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LANDING PLACES: A review by Dave Lordan




Dave Lordan poetry in Southword 18Dave 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.





Landing Places reviewed by Lordan in Southword Journal 18Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland

Eva Bourke & Borbála Faragó, eds.

(Dedalus Press, 2010)

ISBN: 978-1-906614-21-8

14.99 paperback




Buy from Dedalus




Is his the mark on my poet face

why I'm always a stranger 

from another place?

Jo Slade, ‘Time-Piece’


Estrangement is a common psychological setting of both poets and immigrants. Poets often write out of a linked unease with themselves and with their environments. Immigrants, whether or not they are poets, will all know some degree of the anxiety, and also the excitement, that accompanies coming ashore or touching down at unfamiliar landing places. In turn they are found strange or exotic by those who, by accident of birth and history, believe themselves the natural occupants of a placethough places themselves are naturally and infinitely indifferent  to who or what occupies them. It takes time and process for immigrants to refamiliarise and integrate with their new lands, if they ever do. In the meantime things and relations remain queer, quizzical, intriguing, suspiciousperhaps even hostile. This is all bad for one’s nerves perhaps but it is conducive to the heightened, agitated, interrogatory, synthesising frame of mind that produces genuine works of art, as this book proves over and over.


In Limerick-based writer and artist Jo Slade's ‘Letters to an Immigrant Poet’ she passes on the abyssal lessons of an absolute failure maybe it is an absolute refusal to be absorbed into her new homeland: “Trust me” she writes, “nothing is true/ not even the kindness which you cherish./ The city is a vortex of voices that cannot be heard/ above the noise of machinery and alarms./ Their nascent terror rises.”


Sharp, clear, true-ringing poetry like this is often written out of an extreme discomfort with and distrust of our surroundings, an irritating and persistent sensation that there is something missing from the world, some lack we need to make up with our own words, something that the world we encounter is not telling that we feel needs to be told. The fact that we write then declares our dissatisfaction, our difference. We produce our poem to say to the world: look this is what you have been missing, this is what has so far been unsaid! And we bask in our satisfaction briefly thereafter, we who have made reality unfamiliar to itself so that we can feel at home in it, a little, for a while. Restlessness and longing force us back to the notebook or the PC before long. 


Restlessness and longing are the lot of immigrants and they are core themes throughout Landing Places. The restlessness that corresponds to never quite fitting in and or to not ever wanting to fit in; the longing to leave, the longing to arrive, the longing for and the impossibility of finally attaining a “home” of some kind; the ceaseless flux of our surface-dwelling lives generating all kinds of longing fantasies for substance and depth, permanence and rootednessthese are all aspects of our human alienation that the experience of immigration magnifies, sometimes by many degrees. Tom Myp sums it all up sagely in ‘The Universal Difference’: 


In the universe of answers to

the universe of questions, 

just one recurs: “No, 

no: you can’t go home.”


Having to live in and through two or more different languages can aggravate immigrants' alarm at exile, rootlessness and separation. It can radically split the thinking self from the speaking self, throwing into question the notion of a fixed or reliable personal identity. In Anamaría Crowe Serrano’s ‘Identity’, bilingualism has exposed language, and the interior speaking self it is supposed to represent, as ‘an architecture of uncertainty’.  Its ‘broken machinery/ grinds inside the cranium/ murders meaning’. The cascading words here do not express the self, rather they presage its collapse. They are ‘bricks of babel/ stacked in the streets/ of my tongue’. Babel falls of course, and so does the self, inevitably. The rising is an aspect of the fall, preparing and predicting it. Serrano’s immigrant insight is into the brevity and self-undoing of all things. All words (and poems, and poets) can ever truly tell us is that they, and we, are going to die. The great forces socio-political, economic, climatic, whatever they might be  which have uprooted the immigrant and brought her here among us will obliterate the landing place too before long:


stumble on the failing memory

of wood on quay


dubh in linn


the landmarks are of loss

construction begetting 


Crowe Serrano, (untitled)


Aptly in this light, Kinga Olszewska addresses her philosophical begging ‘A Letter’ to Deluze and Guattari, the twin prophet-philosophers of ceaseless flux and unsettlement, of Babelian apocalypse. Olszewska pleads, in her reverberating, staccato lines, for “...a different planet/ Where we could all finish building our Urgemeinschaft./ ...Is this incessant movement absolutely necessary?/ Can we not just rest?”


Babel is also an immensely creative space, where new words and meanings are constantly being born. The striking innovation of Gabriel Ezutah’s phrasing in ‘The Tree of Love’ is a treat:


I planted my love on a mountaintop 

and used the meter of her cool shadow

to judge every cannibal spider.


Ezutah’s uncanniness makes one wish there was more "broken" (i.e. becoming and surprising Englishes) on display in Landing Places. Very many of the writers here are native English speakers, yet there are many writers in this country who do not speak English well. Perhaps there is another companion book to be published, in tandem with an army of translators, of those who can write natively, but whose English is not at a literary level?


However, many of the varieties of immigrant experience are very well documented and communicated in this book, which is surely one of the most sophisticated, diverse and thought-provoking Irish poetry anthologies ever published. For me Landing Places was, in the first place, a great reminder of the enormous cultural contribution of a significant wave of immigrants let's call them spiritual immigrantswho came to rural Ireland from Britain, continental Europe and North America seeking a pastoral overcoming of the urban burnout they were trying to leave behind. This was back in the 70’s and 80’s when Ireland was still pure periphery, a place in modernity’s Arcadian beyond that you escaped into in order to, as Zen Buddhism puts it,  “go to the mountain”, to withdraw from the rat race and immerse yourself in spiritual-ethical reflection and renewal.


I remember these spiritual immigrants well and fondly from my own childhood in West Cork. Many were artists of some kind. Manny Langer who set up the street theatre group Craic na Caoilte was a seminal influence locally, as was the late Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience who brought rock-and-roll and all that travels with her  to Main Street Clonakilty.  It is impossible to overestimate the immensely enriching influence immigrants like these had on our cultural life. Without them things would have been all mud and monotony, broken by the occasional outbreak of savagery. It would have been all priests and porter. 


In return the spiritual immigrants received some realisation of the countercultural idyll of a mystical peace, brotherhood, and community with nature. In the poem ‘Sister Skellig’ Chuck Kruger, to take one example, describes Cape Clear in terms of a weather-beaten Utopia, a drenched and gusty Shangri La at the edge of the world:


Force 12 & the roof poised & so what, 

mail delivered straight

to the living room table when we’re not home, 

keys left in the car, a sea pink

swaying in a child’s eagle eye, 

intimacy with rambunctious Mother Nature 

as existential as full flame 

under fish-filled frying pan. 

When I need help, or a neighbour mine, 

that’s it, off we go, 

straight as the evening flight of a hooded crow.


In the poetry of Annie and Theodore Deppe the metaphysical dimension of the imagination of the spiritual immigrants is most self-consciously depicted and evocatively realised. Walking a west of Ireland strand in ‘After Emergency Surgery’ Annie Deppe recollects: 


the vibrations of something

I could not see


keeping me company

throughout the night


though I remember 

no birds, or angels.


But there was something

like a sail


no paradise,

not even a lily


something, like

the trembling of sail.


The sail here, as well as visually and acoustically enclosing the Rumi-esque veil, which conceals the beyond while simultaneously signalling its existence, is the perfect emblem of a journeying, immigrant divine.


In his terrifying ‘The Singing’ Theodore takes a long distance call from his daughter as she is being threatened by an intruder. Eventually we learn that her neighbours have scared off the intruder. All through the ordeal the poet hears “something like a girl chanting the whole time ... singing on the line ...”


Immigration has brought the Deppes into contact with “the singing on the line” that consoles and connects together the fragments of the known world, making whole what history has broken up.


By contrast, Joseph Horgan’s poetry is as down to earth, Godless and unholy as a sack of cement, which is utterly suitable considering his subject matterthe post-war Irish immigrant in England. Horgan’s brief tableaus are slabs of memory, bare record, headstones. No ecstasy or visitations here. What there is to remember about our post-war diaspora across the water is mostly the exploited waste of their labouring lives, their ultimate message of hopelessness:


(they) emigrated with suitcases wrapped in string

to lie awake in another country

staring at their lives through the ceiling...

—‘Like Skin’


Exploitation, waste and futility also form the bulk experience of many immigrants in contemporary Ireland, as has always and everywhere been the case for so called economic migrants, not to mention asylum seekers. Evidently though, the worst off, though they may be numerous, do not write poetry. There are no mushroom pickers here, nor lap-dancers. No deportees either. These new wretched of the earth scrape by in the many places that poets and poetry do not currently seem willing, or able, to travel to. For now may they all have children as conscious and fearless as Horgan to lay them out and wake them in future poetry.



©2010 Dave Lordan



Author Links


Lordan page at Salmon Publishing

Three poems by Lordan at Blackmail Press

Entry at Irish Writers Online










©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

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