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New publications by Louis de Paor & Gabriel Rosenstock

reviewed by Cal Doyle




Cal Doyle

Cal Doyle’s poetry has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including The Penny Dreadful, The Burning Bush II and Penduline. An alumnus of Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series, he has participated in many literary events and festivals around the country. A bookseller by profession, he also works as the poetry editor for The Weary Blues. He divides his time between Cork and the internet.






The Brindled Cat

The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale's Tongue

Louis de Paor

(Bloodaxe Books, 2014)

ISBN: 9781780371092

€14.91 paperback

Buy from Kennys.ie

Flea Market in Valparaiso by Gabriel Rosenstock

The Flea Market in Valparaíso

Gabriel Rosenstock

(Cló Iar-Chonnact, 2014)

ISBN: 9781909367746

€7.50 paperback

Buy from Cló Iar-Chonnact




In The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale’s Tongue we are treated to a substantial bilingual selection of Louis De Paor’s poetry; a translation that is not only long overdue, but one that feels like a necessary part of contemporary Irish poetry (in English) has been missing for quite some time. De Paor might not be too thankful for this locating of his latest volume in the context of the wider English-language poetry that is written on our island, but this reviewer cannot speak, nor read, as Gaeilge and as problematic as that may or may not be, we shall proceed none the less.


The poems in The Brindled Cat span the length and breadth of De Paor’s career, and they seamlessly shift into and around an impressive range of pitches and registers as the book progresses. From the early, erotically-charged ‘Rain’ where we find a young, male speaker inhale the “perfume she wore in her teens / shot through / with the alchemy of her body / —sea, grass and fuschia” before the young couple become assimilated into the cityscape that surrounds them, to the poem ‘Didjeridu’, an essay in displacement, and a study on the disconnect between the stranger and the strange land (“parrots / red / will perch on your scalded shoulders / and a sarcastic kookaburra / make[s] fun of your scorched white feet”), through to poems of fatherhood, like ‘Daughter’ in which the eponymous daughter finds herself in her own palms, rendered as a “champion’s portion of light / in cupped hands, never spilling a drop”, we learn that De Paor is to be considered no less than a formidable poetic force. He is the classic poetic seer who finds the universe in the grain of sand, and vice-versa. His ambition, aesthetics, politics, and personality all converge and interact in their highest, most sweetly distilled form in ‘Foreign Affairs’ a longer poem which is surely the books crowning achievement, a poem of “metaphysical space, / of course, the fields of culture / and language as well / as the land itself”.

One of the book's (incredibly few) weak points is the idiosyncratic introduction which accompanies the poems. In the introduction (and, indeed, the blurb) the author invokes “the more destructive aspects of translation” and takes the step of rejecting the modernist, Poundian tradition of poetic ‘versions,’ which is as absurd as it is surreal. As a result of this intervention in the text, the English language reader can only feel that the book they hold in their hands as being damaged goods, somewhere in which reading becomes a transgression, or a treason against something ‘higher’, something ‘pure’, something that they might rather have nothing to do with, not even remotely, which is an awful shame, because De Paor is almost certainly to be considered a Major Poet and this book comfortably stands among some the finest books of poetry published, in any language, in recent years. 


 Another recent bilingual selection of Irish language poetry to be accompanied by an idiosyncratic introduction is Gabriel Rosenstock’s The Flea Market in Valparaíso, but in this instance the introduction’s only problem is its barely concealed fanboyish tone, but the essay offers a brief and informative introduction to the Irish language poetic tradition. It is written by Cathal Ó Searcaigh and highlights the more positive dynamic involved in the process of translation by checking Rosenstock’s own remarks that “translation [is] like a blood transfusion between friends”. Instantly the English speaking reader finds themselves in welcoming, if highly surreal and playful, territory where “the fish / yearned for the star / a quiet scream tells us this”.


Rosentstock draws upon, and works within, a large swathe of international poetic traditions (most notably those in the East) and as a result the book works as a smorgasbord of poetic delights where “only the odd / migrant bird / would nest”. As funny and playful as Rosenstock is famously noted (‘Apology’ being a prime example), there are poems that are resolutely unafraid to inhabit traditions which open some uncomfortable contemporary truths about disconnection, the body and alienation, like in ‘Xolotl’, a dream—“desert / the best of company / without envy / copulating / endlessly / without lust / without desire”, or poetic explorations of witness and artistic responsibility like in ‘Lines written during the Gulf War, January 1991’. Rosenstock, however, is primarily a lyric poet of the personal and the erotic who sights “the strange new shape / crawling on all fours / like an animal lost in the woods”, a poet who “understand[s] the gentle speech of stones.”


Although they are both completely different, these two books reinforce the importance of translation in this country’s poetries. De Paor and Rosenstock are crucial Irish language poets and these new selections should rightly place them at the fore of our collective poetic consciousness.       


©2015 Cal Doyle


Author Links


Poems by Cal Doyle in Burning Bush 2

'An Evening Prayer': a poem in Penduline (Issue 9)

Poems and reviews by Cal Doyle in Southword






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