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Dave Lordan reviews Daragh Breen's poetry collection





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.





Book cover imageWhale

Daragh Breen

(November Press, 2010)

ISBN: 978 0954461829

€8 paperback (incl. postage & packing)



Email November Press at novpress(AT)yahoo.co.uk to purchase Whale


An atmosphere of lonesome futility suffuses Whale from the opening poem on the King Whale, who eventually comes to rest:


in the freezing waters of the arctic

forevermore sending his lonely whale song

through his trembling vein-sack

looking for his lost mate


This is a book full of circular, anguished quests which end without the promised transcendence which first set them in motion, or end with a glimpse of an ultimate and commonly fated emptiness:

... all that we witnessed

as we stood in the

wet breathless fog


that drifted up over

the very edge of the world

was the vast loneliness

of ship’s foghorns

that sounded like


the death groans of whales

out on the vacant

invisible waters



Every man is an island, it seems. The collection is anchored in a haunted and gruesome maritime of earlier centuries, in seascapes, sea-wrecks, sea-journeys and sea animals. However, Breen also deploys a broad range of more recent cultural references, from silent movie stars to Beckettian cosmonauts, to explore human beings' separateness from the natural world and from each other. In some poets such referential ranginess is evidence of a shallow and whimsical approach, and only shows that they have read a lot of books or seen a lot of movies, without really engaging in anything. They are good consumers, and they can make an impressive list, that is all. But a poet has to be a producer of meanings and symbols as well as a consumer of them. Breen easily passes this test. The book is replete with noveltywith novel images and novel perspectives, many of them non-human:

we left the mother

to lick the wet slime of the birth stuff

from the calf’s bony form

as the early sun began

to glint like a fishing lure

through the grey clouds


Our isolation may be derived from our inability to feel for others. In fact, unfeelingness seems to be a condition of existence for the human species, individual and partial exceptions notwithstanding. We have turned the earth into an assembly line of horror, the animal kingdom into a bloodbath:

In the butcher’s giant freezer

the horses are hung for a week

from metal hooks

along gleaming railings

before their frozen skins

are broken off like bark ...

—'The Young Matadors'


But we are animal ourselves and the horrors we inflict upon our unweaponised siblings are a prophecy of what we will end up doing to ourselves:

But he didn’t realise that he could turn to turf

in there, be spilt from the pig's split belly

in blocks of earthy flesh and hair

and set to flame beneath

the spitted wealth of meat

in which he had found himself,

like a grotesque mother and child

separated at death

'Jonah in the Pig'


He left the abattoir with the realisation

that human flesh is indistinguishable

from pork...

'Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion'


The book loses focus somewhat in the final third and there are a couple of weaker poems which a proper editor would have weeded out.

I think, given the ongoing cutbacks which are nowhere near ending, self-publishing and micro-press publishing are going to be ever more central a part of the serious poetry scene. All such work will be improved by paying a few quid to some neutral and proficient editor to fine-comb and refine before going to print.

Slight weaknesses aside, I wholeheartedly recommend Whale as an original, heartrending, honest, and at times revelatory work of art, one which proves the artistic centrality of the poetry that goes on in the unacknowledged beyond of the literature machine.



©2011 Dave Lordan





Author Links


Lordan page at Salmon Publishing

'Surviving the Recession', Lordan poem at the Human Genre Project

Articles by Dave Lordan in Irish Left Review







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