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Showing posts from 2012

Jack Gilbert

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Painting by Jack Richard Smith


I was sorry to hear of Jack Gilbert's death recently. Gilbert was one of those poets who are famous for not being famous. For most of his life he operated below the radar of critical attention, but this was by choice. After winning  the Yale Younger Poets Prize for his first book he lived a modest and peripatetic life, travelling around Europe and spending periods in England, Denmark and Greece. But there was more to his relative invisibility than that. He was an old-fashioned kind of poet, a muse poet who wrote obsessively about the women in his life -- the poems he wrote for his dead lover Michiko are among his most powerful. And he didn’t produce at the regular intervals reputation demands. He took twenty years to produce his second book, Monolithos (1982) and only published a further two books, The Great Fires (1994) and Refusing Heaven (2005) which brought him some late recognition, winning him the National Book Critics Circle Award.Bloodaxe pub…

The sadness of God

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The sadness of God ('Tristesse de Dieu', Jules Supervielle)
Just as when it all began I see you come and go  on the trembling earth, with one great difference:
my work is no longer mine: I gave it all to you. But if you're my people misfortune is your own
and beyond my help. All I could provide to prove my warmth was your tears, your strength.
The ache in your soul is what’s left of me. It was all I could do. I can’t help the mother
whose son will die but I can offer you light, candles of hope. If it were any different
do you think the narrow cot would feel the weight of the sickly child? It’s as if my work
was someone else’s. All that I made slips farther away. The stream that flows
down the mountain has no thought of returning. I have as much to say to you as the potter to his pot:
one is deaf, the other  speechless before his work.  I can see you careening towards terrible precipices
but I can’t point them out let alone help you avoid them. Like orphans in the the snow you must save yourselves.

Songs of the earth (1): Yannis Ritsos

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The Meaning of Simplicity
I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me; if you don’t find me, you’ll find the things, you’ll touch what my hand has touched our hand-prints will merge.
The August moon glitters in the kitchen like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you), it lights up the empty house and the house’s kneeling silence– always the silence remains kneeling.
Every word is a doorway to a meeting, one often cancelled, and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting.
(Translated by Edmund Keeley, published in The Greek Poets: From Homer to the Present, Norton, 2010)
Yannis Ritsos’ output as a poet was enormous. He published more than a hundred collections of poetry, and often wrote with great speed, sometimes producing three collections in a single year. Such protean fluency can interfere with the reception of a poet in his own culture, and it can also inhibit or distort the reception in translation. How do you choose? How much o…

A Rebel Act: Michael Hartnett’s Farewell to English

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Pat Walsh
Mercier Press
€14.99 (PB)
ISBN: 9781856359672 In 1974 Michael Hartnett made the decision to take his leave of English and from then to write in Irish only. Or did he? Well, he wouldn’t necessarily stop writing in English – if a poem presented itself in that language it would have to be accommodated. But he wouldn’t publish any more English poems. Ciaran Carson’s reaction, reviewing the volume which announced the decision, A Farewell to English, was to suggest, in a review quoted in Pat Walsh’s book, that the volume might have been more usefully titled A Farewell to Published Poems Written in the English Language. A number of things are at play here: on the one hand a decision – complicated, emotional, theatrical – to effectively abandon not just a language, but his achievement and potential development as a poet in that language, and to attempt to recreate himself as a poet in Irish, a language he would have to study hard to master. To have announced an intention to become a…

'Legacies'

Carol Rumens writes about a poem of mine, 'Legacies', in The Guardian

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I’ve always loved radio drama, so am pleased to have had one of my own efforts at the form accepted by RTE. The play is called ‘Oblivion’, a love story and a mystery which moves between the present and the darkness of the Underworld. It features a kind of chorus of disgruntled lost poets, dead for thousands of years, whose works have been long forgotten (a warning to us all!). Here’s a bit from the opening. The play will be broadcast next Sunday, 3 June,  in the Drama on One slot at 8.00 pm, and will also be available on the siteor as a podcast. The producer is Aidan Mathews and the cast are Des Cave, Emmet Bergin and Deirdre Donnelly as the three main characters and Kevin Flood, Paul Tylak, Hope Brown, Karl O’Neill and Lise-Anne McLoughlin as the poor lost poets, and Olwen Fouéré as the voice of Sappho.
Here's a taste from the opening scene: 


VOICE 1: 
Bracket bracket bracket desire bracket bracket bracket sweet thighs my 
VOICE 2
Bracket bracket I… 
VOICE 3
Bracket bracket bracket brac…

Jaan Kaplinski: A Particular Sort of Ignorance

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Published in Poetry Ireland Review 106, edited by John F. Deane

Jaan Kaplinski. Selected Poems. Translated by Jaan Kaplinski with Sam Hamill, Hildi Hawkins and Fiona Sampson. Bloodaxe Books, 2011. £12 stg
It’s hard to think of a poet besides Jaan Kaplinski who could write lines like
In the morning I was presented to President Mitterand, in the evening I weeded out nettles under the currant bushes.
The lines remind us of the poet’s public life – he was a member of the post-Revolution Estonian parliament from 1992 to 1995, and is an active cultural commentator – but they also suggest where his priorities might lie. Meeting presidents is one thing but the real life is elsewhere. The nettles and currant bushes are not an escape but the proudly brandished crucial zone where poetry and the perceptive life are likely to flourish. A good deal of Kaplinski’s poetry opposes itself to the pieties and rhetoric of the public sphere; the poetry is, often, a careful deployment of silence, a recogni…