Poetry Ireland Review no. 125
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. – 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 Amazon…
Paperback ISBN: 978 1 910669 86 0 £9.19 Prime FREE Delivery on orders over £10 dispatched by Amazon
Another issue of Skylight47 and another selection of poems and essays, provocative, relaxing and informative as always. This issue 10 is something of a milestone, one of the editors, Bernie Crawford, told us at the launch during the ‘Over the Edge’ event in Galway City Library, because they did not expect it would last that long. But it has and is full of good things for the serious reader … and maybe for the not so serious as well! The evening included featured readings from accomplished poets Jessamine O’Connor, Anne Walsh Donnelly and Jacqueline Saphra. Jacqueline had the honour of launching the magazine and several contributors were on hand to read their work.
I liked Mary Lee’s Sunny Day, a deceptively simple poem which opens with the lines
You saunter aimlessly
at the sea’s rimmed mystery:
flow, ebb, alteration,
and reminded me a little of one of my all-time favourites, Henry Vaughan:
Fancy, and I, last evening walkt,
And, Amoret, of thee we talkt;
The West just then had stolne the Sun,
And his last blushes were begun.
It really is hard to write (good) simple poems. Short ones too are no easy matter. I thought Conor McBrierty summed up a lot about present day Ireland in his short poem ‘Crucifixion’. I hope he won’t mind me quoting it in full because it really is a most telling piece:
Jesus hangs on the wall
between the fridge and the phone.
His holy cross lamp is dark,
swapped for an answering machine.
He died for sins such as this.
Anne Tannam continues her poetic researches into family and generational inheritance in her poem The Image Of, a phrase we hear often when our elders compare us with near relatives. The comparisons are sometimes uncomfortable reminders of how quickly time is passing but we must put up with the fact that this is the way of things. The speaker in the poem sees herself looking out at her from an old passport photo of her mother
come back to tell me what I struggle to accept:
that time, given time, eventually blurs the lines
between each generation, brings us face to face
with a truth we wrestle with for an age …
A very fine poem, focusing in on the reality of things, and there are many more fine poems and articles. And Orla Fay proves that, no matter how many swallow poems are written, there is always room for another good one, Caught in a Dance:
They fly so close that I could almost touch a wing-tip
but I would be cut in the act so razor-like
are their dives and turns, so close-shaved.
Brian Kirk, besides contributing a poem, provides a review of Liz McSkeane’s latest collection So Long Calypso and there are reviews too of Emma McKervey and Maeve O’Sullivan’s latest productions. However, do not let me give the impression that all the content is as serious as the examples quoted above. There is a lot of fun in this magazine too. What?! (I hear you cry) Fun?! What sort of poetry magazine is this? — Well, it is a fine magazine, ranging from the serious to the humorous — see for example Kevin Higgins’s My View of Things, though Kevin’s brand of humour is decidedly acerbic:
What I love about lateness is the hope
I might get to slip off home before you turn up …
Terry McDonagh also has a poem (‘New Ways of Talking’,) describing an unattractive character who happens to be … a writer:
Maestro was a man of few words. He died
before his wife could comfort herself…
My own contribution, Prayer, falls into the ‘less serious’ category, though I do think there is a serious aspect to the ordeal suffered in waiting rooms and on tortuous bus journeys, when one feels the time could be spent in some more fruitful way …
Is there any way to claim back times
when I was only technically living?
Hours accumulated in waiting rooms
with nothing but golf magazines for company?
A celestial credit-note perhaps, for life
spent on those endless odysseys around
the hinterlands of housing estates before
the bus-route finally reached my stop?
And all the wasted ages hunting car keys,
overdue library books, TV remote,
that other sock, the passport left in a place
where I would definitely find it next time.
Couldn’t. Surely I am due a discount
for those phone calls kept me holding, trapped
inside interminable manglings of Mozart?
I beseech you, Lord, please hear my prayer.
Finally I will say it is fitting that the entire back page is given over to a poem by Marie Cadden, who passed away recently and was long associated with Skylight47. She is greatly missed by colleagues and friends.
Skylight47 costs (a mere) €5 plus postage and is available online at skylight47poetry.wordpress.com The next issue is Autumn 2018 and submissions will be accepted between 1 July & 1 September.
The first poem in this collection from Dónall Dempsey sets the tone of book and bears out its dedication to the loving memory of the poet’s parents. His mother speaks directly to the reader here, with her words wrapped in the colloquial language used throughout the book: ‘Ya’d wear the heart out of a stone!’. One of the most frequent definitions of poetry is that it is the most personal of writing and this was never more true of any collection than it is here. Early on we are introduced to other family influences on the writer: an aunt and a grandmother. In ‘Talking with Granny’, the stabilising presence of elders in the life of the young is well said: ‘She gave you back / your self / but a much better self / than ever you could be.’ This poem, and many others, shows how the support and love so necessary in the formation of the growing child was readily available to the writer throughout his formative years. Many of the poems are written in a sense of gratitude for this early support.
In a book of so many well-executed poems there are many contenders that one might choose as an outstanding piece, particularly because such care has been taken to present them in such a fashion as to involve the reader in the development of the family, and the writer, through the years and to ensure that each event or emotion does not eclipse other, perhaps less dramatic, moments. And so it is that while a poem on the experience of revisiting the old, and now ruined, house of his Aunt Nelly is a memorable one, and therefore produces a memorable poem (‘Sweetnesse Readie Penn’d’, with its reference to George Herbert), the collection is replete with lighter, equally memorable, pieces. There is great fun in ‘A Thin Slice of Ham in the Hand Is Better Than a Fat Pig in a Dream’ (apart from the title itself!): ‘Never bolt your door / with a boiled carrot!’ / as Uncle would say / with a wink – tongue in cheek. / It didn’t always make sense / as our door was always / open’. Poems like this ensure that the collection never assumes that rather maudlin, treacly tone which is the fate of many works that strive to recreate family history. A piece like ‘In the Mythology of Foxes’ ensures that the earthiness of rural life is always present to pull the collection back on track if there is any danger of its contents heading in that direction. Incidentally, that particular poem with its evocation of the killing of a fox and how it affected the poet (‘the boy / carries her / death cradling it / in his mind / trying to comfort her / with human tears’) is strongly reminiscent of Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘The Early Purges’ where a similar shock of farmyard reality proves a distressing experience for a youngster.
Finally, the very accessibility of Dónall Dempsey’s writing must be mentioned. Not alone are the poems themselves full of a welcome for the reader but the way they are presented is also very reader-friendly (or, as we say these days, ‘user-friendly’). Throughout the book the poet steps back from the poetry to sketch out a little of the history behind the poems. These prose insertions are never turgid or long-winded – they give just enough to add to the understanding and enjoyment of the poems. Perhaps this is a method that other poets might use more often? Especially in these day when so many readers can find poetry an obscure and forbidding medium? Certainly, they would find Dónall Dempsey’s collection a welcome change.
‘Gerry Sweeney’s Mammy’ is available from the D&W website at http://www.dempseyand windle.co.uk
[Donall is an old acquaintance of mine, though I hadn’t seen him again until recently (Feb, 2018) since the good old times we read together in the International Bar in Dublin … over thirty years ago! Tempus fugit.]
DONALL DEMPSEY, originally from the Curragh, Ireland, is now living in Guildford, England, and was Ireland’s first Poet in Residence in a secondary school, and appeared on RTE with John Cooper Clarke and Paul Durcan. His poems have been published widely in anthologies and online magazines in Europe, England, the USA, Canada and India. He is host of ‘The 1000 Monkeys’, a regular monthly poetry event in Guildford. Four poetry collections published by Dempsey & Windle: ‘Sifting Sound into Shape’ (2012);’ ‘The Smell of Purple’ (2013);’Being Dragged Across the Carpet by the Cat'(2013) and ‘Gerry Sweeney’s Mammy’ (2017)