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Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Ten random observations about Irish poetry.

1) The word ‘facilitate’, which is what people do at poetry workshops these days, is an abomination in the nostrils of the Lord.

2) When I write my memoirs, I will say the following two things about every writer I’ve known: I did all I could but in the end I wasn’t able to help him/her; He/she was always a great admirer of my work, you know.

3) The whole form and content of the debate about the Irish so-called avant-garde is an embarrassing spectacle to behold. Because Irish poetry is so formally conservative most of the time, even down to the level of page layout, anyone who shows evidence of having read Olson’s essay on Projective Verse is at risk of coming with a pre-issued avant-garde backstage celebrity pass. The fact of doing it at all stands in for the achievement. Whereas in a healthily functioning poetry culture, a critic should be able to write ‘This is the seventeenth book this year I’ve read this year that has grazed on a bit of Olson over breakfast. It is also crashingly boring.’

4) The problem with recent Muldoon is all down to food. The restaurants his poems eat in these day are way too expensive. Remember the long poem at the end of Hay about a credit card being refused in a very upmarket Paris eaterie? There may indeed be a great poem to be written on the dark night of the soul that is one bottle too many of Château d’Yquem. But that ain’t it.

5) Anyone whose mission statement these days is owning her okayness (to paraphrase a self-help book from The Simpsons) with being an Irish Woman Poet needs her head examined.

6) On the subject of politics, Irish poetry could really do with some raving far-right disgraces. I say this because whenever we’re told, as we often are, about how timid and apolitical Irish poets are, the underlying assumption is that they should be writing self-righteous letters to The Irish Times about US stopovers at Shannon airport. Can anyone think of an Irish poet with really interesting politics though? I’m struggling here.

7) Another of the strange things about the Irish avant-garde debate is… well, let me use the example of 1930s poetry to demonstrate. Irish modernism happens, gets forgotten about, and then gets endlessly rediscovered and re-evaluated. Leaving aside just how truly awful that first co-authored book by Brian Coffey and Denis Devlin was (has anyone else actually read it?), we get to read article after article about Beckett the modernist poet in relation to Coffey the modernist poet in relation to Devlin the modernist poet in relation to… anyway, you see where I’m going with this. The argument makes a break from the straitjacket of restrictive Irish studies only to check itself straight back into the selfsame clinic. Where are the studies of Beckett’s poetry in relation to the surrealists and all the other French poets of the 20s and 30s, many of whom he translated?

8) There’s a chap in the midlands called Desmond Egan, one of whose books I think I’ve seen, just the once, but who, anyway, is really famous in Japan, Finland, and Burkina Faso too for all I know. They all think he’s wonderful. He may even the most famous living Irish poet after Seamus Heaney, in Japan or Finland at least. So there.

9) I will not rest until Wingdings has become the font of choice of Irish poetry publishers.

10) Back of the book author mugshots should be replaced with pictures of writers’ arses. This at least, until my previous points, I feel strongly about.


Nicholas Murray said...

Re point 8: as a small poetry publisher I received an unsolicited submission in an envelope on the outside of which was written in large letters: "Wales's Leading Poet". I was impressed by such a positive attitude. We poets are usually, er, too damned self-effacing.

John said...

With you all the way on 9 and 10. Didn't understand the rest.

Ron said...

Sean O'Brien has already implemented point 10.

Kit said...

1.Facilitate sounds like something vets do with bull semen to me.
3. I don't really understand why Maurice Scully (the rest of them aren't much good) isn't in the conservative mainstream of Irish verse, but I do submit, saving your presence and all, that Gallery Press may have something to do with it...
5. Who were you thinking of?
8. Dear old Desperate Ego. I'd never actually heard of him until someone showed me a special issue of a Japanese journal devoted to his work.

puthwuth said...

Eavan Boland, obviously. 'Sometimes it's hard to be a woman...', as Tammy Wynette reminded us. But not if you're Eavan Boland. I think she should give it a rest.

tristan said...

wiped or not ?

puthwuth said...