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Best of Irish Poetry 2010
Editor: Matthew Sweeney
Songs of Earth and Light
Barbara Korun poems translated by Theo Dorgan
Done Dating DJs
by Jennifer Minniti-Shippey
Winner, 2008 Fool for Poetry Competition
Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
Edited and translated by Aidan Hayes
Munster Literature Centre
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Jennifer Matthews was born in Columbia, Missouri in the USA. After studying for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Northumbria she moved to Cork, Ireland in 2003 and continues to live there now. Aside from reviews, she also writes poetry and has been published in Mslexia, Revival and Poetry Salzburg, and has read her work at the New Writers Showcase in the Heaventree Poetry Festival in Coventry, UK. In 2010 she was anthologised in Dedalus's 2010 collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places.
Moran is a poet who is clear on his concerns. Traditional Ireland is disappearing—‘Sometimes, I wonder if I should have lived/ like others .... not have to fret over damp turf or kindling’. Spiritual life is part of this disappearing act, ‘Were these the pieties we clutched?/ So absolute. So long ago.’ Then there is a pervasive loneliness—societal and personal. This loneliness is a grey sky that looms over both of his collections, The Stubble Fields (Dedalus, 2001) and the newly published Green (Salmon, 2009).
The consistency in his themes is commendable rather than limiting. They span both collections in an attempt to come to a deeper understanding of change and loss. Moran’s poetry itself is an ancestor to Patrick Kavanagh: words are simple and economical, the Irish landscape and its people are inseparable, verses are tidy and controlled. The voice is often narrative, rarely slipping into allusion, surrealism or anything outside of the everyday world. His poem, ‘At Inniskeen’, is in memoriam of Kavanagh, nicely acknowledging but not derivative of the author. Kavangah’s creative legacy is longed for—‘That farmer foddering there... might be your creation.’ The poem also hopes (prays?) that Irish tradition can be preserved through verse.
Death is a preoccupation in Green. There are a handful of poems in the book that are portraits of isolated souls: a district nurse, Philip Larkin, a suicide, a rural bachelor, Jimi Hendrix. Regret, disillusionment and missed opportunities are found in nearly every one. Although appropriate for pieces about regret, the rhetorical questions of ‘Splash’ and ‘Words for Philip Larkin’ are less engaging with the imagination than the excellent images used to convey the life of his ‘Bachelor’. Particularly moving is his description of the man’s house:
Then home by narrow roads,
entering the yard to find
every window lightless.
The ashes piling up.
A lone mug. Scraps and crumbs.
The clock ticking, ticking.
As death comes for humans in Green, decay has come for the land. Like many of his contemporaries, environmental change is a concern for Moran. What’s interesting is that he approaches the issue as someone who prefers a traditional life close to the land, rather than claiming a new age moral superiority. ‘It’s not that I’m so engagé/ that I’d keep vigil in crude shelters, or/ chain myself to an at-risk tree.’ This approach is disarming and accessible, and would influence an audience more easily than a superior, earth-child persona. They are, however, largely rhetorical. Consider ‘Away’: ‘Like what a child/ ....couldn’t help saying:/ Don’t ever throw/ anything away—/ there is no away.’ A good line, but it doesn’t stick in my belly like the images from his last collection. For example, ‘Stubble Fields, After Spraying’: ‘all those beseeching shoots and blades:/ a congregation of bowed heads.’
Although I prefer the gritty, moving images of The Stubble Fields over the more philosophical Green, there is an interesting new progression in his latest collection: a group of haiku-like poems which are lean and simple, with carefully controlled twists of perception at the end. Take ‘Autumn’ for example:
Would it sink so deeply—
this leaflessness, this shroud of fog;
these stagnant pools, these ruts—
if birds did not still chirp
in my inner hedges, nor shoots
keep breaking through my clay?
The themes that Moran is concerned with are all involved: loss, loneliness and even hope, but deployed in clean, meditative strokes. The poem leaves the reader with the desire to pause, put the book down and stay with the it a little longer.
©2009 Jennifer Matthews
Salmon Poetry- Publishers of Green
Interviews by Matthews with various poets through Ó Bhéal
Yank Refugee in the PRC (Matthews's blog)
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