Poetry Ireland Review Issue 128 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 128 :
Poetry Ireland Review 128, edited by Eavan Boland, is full of strong poems and strong opinions. The issue features a total of 61 poets, including new work from Moya Cannon, Ciaran Carson, Dairena Ní Chinnéide, Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe, Andrew Rahal, Rachael Hegarty, Eoin Rogers, Liz Quirke, and Featured Poet Caitlin Newby. There's an article on Seamus Heaney, excerpted from Minor Monuments, Ian Maleney's masterly book of essays; and, in the first in a series of dips into the PIR archives, Paula Meehan's still-timely essay on her time as Writing Fellow in Residence at TCD is reprinted from PIR 36 (1992).
Books reviewed include new work from Jessica Traynor, Michael Coady, John Liddy, Ceaití Ní Bheildiúin, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Anne Tannam, Gail McConnell,
Cathal Ó Searcaigh, Michael Hofmann, and Harry Clifton, along with 17 other titles. Ann Quinn provides the eloquent cover and artwork for Poetry Ireland Review 128, now available to order online as a single issue or on subscription.
In the early 1940s the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, was writing her elegy ‘Requiem’. It recorded the grief and dispossession of the Stalin purges. It was also a dangerous enterprise. She feared the secret police, the discovery of her manuscript, and what might follow.
Her solution was makeshift and workable. She wrote down fragments. She gave them to friends. Her friends memorised them. Then the paper was burned. Her friend Lydia Chukovskaya, a poet and dissident, was one of those who helped. “It was like a ritual,” she later recalled. “Hands, matches, an ashtray. A ritual beautiful and bitter.”
In 2007, at the Hay Festival, the distinguished novelist Martin Amis gave another view. “You may have noticed that poetry is dead.” he said. “The obituary has already been written ... I mean, it goes on, and its funny, ghoulish afterlife is in the form of tours and readings and poetry slams and all the rest of it, but not many people now curl up in the evening with a book of poetry.”
Those passionate, chosen friends of Anna Akhmatova were certainly not living a so-called ghoulish afterlife. They lived in a knife-edge present. In that space they may have doubted their survival under a regime which confused poets with enemies of the state. But they did not doubt the life of poetry. They lent to it their own memories, their own belief that the words they memorised were necessary. They lent to it their courage and their faith in an essential art.
These events and opinions are separated by decades, What happened in between? One answer lies in the argument that a powerful popular culture, with its emphasis on dailyness and details, turned out to be no ally of a great and complex art. Martin Amis’s views could not have been given a hundred years earlier, maybe not even fifty years earlier. But in the moment he offered them, for some people at least, poetry seemed to be in the shadows: its language and existence still vital to many, but its place in their culture and society poorly defined.
With the heavy contrast between these actions and statements, an emerging poet might well feel less than comfortable with the present state of things. The art they practice may seem called into question too often. They might also ask – is there a remedy? Is there something a new poet can do, or an established one, to take on the challenges of their time and engage with the questions around them?
I think there is. The remedy lies in the very shift that has occurred over the past decades. Once a poet was thought of as solitary, as closed in a private world. As a vendor of private perceptions and visions. That solitude was a source of esteem in the outside world. But a great deal has changed. Now poets are able to draw some part of their identity from the communal, the public, the gathering places – from panels to performance – which reinforce their identity and make visible their purpose.
Nor are such communities makeshift or temporary. Poetry Ireland has provided a remarkable community for decades, together with innovative ideas on how to strengthen it and sustain it. The Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets in the US have the same purpose. If a popular culture was no help to the art, the digital age has proved to be the opposite: providing tools that offer sanctuary and assistance to poets at every stage. All a poet needs to do is engage with the idea of community: from sharing work across boundaries and territories, to entering the debates and arguments which give the poetic conversation its vitality. The remedy, it turns out, adds a dimension to the traditional life of the poet: the building of communities where poets can exchange their work and provide a witness to their lives as poets.
- Eavan Boland