Eamonn Lynskey's Poetry and Reading Blog

April 2, 2018

‘After the Fall’ by Brian Kirk. (Salmon Poetry, 2018)… a short review

Filed under: Poetics, Poetry, Reviews, Salmon Poetry Books — Tags: , — tvivf @ 2:25

Brian Kirk writes a poetry of the crafted line and the weighted word and theseAfter-the-Fall-by-Brian-Kirk.jpg qualities are very evident in the title poem of the collection After the Fall, a passionate poem elegantly contained within a careful construct of short lines: 

The residue of that first kiss
upon our lips
like a bruise …

This choosing of the right form in which to enclose the thought continues throughout the book, laying before the reader the realities of living daily life where the ordinary is often displaced unexpectedly by the sudden appearance of the unusual. Two Foxes is such a poem, where the excitement of the unusual is captured, together with the realization of a wilder, hidden strata running beneath the monotony of daily events:

… and I knew I would never forget
the night we saw foxes on Barnsbury Road,
and remembered our love in the body,
the skin and the blood
on a wet London street.

It is a truism that all writers (especially, perhaps, poets?) are given to seeing around the corners of reality. The Barnsbury foxes, an indication of a hidden world, bring a poem like Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings to mind, with its probing beneath the surface of an event the poet happens into by accident. There are many poems in this collection in which we are given not only the surface of things but the underlying hidden pulses as well. Poems like New Year and Leave Taking are what they say they are but are so much more. In the latter poem, for instance, we read about an elderly man visiting his neighbours’ houses for what he knows will be his last time. The poignancy that rises up through the matter-of-fact descriptions gives the poem its impact:

… he was feted by farmers and their wives
like one who’d been away at war for years,
wondering what his business could be now
beyond the final saying of goodbyes …

This is a poem of great humanity and understanding.

Careful lines and carefully chosen words are nowhere more apparent than in poems like Rotten ApplesSimple Vows and A Map. There is always something restful and magical for the eye in poems that make good use of space and a minimum of words. It is always a mystery how a little poem like Rotten Apples, so reminiscent of William Carlos Williams, can have such a big effect and is proof that, in poetry as elsewhere, very often ‘less is more’. Simple Vows is also well served by this economy of treatment:

Beyond the Hermitage I dreamed you close,
Among new leaves your smile was apple bright.

The long line is also used to very good effect. It is always difficult to pack lots of information into a poetic line without lapsing into prose and many pieces in the collection achieve this balance. ‘Balancing Act’ is a poem featuring the Irish urban/rural divide and is an example of the several poems that explore topics to the fore in our newspapers and in, as the phrase goes, the ‘political discourse’, of today’s Ireland:

My children are happy but urban and thin,
they speak with inquisitive irony
when describing the world as it is, real or virtual;
their futures mapped out before them …

There are many other fine poems which could be discussed but Orienteering must be mentioned. This is a wise poem that speaks to those of us who have lived long enough to have ‘a past’ (in the sense of a lengthy series of regrets) and is a warning to those who have not yet accumulated too many years that there is a shape to the things that are to come, a shape which may not be very attractive:

… If you sketched
a map from memory
you’d maybe see
the broad outline
of staggering events,
or feel the smart
of tiny hurts
absurdly magnified
as you move away …

Again, craft is evident in the decision to eschew stanzas and deliver the poem in one continuous flow, rather like a thought that comes, makes its presence felt and then goes away. Again, the choice of form is just right and, as becomes apparent as one reads through the book, this poet is comfortable with many different forms: sonnet, single couplet, formal stanza, the cascading line.

For anyone who likes a poetry of the well-chosen word and the economic line, Brian Kirk’s collection ‘After the Fall’ will fit the bill. Nor does he come up short on the unexpected and the lyrical (‘The bright talk of past days / unspools to slurs’). This short review cannot do justice to this fine collection. It is a book that will lure a reader back again to have another look. And this surely is the ultimate accolade?

Eamonn Lynskey (c) 2018

‘After the Fall’ is available from ‘Books Upstairs’ and other bookshops in Dublin, and from the Salmon website http://www.salmonpoetry.com

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March 31, 2018

The Association of Writers’ Programs Conference, Tampa, Fl USA, March 2018

Filed under: Salmon Poetry Books, Workshops — Tags: , , — tvivf @ 2:25

I am very pleased to have attended the Association of Writers’ Programs (AWP) download.jpgconference in Tampa, Florida, earlier this month (March 2018) at the invitation  of Salmon Poetry and with financial assistance from Culture Ireland.

The response to the Salmon Poetry presence at its own bookstall stTampa1.jpgand at the event was very positive. A number of Salmon publications were on sale from both American and Irish authors (the latter being myself and Anne Fitzgerald) who were on hand to talk to visitors and sign books. There was also the opportunity to provide more general information about Ireland (much in demand).

This conference was a large event and was very well attended by a considerable number of people over four days, organised yearly by the AWP in various US cities. It included presentations/talks each day on various literary topics, formal and informal readings, meetings between writers, and a large book fair. There was a formal Poetry reading organised by Salmon Poetry at ‘The Portico’, a venue in Downtown Tampa for Salmon poets which was well received and open to all. I had the opportunity to meet several American authors, including a favourite of mine, James Tampa2.jpgRagan.

I attended a number of events/presentations spread over the duration of the conference. These varied from those connected with poetry (‘Beyond Frost’s Fences: New England Poetry with Ethnic Roots) and the essay (‘Making Room for Essayist Thinking during Fraught Times’), which are my own particular writing areas, to more general topics (‘Native American and Latino Fiction: Intersections on Narrative as Form and Force’). I was also able to attend several readings which showed me some new methods of presentation and performance of my work. Meeting and exchanging ideas with my American counterparts was also very welcome.

Tampa3.jpgSalmon Poetry plans to continue its yearly visits to the AWP Conference next year (in Portland, Oregan). Meanwhile, I will continue to read at venues in Ireland and UK in order to maintain book sales and hope to build on contacts I made in Tampa in order to further sales in the USA.

I found it all an inspiring, if somewhat overwhelming, experience. I was introduced to many different viewpoints and writing methods and somewhat taken out of my usual ‘comfort zones’. I made numerous connections with other creative writers/MFA organisers which I hope will facilitate the exchange of work/ideas in the future. I will continue work on my fourth collection which is scheduled for publication by Salmon in 2020/21.

My thanks particularly to Jessie Lendennie of Salmon for facilitating this very productive visit.

[Note: The AWP conference is open to all (see the AWP site) although to apply for government funding for a travel grant the attendee must have an invitation from a publishing company participating in the conference]

Cover Its Time.jpg         t_vacantpossession.jpg                salmon logo.jpg

  ‘It’s Time’ by Eamonn Lynskey   and  ‘Vacant Possession’ by Anne Fitzgerald

 

 

 

May 14, 2017

Thank You!

Filed under: Book Launches, Poetry, Publications, Salmon Poetry Books — tvivf @ 2:25

No3.jpg            Cover Its Time.jpg

My sincere thanks to all who came to the launch of my book ‘It’s Time’ at Books Upstairs in Dublin last Wednesday 10th May. I shared the evening with my good friend and excellent poet Anne Tannem (‘Tides Shifting across My Living Room Floor’) and I know I speak for her too when I say it was a fabulous event. Thanks also to Ross Hattaway and Alvy Carragher for their kindly introductions. And a huge thank you to Jessie Lendennie and Siobhan Hutson for taking us on board the good ship ‘Salmon Poetry’. Long may she sail!

Launch Bks Upstairs.jpg

Bks Upstairs.jpg

May 3, 2017

Save the Date! – Launch of my third collection.

Filed under: Book Launches, Publications, Salmon Poetry Books — tvivf @ 2:25

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Book Launch!

‘It’s Time’

by Eamonn Lynskey

Wednesday 10th May at 6.30 pm

at Books Upstairs, D’Olier Street, Dublin

Save the date! Thanks to Jessie Lendennie & Siobhan Hutson at Salmon Poetry, my third poetry collection ‘It’s Time’ is launching at Books Upstairs, (introduced by Ross Hattaway), alongside the wonder-full Anne Tannam with her collection ‘Tides Shifting across My Sitting Room Floor’, (introduced by Alvy Carragher).

We hope to see you there.

July 2, 2015

Paul Allen and the Prose Poem

Filed under: Poetics, Salmon Poetry Books — Tags: — tvivf @ 2:25

Ground Forces

‘Ground Forces’ by Paul Allen, Salmon Poetry, 2007

So much good poetry to read. I have at last caught up with Paul Allen’s collection ‘Ground Forces’ some eight years after it was published by Salmon Poetry in 2007, and this despite having lodged it on my shelves some time ago. In a book filled with good material it’s hard to separate the sheep from the sheep. The title poem ‘Ground Forces’ signals many of the book’s concerns, especially the idea that despite the daily defeats that life deals us, we just have to get on with things. There are no exceptions:

“…the last shall be first and the first shall be last—but

concurrently.”

A recurring feature of Allen’s style is his wry humour. For instance, most of us will be acquainted with the bible story of how Jesus dealt with the evil spirits by casting them into a herd of pigs and then sending the herd headlong over a cliff, but have we ever considered the subsequent plight of the herdsmen and how they tried to explain things to their wives when they got home?—

“A god came along today and threw our herd

into the sea. We may have to tighten our belts.”

There’s no way around it. Like Auden’s Unknown Citizen’, one must become resigned to what can’t be changed:

“When there was peace, he was for peace.

When there was war, he went.”

There is an accessible, colloquial style about poems like ‘Mifford’s Work’ which is reminiscent of the strongly narrative, down-to-earth approach of Robert Frost’s ‘Out, out’. Like Frost’s, many of Allen’s poems are about actual people and ‘real events’.  Mifford is an undertaker, whose young assistant is somewhat scornful of his employer’s rather disreputable past (Mifford is an alcoholic and has had six wives). He advises his young assistant:

“ ‘ … I guess you stay married to one too long,

you get attached. That’s a little piece of advice

you can keep.’ ”

To which his assistant’s (unspoken) response is:

“As if I would keep the advice

of a man who couldn’t stay married,

cheated on his wife, drank himself

through four states and a dozen starts…”

And yet, the youngster has a grudging admiration as he watches how the undertaker goes to work on a victim of violence, using a lifetime of expertise to blend together fake with real flesh. The image employed to convey this admiration is startling:

“… right in front of my face

they become the gentlest hands I’ve ever seen

on a man: The hands of a bricklayer, say, changing

the sheets for his brother who is dying of AIDS …”

The poem that follows, ‘The Overwhelmed Samaritan’ opts for what I take to be the ‘prose-poem’ format and because of my own rather conventional style of writing poetry (i.e., strictly linear and metered), I always find it difficult to respond to this form. I am aware it has a long history (Baudelair, Whitman, Ginsberg & etc.) and yet every time I come across it I have to remind myself of its parameters. One definition tells me it is “a brief composition printed as prose but containing the elements of poetry: carefully designed rhythms, alliteration, assonance, rhyme, figures of speech and recurrent images” (1). Another has it that: “Though the name may appear to be a contradiction, the prose poem essentially appears as prose, but reads like poetry… While it lacks the line breaks associated with poetry, the prose poem maintains a poetic quality, often utilizing techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition and rhyme.’ (2).

Fine. However, I find that ‘prose-poems’ sit a good deal nearer to prose

Paul Allen

Paul Allen

than to poetry. As always, it’s all about how well the potential of the language is realized. In many prose-poems that I find the poetic quality (or as it used to be described, that quality of ‘heightened language’) is often lacking. The jugular reach, which is so much a part of poetry’s strength, is often muted or missing entirely. This is not to say that the complete list of rhyme, metre, stanza and all the other poet’s sleights of pen are absolutely essential to the making of a good poem. It is the combination of some or all of them which does the trick of raising the language above the ordinary. However, when I come across ‘prose-poems’ I am often unsure as to whether I am reading good prose or broken-up poetry, especially when one considers that good prose can also rise ‘above the ordinary’. Think of Charles Dickens’ description of the storm at Great Yarmouth in David Copperfield.

In short, I am often unsure as to what I am dealing with when I come across prose-poems. For instance, I am indebted to one reviewer, Newton Smith (3) for designating two pieces in this book as prose-poems. Would I have recognized them as such without this help? Maybe. But that might be because I see that their lines reach the right-hand margin and that there is no discernible ‘poetic structure’ such as stanza’ or rhyme. In other words I’m looking for what is not there.

As to the poems /prose-poems themselves (as designated), the first line of ‘The Overwhelmed Samaritan’

“Not everybody is born, but everybody does die”

talks a truism, but enunciates it with that abrupt delivery of poetry which gives old phrases a new life. The five paragraphs of the piece cascade smoothly and unfold their concerns in an arresting series of images. The language is indeed heightened and the flow of the narrative very gripping. We are given a catalogue of persons in distress, their distresses becoming more and more acute as the poem races inexorably towards its despairing end:

‘They’ve been beaten badly. They are not going to make it. Pick them up. Get them some help. Pray for them, pray for them. And your mother, your children, your hairdresser, the guy who’s trying to help you adjust. On your way to the hospital, stop at city hall; the mayor you didn’t vote for is dying. While you’re at it, load up his staff. Hurry. Hurry. They’re all dying. You might not be in time…’

It is never possible to rise to every occasion, the poet is saying. The sense of being ‘overwhelmed’ is vividly conveyed, as is the desire to clear off and let things take their course, since there is not much that can be done. Beneath a patina of comic description this poem is asking serious questions about the human predicament and our powerlessness in the face other people’s suffering.  The reviewer I mentioned above (3) wrote that,  in poems like this, and other poems in the book, ‘the spiritual question … is about how to live with perpetual loss, the constant disappointments, unfulfilled ambitions, thwarted hopes, and never measuring up to expectations. The list becomes absurd’.

Similarly, in the other prose-poem ‘Silences’, which concerns Rwanda children who have suffered through war, there are lines that go beyond a mere prose factual re-telling: ‘they cannot speak or hear because of what they saw and heard’. Again, there is a compression here which lifts the language above standard prose. Is it the case that it is this type of ‘compressed’ language that turns a good prose piece into a poem? It seems to me to be as good a criterion as any other, given the absence of the usual poetic structures and devices.

These two pieces are very successful for me, whatever definition of form one uses. Everything is working, although they look and read like prose. I feel they might have been even more successful if they had been wrought under the more demanding disciplines of linear poetry. There is too much going on in too many large chunks of writing and the prose-poem format severely limits the use of the weighted word or line, while many style features (such as enjambment) are not possible. It is true that the poet here avoids much of the verbosity and lack of focus that can often be a part of the prose-poem and certainly these two poems do appeal to me because, in venturing into the prose-prose, Allen, as a good poet, cannot help leaning heavily to the ‘poetic’ side of writing. However, I cannot shake off the feeling that they might well have been even better should they have been written as either prose, OR poetry,

The middle section of the book, ‘His Longing: The Small Penis Oratorio’ was apparently issued previously as a chapbook and contains poems in which the motif of a small penis is employed to explore the idea of human inadequacy. The poems indulge in a somewhat obvious humor which, because it is obvious, does not work as well as the understated humour which runs through other of his poems. They have the feel of material which would work really well when performed live, but which do not quite lift off as page poems. This is of course a personal view and is qualified by pieces like ‘Repent’, a poignant poem about that personal history we all accumulate and the which, past a certain point in our lives, transforms into ‘baggage’, which we would dearly love to be rid of. Like the possessions that clutter up our house as we grow older, we would like to jettison at least some of this history and start furnishing anew. Your wife demands

“‘Why can’t you throw anything away? Why the Hell can’t you just get rid of stuff?’

What you do not say back, standing at the toilet, shaking your bud, is that you do not know, and oh how you wish you could.”

As I said at the start, trying to separate sheep from sheep is nonsense and so is trying to pin down a ‘best poem’ in a strong collection. However, it is an exercise that concentrates the mind (rather like Dr Johnson and hanging) and it very often comes down to something in a particular poem that ‘hits the spot’ for the reader.  And so it is with Allen’s ‘Reunion’ down the end of the book. All poems are poems of personal response, indeed all writing is (even writing perhaps in the area of mathematical aero-dynamic equations?).  Occasionally, however, one comes across a poem that speaks immediately and directly to the reader because it links to his/her own personal experience, ‘mirror poems’ if you like, because reading them is indeed like looking into a mirror of yourself and seeing yourself moving around between the lines. Sometimes these poems are in themselves are not very good and owe their impact almost wholly to the shared experience, but ‘Reunion’ is a very good poem. Not quite the best poem in the book, but it appeals to me because, here in all its pathos is that peculiar ambience which attaches to those get-togethers of former colleagues, that mix of forced camaraderie, inward melancholy and, after a few late-night drinks, maudlin nostalgia and yes, I’ve been there a few times, opting out when I realised it was bad for my mental health.

I most definitely have ridden that elevator the poet takes, midway through the poem. I have seen it fill up at each floor with my somewhat overweight companions (of yore), keeping my eye all the time on the weight restriction sign, as he does (”MAXIMUM LOAD THIS CAR: 2400 LBS”). There is of course worse to come when we at last reach the top floor bar:

“Alright everybody, here we go:

Who has the most children?

Who has changed the least?

Who remembers all the verses to our old song?”

The three shorter stanzas lay the groundwork for the final, extended one. This gift of seeing clearly past the scars and marks left by the world and its ways and plunging down into the concealed worth of the person is a frequent theme in this collection.  A reaffirmation that even ’the least of these’ has qualities worth valuing, like Mifford, who is, in Thomas Kinsella’s words, “… not young, and not renewable, but man”.

Read this collection. It could make you a better person and more understanding of the faults of others. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Notes

(1) Literary Terms: A Dictionary. Karl Beckson and Arthur Ganz, Noonday Press, a Division of Farrar, Struas and Giroux, New York, 1989.

(2) poets.org

(3) Newton Smith at ashevillepoetryreview.com

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