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JEWTOWN:

Thomas McCarthy reviews Simon Lewis's debut poetry collection.

 

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Thomas McCarthy

Originally from Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, Thomas McCarthy now lives in Cork. He studied at UCC under the influence of Sean Lucy and John Montague; Sean Dunne and Theo Dorgan were fellow students. He received the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 1997 for his first book and the American-Irish Foundation's Literary Award in 1984. His work includes Mr Dineen's Careful Parade (Anvil, 1999) and Merchant Prince (Anvil, 2005). In 2009, Anvil Press published McCarthy's The Last Geraldine Officer. His historical work on the burning of Cork's Carnegie Library and the rebuilding of its collections, Rising from the Ashes, appeared in 2010. A new collection, Pandemonium, is due from Carcanet Press Poetry in 2016.

 

 

 

Jewtown

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Simon Lewis

(Doire Press, 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-907682-45-2

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In an article published in last Christmas Eve’s edition of the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole selected work by a diverse group of artists to illustrate the ways in which 2011 may be described as a "year of haunting and ghosts in Irish art". In relation to visual art, Anthony Haughey’s Settlement project was presented by O’Toole as one of the most potent works to engage with what he calls "the liminal spaces at the edges of towns and cities" to be produced in the year. Patricia Burns’s Hinterland: the Glen Paintings was also signalled for attention. Turning to poetry, O’Toole’s article concluded with a note on Derek Mahon’s New Collected Poems. Of particular interest to O’Toole was what he called the "prescience" of certain lines in Mahon’s poem ‘America Deserta’, from section 16 of his long poem Decadence (previously published in 1997 as The Yellow Book). Here Mahon describes the "long decline" of "the great money scam" that lead "to pot-holed roads and unfinished construction sites", an image that seems analogous to the depictions of post-Celtic Tiger social decay represented so poignantly in the work of Burns and Haughey. Mahon’s poem, however, begins with an epigraph from the writings of Zelda Fitzgerald, which suggests that it has an earlier twentieth-century context very much in its sights. ‘America Deserta’ also reflects on "the death of the boom", to use a phrase the American poet John Berryman coined when writing about another economic catastrophe, the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which brought about the end of the Jazz Age and heralded the beginning of the Great Depression. What O’Toole discerned as a prescient image, in other words, has less to do with the gift of prophecy than it has with Mahon’s acute historical consciousness and his awareness of the inevitability of economic catastrophe for any society where the accumulation of wealth is celebrated above all else, whether one considers the United States of the 1920s or Ireland in the first decade of the millennium.

The "year of haunting and ghosts" might then be considered in terms of a much longer time-span, even further back than the 1920s, to the time including what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously termed "the history of all hitherto existing society" in the first chapter of their Communist Manifesto; that is, "the history of class struggles". While it is difficult to say where some poets stand in relation to certain kinds of political questions, William Wall is a poet whose work speaks clearly to the particularity of his ideological

 

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