My thanks to the editors of Cyphers magazine for including my poem This turning hour and everything intent in issue no. 85.
There is the usual multi-varied selection of styles and subjects in this issue, with a strong representation of poems as Gaeilge where Doireann Ní Ghríofa provides Birín Beo (The Glowing Splinter), with its subtitled reference to the lengthy history behind bonfire festivities on St John’s Eve (ar Oíche Fhéile Eoin), a history that reaches out to her in the last couplet, when a spark flies out from the fire towards her and leaves a tiny mark:
… póigín dhearg dóite
ar mo leiceann, tatú buan.
(a small kiss burnt
on my cheek, a lasting tattoo.)
In what can only be a very scattershot approach in selecting a few favourites, I will say I like very much Matthew Sweeney’s poem The Hards where, despite the behaviour of the rough boys in his neighbourhood there is a distinct note of regret that he never became part of their world. I use the word ‘rough’ advisedly because I found the poem had strong evocations of Stephen Spender’s My Parents Kept Me from Children Who Were Rough, especially in the last tercet:
it’s the term that stays because I hear it
still every time I stand on the beach, staring
at those houses I wasn’t allowed to enter.
I have a weakness for such poems because of my own rather strictured upbringing, but this does not explain why I like Bogusia Warden’s A Privilege of Hurricanes with its image-laden, enigmatic lines, each one of which might be detached as an aphorism in its own right:
You have nothing to lean on but this gum shield.
The worse you feel the better you look.
The descriptions would seem to lead to a rather depressing view of the person (or persons) in question, yet there is the feeling that something extraordinary might be in the offing. I’m not sure I have understood exactly what is going on, but if I did understand exactly what is going on it would not be the intriguing poem it is.
Not intriguing but right on the money is Stuart Pickford’s Emily, which is as good an astute observation of recalcitrant teenagers as you’ll get anywhere (and I should know, after 30 years of second-level teaching). Caught outside the school gate rolling a cigarette, she tells him: Strictly speaking, / holding a cigarette isn’t smoking it. He’s snookered.
Eiléan Ni Chuilleanain’s essay Stalking the Negatives suggests ways in which writers can employ figures of denial to add mystery to their work. She holds that ‘the negative is one of the great resources of language, perhaps analogous to shadow in painting’. One might think immediately of that great Caravaggio in the National gallery and how much the surrounding darkness adds to the drama of the Jesus’s betrayal. The essay includes clarifying quotations from Siobhan Campbell, Ger Reidy and John Murphy. And from John Milton. What more could one ask?
There are many other great contributions in this issue, and I must salute my old friend Richard Halperin for his fine offering, The Snow Falls, and say how privileged I am (no, really) to share page 42 with him with my own contribution, the title of which leads into the poem:
This turning hour and everything intent
on furnishing another day, I see
a flake of sunlight slant from branch to leaf,
and raindrops wink among the clothes-pegs.
On the cobwebbed lawn still wet with dew
a plastic laundry basket spills its colours,
ivy writes illuminated text
that tells how night is trembling on the cusp
of morning, blade and bark awakening
and every moment dying towards the dawn.
The magazine was launched in the regal ambience of Strokestown House during this year’s Strokestown Poetry Festival 2018, with several contributors reading their work.
Cyphers is an occasional publication on Literature and the Arts, supported by the Arts Council (An Comhairle Ealaíon) and the Arts Concil Of Northern Ireland. For information on submission detail, subscription & etc., see www.cyphers.ie.