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Val Nolan

Val Nolan teaches contemporary literature and creative writing at NUI Galway. He regularly contributes criticism to publications including Poetry Ireland Review, The Sunday Business Post, PN Review and The John McGahern Yearbook. A poet and a fiction writer, he has been published in Southword, The Stinging Fly, Poetry Scotland, Crannóg and Revival. He was most recently invited to read on the emerging writer's panel at the Cúirt International Festival of Literature. NUIG awarded him the 2008/09 Oliver St. John Gogarty Scholarship and he is also the recipient of a Clarion Foundation Scholarship to study short fiction at University of California, San Diego.




Going by Water by Michael Coady

Life Monitor by Ciaran O'Driscoll




Going by Water by Michael CoadyGoing By Water

Michael Coady

(Gallery Press, 2009)

ISBN: 978 1 85235 484 8

€13.90 paperback

Buy from Gallery




As with All Souls (1997) and One Another (2003), Tipperary poet Michael Coady combines prose, poetry and photograph in his new collection Going by Water. As the title suggests, the central image is that of the river, in particular the Suir of Coady’s hometown and the Seine in Paris, while a final section, ‘All Waters’, expands the focus further, to the United States and Newfoundland.

With a documentary air and an attendant sense of responsibility, Going by Water is a book answerable ‘to the flood / and ebb of tides, lives subjected to the fluent gravities / of moon and sun on water’. People and place are inseparably linked; Coady’s rivers are not just aspects of a familiar landscape, they are intrinsic members of the community, bound to experience and the practices of everyday existence. The Suir itself is Coady’s ‘Sister River’, and that it is tidal makes it feel like a living entity. The river has moods and its comings and goings mark the passing of years in fishermen’s cottages. The poet’s community shares an affinity for the river and its tributaries, and a stream with no name inspires this small act of divination:


By noon the name

Abigail had been given

with candle and water and word.


But the mood is not always celebratory. Unlike the personal traumas which underpinned the most affecting sections of One Another, the disturbances here are communal. Life and death along these banks is felt by a whole town ‘drawn into deep ritual and flow / of thing as old as river settlement, / with all that’s gone of it or still to come’. Coady’s waterways are the givers and takers of life, and a poem titled ‘Voices off the River’ – commemorating a mother and four children who drowned in the Suir in 1979 – considers the paradoxes of this symbiotic relationship:


Half the town was rushing

to crowd the bridge and quays.

The sight of a little slipper

left on the floor of a boat

was enough to bring tears


with the people’s grief becoming

blind anger that turned

on the heart of things


people who live by a river

helplessly raging

against the flowing

force that brought

their settlement into being.


Similarly, the title poem sketches a fisherman’s final journey along the Suir, a funeral the likes of which ‘has not been seen before / in the living memory of this river town’. That notion, living memory, is something which recurs throughout Going by Water. In every sense of the term, life here is ‘Water under the Bridge’.  As one generation dies another ‘rises from the clay / with modesty and grace / to proffer its small radiance / to the universe’. In that respect, history itself is alive in these poems, from the ‘uncoy mistress’ of ‘Old Flame’ to the story of Friars’ Rock ‘bedded / in the flow /and rooted / beyond time’. Indeed, ‘Isn’t History Great?’ Coady asks in one of the book’s brief prose interludes.

Complementing rather than interrupting, the prose deepens the thematic resonance of the poetry. The same is true of Coady’s photographs, which do more than just adorn the verse; they provide an integral accompaniment, and the act of photography itself is the subject of several pieces. ‘I point my lens and see in focus / tears on the boatmen’s faces / as they come on and breast the current’, Coady says, and his pictures – like his poems – are intimate, personal interpretations of the real.

©2010 Val Nolan



Life Monitor by Ciaran O'DriscollLife Monitor

Ciaran O’Driscoll

(Three Spires Press, 2009)

ISBN: 978-1873548547

€10.00 paperback

Buy Life Monitor




Life Monitor, by Ciaran O’Driscoll, is a book ‘written / in clouds and watermarks’ and so is the more varied of these collections. The poems are set in the crepuscular realms between night and dark, during the in-between of train station ‘works and closures’ and on barren karst landscapes complete with ‘sinkholes and abysses’. The poet himself is ‘a man in a black bowler hat, / showing my back to the world’; his focus is on the minutia of his own existence, on the aging of his children and essence of his art. ‘Everything is in the gesture / and the meaning is the gesture itself,’ he says:


My first glimpse of art was in a churchyard,

so close it is to death.

I listened to the silence of that place.


And ‘it’s loss that grieves me,’ he says elsewhere, the theme snaking through many of the poems here. His subjects are lost opportunities and possibilities, lost moments of understanding or just the unrecoverable past itself. ‘This is the future, my wife says. / We are already there.’

Despite this, O’Driscoll’s dry humour regularly breaks through the ‘weird luminosity’ of Life Monitor. The morning train ‘which always ran on time’ is ‘now more uncertain / than a poetry magazine’s / date of publication’; the surrealism of ‘A Gift for the President’,  the traditional Patrick’s Day bowl of shamrock, is wittily demolished, as is the role of poets in the academy. ‘Lemons’, from the Italian of Eugenio Montale (one of three Montale translations here) depicts these ‘high-fliers’ as writers who ‘wouldn’t be seen walking among ordinary / growing things’. Basho, on the other hand, ‘attended with villages / at petalfall and snowfall’. He ‘ate what they set before him’ and ‘all this he set down in words’.

At his best, O’Driscoll captures just such moments of idyllic beauty, those we are inclined to overlook in hectic days of finances and tailbacks. ‘We have troubles, say the trees, but we don’t worry’.  ‘Above all,’ he says, ‘keep your shadow under control: / the rule is not to scald the hand that feeds you, / when you’re invited, narrowed-eyed, to dinner.’


©2010 Val Nolan



Author Links

Nolan's review of Pat Boran's memoir The Invisible Prison Scenes from an Irish Childhood

Article by Nolan for The Post about Ted Hughes

Nolan on the Gogarty Festival at Poetry Ireland





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Munster Literature Centre

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