Ivan V. Lalic's book came out in England last year from the Anvil Press and it now appears in Ireland under the Dedalus imprint. It is a book which a number of people picked out as one of the most significant books to appear in 1989 and its strengths grow with each
Lalit was born in 1931. According to the blurb of the Anvil
edition, eleven collections of his Serbo-Croat poems have been published. The original of this new book won Yugoslavia's main literary award in 1984. Finely printed on good paper with a wellchosen typeface, its pages are physically the most attractive of the three books under review.
The poems are translated by Francis R. Jones who also
provides an introduction. He points out that The Passionate Measure is Lalit's first book in nine years and that it contains a new note: "The poems are maturer in tone; in theme, the Bible has replaced classical legend, the threat of our civilisation's annihilation has replaced the impending doom of medieval empires."
He also mentions that there is a more personal note. Many of the best poems (in translation at any rate) work when this personal note mixes with a classical drive and structure, as in a beautiful piece entitled 'My Mother's Memorial':
I know how foolish it is to look even for A move of your little finger, translated
As ant's moving between the crosses' shadows, Visible and invisible, according to the light:
It was light we were talking of all the time.
Other poems deal with poetry and the poetic act CA Note On Poetics'; 'A Poet's Grave'). Lalit has spoken of how his poems break out after a long gestation period and a number carry this
sens~ of ~rystalised ~vents and ~nsights. 'Interpret The Lightening' and ~ap are ?f t~IS type, whIle others again work in harmony, nudgmg and CIrclIng each other like a medieval model of the heavenly spheres.
Yet though Lalic's urge is to create a Byzantine structure (one ~equen~e is e~titled 'Concert of Byzantine Music'), his work is Increasmgly dnven by a sense of loss in a world where at the core structure gives way to chaos. It is a world from which the Rilkea~ an?els have fl.ed. Deep, rich, and rewarding, Lalic's work repays aVId care and IS one of those books that yields its power when read over months rather than in a few hours.
. Sean Lysaght's first collection is, as Bord Telecom say in the remmder, long overdue. His poems and articles have appeared in ~any publications over the years and many of them reveal an Interest in the relationship between literature and the natural world. That feeling for birds, beasts and flowers is everywhere in his book. It is in the titles of his poems: 'Thrush In Rain' 'Naturalist' 'Elm'. His work includes series of short takes ('Wood'Runes') and longer pieces which take in many subjects, some of them historical. Of th~ longer pieces, the title poem is the best. It is also funny, and t~ere IS humo~r and a ~,ense of the past working through many of hI.S poe~ns. HIS poem Notes Towards A Cultural History of the BI~~cle c~n be adde~ to the already-substantial corpus of Irish wntmg whIch deals WIth the ways of that vehicle.
Some of the smaller poems have a sense of padding about them, and t~e book may have needed more time or tighter editing. As a result, Its strongest pieces seem like lighthouses among candles, and the b?ok ~ways a little in that uneven distribution of light.
.. WhIle ~IS sense ?f the n~t~al world recalls Michael Longley In I:S e~phasis on partIculars, It IS less lyrical and precise, and it has behind It a sense of the atavistic and pagan, of a world which existed before humankind:
Before the first words in Ireland there were sparse, post-glacial trees, and northern birds.
Before the hunched primates of the Bann and their caravan of history
there were sub-arctic vistas: herring grounds,
and tundra hills unnamed.
If Sean Lysaght's book leaves the reader with a sense of trees and animals, Jerome Kiely's new collection leaves a sense of people and their lives. This is his second collection. His first, The Griffon Sings, was published in 1966.
Jerome Kiely works as a priest near Skibbereen in county Cork and the landscape of that area surfaces in his poems. His poems are vivid, simple, and sympathetic. They are packages of praise, often filled with striking points of view and unusual metaphors. Fr. Kiely's work is a kind of story-telling, detailing people and events he has met on the way:
Richie was ostrich tall; evenings he bounded homewards with his hearth's comfort of furze across his back looking like an ostrich running with its wings spread. Now plains regrade to meadows, shrunk is his savannah, and the rare ungainly man is dead.