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Not an editorial

(with permission from Poetry Ireland Newsletter)

Hard to believe I’ve handed in my fifteenth issue of Poetry Ireland Review. How did that happen? The initial idea was to do eight issues as the organisation felt that the Review, at this stage of its journey, would benefit from a longer span of editorship. Eight turned to twelve and then I was asked to hold the fort for another three issues as PI went through some changes of its own, and, all pleas for mercy having fallen on deaf ears, this I agreed to do.

Now that it’s over, what will I miss? Editing a magazine is a strange business, hard to quantify, or even to describe exactly. The activity itself lies somewhere between sloth and panic, and between intent and happenstance. Vague ideas slide around the back of the mind, poets who might be encouraged to submit, themes that might be tackled, writers that might be prevailed upon to deliver a think-piece. What about Wales? Afghanistan? What about Mangan, MacNeice, Mandelstam? Some things …

The Old Man Speaks with his Soul

Went to see the launch last night in the Goethe-Institut of Der Alte Mann by Günter Kunert translated into English by Hans-Christian Oeser and into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock. The book is part of a series of trilingual poetry collections published by the Irish language house Coiscéim. Kunert is one of Germany’s leading post-war poets. He was born in Berlin in 1929 and as a ‘Mischling’ (of mixed decent – his mother was Jewish) was deemed unfit to finish his secondary schooling or serve in the German army during the war. After the war he lived in the GDR, but after signing a petition in 1976 against the state’s stripping of Wolf Biermann’s citizenship he subsequently lost his party membership, and was allowed to leave the GDR in 1979. As well as poetry he has written short stories, novels, television plays and screenplays. Poetry translations in English include three poems in Michael Hamburger’s German Poetry 1910-1975 (Carcanet, 1976), several poems in Charlotte Melin’s German Poetry…

Departing from Ourselves

(with thanks to The Irish Times, where this first appeared)

W.S. Merwin, Selected Poems. Bloodaxe Books.190pp. UK£9.95

The first poems that W.S. Merwin wrote were hymns for his Presbyterian minister father and in a way the impulse stuck; the poems he has written over a long career are impelled by belief. He is a poet of strong passions, as an environmentalist and pacifist who writes quietly and subtly and often to great effect. He started off with the expected accomplishments of a poet of his generation (he was born in New York in 1927): the smoothly articulated poem, a kind of off-the-peg, generic rhetoric. But then, as did his whole generation, he began to simplify, to look for the essentials that would leave enough to drive a poem but keep it as bare as possible, close to experience but unadorned with grandiosity.

Not that simplicity of form means simplicity of content. Merwin aims always for clarity but his thought is subtle. There are the very effective directly engaged poems …

The End of the Poem

Paul Muldoon, The End of the Poem, Oxford Lectures on Poetry. (Faber and Faber, 2007), UK £25.


How do you write about poetry? And when you write about poetry, who are you writing for? Paul Muldoon’s book gathers the fifteen hour long lectures he delivered during his Oxford professorship, so the initial audience would presumably have been largely an academic one. The tone and pitch of these talks reflect that; there’s an elaborate cleverness and often an archness of address as Muldoon plays with the forms of academic discourse. But it’s very much also a book for readers of Muldoon’s poetry: its methods, ifs shifts and feints, its teasing humour, its incessant connection-making, are precisely those of the poems. The poetry lover will segue easily from Horse Latitudes to The End of the Poem and the voice and the territory will be comfortingly familiar. Muldoon’s first decision was to to focus each of these lectures on a single poem, which makes for a pleasing structure, and promises th…

Strokestown Poetry Festival

Ireland’s friendliest poetry festival will again animate the small, attractive town of Strokestown, Co Roscommon this May Bank Holiday Weekend. I suppose I would say that, since I'm this year's Director. Packed into three intense days, the festival mixes well known with emerging poets, features readings in English, Irish and Scottish Gaelic from the poets shortlisted for the Strokestown Poetry Prizes, as well as including satiric verse and a pub poetry competition. This year’s guest readers include founder and editorial director of Carcanet Press, Michael Schmidt, who will read from his new book, The Resurrection of the Body, and another poet-publisher, Pat Boran, director of Dedalus Press and a well known poet and broadcaster. Audiences will also have a chance to hear Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Eva Bourke, Gerry Muphy, Moya Cannon ,Scottish Gaelic poet Meg Bateman and current Galway Writer in Residence Michael O’Loughlin. The acclaimed Gaelic Hit Factory with poet Louis de Paor …

John Riley

John Riley’s early death — he was murdered by two muggers at the age of forty-one — combined with a history of publication by small presses and a talent that doesn’t lend itself to easy categorisation have tended to keep his work on the margins, admired by the few but generally unknown. This is a pity, because Riley was one of the finest poets of his generation. In his lifetime he published three collections, Ancient and Modern with Grosseteste Press, which he founded with Tim Longville in 1966, What Reason Was, and That is Today, published by Pig Press in 1978, the year of his death. The now out of print Collected Works (Grosseteste Press) came out in 1980. Carcanet published his Selected Poems, edited by Michael Grant, in 1995.

I had always been impressed by the few poems I came across in anthologies like A Various Art, edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville. The impression I had of an extraordinarily gifted poet was borne out by the Selected Poems. I first came across this in …

Thomas Kinsella’s Dublins

There are established personal places
that receive our lives’ heat
and adapt in their mass, like stone.

(Thomas Kinsella, from ‘Personal Places’)



It’s a critical commonplace that Irish writers are wedded to place, that their imaginations are awakened by the lure of specific territories: think of Joyce’s Dublin or Patrick MacCabe’s small town Ireland. Or think how Seamus Heaney’s recent District and Circle circles and remaps terrain familiar from forty years of previous work. Or again, how Roy Fisher’s poems grow out of Birmingham. ‘Birmingham’s what I think with,’ he once said, and it’s true of many poets that their places are part of their thinking apparatus, their essential imaginative equipment. It would be impossible to even think of Kavanagh without thinking of the places that were his subject. Sligo, Iniskeen, Barrytown, Raglan Road are planted squarely on the Irish literary map along with Eccles St and the Martello tower in Sandycove, yet not every writer uses place this overtl…

Hugo Claus

Interesting piece by J.M Coetzee in the Guardian on the Flemish writer Hugo Claus. Claus is an extraordinarily prolific novelist and playwright as well as a poet who who has published over 1300 pages of poetry. The Guardian also reprints 'Ten ways of Looking at PB Shelley', one of the poems which Coetzee translated in Landscape with Rowers - An Anthology of Dutch Poetry which came out a couple of years ago. Some of Claus's work is also featured on Poetry International's site here.
A brief review of Greetings can be found at the complete-review.

Selective translations of poetry

Selected poems, 1953-1973. Portree : Aquila Poetry, 1986.
The sign of the hamster. Leuven : Leuvense Schrijversaktie (European Series 65), 1986.
Greetings - Selected poems. New York: Harcourt Brace, 2005.
Landscape with Rowers - Anthology of Dutch Poetry. Edited and translated by J.M. Coetzee. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

In the graveyard

I'm putting this up for a couple of weeks as people have been looking for it. It seems to be on the list for a poetry speaking competition. The book can be tricky to get outside Dublin (though you can try Gallery Press if you want to feel virtuous and buy a copy). Just don't forget, if you win the competition you'll have to send me a large amount of money.



In the graveyard

They lived and died in the same place.
The same names occurring, same big skies above.
This close, they must move still in their cottages
and walk their fields, or stand now watching
the mountains purpling in the last sun
and hear the sea turning onto the slope of the beach
its calm, insistent weight. The air’s crowded with them
as they move and watch and listen, no-one
having told them otherwise. And if
absentmindedly they drift back here
to this silent field, they’ll find
the gate locked before them and their names
unreadable on the stones. They’ll walk back towards the village
and climb into their beds, whatever …

The Overgrown Path

Song

Even asleep, you’re everywhere.
You fall through the house,
right down to the small room
where I sit staring at the screen.
Your head rests on a blinking cursor,
there’s a menu for your toes,

you’ve somehow
drifted into the CD drive
and come out as Janacek,
the overgrown path, the barn owl
lifting its wings. You lurk behind my eyes
and broadcast from my bones

but even miles away, you’re on my tongue,
you’re banging down the door.
Sometimes I wake in dread
that you might have lifted off
like some bright machine
or vanished music, the owl lurking

in the dangerous dark outside.
What if I couldn’t hear you?
As if there were anywhere now
out of reach, as if,
however late it was, or far
I wouldn’t hear you breathing

like a wing-beat in the blood,
a song passed from bone to bone. . .

Poetry Ireland Review 88

I have been working on the latest issue of Poetry Ireland Review, no 89, and realised I neglected to give the current issue a mention here, so here goes. Issue 88 has new poems by Kit Fryatt, Paul Batchelor, Liam Ó Muirthile, George Szirtes, Louis de Paor and many others. There’s a Dutch language feature with poems by Rutger Kopland, Dirk van Bastelaere, Hans Faverey and Cees Nooteboom. Eamon Grennan is interviewed by Catherine Phil McCarthy and reviews include David Wheatley on Roy Fisher; Peter Pegnall on Tony Harrison and Michael Foley; Maurice Harmon on Anthony Cronin; Richard Tillinghast on Greg Delanty; Chris Preddle on Paul Muldoon; Maria Johnston on Michael Longley and Peter Robinson on The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations.

The Orpheus File

Some links on Don Paterson's Orpheus (Faber, 2006)


'Translation shows us how poetry works - and reminds us why it matters' Don Paterson's New Stateman piece on translating the Sonnets to Orpheus

Interview with Don Paterson in The Guardian

Adam Philips on Don Paterson's Orpheus in The Guardian

Jeremy Noel-Tod's Telegraph review

Translations of The Sonnets to Orpheus by Howard A. Landman along with links to other translations.

This is from Stephen Cohn's Carcanet Press version

Don't depend on it, but here's the Wikipedia entry on Rilke. Some good links.

Pessoa: The Exhausting Electric Trolley Car

All night I have dreamt of tobacco,
of a world filled with smoke
and governed by tobacconists.
I work my way back to you
through generations of cigarettes

rollups tailormades filtered, unfiltered
fat and thin, menthol and acrid
some coloured and some with cards, pictures
a world of dead stars and football players
a world all lips and fingers

I light my way to a dark café
the smoke from my own cigarette ending
in the smoke that billows above your head
that is your life, inhaled then with a flourish
expelled, to entertain the air, to go nowhere.

Tobacco-haunted I wander
through rooms rank with the odour...

For some years now I have been trying on and off to write a poem for and about Álvaro de Campos, trying for lines that would get at the essence of this elusive personality and the body of work created out of it; lines that might also be spoken by a near relative of de Campos, that would be, in the ancient tradition of clumsy homage, approximations of the poet himself, mimetic alignme…

Francis Ponge: Siding with things

No poet has looked more determinedly or more ferociously at things than Francis Ponge, whose Selected Poems has just been published on this side of the Atlantic by Faber. Le parti pris des choses, or Siding with Things, is a key collection of his, and even a brief scan of his titles will reveal his resolutely thing-centred approach: “Rain”, “Ripe Blackberries”, “The Crate”, “The Candle”, “The Cigarette”, “The Orange”, “The Oyster”. Ponge’s work is written in the form of prose poems, a form that always seems to sit uneasily in English, but is perfectly suited to the chunky materiality of Ponge’s vision. In his poem or proem ‘Memorandum’ he offers a useful statement of “the only interesting principle according to which interesting works can be written, and written well” :

“You have first of all to side with your own spirit, and your own taste. Then take the time, and have the courage, to express all your thoughts on the subject at hand (not just keeping the expressions that seem bri…