimmicky compromises. This is an exciting development and a very timely one. Another brave attempt to elevate poetry above the humble station it normally stalls at is Jonathan Williams' "Poems on the DART" series which has included verse by Emily Dickinson and Philip Larkin, translations by Michael Hartnett (of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill) and Thomas Kinsella and a quit-train written especially for commuters by Seamus Heaney.

Finally, thanks are due to Tom Kiernan from everyone associated with Poetry Ireland for his cataloguing of the books in the Austin Clarke Library. One of the incidental pleasures of editing this magazine was the opportunity it gave me to encounter Tom regularly as-patiently, efficiently and cheerfully-he carved an orderly route through the library's contents.

Dennis O'Driscoll


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