IRISH WORLD ARTS AND REVIEW GUIDE

POETRY

THREE NEW COLLECTIONS FROM BLACKSTAFF

The Year Of Not Dancing by C.L. Dallat
Published by Blackstaff Press, Belfast; ISBN 978 0 85640 840 3

A collection of poems sombre in tone and dealing with the death of the poet’s mother when the poet was eleven years old, then deepening into other personal and family relationships back and forth over generations; this book is firmly rooted in the Glens of Antrim but moves to London where the poet now lives.

The most direct poem about his mother’s death is unsentimental, almost detached in tone, but as unforgettably moving as Seamus Heaney’s poem about a child’s funeral wherein the poet sees the tiny coffin and writes “a foot for every year” –

Once four doors down/and again at the harbour yard/when men in dark, dark blue/with peaked caps and silvered/buttons had come to take/someone to a white van with steps,/both times I was told/this wasn’t “being arrested”:/but I knew there was no plea bargain/for remission the day/the same men in uniform/came up our staircase/and into my mother’s room.

Moving away from the dark, he uses free verse colloquially and at times very amusingly as in the poem BEDSIT when he visits (I assume) his sixteen year old daughter’s bedroom and sees the punk and the Goth and all the paraphernalia of rebellion, when all he really wanted was to see if she still wanted him to bring up her “hottie” given it was nearly summer now.

This collection of poems presents a solid and life affirming second book. C.L. Dallat is a serious poet.

Shaun Traynor 2010

 

Lung Soup by Andrew Elliott
Published by Blackstaff Press Belfast ISBN 978 0 85640 838 0

A completely surreal book of poems which make sense within the author’s mind and are linked there within a very much bigger picture which we hardly glimpse, but so well written that one is completely captivated, taken in and thrilled by this poet’s literary whirligig across Europe from Ulster to Berlin via - almost everywhere in the world. Each poem is an invitation to a short story or a cinema clip, a trailer to a larger life; there are some very seductive and great opening lines, such as: I was tunnelling under the Great Wall of China/when who did I meet, tunnelling out,/but a lady I’d last seen in Havana, doing the salsa/at three in the morning when the building/we were dancing in collapsed – they do in Havana.... Yet, when this poet climbs down from this crazy trapeze act with form and genre and writes an accessible, formal short poem, he can be both moving and profound – this then, his poem called What Ulster Means to Me –

I sometimes like to think, when I’m driving through mid-Ulster/on weekday afternoons in June or early July,/of the wives men leave from nine to five to fend, as it were,/for themselves, bring up the children, keep clean the home,/pay the bills, do the shopping, prepare meat-heavy meals/garnished with suggestions of salad, yet who somehow manage/to find the time to have a little moment to themselves,/a duration that the faintest of breezes will fill with/bee-hum, birdsong, the rattle of a drum from a distant hill/until the sun on a passing car’s roof stains the bedroom ceiling red.

A very romantic poem, dipped in the whir of angels’ wings, until the drum; note the dramatic use of the word stains, it’s what bullets do. It is a poem which compares well with Tom Paulin’s classic (also short) poem, Desertmartin. A crazy book destined for greatness.

Shaun Traynor 2010

AND THE POETIC ...

Irish Folk And Fairy Tales, Edited by Gordon Jarvie
Published by Blackstaff Press, Belfast; ISBN 978 0 85640 836 6

This re-issued book is a valuable and comprehensive collection of our most familiar and treasured stories from legend and the oral tradition; within are stories re-told by Lady Wilde, Douglas Hyde, (a great champion of the Irish folk-lore and the first President of Ireland), Thomas Crofton Croker and many others; there are poems on the theme of the little people by William Allingham and of course, W.B. Yeats’ Stolen Child. The editor has taken a scholarly approach to these stories and poems with sections in his anthology called The Sidhe, The Phouka, The Leprechaun, Witches and Giants - and Stories from the Great Celtic Saga dating back to the twelfth century and maybe beyond; from the oral tradition it is difficult to date a first telling unless perhaps by subject matter or reference and the anthologist makes such a case for Eleanor Hall’s re-telling of the tale of the Talking head of Donn-bo and dates it back to the time of Christ. All this makes a compelling and impressive study until you realise how daft many of the stories are and the most famous one, surely, is the one about a giant sitting in a pram outside Bushmills and no-one thinking that a bit odd? I am, however, more taken by the story of how a boy named Setanta became the man to be called the Hound of Ulster. Cavils-away, all the great stories of Irish culture are here and the diction of the majority of them make them easy to re-tell to children or indeed to oneself and to other adults, it is almost compulsive to read the stories aloud. So, let us go then, if you dare, to Where dips the rocky highland/Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,/There lies a leafy island/Where flapping herons wake/The drowsy water-rats,/There have we hid our fairy vats/Full of berries,/And of the reddest stolen cherries,/Come away,O human child!/To the woods and waters wild,/With a fairy hand in hand,/For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand ....

Shaun Traynor 2010

AND FROM BLOODAXE

Identity Parade by Roddy Lumsden
Bloodaxe Books; ISBN 978 1 85224 839 0

This is an anthology of a new generation of British and Irish poets who have emerged since the mid 1990’s; many of the names were completely unknown to me, others well known as cream rises to the top; and from whence do they come? Sadly, from a poetic landscape of creative writing classes, of prizes for graduates from such classes, poems full of suffocating technical skill but about little of interest, sometimes about something, never about everything. There were and are some exceptions: voices that spoke most truly to me, voices that seemed original and clear and had poetic authority: Catriona O’Reilly, Patience Agbabi, Chris McCabe for his Poem in Black Ink, Julia Copus for her poem Raymond, at 60 and probably my favourite, Ulsterman, Alan Gillis who ticks all the boxes. This is a useful book of reference, but surely an anthology of poetry should be a lot more than that!

Shaun Traynor 2010