My thanks to Mark Ulysses for publishing three of my poems on the websiteLE-Poetry-Writing-May-2019-1-300x248.jpg ‘Live Encounters’. The poems are ‘My father Saved Lives’, ‘Black Saturday 1941 Revisited’ and ‘Duende’. The first is a personal poem, relating to my father who spent some time on the construction of the hospital in Blanchardstown (now Connolly Hospital) where TB patients could be treated. ‘Black Saturday’ deals with the difficulty of forgiving while not forgetting, and Duende came out of an essay by Garcia Lorca in which he eloquently discusses that crucial moment of clarity in the mind that sets off creativity.

There are many other works to be enjoyed, including one from the redoubtable Kevin Higgins who gives a new (sardonic) interpretation to old catch-cries (‘The Man Who Spoke in Slogans’) ‘; and a wry look at the ever-crowded poetry scene (‘Regretfully’)  from Anne Fitzgerald, to mention only a few. Artwork is by Pawel IIgin. You can read ‘Live Encounters’  by clicking  HERE

I must also thank Eamon Mag Uidhir and his merry Sunlight crew for including my poemflare-11-2 ‘A New England Schoolroom c. 1800’ in ‘Flare’, the quarterly ‘narrowsheet’ produced by the long-running Sunflower Sessions. This open-mic event occurs every last Wednesday of the month (except December) and is now located in ‘The Lord Edward’ pub opposite Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. Copies of Flare (€5) are available at the sessions. NB: The Sessions are always friendly, lively and full of fun. Come along, and not just because of FOMO!

For more information, join meetup.com, like The Sunflowers Sessions on Facebook, or email at: sunflower_sessions@yahoo.com 

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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

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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, 
Rome

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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 20190213_111248.jpg 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.

 Paperback ISBN: 978 1 910669 86 0 

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.

 

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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!):

Material Support

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!’

 

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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 14671125_1775723676001934_6080134555308369121_n.pngresponses 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. 

 

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My thanks to the editors of Crannog for again including a poem of mine. As always, the magazine is full of interesting and arresting material and I make bold to mention a very few, out of the many that appealed to me.

I remember that George Bernard Shaw, one time when he was writing to a friend, is said to have excused himself for writing a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one. The apparent simplicity of a short poem is entirely deceptive (think of Emily Dickinson!). So it is with Snapdragon, from Olivia Kenny McCarthy (just 11 short lines):

‘A late bee hovers / over the antirrhinum. / His wing beats angle him / to the puff of her / lemon lip …’ The economy of language and the poet’s keen observation is truly marvellous.

But let’s not do down the longer poem. There is The Principles of Fatherhood, for instance, where Kevin Graham explores a difficult space for many parents. I think I am right in interpreting it as a poem about disability, but it could apply equally to any time in that period of life which many people confront rather awkwardly, fathers especially perhaps. It is a very moving poem and if there was a Crannog Readers Award (as in the UK Orbis magazine) it would get my vote. There are far too many twee, saccharine poems written about childhood (though never in Crannog!). This isn’t one of them.

Poems about the coming of spring are as old as the hills but in Clive Donovan’s The Return of Her, spring comes striding across those hills sweeping all winter’s destruction before her. What a great stirring clarion-call of a poem it is! ‘The bomb shelled birds stir to sound again singing / And scarred trees weeping with raw new sap …’ I am not surprised to read in the biographical notes that Clive has been published ‘in a wide variety of magazines’. This poem is really high quality, inspiring stuff.

Orla Fay’s Earworm is a poem to reckon with. I confess I had never heard of the singer Hozier (on whose song this poem is based) until I read Orla’s poem and this is a good example of the power of a good  piece of writing to send us hurrying to look up allusions we don’t understand. This only happens if we find the piece impressive in the first place, and this is a really impressive poem. I had not heard the phrase ‘stuck song syndrome’ before, but I know exactly what it means. Unfortunately it often happens that the song that gets stuck in one’s head is some obnoxious ditty picked up in the supermarket. Fortunately for Orla, it is a song she likes: ‘Yahweh do angels walk among us  / whispering such lyrics / as catalyst’. Now you must excuse me while I look up the words ‘teal’ and ‘calque’ …

As in Orla’s case, my poem derives from another artwork, this time a painting, the Canaletto masterpiece in London’s National Gallery. After many visits to Galleries, we all tend to look up our favourites, and the danger is that pass by the many other wonders. But the danger is always worth it with a marvellous work like his.

The Stonemasons’ Yard Revisited

 (after Canaletto)

 

Because I cannot pass where work is doing

these stonemasons busy at their craft

detain me, bell tower rising up behind them,

canal waters flowing silkily past.

I’d half-expected they’d have given way

to office-block and supermarket landscape,

but they labour still as first I saw them,

hammers poised to chip and split and shape.

Here’s one who leans into his task, his eye

fixed on the point will take the chisel’s edge.

Another decorates a pediment,

another finishes off a polished ledge.

And so much happening else outside their yard –

small cameos of ordinary lives:

a cockerel struts along a window sill,

a woman turns to help a fallen child,

while others set their lines of wash to dance

so whitely, merrily in the morning breeze –

their men will home this evening, tired and dusty,

must have shirts tomorrow fresh and clean.

No devil’s workshops here, no idle hands

in this tableau of life and daily living:

his a world of stern allotted duties

where all become what they are making, doing.

Of the stories, I liked best Perfection by the intriguingly-named Hanahazukashi. (of Galway Writers’ Workshop).  I find too many stories strive to describe ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experience. This one is full of the ‘ordinary’, but from a child’s point of view. Really well-handled. I used to do those magazine quizzes myself but gave up because I always came out badly (like Bala, in the story). Not good for the old self-image

So many other wonderful pieces there are in this issue of Crannog that one could discuss at length. Congratulations to the editors on another fine publication.

All details regarding purchase, subscription and submission are available on the Crannog website: http://www.crannog magazine.com

Artwork: ‘Tempus frangit tempus ducit’ by Marie-Jeanne Jacob, who studied in Ireland, New Zealand and Montreal. More information at http:// mariejeannejacob.blogspot.ie  and  Facebook

 

 

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Front cover artwork: ‘Dragonflies First Flight’ by Amanda Dagg
back cover, detail from image: www.dagg.co.uk

My thanks to editor Carole Baldock and her team for including my short piece on the Victorian poet Eugene Lee Hamilton in Orbis no. 183. As always, the magazine makes good reading – poems, stories, reviews and critical content – and, as always, I mention only a very few of the poems that stood out for me among the many others really good.

I particularly liked Martin Zarrop’s Sleepers where humour underpins the poem’s sense of sad futility and die-hard loyalty. He deals in a sensitive way with people who persist in pre-perestroika communist idealism. “Now in their nineties, they are still expecting instructions, / encoded in clues for The Sunday Times, cryptic crossword / or buried in the personal columns of The Washington Post. / Is there an anagram of ‘Felixstowe Workers, Unite and Fight!?’ ” Humour suffuses the piece with affection. One is left feeling that, wrong-headed as they are, these aging ‘comrades’ are in some way admirable because there is always something admirable about loyalty, even misguided loyalty.

I also liked Tony Hendry’s poem on Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne. Why wouldn’t I since I do a lot of poems from paintings myself? However, I like this one because, unlike some poorly-executed ekphrastic poems, it does not collapse into mere description but engages the reader in an interrogation of aspects of the painting which might usually escape notice, overwhelmed as they are by the main event. Describing the action from the point of view of the ‘cute boy satyr’ was a good idea for getting into the painting, rather than just being outside looking in. It’s a poem in the best tradition of Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts.

Nicky Winder’s Death of the Bird Keeper is a poem to reckon with because it’s a poem about The Final Reckoning. He (she?) does a great job in summing up the Bird Keeper’s daily round, now rounding out to its finish. I’m at the time of life when I appreciate poems like this. I am Nicky’s Bee-Keeper, and I know how ‘His margins are shifting’. His other poem, Stealth, is equally good and, further on in the magazine, Lorna Sherry has a really perceptive poem on a somewhat similar theme, as the title (‘Age’) indicates. Okay, okay … but I did say I’m at that time of life …

Featured poet Judith Shaw’s genuine middle eastern sculpture is my pick of the best from her four really outstanding pieces. Allowing the central image to speak directly to the reader is very effective (as was Tony Hendry’s use of the boy-satyr) and nothing is lost of the fleeing refugee’s predicament. He has to part with this precious possession for badly needed cash. It is a sad parting: ‘ … he’ll never sleep again’. The poem puts me in mind of the lost (stolen) treasures from Iraq’s museums during that illegal war.

Nigel Ford’s ‘After they had felled the trees’ is a particularly short poem. I like short poems. I tend to think that those which go on for rather a long time are not really poems at all but short short stories Certainly they often get prosy, despite any poetic trappings of rhyme and meter. Then there is the challenge of how to write about something that isn’t there and without becoming too regretful or, worse, maudlin. Enter Nigel. I admire the economy of how the trees have left ‘… long and stately shadows / old as time, / no longer there.’ (Thomas Hardy’s great poem on absence, Afterwards, came into my mind on reading this. What more praise can I give?) Similarly, the economy of Yvonne Adami’s ‘Walking the Merri…’ was impressive. She lets nothing come between the reader and the physicality of the early morning walk. One really is there: ‘footsteps / echoing / a trail of days / raked over / altars / of stone / casting shadows …’

I can’t end my quick survey without a mention of Hannah Stone’s ‘Gathering/Scattering’. What an arresting first line (‘I carry Dad up the mountain in an Illy coffee canister.’). Well, it’s not really a first line because this is, I think, maybe, a ‘prose poem’, that curious hybrid which I usually abhor. But I’ve come back several times to read this piece because I appreciate both its irreverence and its realism. Yes, this is the way these things happen. And I’m so glad that Mum was happy at the end. It’s all really well done.

Of the stories, I liked best Jim Meirose’s The Burning Bush, at least I think it’s a story. As I mentioned above, there’s such great play these days of ‘allowing genres to flow into each other’ that maybe it’s flash fiction? Or maybe even a ‘prose poem’? Whatever it is, it’s good. Again, irreverence always grabs me. And such a riot of imagery.

And I must send special congratulations to my Dublin poet-colleague Jean O’Brien on her gaining Joint First in the Readers’ Award in Orbis 182.

My own contribution is in the ‘Past Masters’ section and concerns Eugene Lee Hamilton, that forgotten Victorian master of the sonnet. As they say in the coffee houses these days: Enjoy! –

Eugene Lee Hamilton (1845-1907)

‘To each his own’: so goes the Italian proverb (‘a ciascuno il suo’). Every poet has a particular concern. For Wordsworth it was that nagging instinct that we might be at the mercy of a threatening nature and the God who made it. Frank O’Hara often felt overwhelmed by the rich diversities of his city and his own place within it. Eugene Lee Hamilton’s preoccupation was the growing secularisation of society.

Not nearly as famous as his great near-contemporary Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) who described the tide of receding religious faith in his ‘Dover Beach’ and elsewhere, Hamilton managed to touch on the growing unease at the passing of the old order under pressure from a new, impatient and less reverent modern era of rapid change in social mores. His impeccable sonnet Idle Charon, a finely crafted piece, has what every poem must have: at least one riveting image. This sonnet fulfils that requirement in its reference to the ancient practice of burying a coin (the obol) with the body to pay the boatman who will ferry the departed across the river of no return to a next world, a world increasingly held in doubt. The classical reference, tinged with a peculiarly Victorian sense of loss, imbues his poem with a sharp and unforgettable poignancy.

The shores of Styx are lone forever more,

  And not one shadowy form upon the steep

  Looms through the dusk, far as the eye can sweep,

To call the ferry over as of yore;

But tintless rushes all about the shore

  Have hemmed the old boat in, where, locked in sleep,

  Hoar-bearded Charon lies; while pale weeds creep

With tightening grasp all round the unused oar.

 

For in the world of Life strange rumours run

  That now the soul departs not with the breath,

But that the Body and the Soul are one;

  And in the loved one’s mouth now, after death,

The widow puts no obol, nor the son,

  To pay the ferry in the world beneath.

 

Orbis Quarterly International Journal

News, reviews, views, letters, features, prose and poetry

(www.orbisjournal.com) 

Subscription details:

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Fancy a closer look?

Introductory offer: 2 back issues for just £7, down from £5 each,
and that includes p+p: £1.60 (saving £3) –
because reading magazines helps judge the best match with your work
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See website (www.orbisjournal.com) for subscription and payment details

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