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Jennifer Matthews reviews Dave Lordan's latest collection



Jennifer Matthews reviews Dave Lordan's Invitation to a Sacrifice

Jennifer Matthews was born in Columbia, Missouri in the USA. After studying for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Northumbria she moved to Cork, Ireland in 2003 and continues to live there now. Aside from reviews, she also writes poetry and has been published in Mslexia, Revival and Poetry Salzburg, and has read her work at the New Writers Showcase in the Heaventree Poetry Festival in Coventry, UK. In 2010 she was anthologised in Dedalus's 2010 collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places.




Invitation to a Sacrifice reviewed in Southword Journal OnlineInvitation to a Sacrifice

Dave Lordan

(Salmon Poetry, 2010)

ISBN: 978-1-907056-44-4

€12 paperback


Buy from Salmon



It is important and awful that in the year this book is published Ireland is dealing with questions of economic sovereignty, the fallout of murders and suicides of the depressed and unemployed, and the absolute disregard and abuse that a government has inflicted on its own people. Students who have protested exorbitant fee increases were beaten, making the message clear: say nothing, do nothing, deal with your pain quietly and in private. Sure, we can develop our own economic recovery plans down the pub, re-tweet scathing newspaper articles and sign a multitude of petitions but there remain defeating feelings that nothing can be done and nothing will ever change.

            Lordan confronts this ambiguity in the book’s title poem ‘Invitation to a Sacrifice’. The reader is an omniscient presence, witness to an impending rape. He asks, if you could:


            stretch a giant hand

            and raise her from this picture

            would you?


            You would?


            And then what would you do with her?


Even if we ‘save’ the victim, it doesn’t take away the violence already done to her. Damage is done.

            Invitation to a Sacrifice is divided into five sections:  Surviving the Recession; Nightmare Pastoral; Somebody’s Got to Do Something; The Methods of Enlightenment; and a resurrection in Charlesland. There is a great variety in form, from raging monologues to tight, haiku-like verses. Like his first book, Boy in the Ring, he excels at creating a ‘collection’. The poems work together to form an encyclopaedia of our modern dystopia, but also stand alone as independent pieces dealing with single issues. While his first book was more biographical, his newer work weighs in more politically. With Lordan, however, the personal is always the political (and vice versa). This isn’t work that co-opts pain from a news story in order to borrow gravitas, as some lesser poets have vainly done. This is work that barks and bites.  

            The first two sections contain several poems (‘Invitation to a Sacrifice’, ‘Surviving the Recession’, ‘Bullies’ and ‘Site Specific’) which are some of the most powerful in the book. They employ a conversational voice which engages you, makes you complicit and demands a response. However conversational they are, they don’t skimp on artistry. In ‘Site Specific’, the poem begins as a seemingly straightforward story of visit to a workhouse exhibition. An altercation with a nasty nun follows when she denies there was abuse of children, and suddenly the elements of reality (the event, the space, the people) fall apart. It is up to the narrator to recombine the elements, reconstructing a picture which is more truthful, of the neglected children who’d:


            called and called and called


            telling me and my Aidan musician bud

            that a phantasmagoric real nun contemporary


            was on exhibition today in a spitehouse. 


The nun isn’t left off the hook. Neither is the bully, the heckler, or the politician. There is no ‘turn the other cheek’ or forgiving psychoanalysis of those who commit acts of violence. This can make for difficult reading—joy is expressed when a bully commits suicide, for example. The nun is called a wanker.  But this makes us aware of how often it is expected of victims to be inhumanly angelic—to pray for their oppressors, to understand or accommodate them in some way when they’ve undergone such unspeakable torture themselves. Lordan has the bravery to confront the virtue of (societally enforced) forgiveness, and ask if this is really victim blaming, if this is just another form of violence.

            A few of the poems in the first half I felt were alternatively a bit heavy handed (Clonakilty drowning in sewage) or undercooked when compared to powerhouses such as ‘Site Specific’. In ‘Funeral City Passeggiata’ (a favourite of several other reviewers) the target of the parody was unclear to me; I wasn’t sure if this was in reference to Italian culture specifically, or if passeggiata was being borrowed to describe a generalised class of image-conscious people. While the beginning of the poem uses unique, startling figures of the living dead (‘girls with the surgical tits/ and mannequin heads’) and causes of death (policemen, ‘beating dead gypsies and junkies to death’), the poem leaves them behind. It tries to incorporate so much over its seven pages that the centre doesn’t hold and the reader isn’t sure what to take away with them.

            The second half of the book, however, is packed with work that is innovative, important and profoundly moving. He roasts consumerism and greed to cinders in the ‘Legends of Dundrum’ series and his perfectly constructed long poem, ‘a resurrection in Charlesland’. (This a poem in the vein of ‘Howl’ which, by all rights, should be read in the Dáil while bankers, developers, and prominent members of Fianna Fáil are locked up for thievery). 

            In this collection, ‘Surviving the Recession’ will surely be most people’s favourite, as intelligent, rollicking, and accomplished a protest as it is. For me, though, the most interesting work is the entirety of the fourth section: The Methods of the Enlightenment. A group of six prose poems, they seem to well up from the subconscious, employing the voice of author’s alter ego ‘Vade Nadrol’ (an anagram of Dave Lordan). The poet shows the ultimate respect to his readership here, leaving them to tussle with a shift in consciousness, abandoning facile messages or easy metaphors. These are poems we are meant to be experienced and returned to, abandoning a need for literal, immediate meaning. Running throughout these pieces are threads of what it means to be a writer; the relation of arts to government, academic and social structures; pain, self-deprecation, power and dominance; visions of beauty and of horror. And ever present is Lordan’s mastery of the sound and rhythm of language. “Walk on I will, through all of this albumin, towards the eggshell, towards zero’s edge, towards the fate of work and presidents and horses.’ Indeed, he will.



©2010 Jennifer Matthews






Author Links


Interviews by Matthews with various poets through Ó Bhéal

Matthews poems on Poetry International Web

Yank Refugee in the PRC (blog)





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