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Dave Lordan reviews Paul Casey's début poetry collection
Dave Lordan was born in Derby, England, in 1975, and grew up in Clonakilty in West Cork. In 2004 he was awarded an Arts Council bursary and in 2005 he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. His collections are The Boy in the Ring (Cliffs of Moher, Salmon Poetry, 2007), which won the Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish writer and was shortlisted for the Irish Times poetry prize; and Invitation to a Sacrifice (Salmon Poetry, 2010). Eigse Riada theatre company produced his first play, Jo Bangles, at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in 2010. He has lived in Holland, Greece and Italy, and now resides in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
home more or less
(Salmon Poetry, 2012)
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The present is undoubtedly a period of transition and of transformation in Irish poetry, one in which the meaning of the very term "Irish poetry" is being opened up, interrogated, changed and expanded by those who practice poetry in Ireland. In fact, things are changing so much that the term "Irish poetry" simply fails to account for the range and variety of contemporary practices here. Experimentalists may argue that this has been the case throughout the 20th century, at least, and it is true that many marginal and avant-garde practitioners have preferred to place themselves globally. But this was in parallel to, and often in reaction to, a mainstream which was overwhelmingly dominated by poets and poems which clothed and rooted themselves in versions of Irishness, and never shut up about it. These days, however, who can really claim that Ireland is anything more than the name of a convenient accounting trick? Who can tell what the mainstream of Irish poetry is nowadays? Poems using ancient Celtic myths, or political myths concerning modern day Ireland as their ur-text, certainly don’t count for what they used to. These kind of poems published by poets of our generation often seem way past their sell-by date, and (given that the main challenges for artists in any discipline remain making it now and making it new) sadly lacking in contemporary nous and artistic ambition.
It’s the condition of wandering exile which gives rise, perhaps, to the most understandable attachment to mythologies. Cast away from the land of our birth we may need the sustaining lie of the motherland to keep us on our feet. There are many poems in which a mythical Africa and a mythical Ireland and even a mythical Cork are well couched and beautifully presented in Paul Casey’s home more or less. But I was much more impressed with the poems which eschewed cultural signposting, such as the mysterious and novelistic 'Return', or poems which offered an invigorating cut-up of the source material such as 'Imbas', 'Spell of Rest', and 'Puzzle Invocation'. These I found intriguing, memorable, original.
One of the most interesting recent developments in poetry in this jurisdiction is the emergence of a multicultural and multilingual poetic in place of the centuries’ deep bilingual one, a process gestured to by the recent Landing Places anthology of immigrant poetry, and confirmed here by Paul Casey. Although it talks a lot about national identities and relies to a certain extent on mist-shrouded national mythologies, home more or less, at its most mongrelly innovative, can be read as undermining the attempt to place art according to political geographies or "linguistic communities". home more or less contains poems entirely or partially in the languages of English, Gaelic, Afrikaans and Zulu. Is an Afrikaans or a Zulu poem an Irish one?
The question may seem absurd until we remember the absurd fact that most poems we call Irish are written in the othertongue of English anyway. In any case a piece of art is never absurd until we approach it with our own absurdity. An attempt to place a poem in a category in which it patently does not belong is absurd and generates absurdity, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misleadingness. The best art resists and refutes attempts to claim it for any labelling prerogative. Our artistic practice should be the means by which we individually unlabel ourselves and shed all the imposed and mispronouncing layers of nation, myth, religion... The collection’s stand-out poem 'Learning Afrikaans in the SADF' brilliantly personalises and dramatises this confrontation between the free and uncategorisable and the old and diabolical machinery of labelling and exploitation:
‘Sorry sir, I don’t speak Afrikaans’, I managed
and what replied was my introduction
to the classified, sonic weaponry
the inmost algorithms of apartheid’s armature.
Haai pasop roef! Jaa nie fock nie boetie ... Jy!
jy’s net nog ‘n fokken dom rooineck nê?
nou draai daardie wit mosdop op
jou kop jou klein poes bliksom se doos!
The refusal to be a good Afrikaner, a good racist, a good killer, literally drives the drill Sergeant insane:
Eruptions of spew and
fury jowl-contorted sounds
I hear an echo of the conventional critic/anthologiser railing against the brazen and unsummarisable variousness of our poetic present, losing their angry mind because we refuse to a make sense to them in the way they might wish to knock the damned sense right out of us.
©2013 Dave Lordan
Dave Lordan home page
Lordan page at Salmon Publishing
Article on and poems by Lordan at Poetry International Web
Articles by Dave Lordan in Irish Left Review