Antenna – Brief Poems by Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson (October 9th, 1948 – October 6th, 2019) was born on the Lower Falls Road in Belfast into an Irish-speaking family. His father, William, was a postman and an Irish language enthusiast from whom he inherited his love of Irish, and of traditional music and storytelling. His mother, Mary, also an inspiration for his poems, worked in the linen mills. He spent his early years in Andersontown where he attended Slate Street School and, later, St. Gall’s Primary School. After attending St Mary’s Christian Brothers grammar school in Belfast, he studied English at Queen’s University where Seamus Heaney was one of his tutors and where poets Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon were fellow students. After graduation, he worked as the traditional arts officer of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1998 with responsibility for traditional Irish music and literature. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he travelled all over Ireland, playing the flute and the tin whistle in public venues, often accompanied by his future wife, Deirdre Shannon – herself a gifted fiddle-player. In 1998 he was appointed a Professor of English at Queen’s University and in 2003 was appointed director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at the university. 

He was the author of fourteen poetry collections and six prose books including Last Night’s Fun (1996), a book about traditional music where each chapter bears the title of a beloved song; The Star Factory, (1998) a memoir of Belfast which The Chicago Tribune called “a positive, loving, even celebratory evocation, the work of a man determined to live an ordinary urban life, and to clear in it a place for the imagination”; Shamrock Tea, (2001) a novel longlisted for the Booker Prize which, as The Guardian reviwer put it “claims to be a novel but might equally be filed under History, Philosophy, Art, or Myth and Religion”; Fishing for AmberA Long Story, (2000) which weaves, in an elaborate manner, Irish fairy tales, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the history of the Dutch golden age into the form of a magical alphabet; a novel The Pen Friend (2009) and a literary thriller set in Paris and Belfast, Exchange Place (2012).  His translation of Dante’s Inferno (2002) was awarded the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize and in 2003 he was made an honorary member of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association. He also translated Rimbaud into alexandrine lines in his collection In the Light Of  (2012) and the lesser-known French writer, Jean Follain, in From Elsewhere (2014) where he accompanied each translation with his own individual response. Unsurprisingly, given his Irish-language background, he also translated the Irish classic The Táin (2007) and Brian Merriman’s classic The Midnight Court (2005).

Ciaran Carson lived in Belfast his whole life. He died of lung cancer on 6 October 2019 at the age of 70, days before the publication of his last collection, Still Life.

 

THE POETRY OF CIARAN CARSON

Although it has long been superceded by better-known and better-celebrated collections, Ciaran Carson’s first book The New Estate (1976) was, to my mind, a remarkable debut and this first edition with its intriguing woodcuts holds a special place in my collection. A poem like The Bomb Disposal where “The city is a map of the city” prefigures themes that were to be developed, explored and extended throughout subsequent volumes: and a poem like Soot is still, decades on, a memorable and intricate poem. That fascination with maps, a constant throughout his career, is further indulged in his second collection, The Irish for No (1987) where a central section recreates the map of Belfast – the collapsing city – in words. Obliterated streets, bombed-out hotels and demolished facades are recalled and reconstructed in verse. A vibrant and decaying city is celebrated in an explosion of proper nouns. There is a new and frightening maturity at play here as evident in a poem like Campaign. Yet it is in the longer poems, in a style that owes much to the influence of the American poet, C. K. Williams, that Carson was to find his own mature voice. The subsequent collection, Belfast Confetti (1989) which, intriguingly, does not contain that evocative poem Belfast Confetti , further develops the long poem, the nine line poem, the prose poem and, interspersed throughout, a selection of translations of Japanese haiku (see below.) It also begins with a poem about maps, about Belfast, about street names, about directions, about history and, in typical Carson fashion, elides and aligns all together.

Breaking News (2003) is fascinating for the manner in which Carson manages to develop a fragmentary style to convey his typical concerns. That brief and fragmentary style is less successful, to my mind, in later volumes. On the Night Watch (2009) consists of over one hundred and twenty slimmed down, pared down, sonnets dealing with a siege of sickness. It is ingenious but somewhat repetitive. Ever more ingenious, if also repetitive, is the subsequent collection Until Before After (2010) which is about his wife’s hospital stay for a serious illness. The book is divided into three sections (until, before, after) and each poem in each section includes the relevant preposition from the title of that section. Brief poems are also included in his penultimate collection From Elsewhere (2014) a response to the French poet Jean Follain or, as he put it in an introductory note: This book consists of translations of the French poet Jean Follain, faced by “original” poems inspired by these translations: spins or takes on them in other words. Translations of the translations as it were. If many of the translations are a little flat, the translations of the translations, the original poems, some of which are included below, are far more interesting. There are no brief poems is Carson’s last posthumous publication Still Life (2019) but it is a remarkable swan song, one of the best poetry books of the decade, a superb concluding look at life, death and the streets of a Belfast that nourished this remarkable poet throughout his life.

 

Brief Poems by Ciaran Carson

from THE NEW ESTATE AND OTHER POEMS (1988)

Eaves

Rain in summer –
it is the sound of a thousand cows
Being milked.

In winter
The eaves are heavy with ice,
Their snowy teats drip silence.                             

from the Welsh

***

Epitaph

Now I am bereft of answers
Your questions have gone astray –

Your roofs are open to the wind,
My roof is but cold clay.

after Dafydd Jones

 

 

from BELFAST CONFETTI (1989)

Plains and mountains, skies
all up to their eyes in snow:
nothing to be seen.

-Joso

***

I know the wild geese
ate my barley – yesterday?
Today? Where did they go?

-Yasui

***

These are wild slow days,
echoes trickling in from all
around Kyoto.

-Buson

***

I’ve just put on this
borrowed armour: second hand
cold freezes my bones.

-Buson

***

In Kyoto, still
longing for Kyoto: cuck-
oo’s two timepworn notes.

-Basho

***

Darkness never flows
except down by the river:
shimmering fireflies.

-Chiyo

 

 

from BREAKING NEWS (2003)

Belfast

east

beyond the yellow
shipyard cranes

a blackbird whistles
in a whin bush

west

beside the motorway
a black taxi

rusts in a field 
of blue thistles

***

Trap

backpack radio
antenna

twitching
rifle

headphones
cocked

I don’t
read you

what the

over

***

Breaking

red alert
car parked

in a red
zone

about to

disintegrate
it’s

oh

so quiet

you can
almost

hear it rust

***

Wire

I met him
in a bar

he shook

my hand

spoke
of coffee-grinders

this

and that

time
and place

by now

he’d lit

a cigarette

he reeked of
explosive

***

Waste  Not

birds flock
above the field

near
dark

women with sheaves
attend

the dead
harvesting

gold braid
and buttons

***

Fragment

from a piece of
the Tupperware
lunchbox that hold

the wiring
they could tell
the bombmaker wore

Marigold rubber gloves

***

Campaign

shot
the horses fell

a crow
plucked the eyes

time passed

from a socket
crept

a butterfly

***

Siege

the road
to Sevastopal

is paved
with round-shot

the road
from Sevastapol

with boots
that lack feet

 

 

from ON THE NIGHT WATCH (2009)

It Is

never
as late as

you think
you think

you know
the small hours

grow
into decades

measuring
eternity

or dawn
to the chink

chink
of the first bird

***

Snow

that we two
looked at

last year
does it fall

anew
or what is this

a blinding
dazzle

dark & stars
we wonder which

is yin
which yang

what then
what now

***

Rank

divested
of his gear

a soldier
by his neck

tag
all 33

vertebrae
intact

the body
laid out where

he went kaput
a bullet

through
the occipital bone

***

Night after Night

in room
after book-

filled room
upon storey

after storey
I scan spine

after spine
upon shelf

after shelf
trying to locate

a volume
lodged at

the back
of my mind

 

from UNTIL BEFORE AFTER (2010)

So it is

as when
death draws

nigh death
draws a hush

upon the house
until the one

who is about
to die

cries open
the door

***

Whatever

imponderable
toll time

takes we
cannot tell

the order
of our going

hence until
the next

not even
then

***

It is

as if another city
dark as this one

dwells in this one
as before now that

you hear it through
the helicopter

beat that swells
from where

the city meets
the city

***

Time and

again time
after time to

play in time
as we did with

each other for
the last time

before now that
after without you

I still keep
your time in mind

***

The tag

round your wrist
bore a number

your name
and DOB

two weeks after
two stone less

the day you
came home it

slipped off
no need to snip

 

 

from FROM ELSEWHERE (2014)

Reverberation

From time to time
following the rumble of thunder
or a bomb
upon a mantlepiece
a Dresden vase crowded
wIth open-mouthed flowers
trembles about
to topple
over.

***

Then

Fallen from some
unknown tree
the leaf stuck
to the mushroom
trembles
in a moonlit glade
a horseman passes by
vanishes
into the gloom.

***

Revolution

Amid the nosie of gunfire
only the blind man
hears his cane
as he taps his way
through streets thronged with rioters
to the printing press
where they cast bullets
from type.

***

What Light There Is

By night
a flotilla of helicopters
circles above a city
never seen but heard
a noise indistinguishable
from that of the world
beyond its waves
from time to time
pierced by
a lightning stroke
the shriek of a night bird.

***

All poems: ©The Gallery Press.

 

 

LINKS

 Poetry Foundation page on Ciaran Carson.

The Gallery Press page on Ciaran Carson.

An interview with Ciaran Carson in The New Yorker.

Michael Hinds discusses the poetry of Ciaran Carson in the Dublin Review of Books.

Still Life: a review by David Wheatley.

The Triumph: In memory of Ciaran Carson, a poem by Paul Muldoon.

Irish Times Obituary.

The New York Times obituary.

Irish Arses – Brief Poems by Brendan Kennelly

Brendan Kennelly, an Irish poet and novelist, was born in Ballylongford in County Kerry on 17 April 1936.  His parents owned a pub at the village crossroads. He was educated at the inter-denominational school, St. Ita’s College in Tarbert and at Trinity College, where he edited the student literary magazine Icarus. He graduated from Trinity and wrote his PhD thesis there. The subject of his doctoral thesis, Modern Irish Poets and the Irish Epic, was the revival of ancient Gaelic mythology in English verse by notable Irish poets, including Samuel Ferguson and W.B. Yeats. He also studied at Leeds University. He was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for thirty years until his retirement from teaching in 2005. In 2010 he was awarded the Irish PEN Award for his contribution to Irish Literature. He now lives in Listowel in County Kerry.

THE POETRY OF BRENDAN KENNELLY

A prolific and fluent writer, Brendan Kennelly has more than fifty books to his credit, over thirty of them collections of poetry. Many of them are book-length sequences, adapting and adopting various voices to his own ends: For me, poetry is an entering into the lives of things and people, dreams and events. An early sequence Cromwell (Beaver Row Press, 1983; Bloodaxe Books, 1987) is a wildly ambitious attempt to convey the historical import of a polarising figure in Anglo-Irish relations by utilising various voices and personae and then putting them through a chronological blender. The use of a persona can be a liberating agent and reveal more about our existence and our way of life than personal outpourings. Not only does Kennelly ventriloquize Cromwell, but he also creates his own gargantuan and rabelesian figures, in particular a mythical mad Irishman with the Joycean name of M.P.G.M. Buffún Esq. (pronounced buffoon). A later book, Moloney Up and At It (Mercier Press, 1984) continues the rabelesian theme, but in a rural manner. Set in his native Kerry and using the local language, these ten comic poems on the themes of sex and death are monologues in the voice of a local man. Kennelly himself appears as a comic foil in the concluding poem.

The poems below are taken from four of Kennelly’s most ambitious books. The Book of Judas (Bloodaxe Books,1991) is an epic poem of nearly 400 pages, almost 800 poems, mediated by the Biblical figure of Judas transported through history, myth and legend to contemporary Ireland. What unites this amazing enterprise is not only the reviled figure of Judas but the sense of ultimate betrayal which he symbolises. I believe, he writes in a preface, that this culture is now in an advanced state of self-betrayal, playing Judas to itself. In this poem I wanted this man to talk to himself, this culture to mutter to itself of what is lost or forgotten or betrayed or grotesquely twisted in memory. Talk to himself, Judas certainly does. The great strength of the book is its relentlessly colloquial style, pouring out cliché, bombast, invective, obscenity, blasphemy and sheer bloody-minded self-exculpation. (From my vantage point as traitor/I see what’s true.) There are times when the sheer effort to cope with the style breaks down and the book splutters and stutters along for pages at a time (Clichés, I said, clichés, is this all you have to give.) But Kennelly works hard to offer a variety of complimentary voices to that given to his anti-hero, what he calls the Judas voice. Biblical, historical and literary figures of betrayal swagger their way through the narrative. Like Paradise Lost, the book is in twelve sections; like Satan, Judas is its compelling anti-hero; and like Milton, Kennelly has created a style appropriate to his grand enterprise, one that owes more to a televisual than a theological age. (I kept a production notebook on the crucifixion.) It is a remarkable work.

Poetry My Arse, subtitled, “A riotous Epic Poem”, (Bloodaxe Books,1995) is equally ambitious. This poem concerns a poet, poetry, language and various forms of relationship. The poet Ace de Horner, moves through his poetry, the city, different relationships. He broods a lot. The city in question is Dublin and, as well as being identified as “post-colonial”, Kennelly also calls it, in a prefatory “Acenote”, the most garrulous city in Christendom. There are elements of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake with Ace de Horner as a latter-day Bloom or HCE. The book is defiantly garrulous, a kind of shuffling arena of voices. These voices lead to a cacophony of bile and bluster, like a Dublin bar-room at closing time. While the poetry is constantly undercutting itself as it spools out, there is a bluntness to the satire. The book, it seems to me, lacks the rigour or intellectual control to transform bitterness into a sustainable satire on Dublin’s literary life. It operates best at the level of burlesque, lampoon, farce and crude jokes. In defiantly undercutting any auspicious or traditional sense of the resonance of poetry, the exuberance and exhibitionism are left to do the work of social and literary criticism. The poems are propelled by the energetic thrust of their defiant style and best read as part of a compelling comedy. Any objection to a book that refuses to take itself seriously is always going to be met with an in-built deflector. Kennelly’s response to one negative reviewer is apt: The reviewer said it was full of shit, sex and violence. He was right. My intention was his perception. But it is also about the connection between the poet and his society. It explores the nature of poetry, my blind Dublin Homer who sees more clearly as he becomes more blind.

Arses reappear in Martial Art (Bloodaxe Books, 2003). Given the scatological, even the pornographic nature of much of Kennelly’s work, it is not surprising that he turned to the Latin poet for inspiration. What is surprising, and welcome, is the manner in which he reins in his exuberance and attains an uncharacteristic concision. The book is no structured translation of much translated poems. It includes translation, but it is also an effort, successful in large parts, to wrest Martial to his own ends. Some of the poems are in the mode of the Latin poet rather than mere translations. There are verses here which I wrote after trying to translate him, or while I tried to translate him.  It is a tribute to the skill with which he conducts the enterprise that it is sometimes hard to know which poem is original and which is a translation. The empathy is emphasised when Kennelly calls Martial a wandering provincial in a confident metropolis. Martial’s movement from the Spanish town of Bilbilis to Rome is mirrored in the transition of Kennelly from the rural Kerry town of Ballylongford to metropolitan Dublin. The identification is further explored in a brief introduction: If he’d been a boxer, he’d have developed a new kind of knockout punch, smiling at his victim as he walked back to his corner. His themes are many and varied. He writes of money, food, wine, furniture, style, power, sex, corruption, love, hatred, streets, darkness, families, poverty, snobbery, poets, poetry, polished deceit, aesthetic back-stabbers, High Art, low artists, metropolitan egotism and arrogance, politics, escape to the countryside, property, law, education, greed, manipulative men and women, cliques, loners, talkers and chatterboxes of every shade and motive, patrons, misery, the happy life, clothes, enemies, gossip, friends, flattery and the old constant problem of personal survival and hope of self-renewal. That’s Rome two thousand years ago. That’s Dublin today… Is one translating Martial? Or is Martial, smiling and mischievous as ever, translating the translator? The rock-star as literary critic, Bono, has endorsed Brendan Kennelly’s translations, in a blurb, This is poetry as base as heavy metal, as high as the Holy Spirit flies, comic and tragic, from litany to rant, roaring at times, soaring at other times. He may be overblowing the achievement, but he has a point.

Three Irish arses make an appearance in Now (Bloodaxe Books, 2006). The first is that of a swan who “cocks his arse/to the full moon.” The second and third use that slang Irish invocation, my arse or, more colloquially, O kiss me arse. (See below.) Typical of Kennelly, he can be both concise and verbose at once. The book consists of more than six hundred and fifty three-line poems: I decided to write a poem sequence of three-liners that would try to convey the sliding identities of “now.” Although they flirt fitfully with terza-rima, epigram, even the odd haiku-like structure, they have more in common with the energetic burst that make up Poetry My Arse. The sequence is autobiographical and contains a motley cast of odd and incongruous characters with names like Tinker, Deborah Breen, Professor Strong, Zachary Hoakes and Professor Hoggett. As if to repay the tribute in the blurb on Martial Art, even Bono makes a grandiloquent appearance in the sequence. In a brief introductory note, and these introductory notes are among the more pleasing aspects of his many collections, Kennelly invokes some of his previous books and argues Now is an attempt to probe the concerns (obsessions?) with time in these poems in a more condensed, immediate way that is influenced by ancient proverbs from different cultures and modern headlines from different countries. Each of these often rhyming triplets posits questions of time, of an inherent Now, of the relation between a personal past and a city’s past. Despite their brevity, they are more loquacious than condensed, the work of one of the most eclectic and energetic of Irish poets.

 

 

Brief Poems by Brendan Kennelly

from THE BOOK OF JUDAS 

Christmas 1986

At the entrance to the church, in black
Spare lettering: GUNS NOT PRAYER.

***

Herod’s Epitaph

Time’s children gave him plenty rope:
While there’s death there’s hope.

***

Nowhere

The camp is nowhere, yet a hundred
Starving stragglers drag in here every day.

***

Time

Despite madness and heartache
Despite white supremacy and black magic
Despite heaven’s rage and earthquake
Let’s take a commercial break.

***

How Able is Abel

Saxon shillings, Yankee dollars, Irish mist:
Cutest hoor that ever pissed.
Turns muck to amethyst.

***

All poems © Bloodaxe Books.

 

from POETRY MY ARSE

Happy

“I like sleeping with Stephen.
I like sleeping with Stephen’s daddy too.
Neither knows I sleep with the other.
I keep two men happy. And you?”

***

For Adults

“Why are you so intent,”I asked, “on getting
other men’s wives into bed?”
“Adultery is for adults,” he said.

***

Slice

“I know,” she said, “when we laugh and fuck
life’s a blessèd slice of luck.”

***

The Good News

I told him I was getting married.
His lip
curled into a question:
“Will she take the whip?”

***

Colleague

“She broke both legs, we soon forgot her.
If that woman was a horse we’d have shot her.”

***

Nourishment

She lifted her head, Ace heard her say,
“Well, that’s my protein for today.”

***

All poems © Bloodaxe Books.

 

from MARTIAL ART

Three Things

Three things make an epigram sing:
brevity, honey, sting.

***

Stress

The god of divination is under stress.
What he’ll say
is anyone’s guess.

***

Talkers

When these two talk in their usual way
the sun covers its face and turns away.

***

Meaning

When one dines alone
one knows the meaning 
of conversation.

***

Two souls

I know two souls
who always go to bed late
fearing their sleep
may lessen their hate.

***

Prattus

Had Prattus the heaven’s embroidered cloths
he’d wipe his arse with them.

***

Poetry

If Martial’s truth were told
all that I give
is less than I withhold.

***

Late

He sits up late in a cold, dark place.
Why? His wife’s face.

***

Passion and permanence

What he, in love, bedwhispers to her
is printed on air, scrawled on water.

***

The art of war

Soldiers never afraid to risk their lives
are quivering cowards before their wives.

***

Further translations of Martial by Brendan Kennelly, together with the original Latin, are available on the Brief Poems Martial post.

All poems © Bloodaxe Books.

from NOW

He wonders why hate
has such an accomplished smile.
Hell is a paradise of style.

***

He observes that sometimes in summer leaves fall
as in autumn, whether on a swan’s nest 
or a body in the canal.

***

Now the philosopher: “There is no difference between living
and dying.” “Why, then, do you not die.”
“Because there is no difference.”

***

“A poem should not mean
but be.”
“On the matter of meaning and being, we disagree.”

***

The swan cocks his arse
to the full moon, 
going down.

***

“Ravenous appetite, my arse!
A man is no more 
than a lusty goat waiting to snore!”

***

“O kiss me arse,” she chirps, “forget your gloomy style.
It takes forty-two muscles to frown,
seventeen to smile.”

***

“Will she ever shut up?
Why can’t the thoughtless 
be wordless?”

***

All poems © Bloodaxe Books.

 

LINKS

The “Trinity Writers” Page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Wikipedia page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Bloodaxe Books page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Poetry International page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Poetry Archive page on Brendan Kennelly.

An Irish Times article on Brendan Kennelly by Eileen Battersby.

A review of Martial Art by Paul Davis.

 

Empty Benches – Brief Poems by Chris Agee

agee_chris

Chris Agee (born 18 January 1956, in San Francisco) is a poet, essayist and editor and photographer. He holds dual American and Irish citizenship, and has spent most of his adult life in Ireland. He also spends part of each year at his house on the Dalmatian island of Korčula in Croatia. He was educated in the United States where he attended Harvard University and studied with the poet and translator, Robert Fitzgerald. After graduating in 1979 with a degree in American Literature and Language, he moved to Ireland where he has lived ever since. Agee intended to stay only a year or two in Ireland, but by the mid-eighties his residence in Belfast had become permanent. Between 1979 and 2007 he worked in various capacities as a teacher in Belfast. Since then, he has worked full-time as Editor of Irish Pages: A Journal of Contemporary Writing, one of Ireland’s premier literary journals (which he founded in 2002), as well as in a freelance literary capacity, including as a reviewer for The Irish Times.

Chris Agee is the author of five books of poems: In the New Hampshire Woods (The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1992); First Light (The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2003); Next to Nothing (Salt, Cambridge, 2009) which was shortlisted for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry; Blue Sandbar Moon (Irish Pages Press, 2018); and Trump Rant (Irish Pages Press, 2021).

empty-benches-in-garden-during-autumn-season

Empty Benches – The art of the elegy 1: Next to Nothing

Elegies for adults tend to length. Witness, for example, Henry King on his wife in The Exequy; Milton on Edward King in Lycidas, Shelley on Keats in Adonais, Tennyson on Arthur Hallam in In memoriam A. H. H., or Yeats, on the son of a friend, in his In Memory of Major Robert Gregory. Elegies for children tend to brevity. Witness, for example,  Ben Jonson’s On My First Son, Robert Herrick’s Epitaph Upon a Child that died, Wordsworth’s Lucy poems, or X. J. Kennedy’s lovely Little Elegy for a child who skipped rope. The poems in his third collection Next to Nothing which Chris Agee wrote on the death of his daughter, Miriam, who died suddenly in 2001, at the age of four, of complications following a volvulus of the fundus, are also brief. But they eschew the tiny formality of the latter poets in favour of what he has called micro-poems. He explains the genesis of these poems here

9781844715602_largeIn addition to individual poems and several sequences, Next to Nothing includes a section entitled “Heartscapes”, which consists of 59 “micro-poems”, as I call them. Many of these are extremely short; most were written during the very bleak and soul-sick year of 2003; and the whole section (with one poem per page) will take no more than thirty minutes to read, and indeed can be read with ease by any general intelligent reader, whatever their familiarity with or experience of poetry. Swiftness of effect was, in fact, part of the intention and fidelity; the challenge here as throughout the book was to record true and deep “heart-feeling” (as opposed to the “feeling” of sensibility, apperception, historical moment, etc.) – that most delicate of poetic material, owing to the swiftness of emotion itself. For once, I think I can say that these poems wrote themselves, in the sense of my being a quite passive amanuensis caught up in pain rather than any sort of instigator – drawing on the habit of technique belonging to what had become a previous life, whilst suddenly also bereft of belief in the poetic outcome compared to the apocalypse of the loss itself – that is to say, the textual as “next to nothing”, in several distinct senses, like Matisse’s sparest line-drawings in a sea of blank space . . .

Chris Agee has called these poems, twenty of which I have reproduced below, “title-less” with the opening line in a different font. However I prefer to see them as poems with traditional titles leading into and included in the subsequent poem. On this reading Incommunicable becomes a devastating title without a poem conveying the enormity of a grief which he described as like a concentration camp. One day they let you out and there you are on the road in your big, grey coat of grief. I’ve been walking that road for six years and the camp, the grief, is always still there behind me. What is remarkable is the breadth of that grief, encompassing even political comment, conveyed in so few words. Shock and awe is one such political poem where the pity and sorrow extend outward. In a prefatory note to the collection he writes,  The dates given in “Heartscapes” refer to the moment of genesis and not necessarily of composition. I have included these dates beneath the poems.

empty-benches-in-garden-during-autumn-season

Empty Benches – The art of the elegy 2: Blue Sandbar Moon

In Blue Sandbar Moon (2018) the personal loss, first explored in the preceding collection Next to Nothing (2009), is expanded to other losses in other locations such as Sarajevo, Žrnova, Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow and The Hague, where the poet attended and comments on sessions of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.bluemoon The emotions engendered by the family tragedy are augmented by a sensitivity to the pain others endure, particularly as a result of political and historical acts of violence. It is what Chris Agee calls the aftermath of aftermath. Subtitled “A micro-epic“, the book consists, for the most part, of short elliptical impressionistic poems in a diary-like sequence – each poem is concluded with a date stamp. Describing what he calls, in an Irish Times article, his unusual subtitle, virtually a neologism, he explains I don’t think this term has ever previously been used in a literary context, certainly not for a series of micropoems handled in this way; and so, for me, not only the name, but the form itself – a mosaic structure, allowing for celerity and/or dwelling when reading – constitutes something of a genuine formal démarche.

Acknowleging a debt to the short poems of Samuel Menashe and to the micropoems of W. G. Sebald, he has managed to create a fresh, vibrant, plangent and resonant manner of confronting a sense of loss that is both personal and, via the personal, political. When he does let rip, politically, as he does in his latest collection, Trump Rant (2021), it leads to a litany of fierce invective. But that is another story for another time.

empty-benches-in-garden-during-autumn-season

Brief Poems by Chris Agee

from NEXT TO NOTHING

I wish

to live
near
the coffin
of small details

Written in sleep
12 January 2003
(Miriam’s birthday)

***

The word

Death
so old
there is no
first
etymology

14 January 2003

***

According

to Amichai
God is
change
and Death
is His
prophet

14 January 2003

***

Pain

like love’s
Doppler Effect
a sudden onrush
of a passing
memory

21 January 2003

***

Still stunned

I gaze
through the glass
of the barber’s
balancing
on the edge
between the wound’s
wellspring
and the stilled surface
of living

St Brigid’s Day 2003

***

Your face

swims
in the window
where I wave
at the childminder’s
new child

4 February 2003

***

The worst

of the worst
was when
I lifted each lid
and saw
the blue eyes
I loved
more than life
stilled forever
on the splattered bed

3 March 2003

***

Incommunicable

4 March 2003

***

Shock and awe

or better
pity and sorrow
for the boy
with the back of his head
blown off

31 March 2003

***

Birdsong

at dawn
like a far-off
heavenly
music
of the dead

4 April 2003
(Miriam’s deathday)

empty-benches-in-garden-during-autumn-season

from NEXT TO NOTHING

In the end

you still
live
in me
like clouds
in a vernal pond
whose sky
has vanished

Massachusetts
13 April 2003

***

The once

seamless
blue
now rent
with the contrail
of sorrow’s shining
cicatrix

Massachusetts
15 April 2003

***

Its life

is ending
blossom of
horsechestnut
that dripped
on my cheek
from a bough
high above

Washington, DC
6 May 2003

***

Sick

sick
sick
each dawn
as if
I bide
my time
unto Death

Washington, DC
7 May 2003

***

The empty bench

rotted
on the dock
where my father sat
where you sat
the same light
trembling
in the corner
before your
coffin came

Squam Lake, New Hampshire
30 May 2003

***

Winter sun

low
and blinding
over the place
of your funeral
at the end
I’ll be glad
to go
into
its helium glow

1 December 2003

***

Winter moon

Islam’s silver
sliver
depleted
to its bright
scoop’s
nothingness
of memory

December 2004

***

Reading

the Obituaries
I always look
for
the great
achievement
of children

5 March 2005

***

I missed

your stellata
this year
only a baker’s
dozen were left
one still
with the ghost
of a fragrance

6 April 2005

***

Here

not here
is
the one
truth

Dublin
27 May 2005

From Next to Nothing, by Chris Agee,  copyright © 2009 by Chris Agee. Reprinted by permission of the author and the publishers, Salt Publishing. All rights reserved.

empty-benches-in-garden-during-autumn-season

from BLUE SANDBAR MOON

I made it

on time
this year
defeated
and tired
your scent still
with me
thin and delicate
in the drafts
of hindsight

Belfast
May 2008

***

Is it

possible
to be returning
all your life
to a Penelope
you’ve
never met

Belfast
April 2009

***

Rembrandt

the human face
the central light
the inner glow

the

Mauritshuis
The Hague
23 April 2009

***

A petal

falling
from the magnolia
in the morning’s
dusky gustiness
threatening
the tones
of another storm

Belfast
Spring 2010

***

No

darling
I won’t
let go
no
it’s all
I have
to keep
you here

Gortahork
Co Donegal
16 July 2010

***

Moon

in the cloud
do you see it
too
earthling
in this
life only

Belfast and Glasgow
9 December 2010

***

In daylight

I already
feel
the silence
of departure
like
last night’s
dark sea
flecked
with memory’s
lights

Before departure
Dubrovnik
26 April 2011

***

The last morning

after
the last night
the crescent moon
like Islam’s
slender cusp
by a lobe of dark
waxing
towards plenitude
in our new lives

Departures
Sarajevo Airport
24 October 2011

***

As if a full-stop

clarified
the whole sentence
backwards
with a brilliant
clarification
of vanishing
breath

Hearing of a death
7 August 2012

***

This time

anyway
I travelled light
without
the heart
of life
into munificent
September magnificence

First morning
Žrnovo
14 September 2013

***

We had

her real person
for just
two years
like the morning’s
light-flooded lindens
on North Parade
before the afternoon’s
darkening tempest
then
eternal night

Belfast
July 2016

From Blue Sandbar Moon, by Chris Agee,  copyright © 2018 by Chris Agee.

empty-benches-in-garden-during-autumn-season

LINKS

The website for Chris Agee.

An interview with Chris Agee on the poems in Next to Nothing.

Robert Peake reviews Next to Nothing.

Chris Agee reads his poetry and explains his view of micro-poems.

An interview with Chris Agee in the Strathclyde Telegraph.

The Salt Publishing page on Next to Nothing.

The Irish Pages site for Blue Sandbar Moon.

An article by Chris Agee in the Irish Times.

A review of Blue Sandbar Moon by Ben Keatinge in the Dublin Review of Books.

The Irish Pages site for Trump Rant.

Chris Agee recites sections of Trump Rant.

agee_chris

A Muddle of Mice – Brief Poems by Paul Muldoon

muldoon-norman-mcbeathPaul Muldoon (born 20 June 1951) is an Irish poet from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. His father worked as a farmer (among other jobs) and his mother was a school teacher. Talking of his home life, he has said, I’m astonished to think that, apart from some Catholic Truth Society pamphlets, some books on saints, there were, essentially, no books in the house, except one set, the Junior World Encyclopaedia, which I certainly read again and again. People would say, I suppose, that it might account for my interest in a wide range of arcane bits of information. At some level, I was self-educated. 

His poetry is known for his difficult, sly, allusive style, casual use of obscure or archaic words, understated wit, punning, and deft technique in meter and rhyme. According to the Poetry Foundation website, Muldoon’s work is full of paradox: playful but serious, elusive but direct, innovative but traditional. He uses traditional verse forms such as the sonnet, ballad, and dramatic monologue, but alters their length and basic structure, and uses rhyme and meter in new ways. His work is also notable for its layered use of conceit, allusion, and wit. The cryptic wordplay present in many poems has often been called Joycean, but Muldoon himself has cited lyric poets such as Frost, Thomas, and MacNeice as his major influences. 

Muldoon is a widely (and wildly) ambitious poet. Consider his long poem Madoc: A Mystery, extracts from which appear below. It takes its title from a  Robert Southey poem concerning a Welsh prince who discovers America in the twelfth century. This strange poem narrates in 233 sections (the same number as the number of native American tribes), what might have happened  had  Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey actually fulfilled their 1794 plan to go to America  to found a Pantisocratic community (‘equal rule for all’) on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. To complicate poetic matters, which Muldoon is often doing, each one of these sections is named after a philosopher. It incorporates maps and geometric diagrams. In his Irish Poetry since 1950, John Goodby claims it is by common consent, the most complex poem in modern Irish literature … a massively ambitious, a historiographical metafiction. Critical opinion continues to be divided. The Irish novelist, John Banville, one of Muldoon’s admirers, was baffled when he reviewed the poem for The New York Review of Books: I cannot help feeling that this time he has gone too far. Muldoon’s view dismisses such readings, I quite enjoy having fun. It’s part of how it is, and who we are.

Muldoon is always going too far. It is part of his attraction and also part of what is frustrating about his work. Each time a new collection is published I buy it, read it with an initial frustration and perplexity and then find, on a re-reading,  that there is much to admire in his amazing breadth, scope and dexterity. As he puts it himself, The point of poetry is to be acutely discomforting, to prod and provoke, to poke us in the eye, to punch us in the nose, to knock us off our feet, to take our breath away. He has been compared, rightly in my view, to James Joyce. Finnegans Wake may be one of the most frustrating books ever written, but would I be without it? Perhaps William Logan best understands what is both most frustrating and most fascinating about Paul Muldoon’s poetry, he is  in love (not wisely but too well) with language itself. . . . Too often the result is tedious foolery, the language run amok with Jabberwocky possibility (words, words, monotonously inbreeding), as if possibility were reason enough for the doing. Yet Logan also offered this commendation, In our time of tired mirrors and more-than-tiresome confession, Muldoon is the rare poet who writes through the looking glass.

 

three_mice

PAUL MULDOON AND THE ART OF HAIKU

The art of poetry and the art of the haiku are not readily complimentary. Many of the best haiku writers today avoid other forms of poetry. And many of the best  poets either avoid haiku or use it sparingly and without great conviction. Paul Muldoon is different. Just as he has shaken, disrupted and reanimated such forms as the sonnet, he has done the same with the haiku.  Not only has he added his trademark use of rhyme and half-rhyme to the recipe, he has also applied his characteristic wit, humour and conceit. He favours the haiku sequence, extracts from three of which appear below. And they bristle and bustle and busy themselves with the minutiae of his daily life, operating not just on an individual level but echoing and re-echoing throughout the sequences. Muldoon has managed to take an often twee form and apply his lucid and ludic skills to invigorating and animating its triadic structure.

 

three_mice

Brief Poems by Paul Muldoon

Blemish

Were it indeed an accident of birth
That she looks on the gentle earth
And the seemingly gentle sky
Through one brown and one blue eye.

***

Ireland

The Volkswagen parked in the gap.
But gently ticking over,
You wonder if it’s lovers
And not men hurrying back
Across two fields and a river.

***

Mink

A mink escaped from a mink-farm
in South Armagh
is led to the grave of Robert Nairac
by the fur-lined hood of his anorak.

***

Asra

The night I wrote your name in biro on my wrist
we would wake before dawn; back to back: duellists.

***

Plovers

The plovers come down hard, then clear again,
for they are the embodiment of rain

***

Tract

I cleared all the trees about my cabin, all
that came within range of a musket ball.

***

The Breather

Think of this gravestone
as a long, low chair
strategically placed
at a turn in the stair.

 

three_mice

from Madoc: A Mystery

[Empedocles]

The woodchuck has had occasion
to turn into a moccasin.

—-

[Antisthenes]

Coleridge follows a white spaniel
through the caverns of the Domdaniel.

—-

[Theophrastus]

De dum, de dum, de dum, de dum, de dum.

—-

[Archimedes]

Coleridge leaps out of the tub. Imagine that.

—-

[Anselm]

De dum, Te Deum, de dum, Te Deum, de dum.

—-

[Bacon]

Through the hoopless hoop of the black rainbow.

—-

[Newton]

Until it strikes him, as if by some fluke;
this strict, unseasonable, black snowflake.

—-

[Byron]

Again stamps his cloven hoof
as he conjugates the verb ‘to have’,

—-

[James]

The pile of horse-dung at the heart of Southeyopolis
looks for all the world like a dish of baked apple.

—-

[Herrigel]

Through the hoopless hoop of an elk-horn bow.

—-

[Popper]

We last see him crouching in blood like a jugged hare.
As to where he goes? It’s a matter of pure conjecture.

 

three_mice

 

from Hopewell Haiku

II

A muddle of mice.
Their shit looks like caraway
but smells like allspice.

——

V

A stone at its core,
this snowball’s the porcelain
knob on winter’s door.

—-

IX

Cheek-to-cheek-by-jowl,
from the side of the kettle
my ancestors scowl.

—-

XII

For most of a week
we’ve lived on a pot of broth
made from a pig’s cheek.

—-

XVIII

The first day of spring.
What to make of that bald patch
right under the swing.

—-

XXV

A hammock at dusk.
I scrimshaw a narwhal hunt
on a narwhal tusk.

—-

XXVI

I, too, nailed a coin
to the mast of the Pequod.
A tiny pinecone.

—-

XXXVIII

It seems from this sheer
clapboard, fungus-flanged, that walls
do indeed have ears.

—-

XLVI

At my birthday bash,
a yellow bin for bottles
and a green for trash.

XLVII

Sunflower with fenceposts.
Communion rail. Crozier. Cope.
The monstrance. The host.

—-

LIV

An airplane, alas,
is more likely than thunder
to trouble your glass.

—-

LVIII

A small, hard pear falls
and hits the deck with a thud.
Ripeness is not all.

—-

XVI

Two trees in the yard
bring neither shade nor shelter
but rain, twice as hard.

—-

LXXVIII

Fresh snow on the roof
of a car that passed me by.
The print of one hoof.

 

three_mice

from News Headlines from the Homer Noble Farm

II

From his grassy knoll
he has you in his crosshairs,
the accomplice mole.

—-

V

He has, you will find,
two modes only, the chipmunk:
fast-forward; rewind.

VI

The smell, like a skunk,
of coffee about to perk.
Thelonious Monk.

—-

X

Behind the wood bin
a garter snake snaps itself,
showing us some skin.

XI

Like most bits of delf,
the turtle’s seen at its best
on one’s neighbor’s shelf.

—-

XIX

How all seems to vie,
not just my sleeping laptop
with the first firefly.

 

three_mice

from 90 Instant Messages to Tom Moore

I

Jim-jams and whim-whams
where the whalers still heave to
for a gammy-gam.

XIV

A barracuda
is eating a small nurse shark.
Each smiles like Buddha.

XVII

A drunken girl blabs
how he had put in an oar
but she caught a crab.

XX

Tied to the drift rails
and flogged with a bull’s pizzle,
a sailor still wails.

LXXXIX

The glass of red wine
with which I saw eye to eye
until half past nine.

XC

Completely at odds.
We’re now completely at odds.
Completely at odds.

three_mice

LINKS

Paul Muldoon’s official website.

The Poetry Foundation page on Paul Muldoon.

James S. F. Wilson interviews Paul Muldoon for the Paris Review.

John Kerrigan on muddling through Paul Muldoon’s poetry.

A selection of haiku by Paul Muldoon on the Terebess site.

An essay by William J. Higginson on Paul Muldoon and the Japanese art of haiku.

muldoon-norman-mcbeath

Light Music – Brief Poems by Derek Mahon

derek-mahonDerek Mahon (born 23 November 1941) is an Irish poet from Belfast in Northern  Ireland, the only child of working-class, Church of Ireland, parents. After Skegoneill Primary School, he attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he started writing and publishing poems, was involved in amateur dramatics, and participated in debates. He matriculated in Trinity College Dublin to read English, French and Philosophy. In 1965, he won an Eric Gregory Award, and three years later published his first full collection, Night Crossing. During these years, he travelled a great deal: England, France, Belgium, Germany, Canada, and the USA. He worked for Vogue, the New Statesman, and the BBC, but could never really hold down a regular job.  Night Crossing (1968) was followed by numerous collections which include Lives (1972), The Snow Party (1975), Poems 1962–1978 (1979), The Hunt by Night (1982), Antarctica (1985), Selected Poems (1991), The Yaddo Letter (1992), and The Yellow Book (1997). Recent collections include Harbour Lights (2006) winner of the Irish Times Poetry Now Award, Somewhere the Wave (2007) and Life on Earth (2008), which won another Irish Times Poetry Now Award and was shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize. Mahon’s 2010 collection, An Autumn Wind was praised by Paul Batchelor in the Guardian for its sophistication, technical prowess and willingness to address contemporary themes, including environmental degradation.

He lived for many years in London, working variously as a reviewer, television adaptor of literary texts for British television and poetry editor of the New Statesman. More recently he has lived in Dublin and Kinsale,  a seaside town in County Cork.  A member of the Irish institution of artists, Aosdána, he has received numerous awards including the Irish Academy of Letters Award, the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize, and Lannan and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 2007 he received the David Cohen prize for a lifetime’s achievement in literature. He is regarded as one of the most accomplished and influential of contemporary Irish poets.

light music

 

THE BRIEFER POEMS OF DEREK MAHON

Derek Mahon is best known for his longer poems, in particular the verse letters he has been adept at composing throughout his long and exemplary career. One of these long poems, A Disused Shed in County Wexford, is, in my view, a masterpiece of twentieth century poetry. There are many other wonderful poems. I am particularly fond of the title poem of his best collection, The Snow Party.  He is a master of what has come to be known as the ekphrasis poem. Read his wonderful Courtyards in Delft. He  has always had a superb musical sense. While the light music of his shorter tweet-sized poems may not be as melodious or as mellifluous as his better, longer poems, they do repay re-reading. I hope you also enjoy them.

 

light music

 

Brief Poems by Derek Mahon

from LIGHT MUSIC

Architecture

Twinkletoes in the ballroom
light music in space.

***

Negatives

Gulls in a rain-dark cornfield,
crows on a sunlit sea.

***

Please

I built my house
in a forest far
from the venal roar.

Somebody please
beat a path
to my door.

***

Mozart

The Clarinet Concerto
in A. K.622;
the second movement.

Turn it up
so they can hear
on the other planets.

***

Come In

The steel regrets the lock,
a word will open the rock,
the wood awaits your knock.

***

Donegal

The vast clouds migrate
above turf-stacks
and a dangling gate.

A tiny bike squeaks
into the wind.

 

light music

 

from ANGLO-IRISH CLERIHEWS

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Is still read today;
While other Victorian novels degenerate in the attic,
Its reputation remains static.

***

Maud Gonne
Was no fonne;
If her husband came home late she would call out:
“You drunken vainglorious lout.”

***

John Quinn
Preferred the Algonquin
To any other hotel –
Though he liked the Plaza as well.

***

“Strange Meeting”

Wilfred Own
And Elizabeth Bowen
Never met;
And yet…

 

light music

 

from BURBLES

after Beckett

each day a great desire
one day to be alive
though not without despair
at being forced to live

***

determined tread
expecting what
he strides ahead
no end in sight

***

emerging from his hermit cell
he saw the calm after the gale

 

light music

 

from RIVER RHYMES

Relaxing by the river Exe
Coleridge expelled all thoughts of sex,
Except to dream of Xanadu –
Which, of course has an x too.

***

Beside the Black Sea’s icy mud
The poet Ovid proudly stood:
Miserae mihi plura supersunt,” quoth he,
“Old sport, cam tibia felici.”

light music

 

Heathrow

Drugs, razors, cameras; Lucozade replaces 
lost energy, even in the strangest cases.

***

A Garden God

A bomber fly flits from the ruined mouth;
from the eye-socket an inquisitive moth.

***

Where to Hide

(Some derelict beach hut or abandoned wreck
as in that strange novel by Yann Queffélec.)

***

A Shabby Welcome

As you’d expect, we are too poor for wine
but somewhere I’ve a drop of old moonshine.

 

light music

 

LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page on Derek Mahon.

Eamonn Grennan interviews Derek Mahon for the Paris Review.

A selection of poems by Derek Mahon.

Some more poems by Derek Mahon.

 

derek-mahon

Breviary – Brief Poems by Dennis O’Driscoll

Dennis300Dennis O’Driscoll (1954 – 2012) was an Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor. Regarded as one of the best European poets of his time, the book critic of The Irish Times, Eileen Battersby, considered him “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor” and a better poet “by far” than Raymond Carver. He was born in Thurles, County Tipperary where he was educated  by the Christian Brothers and then studied Law at University College, Dublin. After completing his secondary education, at age sixteen (1970), O’Driscoll was offered a job at Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the internal revenue and customs service. Specializing in “death duties, stamp duties, and customs,”  he was employed for over thirty years full-time. He relished the sobriety of his role as a public servant, in one poem crowning himself “Lord of the Files”

Reviewing the work of Dennis O’Driscoll in Slate, Adam Kirsch had this to say: “In addition to being a poet, O’Driscoll is a career civil servant, and his years working in offices have given him a disabused perspective on the daily life of the average citizen of Dublin—or Denver, for that matter. No poet since Philip Larkin, a famously effective librarian, has made sharper observations about the nature of contemporary work: the jargon, the boredom, the small compensations.”

From 1987 he had an entertaining column, Pickings and Choosings, in Poetry Ireland Review, which metamorphosed into The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006). This anthology of quotations about poetry which contains nearly two thousand smart sayings obsessively gleaned from six hundred poetry sources is published in the United States by Copper Canyon Press (2008) as Quote Poet Unquote. Nicholas Lezard praised it as “an anthology that aims to recharge its subject, to demarginalise it, or at least to demystify it, in the sense of showing that poetry is a human activity, but not in the sense of making the finished product any less mysterious”.

His book on Seamus Heaney, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney is regarded as the definitive biography of the Nobel laureate. In  Stepping Stones, it was Dennis O’Driscoll’s bold idea to trace the Nobel laureate’s life through conversation. “Is there a more wise, profound and eloquent interviewee in poetry than Seamus Heaney? I wanted to capture his ideas at much greater length than other interviews had; to rescue reflections or recollections that would be absent from the record otherwise. My hope was that the book would present a three-dimensional portrait of the artist, a biography in all but name; by doing so in his own words, it would amount to a Heaney autobiography also.”

Breviary

Dennis O’Driscoll wrote nine books of poetry, three chapbooks, and two collections of essays and reviews. The majority of his works were characterised by the use of economic language and the recurring motifs of mortality and the fragility of the everyday commuter life. He wrote with the clarity of the eastern European poets he admired, poets such as the Czech poets, Czesław Miłosz and Miroslav Holub, and the Polish poets, Zbigniew Herbert and Wislawa Szymborska. He was also attracted to brevity. In each of his collections he has a set of short poems he has called Breviary. Some of these poems are printed below.

 

Breviary, Interior

Brief Poems by Dennis O’Driscoll

DUSK

blue jeans fade
she slips
into a sequined gown

***

SNOW

earth is plaster cast
a red fox trickles
down the mountain path

***

MANNA

a yolk of moon
its shell speckled with stars

***

HOSPITAL

between pre-natal and mortuary
the research unit

***

ARS POETICA

butchers put price tags on meat
or neatly trim the fat around its edge

***

NIGHT WATCH

to get to sleep
he started to count sheep
but they too were
being led to the slaughter

***

PERSEPHONE

with sweaters
striped as deckchairs
unseasonable hockey skirts
schoolgirls surprise
the winter streets
like spring

***

OFF-DUTY

reclining in the garden overnight
your deckchair soaking up the moonlight

***

FLOODS

Water under the bridge
flows from the tears of those
who cried their eyes out
over spilt milk.

***

FAME

The bells your
name once rang
no longer toll,
their clappers
fallen silent.

***

SUMMER

The pickaxe plop
of a lobbed-back shot
all summer from
the tennis club.

***

THE FATHER

after William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon the familiar sound
of his red car

coming at night
around the final bend
toward home

scattering white chickens
and shattering glazed puddles
of rain

***

All poems © Dennis O’Driscoll
Publisher: Anvil Press Poetry, London.

 

Breviary, Interior

 

LINKS

The Dennis O’Driscoll website which includes a biography, a bibliography, selected poems and some interviews.

Afterthoughts on Contemporary Poetry in English, an essay by Dennis O’Driscoll.

Irish poet Peter Sirr writes a tribute to Dennis O’Driscoll.

Seamus Heaney’s tribute to Dennis O’Driscoll.

Seamus Heaney in conversation with Dennis O’Driscoll on Vimeo.

George Szirtes reviews the New and Selected Poems of Dennis O’Driscoll.

Review of Dennis O’Driscoll  by Adam Kirsch in Slate magazine.

Gerald Dawe’s memoir and review of the critical and autobiographical essays of Dennis O’Driscoll, The Outnumbered Poet.

 

Dennis300

 

All poems © Dennis O’Driscoll
Publisher: Anvil Press Poetry, London.

Snowfall – Brief Poems by Michael Longley

michael_longleyMichael Longley was born in Belfast in July 1939. His parents had moved to the city from London in the late 1920’s and between the wars his father had worked as a furniture salesmen. The son of English Protestants, growing up in a city riven by sectarian tensions between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, he negotiated those tensions with great skill in his early poems. He has arguably, and it would be my argument, written some of the best poems to come out of the “Troubles”, poems such as Wounds, Wreaths and The Ice Cream Man.

Although he has written long poems, such as the superb sequence, Mayo Monologues, he is drawn again and again to much shorter forms. When asked in a 1998 interview about the formal discipline that helps him produce four- and two-line poems, Longley replied, “Was it Tennyson who said that a perfect lyric inscribes the shape of an S? That sense of a gesture, you know, the way you use your hand if you’re bowing, if you’re reaching out to shake somebody’s hand, if you’re going to stroke a cat, if you’re holding a woman’s hand to take her on to the dance floor…”

The poems chosen below reflect some of the central concerns of his poetry. He has written extensively about the First World War and of his father’s role in that conflict. “Somehow, my father’s existence, and his experience, the stories he passed on to me, gave me a kind of taproot into the war.” Poems like High Wood and Into Battle (see below) reflect that concern. And a poem like Terezín extends that concern into the second world war. He has applied a classical scholar’s eye to modern conflict. His Homeric sonnet Ceasefire, ostensibly about the Trojan Wars, was printed after an IRA ceasefire and has had a seminal impact on Irish politics and poetry. “Moments in the Odyssey chimed with emotions that I would have found almost impossible to deal with otherwise: heartbreak, paranoia, bitterness, hatred, fear. Homer gave me a new emotional and psychological vocabulary.” We can see this reflected in such short poems as Paper Boats and The Parting. And then there are the love poems (“The love poem is the most important thing I do – the hub of the wheel is love…”) and the nature poems like those brief italicised poems that are placed at the end of many of his collections like mini-codas. (“I think our relationship with the natural world and with the plants and animals is the major issue now.”) That lovely little alliterative one-line poem Lost is a testament to the power of his compression. “I freeze frame moments, like a painter.”

Michael Longley continues to garner awards for his collections of poetry, produced on a regular basis. And many of these poems, as you can see below, are short, snappy and insightful. I hope you like them.

 

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Brief Poems by Michael Longley

THE WEATHER IN JAPAN

Makes bead curtains of the rain,
Of the mist a paper screen.

***

TEREZÍN

No room has ever been as silent as the room
Where hundreds of violins are hung in unison.

***

LOST

my lost lamb lovelier than all the wool.

***

OUT THERE

Do they ever meet out there,
The dolphins I counted
The otter I wait for?
I should have spent my life
Listening to the waves.

***

WIND-FARMER

The wind-farmer’s small holding reaches as far as the horizon.
Between fields of hailstones and raindrops his frost-flowers grow.

***

Love poems, elegies: I am losing my place.
Elegies come between me and your face.

***

THE PARTING

He: “Leave it to the big boys, Andromache.”
“Hector, my darling husband, och, och,” she.

***

COUPLET

When I was young I wrote that flowers are very slow flames
And you uncovered your breasts often among my images.

***

NIGHT TIME

Without moonlight or starlight we forgot about love
As we joined the blind ewe and the unsteady horses.

***

A TOUCH
after the Irish

she is the touch of pink
on crab apple blossom
and hawthorn and she melts
frost flowers with her finger

***

PAPER BOATS
Homage to Ian Hamilton Finlay

fold paper boats
for the boy Odysseus
and launch them

ship-shape
happy-go-lucky
in the direction of Troy

 

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CORINNA

Have you fallen asleep forever, Corinna?
In the past you were never the one to lie in.

***

feathers on water
a snowfall of swans
snow water

***

OLD POETS

Old poets regurgitate
Pellets of chewed-up paper
Packed with shrew tails, frog bones,
Beetle wings, wisdom.

***

HIGH WOOD

My father is good at mopping up:
Steam rises from the blood and urine.

***

INTO BATTLE

The Hampshires march into battle with bare knees.
Full of shrapnel holes are the leaves on the trees.

***

meadowsweet,
loosestrife
swaying along
the ditch
waiting to
cross over
at the end
of my days

***

forty two whoopers call
then the echoes
as though there are more swans
over the ridge

***

Pillows

Your intelligence snoozes next to mine.
Poems accumulate between our pillows.

***

Monarch

If I were inside you now
I would stay there for ages
Until the last migrating
Monarch butterfly had left.

***

Cowslip

haiku beginning with a line of Barbara Guest

The way a cowslip bends
Recalls a cart track,
Crushed sunlight at my feet.

***

Place-Names

I have lost my way
At last somewhere between
Traleckachoolia
And Carrignarooteen.

 

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LINKS

An extensive educational resource on Michael Longley’s poetry.

A feature article from The Guardian newspaper about Michael Longley.

A recent BBC interview with Michael Longley to celebrate his 70th birthday.

An Irish Times interview with Michael Longley.

Michael Longley reads six of his poems on the Poetry Archive site.

 

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