Poetry Ireland Review 131 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review 131 :
Pride of place in Poetry Ireland Review 131, edited by Colette Bryce, is given to two as-yet-unpublished poems from Eavan Boland's final collection, The Historians, along with ‘Remembering Eavan’, Jody Allen Randolph’s poignant tribute to the poet. The issue also contains new work from Derek Mahon, Leontia Flynn, Harry Clifton, Dairena Ní Chinnéide, and Colm Tóibín, along with the emerging voices of Sree Sen, Nithy Kasa, Audrey Molloy, Padraig Regan, and many others.
The review section includes Maria Johnston examining new work from Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin as poet and as Ireland Chair of Poetry: Vona Groarke assessing Deryn Rees-Jones and Jericho Brown; and Julie Morrissy reviewing Jane Clarke, Simon Lewis, and Breda Wall Ryan.
Also included in this issue are six 'pandemic postcards' from Irish poets based in Ireland and in Britain, six different takes on attempting to live the creative and the lockdown life. Other noteworthy contributions include Ben Keatinge's survey of surrealism in Irish poetry, while Alex Pryce's interview with Sinéad Morrissey takes the poet through her back pages, from There Was Fire In Vancouver to Selected Poems. And John Short's artwork features vivid watercolours of staycation swimming spots within two kilometres of his studio.
We emerge from the spring of 2020 with a recast vocabulary of lockdowns, bubbles, spikes, cocoons, flattened curves, and social-distance, and we brace ourselves for the months ahead. There have been losses. There is a great deal to process. Now that our collective interaction is mediated more and more by screens, it has been steadying to work on a print publication like this one which has continued to publish for forty years as a constant listening post for the written word. And the poems have arrived, in ever greater numbers. In times like these, the poem comes into its own as a place in which to think, a way of tuning in to what is going on beneath the surface. While for poets this is always true, we’ve been reminded also of the poem that belongs to every person, that can become all at once a necessary space of contemplation when pressure is brought to bear on the individual life. Some correspondents have sent the only poem they have written; others have been moved to return to poetry for the first time in many years.
The fears and griefs of the spring and summer of 2020 will reverberate in the thinking space of the poem for years to come. We will look to a new generation of Irish poets to process the repercussions of these anxious times, to translate the shifting perceptions of our own resilience and vulnerability. ‘Despite all our big talk’, writes Vona Groarke, ‘we are only small and brittle after all. Something so minuscule we can’t see it with our unmagnified eye has put manners on us.’ Groarke is one of six poets we invited to send us a ‘pandemic postcard’, a small window into the lockdown experience in their various locations: Dublin, Cardiff, London, Sligo, Lincoln, and Edinburgh. The view ranges from crime scene tape on forbidden playgrounds, to a meditation on the nature of ‘bubbles’, and the framing of pandemic responses in the wider political contexts of our time.
The doors at Parnell Square may have been closed, and the office temporarily hushed, but there is flux to report in the Poetry Ireland ecosystem. We thank Caitríona Ní Chléirchín for her curation of the Irish-language poems in the last four issues of this Review. The extraordinary haste with which lockdown restrictions were applied prevented a proper send-off for Maureen Kennelly, one of the most dynamic and inclusive Directors in the history of Poetry Ireland. She was of course the perfect person to deal with the swift decision-making necessary to ensure the safety of her colleagues and the stewardship of the organisation through the lockdown shock. The legacy of her seven years is considerable, and will be celebrated in due course: a keystone has been her advancement, with the trustees, of the ambitious project for the Poetry Ireland Centre at Parnell Square, a permanent locus for poetry activity on the island. Her former colleagues wish her well in steering the Arts Council of Ireland through the – dare I use the word – unprecedented period ahead. And Poetry Ireland welcomes the incoming Director Niamh O’Donnell, whose excellent reputation in Irish arts goes before her. It is reassuring to know that the organisation remains in safe (if now frequently sanitised) hands.
In a recent essay on the elegy, the poet Stephen Sexton noted ‘the imperceptible change a photograph ... undergoes when someone depicted in it has died; how these images seem, somehow, utterly changed without having changed at all.’ The image came to mind when I first read ‘The Historians’ by Eavan Boland, the title poem of her new, now posthumous collection. Like the photograph, it seems impossible to encounter ‘The Historians’ in this strange summer of recovery without the words being invested with the immense loss of her, to her family, friends, students, peers, and to the readers for whom her poems and scholarship have cast an essential light for so long. The poetry community has been temporarily denied the gathering that would have marked her passing at any other time. On 1 May, the day of her funeral, candles flickered in the windows of readers across Ireland, an improvised lockdown tribute recalled by Geraldine Mitchell in her dedicated poem, ‘Of Fire and Water’. It was only last year that Eavan Boland completed her editorship of this journal, during which time she attended to the poems of others with unstinting generosity. The critic Jody Allen Randolph reflects on Eavan Boland’s life and work in this issue through the prism of her new collection The Historians, two poems from which we are honoured to publish.
– Colette Bryce