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
to the rocky
of the pillar
& in a rain
cut across &
shock – curl –
the vine the
white the pillar
the soft the
vine then just
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
this stone to that hut with
precision tact two hands one
gift wait listen right
left shimmering elastic
(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