Following my exchange visit to Rome last September 2018, I have written a number of poems inspired by the experience. FUIS (Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori), the Italian Federation of Writers, has kindly published some of this work on its website http://www.Fuis.it/residenza-letteraria-penne-in-irlanda/articoli4561 You may view these poems and their translations below.
More poems are forthcoming. My thanks FUIS and the Irish Writers’ Union in Dublin for enabling this exchange to take place and to Sig. Simone di Conza for his work as facilitator.
The first poem here published concerns a visit to the Church of San Stefano Rotondo, where its ‘martyr murals’ had much the same effect on me as they had on Charles Dickens when he saw them and wrote about them in his travel essays in ‘Pictures from Italy’ in 1846. I have allowed the torturers to speak for themselves.
The second poem was inspired by a visit to the famous ‘English Cemetery’ on the outskirts of Rome, properly known as the ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery’, which is the charming final destination of many a famous literary name who happened to be not of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The voice in the poem is that of one of the foremost English ‘Romantic’ poets.
This series of poems will be titled ‘Voices from Rome’ (‘Voci da Roma’) and, with the help of my exchange colleague Anna Maria Robustelli, I provide Italian translations.
The murals in the Church of Saint Stefano Rotondo, Rome
This poor wretch we break with stones,
this woman we dismember live,
this one we stretch until his bones
crack open. Crowds have gathered, gape
at trees we’ve hung with chopped-up torsos,
lopped-off limbs. No pleas, no groans
deter us, no imploring cries –
we’re limited as to instruments,
employ the means we have, devise
whatever tools we can. We’re skilled
in fire and water but the future
lies in methods more refined.
Despite our arrows, here’s a one
still prays and gazes skyward. But
it’s Jupiter and only Him
we’re told to worship now. For now.
We have our orders: ours a trade
must heed today’s doctrinal whim,
but future days may dawn the hour
these followers of the holy fish
are fated to come into power.
It’s then the rack will creak afresh
and bodies bleed. It’s then the cries
that rise to heaven will be ours.
I dipinti murali nella Chiesa
di Santo Stefano Rotondo, a Roma
Questo poveretto lo frantumiamo
con le pietre, questa donna la smembriamo
viva, questo lo allunghiamo
finché le ossa non si spezzano.
Folle con occhi spalancati guardono
i torsi e gli arti appesi agli alberi.
Nessun grido o lamento ci scoraggia –
i nostri strumenti sono limitati,
usiamo tutto ciò che abbiamo,
proviamo a concepire nuovi mezzi.
Siamo abili con il fuoco e con l’acqua –
più raffinati i metodi del futuro.
Nonostante le nostre frecce, ecco
uno che prega ancora e guarda al cielo.
Ma è Giove, solo Lui, si adora –
per ora. Abbiamo i nostri ordini:
il nostro mestiere si deve prestare
al capriccio dottrinale del momento,
ma un giorno nel futuro potrebbe vedere
i seguaci del pesce santo destinati
a venire al potere. È allora che
scricchiolerà di nuovo il cavalletto
e i corpi sanguineranno. È allora che
le grida verso il cielo saranno nostre.
Tradotto dell’autore con l’assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli
In the Company of Poets at the Non-Catholic Cemetery,
On a beach near Viareggio,
wife and friends surround the pyre,
my boyish face defies the flames –
so tells the legend. Not my body
sea-wracked, friends departed long
before I crackled into ash.
This grave a narrow place, the spirits
spurred me into verse dispersed.
A plaque nearby commemorates
the cinders of a New World scribe,
and everywhere eroded stones
show broken lyres. Stone angels weep.
No angel weeps for me, no urns
stand draped in funeréal folds,
no elegant encomium
ignores my faults. Along the path
that skirts these vaults and monuments –
my modest tablet. Unadorned.
Beyond our strict confinements rears
a giant pyramid born of pride –
but turn, remark the simple headstone
of the one – our frail colossus –
who demanded it be chiselled
that his name was writ in water.
Water ferried me ashore,
and fire reduced my frame to dust.
I share this crowded charnel yard
with jugglers of words, with those
who found their poetry in music,
those discovered it in prose.
So far from all the hurried clamour
of our lives, this field affords
a brooding quietude is bred
of whispering trees and falling leaves.
And silence – like the silence follows
when a final line is read.
Nella compagnia dei poeti
nel cimitero acattolico di Roma
Su una spiaggia vicina a Viareggio,
moglie e amici circondano la pira,
la mia faccia da ragazzo sfida le fiamme –
ecco la leggenda. Non il corpo
sconvolto dal mare, gli amici andati via
prima che diventassi cenere.
Questa tomba è un posto stretto,
gli spiriti che mi hanno spronato a scrivere
dispersi. Una lapide vicina commemora
un poeta del Nuovo Mondo, e ovunque
steli mostrano le lire rotte.
Gli angeli di pietra piangono.
Nessun angelo piange per me
non ci sono urne in pieghe funeree,
nessun encomio elegante
ignora i miei difetti. Lungo il sentiero
che corre accanto a questi monumenti—
la mia modesta targa. Disadorna.
Oltre i nostri confini rigorosi
una piramide nata dall’orgoglio –
voltati e osserva la lapide modesta
dell’uno – il nostro fragile colosso –
che voleva fosse inciso nella pietra
ch’l suo nome era scritto nell’acqua.
L’acqua mi ha traghettato qui,
il fuoco ha ridotto il mio corpo
in polvere. Condivido quest’ossario
con giocolieri di parole, e altri
che hanno trovato la loro poesia
nella musica, o in prosa.
Lontano dal clamore frettoloso
delle nostre vite, troviamo qui
una calma pensierosa, nutrita
di alberi sussurranti e foglie cadenti.
E un silenzio – il silenzio che segue
la lettura di un verso finale
Tradotto dell’autore, assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli
A review by David Butler of Eamonn Lynskey’s third poetry collection ‘It’s Time (Salmon Poetry, 2017)
In an epigraph to his 1914 collection Responsibilities, Yeats famously asserted ‘In dreams begins responsibility’. To modify the phrase, for Eamonn Lynskey, in poetry begins responsibility. A retired teacher, his third collection addresses a number of issues that should be of concern to all of us, but with a sense of doubt as to the efficacy, and even the ethics, of assuming a poetic stance. ‘This poet never had a lump of shrapnel / wedged inside his head’ begins All Those Thousand Souls, a poem empathetic to the airstrike victims euphemistically referred to by the military as collateral damage. If the poem’s grief were to explode, he continues, it might leave ’empty slogans / twitching in their helplessness’. The poem concludes: ‘He vows to do everything he can / check High Street labels carefully, choose Fairtrade products, compose angry poems.’ It is a refreshingly honest position, akin to Auden’s assertion, in an elegy composed on the occasion of Yeats’ death, that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’.
Angry poems (and there are more than a few in the collection which excoriate mankind’s various depredations) are not necessarily the most effective. Perhaps the only responsibility of art is to permit us to look again and, looking, reconsider. In Metsu’s Women, Lynskey surveys the series of female subjects engaged in mundane tasks presented by the seventeenth century Dutch Master, the poem culminating in a delicate portrait of lonely old age:
The hearth is swept now, pots hang on
the chimneybreast. She eats alone.
As is the way, her man is gone
this several years before her. Shadows
touch her dress and nestle in its folds.
An equally delicate meditation on the absence occasioned by the untimely death of a young student, ‘Rachael’, drawn one assumes from Lynskey’s years as a teacher, acts as a fine counterpoint.
The title poem, a catalogue of spring’s foison which opens the collection, is an invocation to the poet (from garden shears and spade!) to ‘come, the world must be newmade. It’s time’, while the collection’s last poem, ‘Final Notice’ closes the cycle with an image of a return to ‘weeds everywhere, / the hedge grown wild, / the lawn luxuriantly / overgrown.’ In the body of the collection, there is a strong sense of revisiting images and objects from the past to renew or reconsider them. Several for instance deal with the spectral art of photography Civilian Executions, Minsk 1941, Arthur Advises (in memory of photographer Arthur Fields) and This Photograph, the last of which is a meditation on the ‘innumerable futures’, ‘endless possibilities’ and ‘the ocean of what might have been’ suspended in an old, rediscovered photo of a New Year’s party — ‘gli atti scancellati pel giuoco del futuro’, in the epigraph of Eugenio Montale. Other points of departure for Lynskey include gallery paintings and items encountered in museums — the British Museum, the Lincoln Town Museum, the National Museum of Finland.
Religious imagery is another strain running through the collection, with Speaking of the Past imagining the poet’s Catholic upbringing as an all encompassing Bayeux tapestry. April recycles a lot of the language of scripture to suggest the transformative power of nature, while Deposition reimagines this staple of Christian iconography as the removal of a dumped corpse by ambulance, the deposition witnessed, as Christ’s, by reverent women. Calvaries remembers the trauma of school-bullying and corporal punishment in the imagery of the Passion and the unrepentant thief, while in The Taking of Christ, which responds to Caravaggio’s great picture in the National Gallery of Ireland, one suspects Lynskey understands the artist’s compulsion to include his own portrait amidst the throng that ‘irrupts into Gethsemane tonight.’
If, as the All Those Thousand Souls cited in the opening paragraph above perhaps hints, some of the poems of It’s Time push a little too easily and insistently in the direction of declamation, repugnance or outrage, there are plenty too that urge us to see again and, seeing, reconsider.
David Butler’s most recent novel, City of Dis was published by New island. His second poetry collection, All the Barbaric Glass, was published by Doire Press in 2017.
I was the recipient recently of a bursary from the Irish Writers Union for a one-week visit to Rome (9th-17th September 2018), with a stay at the Hotel Diplomatic. This central location allowed me to make a number of visits on foot or by bus to noteworthy sites such as the Pantheon, Chiesa San Stefano Rotondo, Piazza Novana and the Spanish Steps (with a visit to the adjacent Keats-Shelley House). I also visited the non-catholic cemetery which contains the graves of many leading literary figures, including the aforementioned poets.
I was also able to take in places away from the usual tourist itineraries through the generosity of my counterpart in this year’s 2018 writers’ exchange project, Anna Maria Robustelli, who had been to Ireland some weeks earlier. I was fortunate to have with me a knowledgeable person prepared to go to considerable lengths to ensure a well-rounded Rome visit. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to her.
My visit was also facilitated by Mr Simone di Conza of FUIS (Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori), the Italian counterpart of our IWU who arranged an event at the FUIS centre, at which I was able to read some of my work in English and in my Italian translations, with which I was greatly assisted by Anna maria. The FUIS president Natale Antonio Rossi chaired our meeting and several Italian writers and a number of writers/translators attended and contributed to the discussions regarding my work and the Irish/Italian writing scene.
My visit to Rome was a rewarding experience and provided several new ideas for my writing, as well as reviving several older ones which I can now look at afresh. Inevitably, writing is a solitary activity and it helps greatly to be in touch with other writers, in my case especially with Italian writers, given my long-term interest in the literature and music of Italy. I have no doubt but that my contact with Anna Maria and the other writers will continue and once again I wish to express my gratitude her and to the IWU and FUIS for a fruitful and very enjoyable week in Rome.
A review by Fred Johnston of Eamonn Lynskey’s third collection ‘It’s Time’ (Salmon Poetry, 2017)
The language of Eamonn Lynskey’s poetry is of a sort that invites one into the core of the poem as through an open door. Yet it is only when one has begun to read and contemplate what is behind the door that one sees incredible simple horrors; of violence, neglect, deep injustice, and a calm nobility under pressure.
The human condition in the twenty-first century is not a pleasant one and it is precarious. Lynskey is to be congratulated for reminding us that, in some instances, our own small personal injustices and injuries are often microcosms of big ones and our moral impotence in the face of them. The title poem introduces us, through a door pushed open into a shed full of garden implements, to the underlying tone of those that follow:
… When I creak the shed door open,
shears and spade blink in the corner:
come, the world must be newmade. It’s time.
In ‘Down to Africa’, Lynskey suggests that, ‘Earth will clothe herself afresh, the way / she greened the terraces of Angkor Wat’; and when this process is complete, it’s back to the possibility of new human beginnings in a natural circle back in the cradle of Africa. There’s an odd comfort in that. But murder and destruction is not a new thing: ‘Warrior’ conjures up Ötzi, the mummified remains found in the Dolomite Alps some years ago, which bear indications of death by a fired arrow; the narrator in the poem, with professional detachment, proclaims that …
We have that unfortunate
and not infrequent military
occurrence: death from friendly fire .
The camouflage phrases ‘friendly fire’, along with ‘collateral damage’, must be two of the most obscene creations of the military mind. If one were Catholic in Ireland, one was at war from childhood, in constant danger of attack from a vague but savage foe, and the enemy was always at the gates:
I try explaining to a grandchild
how we were conscripted in the war
against an enemy determined
to destroy us. – (from ‘Speaking of the Past’)
Our banners were ‘pictures of the Sacred Heart’, and our propaganda press comprised ‘…The Messenger / brought home from school each month’. How many of us, one might ask, were victims of ‘friendly fire’ or merely ‘collateral damage’ in this invisible struggle?
A quite beautiful poem, entitled ‘Metsu’s Women’, is a reflection of the paintings and short life of Dutch painter, Gabriel Metsu, a Baroque painter whose father was a painter and tapestry worker, and who died aged 38. His works, depicting mainly individuals at work or playing instruments, hunting, or writing, can be seen at Dublin’s National Gallery, one of which is Man Writing a Letter:
Young blades write letters, cavaliers
press their attentions on young maidens,
huntsmen rest long-barrelled guns
at doorways, trade their fresh-skilled spoil
of birds and hares with servant girls,
More than a contemplation of the painter’s work, it has the quiet quality of a lament in which Metsu’s early demise is a poignant reminder of the lasting virtue of art over uncertain life itself. Fine poems throughout this collection ought to reinforce Lynskey’s reputation. As a stylist, he could teach our younger catch of poets a thing or two. And he is never dull.
Poetry Ireland Review #125 is on sale in bookshops or order from Salmon website or Amazon.
Fred Johnston (born 1951) is an Irish poet, novelist, literary critic and musician. He is the founder and current director of the Western Writers’ Centre in Galway. He co-founded the Irish Writers’ Co-operative in 1974, and founded Galway’s annual Cúirt International Festival of Literature in 1986.
The Sunflower Sessions continue to flourish, consummately compered by Declan Mcloughlin, albeit with a change of venue and now reincarnated in The Lord Edward Fitzgerald (opposite Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin). And so too another incarnation of its magazine, or ‘narrowsheet’, as its editor Eamon Mag Uidhir calls it, because of its unusual shape.
There definitely is room in Dublin for a publication that brings the poetry of the NOW out into circulation immediately. The poems here in FLARE 08 have all the appearance of being as up to date as you will get, with their ink just freshly dry. There is a lot to be said for a magazine that appears several times a year and features poetry written most probably very recently.
Good quality too. Look at Claire O’Reilly’s paean to the someone (Alva) who arrived into a rather staid place and transformed it: ‘… she was as exotic as pineapple / from another parish … ‘ and who ‘ … nourished our monochrome minds / in the kaleidoscope of her existence …’. What a phrase! ‘monochrome minds’.
And Rob Buchanan’s For You Is OK is wonderful in the full sense of the word: it is full of wonderful usage of language: ‘Away from line of sight, ascending arabesque railed basement steps / An ancient battle-scarred bare-chested aulfella, drunk and bald like myself / but black, smoke stained arthritic … ‘ I don’t usually go for OTT poems but this is irresistible! Really great stuff.
Peter O’Neill’s extensive Sonnets from The Henry Street Arcade Project brought me new discoveries of a place I see most weeks. It evokes the famous cave, ‘which according to Vico / In Scienza nuova, Plato singles out as the origin / Of civiisation’. I hadn’t thought to find Plato’s cave round the corner from the GPO but now I will always. Such is the power of poetry!
I liked Richard Halperin’s sombre Farewell to a Beloved Brother too, with its abrupt start (‘The heavens opened / And he went into them’) reminding me of John Donnes’ straight-to-the chase first lines and equally Henry Vaughan’s (‘They have all gone into the world of light…’). And so I have to say again how privileged I am to be published amidst such fine work. My own offering is also a ‘farewell poem’ in a way, a farewell to all the things I used to do and cannot now do. And despite Allen Ginsburg’s famous line about the dreaded DIY destroying people’s minds, I have to say I always really enjoyed putting up shelves (no, really!):
He is come again to haunt the aisles,
so desperate his need. Come to inhale
the resin scent of deal and pine, planed
and unplaned pointing roofward, waiting
for the careful blade will recreate them
into shapes as yet still hovering ghostly
in his mind like Plato’s caverned forms.
Again he wanders down long corridors
of paints and brushes, white electricals
and dazzling displays of indoor lights
that promise to undarken any soul,
surveys unsullied pruning shears and trowels
displaying gleaming edges, circular saws
and hand-tools nestling pristine in their boxes,
sharing side-by-side a universe
where every cordless drill will guarantee
its teethed chuck to grip the bit so tightly
that no tremble of the hand, no lapse
nor weakness in the aging brain will skew
the outcome. Who will pass these choirs of angels
shining in their tiers and not allow
he feels a sorrow lifting from his heart?
Others come with measuring tape and chart
and calculating eye and tilt of head
to weigh a purchase— Motionless, he stands
in Fixings, undecided whether slot
or Philips screw or toggle-bolt or plug
would best secure a shelf to cavity wall
when suddenly the task appears before him
whole, its every separate part in place
and splendidly complete and now he knows
that he can leave, depart as empty-handed
as the hour he entered all his years ago.
FLARE 08 also features great poems from Seamus Bradley, Rob Buchanan, Natasha Helen Crudden, Kate Dempsey, Helen Harrison, Michael Farry, Eithne Lannon, Jonathan Armas McGlinn, Jen O’Shea, Adriana Ribeiro, David Richardson, Polly Richardson, Daniel Ryan, Roman Rye and Breda Wall Ryan. It is available at the Sunflower Sessions every last Wednesday (7.30pm: The Lord Edward Fitzgerald), and at Books Upstairs in D’Olier Street. €5.
Cover and illustrations are from DMC (instagram@artdmc) photographed by Declan McLoughlin.
Come along and read on the last Wednesday of every month (except December) and fulfill one of the conditions for inclusion in FLARE. The other condition is … good stuff! As they say these days in all the best poetry circles in Dublin … ‘See you at the Sessions!’
Want an extensive selection of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry? It’s here. Want an overall view of contemporary poets writing today? That’s here too.
Eileen Casey’s dedication to poetry is well known. Besides being a fine poet herself, she has contributed enormously over the years to furthering the appreciation of the craft through her critical articles and essays. Many poets owe much to her advice and support, including the present writer.
In this volume she has taken on the herculean task of collecting the responses of more than seventy contemporary poets to the poems of Patrick Kavanagh. The book includes a fine essay from Gerard Smyth, and Dr Una Agnew — who collaborated in the production, writes: ‘The poet Patrick Kavanagh would take enormous pleasure in having a standing army of poets and writers pay tribute to his work …”. Indeed he would, and this is a fitting tribute. The front cover is designed by Eoin Flynn and the very evocative portrait of Kavanagh is by artist Paul McCloskey.
Apart from mentioning the above names, such is the wide range and type of the responses that it would be entirely unfair to single out particularly for remark any of the contributors. Emerging new poets are included, as well as … er … old stalwarts (no offence intended).
The book is published by Fiery Arrow I SBN 978 1 999636807 and is available from Dubray books and other outlets.