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THE WILD PUPIL:
Dave Lordan reviews Kathy D'Arcy's newest poetry collection
Dave 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.
The Wild Pupil
(Bradshaw Books, 2012)
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The Wild Pupil starts with 'First Furniture', in which the poet, shedding hair around the house, confidently declares that she ‘will soon be shinily bald with possibility’.
It is the kind of dramatizing of the self-involved we find throughout the collection. Experiences which might normally be considered not worth mentioning are replete with meaning for this poet, who grants small, personal moments grand significance, and gives the minutiae of the body a fractal relationship with the whole being:
a fibrous thread
out of the nail bed
of my little toe
I neatly unravel.
If poetry proves anything, it proves that we are organically compelled to find a stable system of meaning somewhere. In The Wild Pupil D'Arcy turns the quest for meaning towards the body, its organs and its processes. "To have in this uncertain world some stay which cannot be undermined, is of the utmost consequence," wrote Mary Wollstonecraft, later to be quoted by Adrienne Rich, who determinedly relabeled and re-organised her self into a warmachine to take on the world and change its order and meaning. But such poetics remain interred for now in the cemetery of the 60s and, these days, at an individual artistic level, self-withdrawal is one understandably common method of trying to negotiate and survive the vertiginous present.
The danger lies in reifying and becoming dominated by traits adopted in order to survive. When we refuse a poetics of engagement, we run the risk of eventually being unable to engage or even to conceive of engagement, or of objects to engage with. Unwillingness becomes incapacity over time. So the non-selves we meet in this book – the many encountered others – appear as suggestions and impressions rather than beings of substance. Family members, boyfriends and work colleagues are never properly named and rarely speak or are spoken to. It’s hard to tell if the poet does not want (and does not want us) to see the others up close and in detail, or if she is incapable of seeing or describing such proximity. In any case, the self delightedly turned in upon itself is in not inclined to engage with others except on a mythical plane.
Therefore, we get the intoxicated and aggrandizing narcissism – the Plath-like self-coronation – of 'Plums':
They give me plums
but I leave them aside ....
.... and then
I accept them
one by slithering one
licking the liquid flesh from the bones
collecting the stones
(lines 1 - 2 and 9 - 12)
The body here is an erotic monster queen, a feasting oracle to which ‘they’ ritually tribute their surplus.
One of the most interesting things about this interesting book then is its treatment of the poet’s and other’s bodies—bodies that are often being picked apart, or torn open: "as your thorax springs open/ like an eye/ your heart/ the wild pupil," ('The Wild Pupil', lines 12 - 16). There are many such blockages, and many eruptions, in these sometimes bloody, often tense poems. One of the most body-shockingly memorable is 'Coil' where sex, birth, death and surgery conflate and hybridise and a monster is born, or unborn. 'Coil' is one of several Burroughsian/ Kronenbergian snippets which, among other curiosities, make the collection one worth reading and thinking about.
One sharp tug
it was out
my body contracted
she held up the squirming thing
filmy with blood
as though living (my emphasis)
Violent, bloody, pulsing and fearful imagery like this adds tension and, therefore, interest to The Wild Pupil by subverting its narcissism from the inside, implying that what is inside – what is being contained or what is contained within being – may also suddenly and fatally erupt. The body may, in fact, be just as savage and uncontrollable and as alien as the world we withdraw into it from. This is where the real fear lies. Death attacks us from within and without. The body’s chaos, like the world’s, is real and incipient, and ultimately deadly.
©2012 Dave Lordan
Dave Lordan home page
Lordan page at Salmon Publishing
Article on and poems by Lordan at Poetry International Web
Articles by Dave Lordan in Irish Left Review