Monday, September 05, 2016

The lure of the troubadours

David Cooke has published a selection from Sway in his online poetry magazine The High Window.

The book will be out later this year, I'll post details later.

The High Window is full of all sorts of goodies -- well worth checking out.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sway

My new book, Sway, Versions of Poems from the Troubadour Tradition, will be published by Gallery Press in October. This one is a riff rather than a version, taking as its starting point a line by the 12th century trobairitz, Beatriz, Countess of Dia.


Riff for Beatriz
Ab joi et ab joven m’apais

I feed on joy and youth    the rest
forget    all texts
abandoned     I feed
with joy     I feed on you or would
were you here    were I there
by the lake    in the wood    where the
nightingales are    I hear them
the buds along the branches roar
the frost withdraw    I feast on the season
that you may come to me
like light to the trees    I set
my pilgrim heart to roam
I am here   your loosened armour  your
Saracen hands   I feed
on spices and desert air
the rest is argument    discourse
the lines unwinding
the lines bound like the twigs of a broom
to sweep you away and pull you back
my dust is yours together we blow through the meadows
I was here but now
a stir of language in the trees     birdsong
in the composed season    a voice
before the frost comes   before the wind and the rains
bear me off    come to me please

Monday, June 06, 2016

A Shared Wonder of Light





I'm launching A Shared Wonder Of Light, Poems & Photographs From West Cork & Kerry", poems by John Kinsella, photographs by John D'Alton on Sunday 12 June at 3pm in Arthur Mayne's, Donnybrook, in case anyone is free. It's brilliant collaboration ...

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Thing Itself

The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar: essays on poets and poetry, by Helen Vendler, Harvard University Press, 444 pp. £25.95, ISBN: 978-0674736566

 Poets and critics sometimes inhabit the same body. Think Eliot, Pound, Randall Jarrell, Donald Davie, Robert Pinsky, Czesław Miłosz, Zbigniew Herbert or, from these shores, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Dennis O’Driscoll, David Wheatley, Peter McDonald, Justin Quinn. But poet-critics are an increasingly rare and imperilled breed, and most critical response and reputation-making or -shredding is left to vocational critics, often based in the universities. In the United States Helen Vendler is a force to be reckoned with. Through her regular appearances in The New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books, her editorship of the Harvard Book of Contemporary Poetry (1985) and her many books on the likes of Wallace Stevens, Yeats, Emily Dickinson and Seamus Heaney, she has become, in terms of recognition and influence, the pre-eminent American poetry critic. This is not say that she is universally admired, even – or rather, especially – in the crowded pond of contemporary poetry. But her eminence can hardly be denied and it’s partly explained by and coincides with the shrinking prestige of poetry in American culture during her writing career. Attention to the details of lyric poetry, or what Vendler herself calls “aesthetic criticism”, is an activity deeply suspect in many universities, wedded as they are to their highly politicised and theoretical discourses. The wider culture too hardly falls over itself to celebrate or evaluate the mysterious arts of the lyric imagination.

 - See more at: http://www.drb.ie/essays/the-thing-itself#sthash.AORV6JQ7.dpuf

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Radio Carla



My new radio play, a ghost cum love story, first aired on Sunday, 17 January, 2016 as part of RTE's Drama on One series. It features Olwen Fouéré, Andrew Bennett and Deirdre Monaghan.
The producer was Aidan Mathews and sound supervision was by Mark McGrath.

Radio Carla

And this is In the Wings, where Olwen and I talk about the play.

The Drama On One site is full of rich pickings, an archive of radio drama and features going back several years, well worth keeping an eye on.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Don't Look Back: Poetry and Retrieval

I gave this talk as part of this year's Aldeburgh Poetry Festival




A few years ago I was greatly taken with a poem by the French poet, or Franco-Uruguayan poet Jules Supervielle and ended up translating it. It’s called ‘Le regret de la terre’ and although I didn’t translate the title it might come out as ‘regret for the earth’ or ‘nostalgia for earth’. Since I’m going to be talking about retrieval I thought I might begin with this:


One day we’ll look back on it        the time of the sun
when light fell on the smallest twig
on the old woman the astonished girl
when it washed with colour everything it touched
followed the galloping horse and eased when he did

that unforgettable time on earth
when if we dropped something it made a noise
and like connoisseurs we took in the world
our ears caught every nuance of air
and we knew our friends by their footsteps

time we walked out to gather flowers or stones
that time we could never catch hold of a cloud

and it’s all our hands can master now
( ‘Le regret de la terre’, version by Peter Sirr)


I love many things about that poem: the way it turns us into relaxed if regretful connoisseurs of our own life, looking back from the blankness of the afterlife to the intense sensational life of the earth where everything, from something dropped to a footstep,  reverberated. I like how the poem reminds us that one of poetry’s main missions is this kind of retrieval, this stamping of human and earthly sensation onto the void, or the compensation that somehow realising the world and our own experience in it provides for the blankness that will follow it.

More than that, though, and this is where I pull the rug from under my own feet a bit, I love the way this poem occupies its own space, the way it is, the ways it constructs itself and lays itself down on the page. Its particularity, individuality, the print of its voice that relates to other poems by this poet that I admire. It reminds me that whatever the ostensible subject, what we actually turn to poetry for is the quality of its own making, the peculiar connections and energies that circulate between poet, language and world. What was it Miroslav Holub said once – ‘poetry is an energy storing and energy releasing device.’ That’s what I mean.

So when I gather up a bunch of different poets under the rubric of ‘retrieval’, whatever else retrieval can be taken to mean it must also try to acknowledge each poet’s harnessing or retrieval of their own imaginative energies as they grapple with one of the great myths.

To go back to Supervielle’s poem for a minute. I said I value the way it brings back the world or brings us back to the world. Some the greatest myths have always done this: Demeter and Persephone: the harvest goddess presiding over the cycle of life and death and her daughter who is kidnapped by Hades and taken off to the underworld. She is eventually offered her freedom but as always, there are conditions: she can be fully free if she hasn’t eaten anything while in the underworld. But it turns out she ate some pomegranate seeds and the result is that she can only leave the underworld for a certain period in the year, corresponding to spring and summer.

That’s ultimately a comforting myth because it sets the world in order and plays fruitfully with the natural cycle of the year. Demeter’s grief for her daughter is answered, the thing is resolved, whereas the whole point of the greatest of these myths, Orpheus and Eurydice, is that it isn’t resolved, the attempt at retrieval isn’t successful, but ends in disaster for both Orpheus and Eurydice.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Well, Kerrang!!!

Where Have You Been? Selected Essays, By Michael Hofmann, Faber and Faber, 304 pp, £30, ISBN: 978-0571323661

Poet, translator, critic – for Michael Hofmann these different job specifications are all aspects of the same enterprise, projections of the same sensibility. The poetry came first, the reputation established with Nights in the Iron Hotel (1983). That collection and those that followed – Acrimony; Corona, Corona; Approximately Nowhere – introduced a voice that was highly distinctive and very much unlike the general run of British poetry of the time. Sceptical, disenchanted, in some respects almost an anti-poetry, full of brooding absences and short term occupations of empty spaces described with great disruptive brio:

Six floors up, I found myself like a suicide ‑
one night, the last thing in a bare room …
I was afraid I might frighten my neighbours,
two old ladies dying of terror, thinking
every man was the gasman, every gasman a killer ...
(“A Brief Occupation”)

Poems that built up layers of detail and then abandoned them, disdaining conventional closure or grand gestures, as if the world of the poems was a crowded but deeply alien place. Robert Lowell is certainly in the background; the pressures of the personal, the fidelity to the details of a life, and that determination to convert life into literature – one of the things he praises Lowell for in Where have You Been? – are all evident in the poems about his father, the writer Gert Hofmann, in his remarkable second volume, Acrimony, but is a constant thread throughout the work:

Then a family event if ever there was one:
my mother reads my translations of my father,
who hasn’t read aloud since his ‘event’.
Darkness falls outside. Inside too.
(“Cheltenham”)

Read More in the Dublin Review of Book