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Jennifer Matthews reviews Dave Lordan's newest poetry collection.




Jennifer MatthewsJennifer Matthews writes poetry and book reviews, and is editor of the Long Story Short literary journal. Her poetry has been published in The Stinging Fly, Mslexia, Revival, Necessary Fiction, Poetry Salzburg, Foma & Fontanelles and Cork Literary Review, and anthologised in Dedalus's collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places (2010). In 2012 she read at Electric Picnic with Poetry Ireland, and had a poem shortlisted by Gwyneth Lewis in the Bridport poetry competition. Her poetry was recognised in both the 2013 and 2014 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year competitions.

Photo © Dave Griffin






Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains

Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains

Dave Lordan

(Salmon Poetry, 2014)

ISBN: 978-1-908836-37-3

€12 paperback

Buy from Salmon Poetry




The personal is political. Feminist economist Heidi Hartmann explained this rallying cry in the following way: "Women's discontent ...  is not the neurotic lament of the maladjusted, but a response to a social structure in which women are systematically dominated, exploited, and oppressed." This is still a radical idea, that society and government are largely to blame for the personal distress of the downtrodden, rather, say, because of one's failure to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". Discontent in Ireland abounds, long after the Tiger's departure, and vast numbers are still suffering. Dave Lordan counts those who suffer in his tribe, variously listed as waifs, vagrants, rebels,  and ravers. "The tribe is my credo. That's all," declares his eponymous 'Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains'. This is a volume of poetry which attempts to give voice to the voiceless.

            Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains is Dave Lordan's most outward-looking of his poetry publications thus far. His earlier books include The Boy in the Ring (2008) and Invitation to a Sacrifice (2010), collections which (given the caveat that a poem's 'persona' is not necessarily the author themselves) appeared to deal largely with autobiographical struggles against bullying and depression, amongst other concerns. Again, the personal being political, the early poems reached beyond anecdote in relevance, to console others who may have been subject to the same dark assailants.

Often remarked upon by readers and critics was the insistent anger that was the engine to both books. The poet responds to this criticism in Lost Tribe with the poem 'Spin', where the narrator's interlocutor demands "What have you got to be so angry about? / .... Nice things, why can't we just talk about nice things?" She is personified "Silence"—not an agent of her own silence, but a source of wordiness that obliterates another's response. Language is not necessarily something to be trusted, according to Lordan’s poems. Words can be used to harass and badger us, as in ‘Fertility Poem’ where a father must invent “invisible letters” to neutralise graffiti his daughter is sounding out (attempting to turn “cunt” into “count”).      

            The blurb on the back of Lost Tribes declares that "the anger than often characterized the poems of Lordan's first two collections is transformed into profound explorations and expressions of loss, love and hope". I disagree. Despite the new abundance of praise and love poems (of a uniquely Lordan variety), the anger is (justifiably) still there. Not transformed, but transmitted in a different tone of voice which is more restrained in its craft. It's a bit too easy to assume that he who shouts the loudest is the angriest, forgetting that one of the most effective form of protest can be a calm, bold look in the eye—one that is simultaneously challenge and witness. For example, 'Discover Ireland' describes immigrant workers working on a line in the slaughterhouse, one of which ends his day "covered, head to toe, in hoof-shaped bruises. / Black-and-blue patches, / reminiscent of cowhide". The poet's approach takes employs a subtle distancing reminiscent of a short story writer, effective for allowing the reader their own experience of the event, rather than interpreting it for them.

            The poet addresses his tribe (his daughter, colleague poets, a pornographic film actress, suicidal young men, even personified Hope)  throughout the collection, offering encouragement and acknowledgement of suffering as he goes. Each tribe member is counselled on how to persist despite or circumnavigate the cruelties of life. A new forefronting of spirituality adds to the growth and variety in his work. In ‘Lost Tribe’ he chants “Strong is my faith./ Strong is my beat./ Strong is my magic.” We as readers not only confront bleak realities and confounding societal problems, but we also are nourished by poems that source ways and means to counteract and confront darkness. In ‘Lost Poem’: “So you’re lost? / Me too. // But don’t get downhearted. / Even nature is lost.” In ‘Love commands the neighbourhood’ there is a welcome encouragement to practise compassion. When the subject of the poem finds himself surrounded by thieves, mutts, and screeching young men, he is advised “Love them though they press you to white noise/ …. They are helpless like you are, they are helpless like sorrow”.    

            I found the measures of gentleness and encouragement in Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains were welcome additions to Dave Lordan’s work. Their existence alongside witness of systematic  abuse and anger at betrayal is necessary sustenance. No matter how dire things are, we need hope (battered and bruised as it is) to thrive. As Lordan says, in ‘Hope’:

Hope, ya ould mutt, I hear yer in bits
…But I ain’t ready tuh let ya
go jus’ yet. So get up. Get up. I said GET THE FUCK UP!
An’ c’mere and give us a hug and give us a peck
on the cheek, and give us a drag on yer spliff.




©2015 Jennifer Matthews



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Poems by Jennifer Matthews at Poetry International Web

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