Mnemosyne Lay in Dust: A reading of Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Wed 7th January 2015 @7pm

First Fortnight: Ireland’s Mental Health Arts Festival

Mnemosyne Lay in Dust

A reading of Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Wed 7th January 2015 @7pm

First published in 1966, Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust is an intensely personal and haunting narrative poem about memory, detailing the fictional Maurice Devane’s “nervous breakdown” and subsequent recovery. Mnemosyne Lay in Dust is based strongly on Clarke’s own experiences as a patient in St. Patrick’s from March 1919-1920. In reading Clarke’s great poem in St. Patrick’s, the poem is, in a sense, brought back to its roots.

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Gerard Smyth will read Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, in full, in the Lecture Theatre of St. Patrick’s Swift Centre. The reading will be introduced by way of Stephen Bean’s short film Mnemosyne Lay in Dust: Memories of Austin Clarke and concluded with a post-reading discussion facilitated by John Saunders, director of Shine and author of two collections of poems.

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, John Saunders and Gerard Smyth (clockwise from top left)

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, John Saunders and Gerard Smyth (clockwise from top left)

Tickets priced €5 (ex. booking fee)

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X marks the (black) spot: John McAuliffe’s problematic Irish Times review of Vona Groarke’s ‘X’

In his review of Vona Groarke’s X, published in last weekend’s edition of the Irish Times, poet, critic and full- time senior academic John McAuliffe acknowledges that both he and Ms. Groarke work together in Manchester. What Mr. McAuliffe fails to disclose, however, are the possible financial implications that writing such a glowing review could have for himself, his University of Manchester colleague and the academic department in which they both work.

In last week’s press, X
reviewed Y: One of the best
poets now writing.

In this week’s press, Y
reviews X: One of the best
poets writing now

        – Peter Reading

FRIENDS REVIEWING FRIENDS: it’s considered something of a no- no within the notoriously tight- knit literary circles of the arts community. Much as those in the medical profession consider  administering to a friend or family member as unethical, eyebrows are sometimes raised when practice of a similar nature occurs in both the arts and academia.

And so it is with Manchester- based Listowel native John McAuliffe, the Irish Times’ sole poetry critic, whose laudatory review of X– the latest collection of poems by his fellow Gallery Press poet and University of Manchester colleague Vona Groarke, which Ms. Groarke launched last month at their place of work in Manchester– appeared in last week’s weekend edition of the Irish Times.

Though I have yet to read Ms. Groarke’s latest collection of poems, I have followed Ms. Groarke’s immensely enjoyable work with interest since the 2006 publication of Juniper Street, which like 2009’s Spindrift, is a remarkable collection of poems.

Certainly, avid readers of contemporary poetry don’t need me to point out that Ms. Groarke is undoubtedly one of the leading Irish poets of her generation; a poet of genuine heart and originality and a poet who belongs to a group of mid- career Irish poets who are long overdue critical attention and critical revision; those poets born in the 60’s / early 70’s who arrived after Paul Muldoon, including Sinéad Morrissey, Leontia Flynn, Caitríona O’Reilly, Peter Sirr, Conor O’Callaghan, David Wheatley, Pat Boran, Patrick Chapman and, indeed, John McAuliffe, to name but a few.

All that said, Mr. McAuliffe’s Irish Times review of X, is problematic, highlighting some of the reasons why academics should never review nor assess the work or wares of their colleagues, particularly in the national and international press.

X marks the (black) spot

In the fifth paragraph of his glowing review of Ms. Groarke’s book, under the sub- heading Different note, Mr. McAuliffe appropriately declares a degree of interest, however slight, in acknowledging that both he and Ms. Groarke are colleagues in University of Manchester (“Groarke, with whom this reviewer works in Manchester, is much more occupied by time than by places in X.”) where both poets teach an MA course together.

However, Mr. McAuliffe, a full- time senior academic in University of Manchester and co- director of University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing, fails to explore or disclose the possible financial implications for University of Manchester in publishing such a positive and favourable review of Ms. Groarke’s book in a national and international title such as the Irish Times.

Funding implications

Under the Research Excellence Framework (REF), 20% of UK government funding for academic departments depends on “impact”, the defined assessment criteria of which is outlined in an online document entitled Panel criteria and working methods. The document expands on “impact” in more detail on page 89 of Part 2D: Main Panel Criteria, available to read on-line here.  Panel D defines and assesses English Literature and Creative Writing: read here.

Termed as “indicative range of impacts” on page 89 of the above document, the “indicative range of impacts” include the following:

Civil society: Informing and influencing the form and content of associations between people or groups to
illuminate and challenge cultural values and social assumptions.

Cultural life: Creating and interpreting cultural capital in all of its forms to enrich and expand the lives, imaginations and sensibilities of individuals and groups.

Public discourse: Extending the range and improving the quality of evidence, argument and expression to
enhance public understanding of the major issues and challenges faced by individuals and
society.

The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which the REF is replacing, will assess research that has taken place from 2008 – 2013 inclusive. An Irish Times review published in 2014, then, would contribute towards the next REF, which has a census date of November / December 2018.

The REF assess submissions according to the following criteria:

  • Four star: Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • Three star: Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
  • Two star: Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • One star: Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • Unclassified: Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

Suffice to say, then, that positive and favourable reviews in the national and international press of a work published by a practicing academic might, conceivably, constitute as an “indicator of esteem” and may carry “impact” for an academic department, such as the English Language and Literature department in University of Manchester.

August Kleinzahler

In an excellent essay entitled ‘Blurbonic Plague’, featured in The Outnumbered Poet, published posthumously by The Gallery Press, the late Dennis O’Driscoll writes fearlessly of what he perceives as the “insider dealing” within the world of poetry; friends reviewing friends in a mutual appreciation society. The policy among peers, writes O’Driscoll, is “You blurb me, I’ll review you.”

In the Winter of 2013, the Irish Times published Mr. McAuliffe’s review of The Hotel Oneira by American poet August Kleinzahler. Suffice to say that Mr. McAuliffe laid the praise on thick. Here is an extract from Mr. McAuliffe’s review:

Kleinzahler is a one-off, and this new book is as good as ever, with spiky portraits (and self-portraits) alongside the American landscapes that have become his speciality, moving easily and mysteriously between domestic close-ups of the weather and noodling riffs on the state of the modern world.

Compare the above extract from Mr. McAuliffe’s Irish Times review of August Kleinzahler’s collection with the below extract:

John McAuliffe’s got the gift. Mark the name…This guy’s the total package, as we say over here about our young, star athletes.

The back cover of A Better Life, Mr. McAuliffe’s first collection of poems, features the above quote as a blurb. The author of the blurb? That’s right: August Kleinzahler.

Mr. McAuliffe, as Co- Director of the Centre for New Writing, has also hosted August Kleinzahler at least one reading in University of Manchester’s Martin Harris Centre.

Nowhere in his review of August Kleinzahler’s The Hotel Oneira, printed in the Irish Times, does Mr. McAuliffe declare his interest by stating explicitly that he has previously accepted a glowing endorsement of his own work from Mr. Kleinzahler, published as a blurb on back cover of his first collection, nor does he state that he has hosted a reading of Kleinzahler’s poetry in his place of work.

The honest critic

Vona Groarke’s X, which is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

In my honest opinion, Mr. McAuliffe- who is a fine poet and an incisive critic, neither of which yours truly needs to point out- should have refused to review Ms. Groarke’s book on the grounds that a review of Ms. Groarke’s book could, possibly, have financial implications for the academic department in which both he and Ms. Groarke teach on an MA course together. Instead of reviewing X himself, Mr. McAuliffe should have, in my opinion, acted in the interest of editorial transparency and impartiality by outsourcing the review to a critic who is not an academic colleague of Ms. Groarke’s.

Regrettably, Mr. McAuliffe’s review of X is an unfortunate reminder of the level of dishonest reviewing that is endemic in the arts, particularly in the small, cliquish circle of poetry.

Furthermore, Irish Times Arts & Books editor Fintan O’Toole, an outstanding journalist who has written fearlessly about cronyism in Irish society during his long and distinguished career as an Irish Times columnist, doesn’t seem to have any issue with Mr. McAuliffe’s review; like Mr. McAuliffe, Mr. O’Toole doesn’t seem to have considered the possible financial implications for University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing in publishing such a favorable review of the work of an academic colleague of Mr. McAuliffe’s.

Indeed, Mr. O’Toole’s weak editorial decision to commission Mr. McAuliffe as the Irish Times’ sole poetry critic confirms my belief that commissioning a variety of freelance critics, as was the policy under the Irish Times’ late, great and much- missed literary editor Caroline Walsh, is the only way to ensure that those books reviewed in the Irish Times‘ Arts & Books pages are impartial and that the Arts & Books pages carry a broad spectrum of critical analysis.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One some time before his passing, Dennis O’Driscoll wrote of the incestuous nature of Irish poetry and the lack of tough, cold, honest reviewing:

I think that unless people speak the truth about the books that they get for review and they’re not bearing in mind rows they’ve had with people or that the publisher who published the book [for review] rejected a book of theirs or whatever…I think there’s a tremendous amount of dishonest reviewing and it takes a lot of courage and, I think, a lot of integrity and support on behalf of the editor you’re writing for, as well, to do honest reviews. I think it’s a tremendously important activity, but it does cost you friends and a lot of things, really.

X, certainly, marks the spot for the ever- deepening graves of literary criticism and journalistic integrity.

Update: John McAuliffe responds via email:

An email from John McAuliffe, sent from his university email account, in response to my article.

An email from John McAuliffe, sent from his university email account, in response to my article.

Books 2014: New poetry titles to look out for in the new year

The new year in poetry promises exciting débuts from fresh talents as well as old hands turning in new directions

Vona Groarke’s X will be published by The Gallery Press in February.

THE GALLERY PRESS will publish a rich varied selection of new collections throughout 2014. Manchester- based Longford native Vona Groarke‘s eagerly awaited sixth collection of poems, entitled X, is already generating considerable excitement, not least among the Poetry Book Society, who have made X their Poetry Book Society recommendation for Spring 2014. X is described as “a book of honesty and poise: its lustrous detail and exacting truths make this a groundbreaking publication from a poet hailed in Poetry Ireland Review as ‘among the best Irish poets writing today’.”

Other titles from the Meath publisher include From Elsewhere (March), a new collection of poems from Ciaran Carson, the ever- prolific Belfast poet who doesn’t seem to sleep; the late Pearse Hutchinson‘s poems will be appear in the spring; Gallery Press founder and publisher Peter Fallon will publish Strong, My Love in April, which will be his first collection since 2007’s The Company of Horses

Also returning with new work is Limerick poet Sean Lysaght, whose sixth collection is tentatively titled Carnival Masks. The inspiration for the working title came from a poem in which Lysaght describes a journey back to his home in Co. Mayo, after several months spent in Italy, and tidying away a pair of masks that the poet and his wife bought at the Carnevale di Viareggio, held every February in the Tuscan city of Viareggio, Italy.

According to Lysaght, the collection has “…a calendar structure: many poems with references to the natural world can be connected to a particular time of year. The first poem is called ‘Skylarks in January’, then there’s a February piece, a March piece, and so on. The calendar pattern is not absolutely strict, and there are other poems in the book as well, but it allowed me a way of organising an array of material, and of connecting poems about Mayo with poems set in Italy, where my wife and I spent a winter about four years ago.”

Doire Press

DOIRE PRESS are likely to be still celebrating, following Adam White’s appearance on the shortlist for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, this year. However, the Connemara- based publisher will publish the début collection of poems from Dimitra Xidousthe Dublin- based Greek- Canadian poet and co- founder / co- editor of The Pickled Body. Entitled Keeping Bees, Xidous’ first collection will no doubt feature poems that have featured in the Bridport and Over the Edge Emerging Writer prizes,  as well as work that is due to appear in The New Planet Cabaret and the Spring 2014 edition of The Stinging Fly, in which she will be a featured poet.

BLOODAXE have two Irish poets on their list for 2014: Harry Clifton‘s The Holding Centre: Selected Poems 1974-2004 will appear in February.

Louis de Paor’s The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale’s Tongue will appear in a bi- lingual edition from Bloodaxe

Interestingly, a bi- lingual selection of Louis de Paor’s poems will feature in The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale’s Tongue, a book which de Paor worked on with a trio translators, consisting of  Kevin Anderson, Biddy Jenkinson and Mary O’Donoghue. According to Bloodaxe, “the translations have eschewed the modern fashion for so-called “versions”, producing English translations which are as close as possible to the original Irish poems without sacrificing their tone, energy, clarity and lightness of touch.”

FABER‘s list of new poetry books for 2014 includes a typical mix of commissioned translations, an opportunity to revise the poetry of authors with considerable work under their belt, as well as new work from emerging talents.

Too often dismissed as too didactic and a political poet in an age of political apathy, Tom Paulin‘s New Selected Poems (May) comes at a time when there is a severe lack of well- written, well- executed political poetry. One only has to read Paulin’s current Selected Poems, 1972 – 1990 to find a poet whose gift for wrapping the demotic tones of his native Ulster around technically skilled, enviably crafted poems. Paulin’s New Selected Poems is a welcome opportunity to revise four decades worth of work, including poems from Walking a Line (1994), The Wind Dog (1999) and last year’s Love’s Bonfire.

American poet August Kleinzahler

Once described by Allen Ginsberg as “A loner, a genius.”, New Jersey- born, San Francisco- based poet August Kleinzahler is undoubtedly one of foremost American poets currently writing. The wider availability of Kleinzahler’s collections on this side of the Atlantic, including 1995’s Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow, 2000’s Green Sees Things in Waves, 2004’s excellent The Strange Hours That Travellers Keep and 2008’s Sleeping it Off in Rapid City: New and Selected Poems, have seen the oft described “pugilist” poet’s stock rise considerably.

Kleinzahler’s latest collection, Hotel Oneira, will no doubt feature the collision course of registers, the unpredictable cadences and the savvy, street poetry that have characterised Kleinzahler’s best work. Writing in the Irish Times, John McAuliffe has described Hotel Oneira as a collection “…with spiky portraits (and self-portraits) alongside the American landscapes that have become his speciality, moving easily and mysteriously between domestic close-ups of the weather and noodling riffs on the state of the modern world.”

At a reading that Kleinzahler was giving and which I attended, a compere- who claimed to be an expert in Kleinzahler’s work and spent more than ten minutes introducing and explaining Kleinzahler’s work to us mere mortals in the audience- made the unfortunate mistake of continually referring to August Kleinzahler as “Awgoooost” Kleinzahler, rather than pronouncing Kleinzahler’s forename as one would pronounce the month of the same name. Perhaps- perhaps- Kleinzahler’s new collection will be appreciated to the point where even experts in his oeuvre can pronounce his name.

While we may have to wait a while for a new collection from Simon Armitage, the Yorkshire poet’s translation of The Last Days of Troy (May), commissioned by the Royal Exchange for performance in April 2014. A retelling of The Iliad, there’s no doubt that Armitage will freshen up the classical text as he has done with his engaging translations of The Odyssey, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight and The Death of King Arthur.

Lavinia Greenlaw’s A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde

On the note of translations, versions, imitations and all that, Lavinia Greenlaw‘s A Double Sorrow (February), which takes its title from the opening line of Chaucher’s Troilus and Criseyde- of which A Double Sorrow is a retelling- and which is neither translation nor version; rather, Greenlaw’s retelling takes the form of seven- line vignettes.

Twelve years on from his Collected PoemsHugo Williams returns in April with I Knew the Bride, his first collection of poems since 2006’s excellent West End Final, which, no doubt, will explore his parents’ theatrical vocations and his portraits of London in the 50’s, all shot through with the ironic bite and sardonic humour that we’ve come to expect from Williams.

Due in February, Tony Martinez de las Rivas‘ début collection, Terror (February), promises poems that are “…political, social, theological, historical and personal, the poems in this debut collection work closely with the reader, asking questions of us and encouraging us never to settle for inadequate answers.” Rivas was previously featured in Faber’s New Poets series.

Dedalus Press’ If You Ever Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song

THE BIG WIN for poetry in 2014, however, is undoubtedly Dedalus Press‘ If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song (February), which has been chosen as the One City: One Book title for 2014. Supported by Dublin City Council and led by Dublin City Public libraries,  the award- winning initiative has been a resounding success.

First published in 1969, James Plunkett’s Strumpet City was given a new lease of life, this year. The very fact that Plunkett’s masterpiece topped the Irish bestsellers list, thereby introducing a whole new generation to Plunkett’s great novel, was testament not only to the power of fresh ideas within Dublin City Council (yes, they do exist), but also the willingness to support Irish books of which we as readers have, perhaps, under- appreciated the significance.

Edited by Dedalus Press publisher Pat Boran and Gerard Smyth, the Irish Times’ Poetry Editor, If Ever You Go takes its title from Patrick Kavanagh’s poem ‘If You Ever Go to Dublin Town’ (If ever you go to Dublin town / In a hundred years or so / Inquire for me in Baggot Street 
/ And what I was like to know).

According to Dublin City Libraries, If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song “…includes writing by both historical and contemporary figures, among them Swift, Synge, Yeats, Joyce, Kavanagh and Ó Direáin as well as Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Dermot Bolger, Paula Meehan, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Derek Mahon. There are songs and ballads from the city’s colonial past, verses by leaders of the 1916 Rising, and portraits of the modern city with its Spire and Luas tram, its Celtic Tiger ‘prosperity’ and its post-Celtic Tiger challenges.”

In a country which looks as if it is about to overdose on a lethal concoction short stories and flash fiction, it is finally good to see Irish poetry featured on the same platform as prose.

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Gallery Goes…to Hodges Figgis, 31st October 2013

Three is a magic number: Ciaran Berry, Medbh McGuckian and Conor O'Callaghan will read from their respective collection in Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street, Dublin 2.

Three is a magic number: Ciaran Berry, Medbh McGuckian and Conor O’Callaghan will read from their respective collection in Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street, Dublin 2.

Meath- based poetry publisher The Gallery Press, which has published titles by every major Irish poet from Seamus Heaney and Paul  Muldoon to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Paula Meehan, will launch three new collections of poetry by three of Ireland’s most exciting talents in poetry.

Dublin- born, US- based poet Ciaran Berry will read from The Dead Zoo, his second collection of poetry.

Belfast poet Medbh McGuckian will read from The High Caul Cap, a collection threaded with an elegiac tone, described by her publisher as a collection in which “…she focuses on the illnesses and deaths of friends and on her mother’s long, painful decline.” and Manchester- based Dundalk native Conor O’Callaghanwho yours truly interviewed earlier this year for The Irish Post– will read from The Sun King, his fourth collection of poems.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwpMTTxdxs0


Who can now be considered Ireland’s leading poets in the aftermath of Seamus Heaney’s passing? Five contemporary Irish poets everyone should read

Originally published in RÍ- Rá, the entertainment supplement of The Irish Post, Saturday 28th September, 2013. 

There was a sunlit absence.

                                   Seamus Heaney, ‘Mossbawn: 1. Sunlight’

WHEN Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney passed on, some weeks ago, Cork poet Theo Dorgan remarked that “A great oak has fallen.” In the aftermath of the Nobel committee’s decision to award Heaney the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, the Derry poet cast a huge shadow over Irish poetry with many Irish poets struggling to emerge from the shade. True, Heaney can never truly be succeeded, though in the aftermath of the great man’s passing, I look at five Irish contemporary Irish poets who are likely, now, to shine in the sunlight.

Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon

Born in 1951, New Jersey- based, Armagh poet Paul Muldoon, a natural successor and protégé to Seamus Heaney, can now be considered the foremost Irish poet of the current era.

Muldoon first met Heaney at a reading in Armagh in 1967 when Muldoon was just 16 years of age and, at the time, writing furiously. A poet blessed with a gift for strong images and lucid endings, Muldoon has been described as a “postmodern master” who has subverted lyric poetry with pop culture references and a formal playfulness that have come to define his style. Muldoon’s poetry is witty, entertaining and full of lyric tenderness.

Having co- written ‘My Ride’s Here’ with Warren Zevon (which, Bruce Springsteen has covered, live) and published two volumes of song lyrics, written his band Wayside Shrines (formerly Rackett), Muldoon has gained a younger readership through his associations with rock music. Muldoon’s stock with music fans has also been boosted by his friendship with Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, to whom he dedicated ‘Word on the Street’, his latest volume of song lyrics.

Signature poem: ‘Quoof’, the title poem from Muldoon’s 1983 collection of poems, is an example of the poet’s formal playfulness, his keen ear for language and his subtle rhetoric.

Where to start: Selected Poems 1968 – 1983 gives an accurate portrait of a prolific, precocious and prodigiously gifted poet.

What he says: “Form is a straightjacket in the way that a straightjacket was a straightjacket for Houdini”

What they say: “Possibly the biggest influence on all original British and Irish poets who began writing after the mid- seventies.” Ruth Padel, The Guardian

 

Ciaran Carson

Belfast poet Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson is, in many senses, the ultimate Belfast poet. Born in 1948 into an Irish- speaking family in Belfast, where the poet still lives, Carson has unparalleled access to the Irish language, to Irish myth and to Irish folklore. Indeed, Carson’s translation of The Táin may very well be the most definitive version of the Irish- language epic that we have in the English language.

Heavily inspired by Louis MacNiece, Carson has an ear for the flow and music of poetry that would easily be the envy of many poets with weightier reputations. Like MacNeice, Carson’s lines are, generally, quite long and Carson sustains the line length with a virtuoso use of punctuation and sound patterns. Through the Irish vernacular and a rare gift for story- telling, Carson’s most memorable poems offer a kaleidoscopic view of the chaos and solace often found in Belfast during the Troubles.

Signature poem: ‘Belfast Confetti’, from 1987’s The Irish for No, is pure Carson: MacNeice’s influence shines through in this postmodern take on urban chaos during the Troubles. It also contains unforgettable opening lines: Suddenly as the riot squad moved in, it was raining exclamation marks, / Nuts, bolts, nails, car keys. A fount of broken type.

Where to start: The Ballad of HMS Belfast: A Compendium of Belfast Poems.

What he says: “I write in English, but the ghost of Irish hovers behind it; and English itself is full of ghostly presences,” (‘The Other’)

What they say: “Carson is one of the most original poets now at work in this country…He is the master of the long line; these poems are manic, frightening and funny, and somehow manage to catch the tone of life in modern Belfast.” John Banville, author

Paula Meehan

Paula Meehan

Dublin poet Paula Meehan has been writing some of most beautiful, elegiac and spiritual lyric poems in Irish poetry in recent decades. Born in 1955 and raised into two characteristically working class areas of Dublin (Gardiner Street and Finglas) and expelled from St. Michael’s Holy Faith Covent school in Finglas for leading a protest against the school’s regime, Meehan’s best poems, like those of Paul Durcan, convey the secular attitudes that become prevalent among her generation of Irish people.

But while Meehan might well describe herself as an agnostic, her poems are steeped in spirituality. In ‘Seed’, a poem from ‘Mysteries of the Home’, Meehan writes I am suddenly grateful and would / offer a prayer if I believed in God. / But not believing, I bless the power of seed, / its casual, useful persistence, / and bless the power of sun. Meehan, however, has written poems that, like Heaney’s most memorable poems, ground themselves in nature and, oftentimes, convey unimaginable sadness. In ‘Elegy for a Child’, Meehan shows her ability to craft poems of elegiac weight, opening her poem with It is not that the spring brings / you back. Birds riotous about / the house, fledglings learn to fly.

Signature poem: ‘Child Burial’ is a perfect of example of Meehan’s ability to convey unimaginable sorrow. In its descriptions of private grieving, it is not a million miles away from Seamus Heaney’ ‘Mid-Term Break’

Where to start: Mysteries of the Home

What she says: “The great thing about poetry is that it’s the human voice, the one human voice breaking the silence. And how you make that voice powerful, trustworthy, capable of communicating, capable of changing other people’s energy, I think at the root of that is the manipulation of breath.”

What they say: “She has a keen awareness of how the human and natural worlds interact.” Richard Tillinghast, poet

Conor O’Callaghan

Conor O’Callaghan

Born 1968, Conor O’Callaghan has been writing some of the wittiest, formally challenging and enjoyable work to emerge from Ireland since Paul Muldoon’s arrival in the world of poetry.

Now living in Manchester, O’Callaghan is a native of Dundalk, Co. Louth, the town of which he wrote in Seatown his seminal 1999 collection. O’Callaghan belongs to a generation of Irish poets, which includes Vona Groarke, Paula Meehan, Peter Sirr, Pat Boran, Patrick Chapman, David Wheatley, Justin Quinn and Joseph Woods, who freshened up the Irish lyric poem by bringing in influences from outside of Ireland; from British and American poetry to Japanese and eastern European verse.

There’s a sense of unsettlement in many of O’Callaghan’s poems. A theme that arises again an again in the poet’s work is that of drifting; be it in ‘The Swimming Pool’, ‘Seatown’, ‘Ships’, ‘The Ocean’ or ‘River at Night’. Like Muldoon, O’Callaghan’s more formally challenging and inventive work contrasts with poems that shine with a common touch that likens his work to that of Philip Larkin. Once described by the Irish Times as Simon Armitage’s Irish counterpart- with whom he read as part of the Poetry Now festival some years ago- O’Callaghan makes use of his access to Irish vernacular. O’Callaghan’s common touch, however, is also formal; ‘The Pearl Works’, the final poem in ‘The Sun King’, first appeared on Twitter, whereby O’Callaghan wrote a couplet of approximately 140 characters, every week, over the course of a calendar year.

Poems from O’Callaghan’s most recent collection, The Sun King, such as ‘Swell’ and ‘Tiger Redux’, the latter described by the poet as a “partly tongue- in- cheek elegy to the Celtic Tiger”, demonstrate that the poet’s ability to craft unlabored poems that delight with successive readings shows no sign of slowing down.

Signature poem: From 1999’s Seatown, ‘East’ is one of the finest poems written by an Irish poet in the last 25 years. It’s also a wonderful example of O’Callaghan’s seemingly effortless control of line and his ability to convey a sense of Irish identity in Ireland and Irish identity outside of Ireland. Masterful stuff.

Where to start: Seatown

What he says: “I do write about feeling marooned between cultures. You leave and never fully reach the other side, and there is really no way back…[Leaving Ireland] has made my poems much freer and my line much longer. I think the experience of living abroad has made my poems a fraction more experimental. I honestly believe it’s a question of geography.”

What they say: “One of Ireland’s finest younger poets.” John McAuliffe, poet.

 

Peter Sirr

Peter Sirr

Born in Waterford in 1960 and moving to Dublin with his family as a child, Peter Sirr is one of the most complete and naturally gifted poets of his generation. Like Derek Mahon before him, Sirr is something of a jack-of-all-trades within poetry: he is, like Mahon, a noted poet, but also a noted translator and critic. Sirr, however- like O’Callaghan and many other post- Muldoon poets- is most heavily influenced by European poetry.

Winning the Patrick Kavanagh award at just 22 years of age, Sirr is very much a city poet in the European tradition, which isn’t all that surprising given that he has lived, for various spells of time, in Italy and Holland, before eventually settling in Dublin, where he now lives with his wife, poet Enda Wyley. Returning to Ireland after his travels gave Sirr, perhaps, a tourist’s eye for how we now live and may have informed his wry, witty observations on Irish life. ‘PPS’, a poem that he wrote after the arrival via post of his young daughter’s social security number is Sirr at his most wry.

Signature poem: Taken from 2000’s Bring Everything , ‘Legacies’ feels like a uniquely Dublin poem and is, in a sense, a pre- millennial celebration of tradition. Sirr’s language is simple and direct, though the spirit of the poem is through the rhythms and the non- intrusive punctuation, allowing the poem to flow as smoothly as pint in a glass.

Where to start: Selected Poems

What he says: “Those who assume the exceptionality of Irish poetry will witter on about the lines of influence from Yeats to Heaney to Muldoon and ignore the fact that Montale, Pessoa, Celan, Bonnefoy and a host of other unacknowledged legislators have long since gate- crashed the party.”

What they say: “Everyone who takes poetry seriously should read him attentively.” Bernard O’Donoghue, poet

Honourable mentions:

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Derek Mahon, Macdara Woods, Michael LongleyPat Boran, Patrick Chapman, Sinéad MorrisseyGreg Delanty, Thomas McCarthy, John Ennis, David Wheatley, Leontia FlynnJustin Quinn, Vona Groarke, Joseph Woods, Andrew Jamison, Eleanor HookerLeeane O’Sullivan.