Monday, November 22, 2010

Nuala Ní Chonchúir reviews The Last Falcon and Grace Wells

Nuala Ní Chonchúir reviews
When God Has Been Called Away To Greater Things by Grace Wells
The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance by Paul Perry in EYEWEAR

Two Dedalus Press collections under review, one a début and the other – Paul Perry’s – the poet’s third full collection. Each volume is beautifully produced and they are a credit to the publisher who has taken care with the design of the books. Books are consumer items and the reader wants to own a well-made, attractive book as much as anything else.
Grace Wells is a poet of specifics; her collection When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things is a journey from dark to bright times and, ultimately, to love; all of which is invested with concrete, engaging detail. Along the way there are poems of domestic violence and fear, loss and hope. She never shies away from the raw detail of sexual violence and, in that sense, her work is revelatory.
In the poem ‘Rescue’, the narrator returns, ghost-like, to the scene of the violent marital home she occupied, to rescue herself and her children:

‘ sanctuary except that last crouched corner
of the house in the hole she burrows for herself
by the floor, quaking, beyond tears, her mouth,
her lungs, her penis-choked throat denied air.’

Wells is a poet in control of emotive issues like violence, parting and death. Her poem ‘The Dress’ has as skilled an ending as Heaney’s ‘Mid-term Break’. It’s a potentially hopeful poem about a poor man’s loving gift to his wife – the dress of the title – but the poet wraps it up with a shock last line that is both simply and skilfully delivered.
The natural world, particularly plant-life, is very important to this collection – it is often in nature that Grace Wells finds sanctuary and solace. Gardening and natural things soothe the poet and they provide some of her richest images. In the poem ‘My Garden and Those Who Made It’, the poet states, ‘A garden forgives everything’. This poem could be a metaphor for the entire collection – the overgrown garden that is tamed with the help of friends, and is finally free to be as good as it can be. There is an evocative clarity in many of the nature poems that speak to the growing strength of the poet as mother, partner and writer:

‘And what flows in her now
is rainwater, woodsmoke, silence reflected
on the lake surface; leaves turned,
hair snagged on briars. Stones. The small,
white feathers that line nests.
She is sung with fox bark and pheasant call.’ (‘Pioneer’)

Although this collection deals with the hard stuff of life it is a hopeful one and the reader enjoys the accumulating strength of the narrator and is glad to accompany her as she walks ‘once more into the shimmering world’. (‘Clearing’)
Paul Perry is a peripatetic poet; he travels within his poetry all around Ireland, over to Providence and Everglade City in the USA, and on to Lithuania. But his most diligent mapping is the landscape of the heart and mind – many of the poems tease at the bonds which tie people together and at the inevitability of letting go. For all Paul Perry’s wandering – because of it, maybe – his is a convincing poetry. There are colourful characters aplenty to be found, as well as insight and tenderness. As in the poem ‘Reservations’, in which the troubles of an old lover are remembered and honoured, while the narrator is haunted by the cries of foreign birds:
you can hear it

cry out
in the form
of the great blue heron.
it’s landing

on a body
of water, and
you, idle,
resigned, but appreciative
are standing by its banks.’

This simple form is typical of many, but not all, of the poems in this collection. The title poem, for example, brings to mind the triumph of the poet’s last collection, the historical narrative poem ‘The Lady with the Coronet of Jasmine’. In ‘The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance’ we get a return to this form of poetic storytelling at which Paul Perry is so accomplished.
This poem concerns the Roanoke Colony, on Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina; it was an enterprise financed by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 16th century to set up a permanent English settlement there. Several groups attempted to establish a colony but were unsuccessful; the final group of colonists disappeared and are known as ‘The Lost Colony’; their fate is still unknown.
‘The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance’ is a poem of deep loneliness and regret, evocatively given voice:

‘Iron pots rusted. Maps and books spoiled by rain.
Words sank into the soil never to be heard again:
words like love and peace. In this moon-shaken dawn
there was no evidence of a struggle, no sign of violence.’

The collection ends with a beautiful poem about a new father driving home from the hospital after the birth of his first child. The ‘hospital doors/closed’ to him and the steering-wheel of his car is ‘brittle crumbling/and disappearing’ in his hands. He arrives to an empty house ‘hungry thirsty elated and exhausted’, perfectly capturing the insane high that accompanies the birth of a child, for both parents alike.
Paul Perry’s is a ruminative collection; his poems are delicate and, one feels, very carefully constructed to achieve their directness and apparent simplicity. His gifts lie in an almost melancholic understanding of human nature and in finding pared back, beautiful ways of imparting this knowledge.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in County Galway. Her debut novel You was recently published by New Island. She was one of four winners of the 2009 Templar Poetry Pamphlet competition. Her pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car was published November 2009; her third full collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vincent River at the Project

Saw the preview of Philip Ridley's Vincent River last night at the Project. A powerful, intense and dark play.

The story about the death of a young man, Vincent, is unpacked by a series of troubling revelations, made by 'Dave' who has followed, or 'stalked', his mother Anita.

Memorable and sometimes disturbing images, the snow falling into the dead man's mouth, the bloody handprint on the toilet, the glass pressed into the victim's eyes are revealed in blisteringly and visceral language.

The performances by ELEANOR METHVEN & KERR LOGAN are strong and the final 'confession' is almost unbearable to listen to and then after a heart wrenching cry from Anita the play ends.

It runs for the week.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Ian Brinton reviews The Watchful Heart,

Taken from EYEWEAR

Guest Review: Brinton On A New Irish Anthology
Ian Brinton reviews
The Watchful Heart, A New Generation of Irish Poets
edited and presented by Joan McBreen

If you are trying to encourage diners to try a newly-opened restaurant which you rate very highly then there is little point in commenting on each dish on the menu since you will end up with one, or at the most two sentences, serving a descriptive purpose that could have been put there by the restaurateur. With this in mind I have decided to give an account of this remarkably fine new anthology by concentrating upon two very different poets whose poetry and prose appears in that ‘box where sweets compacted lie’.

Geoff Ward, the Vice-Principal of Royal Holloway, London has an article in PN Review192 (March/April 2010) in which he suggests that ‘Words can describe, evoke, suggest, delineate, propose, haunt—do all manner of things—except be the thing or feeling or concept to which they refer.’ These words are themselves ghosts of another article written by the same critic in 1989 where he referred to words as ‘chasing, describing, shadowing a reality’ (Archeus 2). Paul Perry’s prose contribution to this new anthology is titled ‘Ghosts’ and it follows three remarkable poems which range from ‘Dawn Sun’, a memory of a journey from Budapest to Prague, ‘Visiting Hours’, an account of his brother’s illness and hospitalization, and ‘The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance’ which recreates the long dead voice of John White, an artist friend of Sir Walter Raleigh who had attempted to found a community in North Carolina in the 1580s. As Perry puts it ‘Each poem is ghosted by another’ and he pays homage to the New York poet Reginald Shepherd who died in 2008 whose work he had been reading whilst composing these three pieces. With that word ‘ghosts’ in the air it is no surprise to read Perry’s comment on his own work:

I want the poems to be a ‘field of action’ where a voice’s authority is refuted by the possibilities of contending inflexions and intonations and accents from other presences.

The opening of ‘The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance’ confronts us with mystery and loss:

No one was there when I returned, not a soul
though each one of the settlers’ personal effects remained:
some wrapped in dust, some overgrown with grass.
Axe, file, compass. Scuppet, dice and pipe.

Iron pots rusted. Maps and books were spoiled by rain.
Words sank into the soil never to be heard again:
words like love and peace.

The assertive opening line offers us presence: ‘No one’ was there, as though the ghosts of those now gone still linger in their belongings, the ‘personal effects’. The sense of distance grows with the reference to time passing and this itself moves from the fairly recent (‘wrapped in dust’) to the more settled and long-gone atmosphere of ‘Iron pots rusted’. As the symbols of civilization disintegrate and the words in the books and maps become spoiled the sinking of words into the ground is more than physical, it is as though they dissolve leaving only an echo of what had once been aspiration: ‘love and peace’.

‘Visiting Hours’ deals again with ghosts, the legacies of what went before in the history of a troubled Ireland as the poet’s brother remains in hospital sifting through the differences between the real and the merely imagined:

You talked about how
they kept you against your will, how they
tried to drown you. I turn the radio on,

but it serves no distraction and so I drive,
drive on with the thought that this then is the legacy
of the conflict, or one of its legacies.
That after the bombings, the shootings, the warfare

and ceasefires, after peace and reconciliation,
what we, what some of us, are left with
is a man in a hospital bed, afraid for his life.

‘Drive on’ of course because to not do so would be to immerse oneself in the indulgent world of regret that leads to the softness of tears but not the interrogation of the past with which the poem concludes. That said, the final lines tell us that ‘no matter how much we beseech you/or each other, we’ll never really know’ echoing the movement of Pound’s Canto 93:

There must be incognita
and in sea-caves
un lume pien’ di spiriti
and of memories,
Shall two know the same in their knowing?

Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s three poems possess a warm immediacy, a complete involvement with words making a luscious attempt to bridge that gap between abstract communication and felt experience. The removal of two letters, two symbols, from the word ‘foetal’ and the inclusion of a repeated ‘a’ leaves us with ‘fatal’: the loss of all the ‘good work’ of growth within the female body:

we are fastened to our bed
you curl to the curl of me
unshaped to a shape that fits

we sleep, curved into one
and my body begins
the slow, good work

work that weakens me,
balloons me with
both hope and dread

then, after three months,
the heartsick, two-letter slip,
from foetal to fatal

There is a remarkably direct simplicity in this evocation of growth where the ‘unshaped’ becomes form mirroring the creative act of writing a poem where the concrete and discrete is a measure of what words lose because they are not, as Geoff Ward said, the things to which they refer. That gap between perceiver and perceived, the word and the experience, is delicately woven into the fading of the experience of Narcissus as he ‘trumpets his pleasure with himself’ whilst paying homage to his own beauty. This masturbatory act is swiftly followed by the recognition of those blemishes which lie between his dream and the reality:

His image is mottled by water-scurf and flies,
like the foxing on an ancient mirror
where mercury and tin have slipped apart.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s prose accompaniment to her three poems celebrates ‘a great freedom…in talking about the body through poetry, choosing the right words and set-up to explore personal and intimate moments’ and there is a passionate sense of ‘thereness’ about her writing.

This is all just a hint of the menu of twenty-four Irish poets who were born in the last fifty years and I urge readers to taste for themselves the world of delight contained in this anthology, the title of which is taken from Derek Mahon:

The lines flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

Ian Brinton is a British critic and scholar. His recent books include Contemporary Poetry from Cambridge, and a collection of essays on JH Prynne. He reviews regularly for Eyewear.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oxfam Poetry series in London on July 8.

Christopher Reid reading for Oxfam in July

This year's Costa winner, Christopher Reid , will be reading for the Oxfam series in London on July 8.

He will be joined by a few international guests (Paul Perry- Ireland; Sina Queyras - Canada; John Monagahan - USA).

Oxfam, Marylebone High Street, London

7 pm

Friday, June 11, 2010

108 Moons and The Wokshop launched

108 Moons and The Workshop were launched this week - it also marks the first publications of the publishing co-op: The Workshop Press.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"His is an imagination without borders, a probing and unsettling intelligence lightly worn, a poetry that is as sensual as it is playful, real and celebratory, surging forth and then tautly reined in. It is the work of a singular imagination."
—Dermot Bolger, Sunday Business Post