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Best of Irish Poetry 2009
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PAUL CASEY

 

 

Paul Casey

Paul Casey was born in Cork, Ireland in 1968. He began writing poetry in 1992 and has been reading and performing his work since 2003. He has lived in a number of countries in Europe and Africa working largely in film, multimedia and teaching. He is the founder and organiser of the weekly Ó Bhéal poetry event in Cork where he now lives. A chapbook of his longer poems was being published by Heaventree Press in May 2009. He is working towards his first collection.

 

 

 

Trucker's Moll by Rosemary Canavan

Cailleach: The Hag of Beara by Leanne O'Sullivan

 

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Trucker’s Moll
Rosemary Canavan
(Salmon Poetry 2009)
€12.00 paperback

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I am restless
Until the place
Gives up its secrets:

Rosemary Canavan’s poetry is a constant search on the move. Set in the valleys and hills of Cork and south Munster…it also meanders far beyond into a montage of vivid worlds where nature and industry ebb and flow to the oily moon of humanity’s work on Earth. The poet submerges her gaze into the lungs of the natural world, taking on Heritage and Tourism, Industry and Pollution, Religion and the Health System, holds them down beneath the surface with her, where oceans, forests and blades of grass are as resilient as ever, infinitely intelligent and conscious of us, their more selfish, alchemical co-habitants. She whispers her alliance to nature in 'The War', where she praises nature’s divine resilience.

I will defect to your side,
leave my garden to wilderness

In parallel to this, she submerges the (dis)continuity of urban to rural consciousness…through a variety of characters who appear in and out of Cork’s city, towns and clouded coastlines, mountains, hills and forests, to counties up-country and beyond through her misty Celtic pilgrimage around the four nations of the western isles, where she suspends the Elysian depths of our more nature-oriented traditional foundations among the indifferent, complicated weld and weave of the present day. Yet history is alive in every detail, alive and shining in the unnoticed peripheries.

There is a delectable variety of both subject and length to this most lyrical montage of verse, which offer readers’ imaginations a freedom of breath when moving from the voices of nature to the urgency of war, from those of the aged and the past, to the endless scars left by Industry’s relentless taming of our world. Canavan doesn’t drown in the environmental wars though, she swims past their poisoned shadows to dance with the endless beauty that is thriving around her, as if whispering, ‘Here, look here, we can still touch its magic’.

a sweet chestnut, ringed with sprigs, with rent bark,
and a great oak…

my boots sprout leaves,
a silvery belling from birds’ beaks
in the soughing trees

We find haiku-like tercets sprinkled throughout the collection, slowing down the image-paced, longer narratives of journey and edging us into the length of days, while unneeded traditional syllables are left as leaves to the winds of pace and form.

What is that
Gold-flowered, slender-leaved plant?
A gold leaf falls.

or

Silage bags
Glisten like
Black slugs

Often the urban and suburban-imagined paces of thought and life fade to ridicule. Her journeys paint a vast and varied field of our Atlantic islands, yet Patrick’s Day fireworks become flashes in the Baghdad sky; at the zoo humans are closer to home. Often she finds the past surprising her, staring back through the present. In her encounter with a 6th-Century skull, she sees the (then) young woman’s life as an utterance into time.

she was no stranger, but
a lost figure journeying

In 'Men of the South', she enters Sean Keating’s painting of the last minutes before Michael Collins’ assassination, into …

… their innocence, fresh-faced, dangerous.

… echoing the dramatic social changes of the last century. Canavan finds the patterns and journeys of life in the circumstance of small things.

She re-immerses herself successively into the worlds of nature and the global network of industrial civilisation, travelling between them to witness the shadows of their meeting.

Pylons stalk the flat land, their
atrophied arms held out,…

or

… then to withered hills
and a forest of steel that sprouts smoke.

The nine-part poem 'Infirmary' finds the poet admitted and bed-bound amid the pill-modern madness of a medical Hades, imagining her aged co-patients in their heydays and still questioning her own future’s place among their final months (or years we hope).

I try to put flesh on those
Old bones, imagine them
Young and lovely:

Trucker’s Moll seemed to me like the pages of a poet’s diary, with its contemplative, almost philosophical voice which carefully changes pace and tone to either soften or punctuate the hard rumble of technology’s endless hurricane. After the poet enters and commits to the natural world for her understanding and inspiration, she soon returns from the arms of Gaia wiser than steel, more patient than rubble, with a Zen-deep acceptance of the world and the means to transcend its travesties. I would purchase this collection for its song alone, for it is a morning song and I have taken much delight in the slow reveal of its subconscious wisdom, its night-green narrative.

©2009 Paul Casey

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Cailleach – The Hag of Beara
Leanne O’Sullivan
(Bloodaxe Books 2009)
£7.95 paperback

Buy from Bloodaxe

 

Now, I am taking back my first shape, aged and round
as when I lay shadowed in the heart of a stone.

I have met a good many poets who have been waiting patiently through the five years it has taken since O’Sullivan’s Waiting for my Clothes, for this eloquent and impressive gift to emerge. This, her second collection of a most carefully and sensually crafted verse, has been conceived, in my opinion, as courageously as the weather on the Beara peninsula. Irish mythology is a silver mine of metaphor that few modern poets are willing to explore, often being too metallic for taste, too smooth to grip. In this new season of her career she has flexed her poetic sinew deeply into the mythological ichor of her own beginnings, to mirror her own inner landscape with the natural outer world, almost as a disciple of the Cailleach.

O’Sullivan has delivered in five powerful sequences, the birth, love, natural world, loss and death/rebirth of the Cailleach, that wise, immortal creatrix of the Celtic pantheon of deities who has persisted with ever-increasing strength through the recent centuries of religious and sexual persecution, only to wizen further into our age and offer anew into present-day lives, a timeless understanding of life’s cyclical gamut of purpose, trial, fortune and place. Portents from the natural world which allow those of us who are willing, to retrieve some of the pillage of destiny, the spoils of fate. Each of these five standing stones of the collection is prefixed with an address by the Cailleach, each a resounding monologue that has predated memory, monologues that carry their own self-conscious repetition of a cycle that must be told as long as there are people who will listen.

And I have misremembered; …
… and I feel myself dissolved in time, so that the years rise and set, and I hear them only as the tide turning in the distance.

In wider folklore, the Cailleach is considered to be a divine hag, a creation goddess who lives not only in the breathtaking scenery of Beara, but at the Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare, Ben Cruachan in Scotland and at numerous other geographies central to the ancient Celtic world, including locations in the Isle of Man and Galicia. In Beara, Co. Cork, the Cailleach is said to be endlessly reborn of a large stone that can be seen at Ballycrovane harbour, a stone originally created by herself along with the surroundings and fauna, at the beginning of the world. In this narrative we meet the Cailleach as sorceress, as lover, as mother, as poet and as earth. She calls to her ‘first companion’ in 'Crow':

My eye to your eye sees only the fluid-dark,
the landscape of your iris brilliant as a rose.

Her constant dialogue with nature is also a kind of vigilant symbiosis, a shamanic balancing of nature, humanity and death, yet this is a bounteous journey, a celebration of all existence, bringing into sharp focus our ancestral inheritance. It reminds us perhaps, that we have access to a pre-knowledge of much of what we are yet to encounter, if only we would open to the telling whispers and enduring wisdom of nature. Central to a narrative replete with passion, is the most enigmatic of life’s gifts, love, which she then loses to the sea, and although the Cailleach has loved and lost many times, her love makes her vulnerable, mortal, so that she is at her most omnipotent when alone.

The ocean became a beating thing within me; the landscape, the animals, the skies, the sloping waves of soil became my garments, and I walked shrouded in my own elements, without companion.

The Cailleach is by no means imprisoned in her constant rebirth, but rather it is her very deepest desire to constantly re-inhabit, embody and cherish the world she has created, all aspects of it, from the most tender to the most violent. To O’Sullivan, the Cailleach’s reincarnation is a recurring cycle of an ancient deified soul in sync with both the seasons and the generational, hereditary memories of her human counterparts. The elemental repose between her lives reflects an old pagan concept of the physical world forming the gateway to the other, a concept less silently alive in the present era of spiritual re-awakening. Being born of, and returning to a stone wet from the sea, relates mother and rock as infinitely interchangeable. Mother as Timelessness. Mother as Sea. The womb and end of us all.

©2009 Paul Casey

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