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Category Archives: Irish Poetry

things that happen by Maurice Scully (Shearsman Books)

things that happen by Maurice Scully (Shearsman Books)

Maurice Scully, in my garden 20 years ago, advised me on pruning a young laburnum tree. My dilemma was the removal of one of three main branches. He hardly hesitated, “Take out the middle one.” Was it the tree he was considering or was it symbolic of something else?

Writing ‘about’ something (how many poets continue to introduce their work, ‘This poem is about’?) renders it culpable of being a descriptive exercise, whereas writing ‘through’ something opens levels of greater interest and realization.

                  the middle of March I’m

                  in the tropics suddenly

                  inside the arctic circle not

                  dizzy but waiting to bloom….      ‘ABC’

Maurice Scully’s expansive consideration in ‘things that happen’ moves through such realisations and discoveries.

                  heavy chestnut blossom by a shed wall by a river.

                  Mud & buried bicycles & reflections in the channel.

                  Fifty-seven seagulls on a parti-coloured roof.

                  Your move. Maytime.

                  To swink in this railway station buying time

                  to think, static, in kenetic railway context by the rails.

                                                      ‘A Record of Emotions: Side A’

The word ‘swink’, meaning to work under difficult conditions for long hours is key to much of what unfolds in this collection of writing – it is a huge testament to application, curiosity and the poets unfurling poetic oeuvre since 1987 and places Maurice Scully in the forefront of the Irish Modernist canon.

The word ‘swink’, so playful, indulging as it does in the act of pushing ‘ink’ forming words from that act; those words, in recognition of each other, dropping a ‘wink’ – and without stretching the point too far, the unmistakable ‘swin(g)’ of language, Gaeilge, Italian, French, English and a smattering of Sesotho, at this poets disposal. (There are helpful notes at the end of the book.)

Small turns and light twists in fleeting moments belong to the realm of these poems as much as longer sweeps of time so the reader becomes sensitive to seconds as much as decades.

                  the pillar vine

                  hacks this pliant

                  this pliancy

                  this young

                  vineplant attached

                  to the rocky

                  edges 

                  of the pillar

                  & in a rain

                  of names

                  absorbency

                  storyline

                                    two-way

         three-way

                  in section

                                             vertical

cut across &

                  down

                  rest/pillar/

                  shock – curl –

                  happiness

                  peace/the pillar

                  the vine the

                  soft

                  white the pillar

                  the soft the

                  light

                  vine then just

                  don’t think

                  don’t

                  look don’t

                  brea-

                  the.              ‘The Pillar & The Vine’

Time is held in this meditation – the deliberation lonely, yet filled with succour for both its author and for any reader. So often Maurice Scully’s movement of thought and consideration is through biological fascination.

There is a tacit agreement from the outset that a reader must indulge him/herself in these poems as much as Maurice Scully has done in writing them although there still remains a considerable amount of work to be done by the reader. That said, enjoyment arrives quickly when immersing oneself because of the freedom arrived at in their writing – as if the articulation of the poet’s will is subordinate

or given over to the ‘experience in itself’ as Paul Perry says.

                  driving in a red dustcloud

                  for hours years wandering

                  wondering how to

                  connect

                  this stone to that hut with

                  precision tact     two hands one

                  gift     wait listen     right

                  left     shimmering elastic

                  wallhome

                  (not any other barrier

                  But a breeze over it)

                  welcoming.         conduit. ‘Steps’

Winks and nods arrive with great fun too, as in the Jacques Prévertesque,

‘To make a table / you need wood / to make the wood / you need a tree / to make the tree / you need a seed / to make the seed / you need a fruit / to make the fruit / you need a flower / to make a table / you need a flower.’ 

                                                            ‘A Record of Emotion, Side B’

Elsewhere the wonderfully surreal/absurdist,

                  One day a bankman came to the tree with his money

                  and sat under it balancing a book. But he soon fell

                  asleep and began to dream. And in his dream he saw

                  a bankman falling asleep under a tree with his money

                  and a book and beginning to dream of a man dreaming

                  he was making money out of a book (in which he

                  featured quite prominently) under a tree beside a

                  windowsill upon which were two young caterpillars,

                  laughing, white and green, Fat Caterpillar and Fatter

                  Caterpillar, that dreamed they lived on a windowsill

                  under a tree.  ‘Two Caterpillars’

Reading things that happen can be like flicking from station to station on a radio or channel to channel on TV. After a few minutes the senses become absorbed in the continuity of disruption itself.

There is humanity, adventure, enjoyment and skill in the 609 pages of this book.         

By the way, the laburnum tree is thriving and in flower as I write.

Ric Hool  3rd June 2021

simmering of a declarative void by Robert Kiely (The 87 Press)

simmering of a declarative void by Robert Kiely (The 87 Press)

We poetry fans are well-accustomed to techniques for maximizing indeterminacy: cut-ups; parataxis; minuscules; lacunae; absent or unmatched punctuation; exiguous titling; wide leading to disassociate each line from the next; words used deictically but without their situation-of-utterance; and severely occluded references. To take an example:

my mooring is mist and zoos
and with no sunset i roll on
the sky bends buildings
an asteroid is no clarity

Some readers think such poems don’t like them. Others that they are just shy. This poet, after all, used to self-identify as ‘RK’. Others still will mark the contemporary ambience of disparate and disjointed information. What we are no longer subject to, however, is the elitism of old High Modernism, which once presumed a reader with a lifetime’s ticket to the leisured classes, but nowadays one with fifteen minutes to spare, a search-engine and a love of puzzles. So, the quatrain above – thanks, Internet – is a reworking of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Meng Haoran. And its first line’s unaccountable reference to ‘zoos’, for instance, is a pun on the characters zhŭ (islet) and zhōu (boat). Boom, boom! Besides the genial waggishness, the repeated point is that there’s nothing hermetic at the rainbow’s end; the pleasure is in the process whereby, among other things, you discover some Tang poetry that you’d’ve never gotten around to otherwise.

So far so standard. What makes this stand out, though, among the interesting groups of poets associated with vitrines like Streetcake, Spam, Crater and The 87, whose linguistic innovations encompass cut-ups, parataxis, minuscules, lacunae…? Mostly, in this case, the level of wit. Like judicious gifts, there are moments of scintillating clarity among the riddles. The exhortation to ‘trust nothing especially your own/ implants’. The artwork that becomes sentient and applies for its own funding. The fantasy that turns Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into a ‘pyramidal rubix cube’. The line saying ‘in the beginning were the minutes of the previous meeting’. And a terrific capriccio – too long to quote, unfortunately – that takes the locution ‘burning your bridges’ and explodes it into the realms of hilarity. The poet shows that they could out-entertain the mainstream if they chose. But like those bands that smother cute melodies in feedback, this book’s anxiety about how to write, read and live in the face of terminal crisis to either the planet or the economic system, and its simmering emotions about the current choice being made, means it has a wider objective in view. The approach looks understandable enough. Go undercover. Use a low-capitalised, low barrier-to-entry artform that’s a virtually non-saleable craft product. Ward off the hobgoblins of popularity with deliberate catachresis, recondite vocab and terrible puns, despite your unconcealable talent. And quietly create the new world within the old. I think this book is what revolutionary avant-garde poetics looks like right now, and it’s surely a small sign of hope. This tipster doesn’t recommend a ‘buy’. Certainly not. But definitely – and as the book itself is suggesting – a ‘participate’.

Guy Russell 31st January 2021

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