Poetry Ireland Review no. 125

Review by Fred Johnston

Fred Johnston is a poet, novelist, literary critic and musician.

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.

Live Encounters (www.liveencounters.net)

Review by Susan Norton

Susan Norton writes essays, reviews, and literary criticism and is a lecturer of English in The Dublin Institute of Technology

   Irish poet Eamonn Lynskey’s volume of verse called It’s Time, published by Salmon Poetry (2017), is self-conscious in literal and beautiful ways — literal in its articulations, beautiful in its aspirations. “All Those Thousand Souls” (p.25) begins, “This poet never had a lump of shrapnel / wedged inside his head or sat bewildered / in the bombed-out wreckage of his home–”.  It then guides the reader through the devastating violence and loss suffered by families in Bangladesh to conclude that the poet can and should continue to do what little and whatever he can to assuage suffering, including “check High Street labels carefully, choose / Fairtrade products,” and yes, “compose angry poems.”

   Such incantation to power over powerlessness typifies Lynskey’s tone throughout the collection.  He is highly attuned to pain and injustice in life, but not at all overcome by it. His poems ask us to ask ourselves questions and thus insist that change is not only worthy of us, but incumbent upon us too.  In “Deposition” (24), for instance, an unidentified body is found in the night, possibly hanged, yet the women who come upon it in the morning do not look away. They pray over it and leave behind flowers, human compassion once again lighting the way toward tomorrow.

   In “Listening to My Elders” (19), the first-person speaker identifies with those in recent history who have “just followed orders” in carrying out atrocities. By accepting the probability of obedience to maniacal power in times of genocide or brutal colonial expansion, the narrating voice self-incriminates for crimes committed while also rhetorically suggesting the likelihood that many of us would protect ourselves through collusion with evil too. The message?  We must guard society against the rise to power of corrupting forces so that none of us will ever find we are about to “machete severed limb from torso.”

   Such up-close, at times unflinching and always highly specific language of both ordinary and extraordinary human experience is characteristic of Lynskey’s composition. Read aloud, his lines trip easily off the tongue because his lexicon is so common to the words we use with each other every day. His syntax, while never convoluted, still achieves a lyrical quality. Lynskey’s touch is light, his syllabication deft, and his verse thematically inviting for readers of all kinds who wish to ruminate on life as we know it, in the here and now, because every “going forth” is “a risk,” every “safe return a victory”.  And until our “Final Notice” (66), there is still time to achieve a higher purpose.

Brian Kirk

Brian Kirk is a poet and playwright. His first collection ‘After the Fall’ was published by Salmon Poetry in 2017.

    Eamonn Lynskey’s third poetry collection It’s Time opens with the title poem which subtly marks an ending and a beginning at the same time. Winter gives way to spring: ‘…the wheelie bin / has taken on a strange new lustre’ and ‘When I creak the shed door open / shears and spade blink in the corner’. The collection as a whole reflects the turbulent circularity of things in general, the passing of the seasons, the changing of the old order, the past receding, the present stark in its immediacy at times, the future uncertain. But it is also a call to action for us to try again to put the world and the past to rights.

    The reader is led along a deceptively straightforward path with carefully controlled poems that exhibit precise use of language and striking images. The poet draws our attention to a variety of concerns as we move through the collection; expansive themes that meditate on how we are failing as custodians of our planet sit alongside accounts of the horrors of the past, political and social. But within the overall tapestry, between the big fore-grounded themes, the poet sews the details of the quotidian with an acute eye for the details that speak to our common humanity.

    In Home an Hour the poet, lately discharged from hospital, grateful and filled once again with awe for the wonders of the natural world, finally acknowledges with grim humour:

‘Just home an hour and I begin

to worry about new water charges, am

again become immune to the miraculous.

    There is a real concern for the future of the planet and of mankind in poems such as Down to Africa and Lament, but this is never strident. In the latter, which is concerned with the despoliation of the Great Barrier Reef, he could be speaking of the harm done to peoples as much as that done to the eco-system when he writes:

‘How will you escape, crazed refugees,

the dread bombardments that will crash around you?’

    There are many other poems which take on themes of political and socio-political importance, particularly in relation to violence meted out in war or by those in power. Warrior, Civilian Executions, Minsk 1941 and Listening to My Elders all deal with the horrors of war, the latter being most unsettling as it is spoken from the point of view of a collaborator: ‘I would have raped / and plundered, filled mass graves, just following orders,’.

   There is a sequence of poems at the heart of the collection that considers the negative effects of religion in general and the Catholic Church in Ireland in particular. An Early Christian employs an extended metaphor to examine the decline of the Church in Ireland in recent decades.

          ‘And early panics paralysed us, froze us

          in our desks the day the priest came,

          heard our stammered answers to the questions

          from the Holy Catechism,’

    The accumulation of detail in the poem creates a potted social history of the decline of the church in a few pages of rhythmically flowing eight-line stanzas. It’s a very satisfying poem.  The poem April sees a distinct move away from God to Nature, seeing in her cycle the true mystery of life: ‘…Here is full communion / with whatever is unknown, / unknowable, whatever makes, / unmakes, remakes – Whatever is / that shapes the world’.

    Lynskey also displays a real talent for the ekphrastic poem, taking inspiration from paintings and photographs alike in poems such as The Taking of Christ, This Photograph, Miracles and Metsu’s Women. In This Photograph the snapshot becomes a totemic artefact which hold the power that ‘launched us / on this cardboard raft to sail / into innumerable futures.’

    Throughout the collection there is a presiding interest in artefacts. Things, particularly old things, are important to the poet and deepen his and our understanding not only of the past but the present and the future too. In The Oldest Man-Made Object in The British Museum he measures man’s attempts at progress in the natural world over time by considering two items, a stone age axe and an even older scalloped chopping tool.

    Perhaps the collection’s ambition – and that of all poets – is best described in a short line from the very moving poem of loss, Rachael which seeks to understand a world where suffering and loss exist, ‘to reach behind the words / to understand what happened.’

In this collection Eamonn Lynskey has helped us do just that.

Liz McSkeane, Director of Turas Press.

Liz McSkeane is a poet and novelist and director of the publishing company Turas Press. Website:  admin@turaspress.ie

   The title of Eamonn Lynskey’s third collection poetry, “It’s Time,” evokes a sense of meditation – on life, on the urgency of tackling our life’s work, whatever that may be. The reader expecting such reflections will not be disappointed. But from these fifty-two poems, the understated and ambiguous title unravels to reveal a tapestry of interconnected themes that are not only personal, but social and political as well.

    The title poem, which opens the collection, conjures a moment of renewal, a spring day in the suburbs when images of dead leaves and a wheelie bin combine to make the familiar strange:

“There’s something sharp

about the sunlight blinds the eye this morning –

stems have straightened up, the wheelie bin

has taken on a strange new lustre.”

    The beautiful elegy, “A Connaught Man’s Rambles” distils the harshness of life for Irish emigrant workers in a personal recollection of the poet’s father. A stroll in the country, “Nunhead Cemetery” takes the poet, and us, down memory lane and face-to-face with

“…the narrow span / between the spark and its extinguishing.”

    A reprieve from a brush with mortality breathes palpable relief in “That Moment When” and “Home an Hour”. And presiding over all, the shade of that “Thief” who comes in the night and is not just after your money…

    “It’s Time” is also a call to action, in the sense that ‘It’s time something was done about’ – what? In “Down to Africa” and “Lament”, the latter an elegy to the lost and disappearing life of the Great Barrier Reef, the poet casts his appalled gaze over the legacy of destruction and environmental degradation our human intervention has wreaked on nature.  

    He also challenges us to remember the anguish wrought by conflict and wars, past and present. Images here are concrete and often shocking: the voice of a “A Professional in Charge” brings a horrifyingly clinical view of the execution of Anne Boleyn.  “Warrior” subjects the skeleton of a slain Neolithic warrior killed in battle to modern forensic analysis. “Civilian Executions, Minsk, 1941” and “Lists” remember the anonymous victims of atrocities and war, bystanders in the drama of history’s disasters.  And the great events of history are skilfully intermingled with the minutiae of small lives: “Metzu’s Women” in the past, and the poet’s own life laid bare in the clutter of objects being cleared out by unknown successors in “Day of Judgement.”

    Much of the power of this vision is conveyed through the evocation of everyday objects:  a stone-age knife, random objects displayed in a museum, a photograph. The poet’s scrutiny has an ethnographic quality that imbues simple artefacts of the past, and the present, with the lustre of talismans. Lynskey is at his best when his insights are mined from these vignettes of shared humanity, evoked through the everyday and sometimes sinister uses of daily objects. These images permit readers space and freedom to make connections, draw our own conclusions. Only occasionally does the poet succumb to the temptation to interpret on our behalf, such as “This Photograph” and “My Song is Simple” which tip over into didacticism.

    But these lapses are few. This is a book that disconcerts, not least in tenderness not only for our neighbour, but for the Other, such as

“two English boys who disembark

To angry streets at Eastertime”

   “It’s Time” is engaged poetry, imbued with great passion and compassion that smoulders, slow-burning, in the mind of the reader long after the “Final Notice” has been given.

Skylight47, Issue 11 Spring/Summer 2019

Review by David Butler

David Butler is a poet, novelist and dramatist.

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.

Orbis International Literary Journal #184

Review by David Troman

The blurb on the back of this third collection says that the verses offer questions, not answers. However, it seems to me a partial truth because Lynskey does ask about things, although in a manner which makes the readers think they conceived such questions for themselves. He deals with all aspects of life: faith; conservation; personal relationships. In each case, the answer is inherent in the asking, implying therefore further questions –

do I want to contribute to making an answer a reality, and if so, how and when? For Lynskey, the third question is answered in the title.

    The writer clearly feels passionately about his subjects, yet the ‘ordinariness’ of the language is as dispassionate as a barrister presenting a logical case. Often, it’s with a dry sense of wit, for example, in ‘Neanderthals’:

Whereas there is this ‘widespread idea

that Neanderthals had haggard haircuts,

went half-naked. had a wild-eyed stare,

and killed and chopped each other up for food;

… 1 have no doubts at all but they were kind

among themselves and did not soil the ground

where they lay down to sleep, and loved their kids,

and hoped for happiness. And then we came along.

    In the latter part of the collection, the focus is on the issues particular to Ireland. In ‘Speaking of the Past’, we find a desire for unity between people, manifested through Catholicism:

It was all a tapestry of love –

divine, not flesh and blood –

with pictures of the Sacred Heart

in every house…

We didn’t have that point of purchase

Archimedes coveted,

on which we might step out

and view the whole embroidered cloth

and find it all a work of human hand.

   

Reading Lynskey’s work, it is impossible remain untouched.

 

… Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…

Hard to read the news or watch TV or listen to the radio these days without being inundated by items about COVID-19, non of it too good except for the examples of heroism given by health workers treating the sick in spite of the dangers to their own well-being. Interesting too that for the first time ancillary staff such as cleaners, porters and hospital office staff are being recognised for the essential part they play in keeping our hospitals open for business. Maybe one of the good things that will come out of all this is that in future we might get our priorities right as to which members of the workforce are the more important for keeping us alive and that when they look for pay-rises we will take them more seriously. However, I am not too hopeful about that. I am quite sure that the astronomical salaries paid to talk-show hosts will continue. Tells us something about ourselves.

Yes, the web and social media are full of contributions on the subject of the dreaded virus and I have to say I find some of them a bit dreary and seemingly written for the sake of writing something. I hope my own contribution ‘April, London’ doesn’t fall into the same category and that it offers a ray of hope. I will leave the reader to judge.

April, London

In Mile End Park the daffodils
explode again and he's beside me

telling hothey’re good as any
fringed the edge of Ullswater.

He talks about the beautiful,
the way it is inseparable

from the brutal. Think, he says,
the ghostly language of the earth:

its cresting waves: such majesty –
and threat. Its mountain peaks – reminders

of our frailty. And yet –
this splendid, fluttering host!

                                                      I think

the splendid, serried ranks that roared
at Nuremberg and prophesied

the bones and blitzmuck of this bombsite
underneath our feet. But yes,

they’re beautiful and good as any
trimmed the banks of Windermere

that spring that year. Or any year,
whatever bad our futures bring.

The other speaker in the poem is of course William Wordsworth, author of a much more famous (and much more accomplished) daffodil poem which he wrote with the help of his sister Dorothy. He is a poet never far from the insides of my writing life.

You can also find a video of my poem in Italian on the Italian Cultural Institute website www.iicdublino.esteri.it where it appears as part of the #WeAreWithItaly campaign organised in support of the Italian people who suffered so much in this unprecedented time of difficulty. The translation was greatly assisted by the Italian poet Anna Maria Robustelli, and I offer it below. And if it is at all possible you haven’t ever read William’s poem (for shame!) please dig out your anthologies and do so immediately!

Aprile, Londra

A Mile End Park i narcisi
esplodono di nuovo e lui è accanto a me

a raccontare che sono bravi come quelli
che sfrangiavano le sponde di Ullswater.

Parla del bello, come sia
inseparabile dal brutale.

Immagina, dice, il linguaggio
spettrale della terra: la cresta

delle sue onde: maestosità –
e minaccia. Le sue vette – promemoria

della nostra fragilità. E ancora –
questa splendida schiera svolazzante!

                                                                   Io penso

agli splendidi ranghi serrati
a Norimberga che profetizzarono 

le ossa e il fango del blitz
proprio sotto i nostri piedi. Ma, sì,

sono belli e buoni come quelli
che decoravano le rive del Windermere

quella primavera quell’anno. O ogni anno,
qualunque male il nostro futuri porti.
Image result for william wordsworth
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way

hashtag#liveencountershashtag#poetryhashtag#10thanniversaryEamonn Lynskey – The Safety of Numbersliveencounters.net

I am indebted to Mark Ulysses and his wonderful website for the publication of these two poems.

The Safety of Numbers

How did they ever get around the world

with those old charts, our ancient mariners,

our bold explorers of the unknown vasts?

And did they think Herodotus had fixed

the boundaries with his two awkward lumps

depending south and east of Europe? Or

did Strabo ever lead a midshipman

to shout in loud excitement Land Ahoy?!

.

They’d heard reports of terra incognita

stretching from the horizon towards the rim

with monstrous creatures over-brimmed and men

with heads that grew out of their armpits,

humanoid fantasticals described

by those who’d ventured – but not ventured far,

in holy fear of falling off the edge

and into God’s great anger at impertinence.

.

Possessed by incoherent certainties,

unfazed by years of being disbelieved,

they sailed with little but their intuition

as their guide— as still it is with those

defy the safety of numbers, choose

to steer beyond the known with Erikson,

convinced that almost everything that leads

to anything worthwhile is wagered on a hunch.

.

Trackway

Keenagh, Co. Longford, c.148 BC.

.

Eamhain Mhacha’s fame was spreading,

Royal Cruachan Aí expanding  

when this timber corduroy track

was laid to bridge these ancient wetlands.

.

Here, the heavy work of those

who felled the several hundred trees

and those who strained to load the carts

and haul them creaking to Corr Liath.

.

Here, the skill of carpenters

that split with axe and shaped with adze,

and here the work of dextrous hands

that wove the beds of brushwood mats.

.

These mortised joints, with tenons tongued

to lock exactly one to one,

were honed before the Inca masons

paved the Andean trails with stone.

.

A muffled sound of wooden cartwheels

seems to echo from these logs,

and thud of shaft-hole tool to linger

on the silence of the bog.

Thanks to the generosity of the Irish Writers Centre I was able to partake of a week-long residency in Florence as the guest of St Mark’s English Church in early October 2019. During the week, I gave an evening reading of my work and held a workshop some days later in which I showed how one of my poems progressed from the status of being a vague idea to being a published piece in The Irish Times. I was very taken by the enthusiastic reaction of the participants on both occasions.

Narrow thoroughfares

Apart from these duties, my days were filled with wandering around this beautiful city and exploring its famous piazze and intriguing narrow streets. The church of Santa Maria Novella was as beautiful as I remembered from twenty-five years ago when I first spent a few days here (and when I could tramp around tirelessly from dawn to dusk. Not so now!). And to make the visit to the church even more exciting, this time it included an exhibition of Leonardo’s groundbreaking experiments — in art and in science – which was so stunningly presented that I am sure the Great Man himself would have been pleased.

Leonardo: The Adoration of the Magi

The majestic Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery were of course de rigueur. The gallery is a work of art in itself, quite apart from its magnificent contents. Again Leonardo: how marvellous his Adoration of the Magi, which he left unfinished. And here I have to say how much I have always found intriguing an artist’s unfinished works and the glimpse they give into his (or her) ideas and methods of approaching a subject. Think of those unfinished statues that Michelangelo left with the half-formed figures seeming to struggle out of the marble. Marvellous.

Michelangelo: The Battle of the Centaurs (1492)

Speaking of whom, I made a visit to the Casa Buonarotti in the Via Ghibellina and, yes, I was aware that it was not actually his house (no more than the Dante House in Via Santa Margherita was ever Dante’s house) but was bought by Michelangelo the Younger, himself a man of letters and the arts, who employed many of Florence’s leading artists of the time (including Artemisia Gentileschi) to decorate the building. As such, it is a tribute not only to Michelangelo but to the entire Italian Renaissance as well. Not to be missed by any visitor interested in that great flowering period of the arts in Italy.

When I had mastered the bus routes, I took time to ramble a little around the suburbs in search of second-hand bookshops and to sample something of city life away from the city centre and the Great Sights. I was pleased at the sight of groups of people chatting on their piazzas or sitting out dining in front of their ristoranti. Their casual groupings reminded me of those figures Canaletto put into his painting to make his depiction of great buildings and edifices a little less overpowering. The general air of relaxation and unstressed living was infectious and in great contrast to the trafficy, tourist-crowded inner thoroughfares. I enjoyed the Great Sights as much as anyone else of course, but it has to be admitted that one can tire of Great sights and something in me relished the moments spent reading outside a coffee shop a book picked up from one of the many independent bookshops specialising in used books.

Orto Botanico, Via Micheli 3

Also somewhat out from the centre of the city is the Orto Botanico (Botanic Gardens) which provided me with a measure of much-needed tranquillity. There are many gardens in Florence but this one happened to be on the itinerary I had set myself for the day. An hour or two of sitting close to Mother Nature is always very restoring. This Orto Botanico (in Via Micheli) does not compare with our own in Glasnevin either in scale or attraction, but is wonderful nevertheless. In fact it is a ‘working’ garden, part of the University of Florence and it was interesting to see students engaged in the sketching and photographing plants, presumably for further study and analysis. It is located in a quiet area and was therefore doubly tranquil. Greenery is always welcome. It’s the Andrew Marvel in me (and I believe in everyone) that loves to retreat ‘To a green Thought in a green Shade‘.

St Mark’s English Church is the focal point for English people (and English-speaking people) in Florence and here I must thank its Chaplain and management personnel for making my stay such a pleasant one. The church is itself is an historical part of Florence, stemming I believe from the era of ‘The Grand Tour’ and is the venue for various cultural events throughout the year. During my stay, no evening passed but the strains of the choir rehearsing for their next event or the soaring notes of opera made their way up to my apartment. During my week a well-attended production of La Boheme was mounted.

Il Ponte Vecchio

What else is there to say about this magical city of the Medici and its eternally courteous citizens? You will get a lot of information from any decent guide book but there’s nothing like a sampling of the real thing. Like taking a stroll across the Ponte Vecchio and down along the Arno in the evening when the traffic has died down. At the Ponte Santa Trinita, you can pause at the corner of the bridge where Dante met Beatrice and was so hurt when she wouldn’t look at him because she had found out that he had flirted with someone else, a moment forever captured in Henry Holiday’s famous painting and one of the many great moments forever associated with this great city. Book your tickets now.

… and NOW: the Ponte S. Trinita (somewhat less romantic)
THEN (according to Henry Holiday) ...

The Narrow Land

The Narrow Land is really a fine novel. Christine Dwyer-Hickory treats of the relationship between the american artist Edward Hopper and his wife Jo. It is a tense relationship, withe a lot of resentment on her part over the way her own art has been overshadowed by her famous husband. There is also the story interwoven of a refugee boy from Germany taken in after the war on an American scheme for relocating children left orphans after the war. This is a book which would reward a second reading. Sharp detail, psychological insights and very moving descriptions. 9/10

‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney did not appeal to me, probably because, aged 71, the sexual relationships of teenagers do not hold my interest. However, the problem it is not just that: the book is a rather tedious read and centres around two young people, leaving all the rest of the characters making only incidental presences. I suppose one could say the same about Leopold Bloom in Ulysses but … I don’t think so. Sally’s book is boring. 2/10

Richard Russo’s novel, ‘Straight Man’ has its faults (it goes on a little too long and it has jokey situations that do not quite come off) but it’s a great read. And very amusing. Set in the English Department of a University, it has all the evils to be found in an English Department in a University (or in an English Department anywhere): pride, covetousness. lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. The main character is refreshingly cynical. Well-written. 7/10

This month’s Senior Times (Sept./Oc.t 2019) includes an essay from me on the subject of John Henry Cardinal Newman, which senior readers will remember from their Leaving Certificate days (back in the mists of time) as the author of essays such as ‘The Idea of a University’ which they studied diligently for their exam. Stirring stuff indeed, but an interesting man whose views on education I have increasingly identified with over the years. Next month (October) he will be canonised by the Roman Catholic Church.

Available from Easons and other newsagents

The Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/poetry

A new work by Eamonn Lynskey to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, publ. 20 July 2019

Buzz Aldrin (L) on the moon – Reuters/Neil Armstrong/NASA/

20 July 1969 AD

“May the spirit in which we came
be reflected in the lives of all mankind

When we pressed our footprints on your crust
we trod on centuries of endless yearning,
long fragmented into silvery dust,

O Queen of Tides

remembered snatches of old songs and rhymes
addressed to you by poets who disturbed
your tranquil seas with sad, despairing lines

Nightfarers’ Guide

and when we walked the pock-marked desert plains
our mediaeval ancestors believed
were gouged to show the murderous shape of Cain

Translucent Lantern

and sank our probes into your soil to gauge
was Beatrice right to hold the dark spots equal
to the bright and not more dense or rare,

Latona’s Child

and sent back images of figures lumbering
towards a distant hill where high beyond
the outline of a dry horizon’s rim

Apollo’s Kin

we saw our troubled homeland poised above us,
viridescent oceans veiled in cloud,
and felt this day must herald Pax Lunaris.

Eamonn Lynskey’s most recent collection ’It’s Time’ was published by Salmon in 2017.

My thanks to the Irish Times for publishing this poem

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 

Penne_in_Irlanda.png

20190411_122839.jpg

 

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

IMG_1204.jpg

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 assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

In the Company of Poets at the Non-Catholic Cemetery, 
Rome

20180912_121821.jpg

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

 

My friends at the Lucan book club make the last Wednesday of the month a pleasant experience. It’s always good to talk to people who like reading. ‘A Keeper’ (by Graham Norton) turned out to be rather a flat read. Most people thought it a competent work, which  engaged the reader’s curiosity to the end, but did not consider it a very good book. For my part, I found the plot improbable and the characters poorly drawn. The book’s chapters alternate between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ and so one has two stories popping up and down as one goes along. I find this construction  confusing, since I prefer a story told straightforwardly without this kind of to-ing and fro-ing. All in all, I would give it 4/10 and would  recommend it to anyone only if they had absolutely nothing else to read. To be fair, it would pass the time. Lukewarmly recommended.

When one reads Christine Mangan’s ‘Tangerine’ , one’s  immedTangerineiate thought is: come back Graham Norton, all is forgiven. This is a hopelessly tangled story that goes nowhere, with two main characters that are almost indistinguishable:  ‘Alice’ and ‘Lucy’.  Separate  alternate chapters are given to each. and again this kind of structure does not appeal to me. Maybe it would work if the  two women were drawn in a way that they appeared different as people. The only difference I could see is that one is silly and the other sillier. A silly book too, and most other people  at the Book Club thought so, though a few were inclined to be less harsh than I. I give it 2/10, 1 because it’s always a success to have a book published and. 2, because I do not doubt that a lot of work went into it. There a ‘puff’ on the cover from Joyce Carol Oates extolling the book’s virtues. Oates is such a great writer herself that I will find it hard to forgive her.  Not recommended.

Eva Dolan’s ‘This Is How It Ends’ is streets ahead of the above two. Again, there’s a lot41buTwNUviL._AC_US218_.jpg of jumping around with chapters dated before and after and before again, which I found confusing. Fortunately, being confused as to when things were happening in relation to other things didn’t impair my reading too much because there is a definite plot-line and  very good characterisation of the  book’s people. There’s a very good description of a woman who has spent a lot of her life ‘protesting’ (on the Greenham Common demonstrations, for instance) and now finds herself aged and alone. And the other characters are also very well drawn. I thought it a good read and would give it 7/10. I took off 3 for it being a bit long-drawn out towards the end. 3? Oh hell, I’ll give it 8/10 and recommend it.

The Lucan Book Club meets in Lucan Library every last Wednesday of the month. Free admission

March 2019