Ciaran Carson, The Irish For No Peter Sirr, Talk, Talk Dennis O’Driscoll, Hidden Extras Michael Coad

Terence Brown
A poet's second collection is an important milestone in a developing career. The first book may have been welcomed in predictable ways as promising or may have been afforded the courtesy due to the debutant. Now the promise has to begin to realize itself, the sense of an individual imaginative world and a personal voice must emerge with convincing assurance. Of the four second volumes by young poets to hand the one that most persuasively commends itself as a work of an excitingly original poet who has achieved a conviction of language and formal control in which to embody a unique sense of his experience, is Ciaran Carson whose The Irish for No is quite simply the most remarkable collection of poems by an Irish poet in a year which gave us important new collections by such as Heaney, Muldoon and Kinsella. Carson's subject is Belfast past and present and the terrible ways in which time, re-development and the ravages of war have transformed a human environment into something strange and terrible. But what might have been an exercise in folksy nostalgia about a Belfast version of the rare oul' times and a sentimental celebration of Northern crack is raised to the level of almost visionary art by the exploitation of a bewilderingly fluent and various set of narrative strategies in which the piety of the seanachie about place names, people and events is blended with a fasttalking, side-of-the-mouth (Belfast Chandlerese) demotic in a cinematic realization of a surreal urban scene in which anything can transform itself into anything else and only memory and the language which serves its needs achieves any kind of substantial existence. For memory saves lives. And it seems grimly appropriate that in the current Honest Ulsterman Carson recounts an incident in which memory of the vanished streets of his childhood quite literally saved his own life, establishing his credentials when he had wandered into dangerous territory. Rescued by the power of memory from the dangerous landscapes of past and present Belfast in this book, is a sense of the unshakeable attachment of the human mind to story-telling as a way to structure the unstructurable sea of event and experience. The hero of the book is the human voice itself compulsively shaping reality into narrative occasions rescuing it for a communication which defies conventional sense. The tragedy which is contemporary Bellast finds its appropriate artistic realization in these wild, ghoulish, black-comic yams in which the local pieties must reckon with atrocity and the artistic impulse must seek out some clues to order amidst the toppling masonry:
Since everything went up in smoke, no entrances, no exits. But as the charred beams hissed and flickered, I glimpsed a map of Belfast
In the ruins: obliterated streets, the faint impression of a key Something many-toothed, elaborate, stirred briefly in .the labyrinth.
By contrast Peter Sirr's second book deals in more predictable manner with more predictable matter. His poems are the sharply observed, wittily intelligent record of a young man's discovery of sex and travel. At their simplest level they possess an engaging freshness of response to these perennials, as they convey the wide-eyed wonder of a sophisticate discovering his innocence. But the volume as a whole is raised above the ordinary not only by the poet's sure control of a nicely judged syntax, but by the metaphor of the foreign. Sirr playfully and yet movingly exploits a metaphysical conceit in the book which makes the encounter with a foreign city a metaphor of a sexual coming-of-age. Each is a matter of matching a new language to a new experience, a negotiation of the strange, an acknowledgement of and delight in difference. A lively and enjoyable book; Sirr remains a man to watch as precocity and lively wit here begin to test themselves against experience, intelligence against the pleasures and the p?~ns of the flesh.
Michael Coady's Oven ume contains warm, emotionally open occasional poems in which generous feeling and a respect for individuals and the sacred quality of life itself finds engaging expression. These are poems of decent, humane feeling where the pressure of the language and the tension of form almost never quite come fully together and where the overall effect remains somewhat unfocussed. Coady is at his best when a concentration on the material world enforces formal discipline. At other moments the verse seems slack and the language diffuse. One does not sense here the obsessional thematic preoccupations of a poet driven to expression. Rather the rather hit or miss mixture of techniques and influences suggest even in a second volume the apprentice poet who is still unsure of his intentions. But 'A Blue Gate In Lough Street' is a controlled embodiment of daily mysteries which manages to resonate through the book with its instinct for elemental rituals which find their equivalant
in I?ve, relationships and communit  ..
begms to seem a little more than h y, makm~ thiS a collection which
The .best of Dennis O'Driscol~ ~ su~ of ItS parts.
Extras IS a lugubriously comic adum hiS. second collection Hidden ?eneath the surfaces of domestic mbratlO.n of the horrors that lie IS the laureate of hypocondriasis an;; professlOnallife. And O'DriscoU and reads the bad prognosis betwe:n °hse~s the skuU ?eneath the skin w~ary note of acquaintanceship h t e lm~s. Illness IS greeted with a pnmary metaphor in a way th t er~, as It constitutes the book's ~do we Irish write more hOSPit:1 s~:et1!~es becomes rather oppressive IS th~ s~nse of 'the terminal dis:ase~s ~ an others~) Everywhere here that Isn t cancer it might . b b stlll dormant m our cells' and 'f glum sense of daily life, a~r~:~:n oredom, for .O'DriscoU has a pretti All that Fall ('It is suicide to be ~ ou~ of hospital, as Beckett has it i~ Mr Tyler, what is it to be at hom~;>roa : But. wha: is it to be at home, Beckett O'Driscoll's almost I: A hngenng dissolution'). But like
 odd  f h  unre leved gloom m
  sort 0 umour in this bo k .  an ages to achieve an
acknowledge that all this devoutO m. th~ wry .ton~ which seems to and morbi? to the healthy citize~oettc diagnOSIs wdl seem excessive sombre1y Itemised by this solem;;' An.d t~e context of grim pain moments of celebration a more th pOd~ttc Joker gives to the rare
 Th  .  an or mary zest:
e wmdow swings out on
 a heady aura of sweet peas  fu  to a butterfly-light breeze,
Cut lawns exude fresh ha : rose h mes, poppy seasoning. resinous smells of d y. grass opper blades whirf"
No bad b woo pervade the tool shed '
news reaks today, no sudden tra d
 no hospital visiting n  .  '. ge y, no urgent telegrams,
 ".  ' 0 paclOg outsrde IOtensive care units
 Thl~ IS an Impressive coUection Th  .
and ° Dr.iscoU' s weakness is a te~d ough not all the poems come off worthy discursiveness which lacks e~~~ to mere exposition, a kind of P?e:ry , of statement requires (what Do exact ve~bal Control which
 dlctron and which La k"  .  nald DaVie termed 'Ch
t d f, r m mastered m The Ie D . aste our, e. orce of understatement as 'Th B ~s . eC~1Ved and in such a
po:m m High Windows). But there is: uddmg a great 'hospital !Iidden Ex.tras to keep one readin and n~ugh overall assurance in Items, which with any collection ~ t to bn~g one back to individual
IS 0 say qmte a lot.
Page 67, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 22