New Poetry from the Dedalus Press Reviewed by Malcom Carson and Ken Evans

*****

Gerard Smyth’s The Sundays of Eternity reviewed by Malcolm Carson

The Sundays of Eternity by Gerard Smyth. £11. Dedalus Press. ISBN: 978 1 910 251 713 14

The title of the first poem, ‘ Riddling the Ashes’, epitomises the majority of poems in this excellent collection. Nostalgia features heavily throughout. In the first section, ‘The Street’, it is exploited with beautiful effect:

The first sound I heard was anarchy when the herdsman
and his cattle passed on their way to the cattle ships.

And then in the second section:

It was where I wore my sheriff’s star,
my Robin-of Sherwood hat, where I saw the hearse
and funeral cars taking forever to pass.

So, no apologies here for looking back at where we come from, and why should there be? However, there’s a difference between nostalgia and self-indulgence, and Smyth has the wonderful ability of standing back from his past and expressing it with discipline and musicality. Look for instance at ‘Chesterfield Street’:

That summer was a scorcher,
denim danced with corduroy.
In the gallery we got to know
the portrait painters, the landscape gazers –
their Dutch skies, their idea of the sublime.

That last line takes us beyond the moment to when their lives were enriched. Notice too the gentle rhythm of the lines, something that is evident in the bulk of these poems.

In ‘Our First House of Marriage’, Smyth hints at the wider political scenario where their lives were lived:

I think of the days in our first house of marriage,
in our country of clouds that were black
like shadows on shadows, when hope and history
seemed to hang in the balance
between the bomber and the assassin.

In ‘Room to Room’, he beautifully conveys the life of a house:

In the house of bygones
everything has been kept:
crystal, lace, table linens,
the book of recipes for family dinners.

There’s a room for every purpose –
a room of hush, a room for the shouting match,
a parlour crammed with pilgrims’ gifts –
souvenirs dusted once a week.

There’s a room for hiding shame,
for sorrow and celebration.
The marriage bed shows its age.
It is as old as the marriage itself.

A young bride’s face, dulled by time
is pressed to the glass of a photo-frame.

The melancholy here is expressed with fine constraint, just as in the beautiful poem dedicated to the much-lamented cellist, Jacqueline du Pré:

Even in death, she touches us,
especially in that moment on the gramophone disc
or hissing cassette, when the orchestra stops,
sits dumb and she’s alone: no first violins or second strings,
no woodwind or brass assembly, only her cello
like the lyre of Orpheus at its most transcendent. (Cello Girl)

Smyth’s employment of pared down language and his exercise of discipline is further developed in ‘Burning the Manuscripts’ in which he describes when ‘My first manuscripts vanished in the fire…’:

The blaze was exuberant, it consumed
the whole songbook of my youth…

A lesson for all who imagine that everything they ever wrote is wonderful.

Smyth makes a lot of dedications to his poems, and writes beautifully of friendships. One such is ‘Nights at the Round Table’ in which ‘we are like seafarers in the harbour bar…’ where they have their ‘nostalgias for songs half remembered…’ Despite ‘A sign of age… when we keep forgetting / names from the morning roll call / but not the faces…’ there is little sense of regret, rather a celebration of the richness of life together with its attendant weaknesses.

There are poems where Smyth shows a restrained anger towards the destruction of our wider environment, as in Idolatry:

In the gap where the cinema used to be
instead of plush red seats there’s a garden of weeds,
a wall of graffiti where the big screen titles
once appeared in the dust of wild stampedes,
heroes and heroines in their close-up scenes.

In ‘News from Aleppo’, Smyth describes how:

In a city drained of all its colours
there is no trace of sisters and brothers:
they have vanished or departed,
daring to sail in leaky vessels.

The anger emerges when:

No one says Come in.
If they drown on the shores of Europe,
they rise again in fishermen’s nets.

And in a powerful diatribe dedicated to Thomas Kinsella, Smyth attacks the city planners for the destruction of communities and their histories, including the hiding places and escape routes of the ‘Rebel Irish’, and the places of those who sought refuge in our society, notably the Huguenots. His ire then finds its resting place as it becomes more personal, but no less emphatic as:

…[they] left no trace of the picture house
where the patrons paid half-price
to see Jim Hawkins sail in search of Treasure Island. (Taken)

‘The Rain in Armagh’ is a beautifully understated lament for what is likely to happen with the catastrophic Brexit shenanigans. In the likely event of the re-imposition of border controls, he describes how seamless his journey is at present, and has been in the recent past, moving between the Republic and the North of Ireland.

The green of the North
looked like the green of the South.
No shade of difference between them.
Slieve Gullion was as mystical
as the Cooley Peninsula,

the route of the Táin.

Accepting that a border exists, and is likely to exist for the foreseeable future, Smyth at least asks that it be as invisible as possible, just as the sparrows never have to stop think ‘Where are we now….’

Smyth, however, reserves his real anger for the monster across the Atlantic in A Remake who ‘has no answers from the heart… .’

The mask he wears is a Florida tan, his gang of sycophants
say O My Captain every time he croons his claptrap.

There is so much to savour in this wonderfully varied collection. One of the joys of reviewing is coming across someone whose work you didn’t know, and who you regret not knowing about before. Gerard Smyth’s is just such a one for me. A joy to read.

Malcolm Carson was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. He moved to Belfast with his family before returning to Lincolnshire, becoming an auctioneer and then a farm labourer. He studied English at Nottingham University, and then taught in colleges and universities. He now lives in Carlisle, Cumbria, with his wife and three sons. His two previous full collections, Breccia in 2006 and Rangi Changi and other poems in 2011, and a pamphlet, Cleethorpes Comes to Paris in 2014, were from Shoestring Press. Route Choice, published in 2016, is also from Shoestring.

*****

Gerry Murphy’s The Humours of Nothingness reviewed by Ken Evans

The Humours of Nothingness by Gerry Murphy. £11. Dedalus Press. ISBN: 978-1910251645

‘There’s a divide in the poetry world. There’s the attitude that if you write you must be serious. But that’s not the case. It’s much easier to get your message across with humour’, says the poet. In this, Murphy’s eighth collection, the Cork poet does his best to continue the Irish mythic tradition of the ‘Amadan Dubh’ or ‘Dark Fool.’ Never more serious than when playing the jester, ‘Rebirth’ opens with the line – ‘Too drunk to speak/I left the pub.’ He takes a shortcut home through a graveyard, trips over a grave-diggers’ shovel and falls headlong into an open grave, to be knocked unconscious: ‘after a deep, cradle-sweet sleep,/I woke to birdsong,/a narrow rectangle of clear blue sky/and trickles of clay/playing over my face.’ In ‘Lullaby for Samuel Beckett,’ the grave is again the entire two-line poem, quoted here:

Your mother is singing a melancholy stave
as she rocks your cradle over an open grave.

This is an image for the human spirit played as tragedy, for comic effect, and presented as farce. Murphy revels in making the tall tale fill with powerful feeling, in mostly short, simple lines, as ‘a joker of his own tristesse,’ as critic Robert Welch labels him.

Serious topics like religion, politics and family are raucously and alternately satirised, decried and lovingly realised. ‘Light’ verse can often be an interchangeable term for ‘comic.’ Murphy’s poetry may be comic but it is rarely purely light. Or rarely any one thing at all, but reads with a trickster’s delight in wrong-footing the reader and tying us up in second-guessing his intention. It’s Roger McGough on crystal meth. But Murphy can rarely be accused of gentle English understatement or wry, ironic distancing. There is an unmistakably dark Irish spirit presiding over these poems. In ‘Cannibal,’ fighting, aged ten with his brother, the poet claims to have taken a chunk of flesh from his sibling’s shoulder, ‘a piece of which/probably gristle/got stuck in my teeth. Howling and gnashing ensued…’ Here Murphy piles it on, as if the mere fact of cannibalism being alluded to isn’t sufficiently shocking-macabre, it has to be his own brother’s flesh and blood, and more than that, as if this doesn’t compound the shock-value sufficiently, he goes on to describe its’ appearance as, ‘a sizeable chunk’ and worse, its’ taste, as ‘gristle.’ But there is always the killer end-line, that when his mother sends him to bed without his supper for fighting – ‘hey, I had already eaten.’ This build-up of the grotesque, only to undermine it with a final, comic one-liner, typifies the constantly maverick, alert and shifting mind behind these poems.

Aside from political, religious and personal violence, often with a backdrop of death or the grave, another recurring image in this collection is of the poet in, or taking, a ‘backseat’, as in a ‘Brahms High’, where the poet, along with two large mates in the back of the foreman’s car, ‘in our cement-spattered clothes’, suddenly have a spiritual epiphany brought on, the poet thinks, either by being so squashed up on the back seat, where ‘We are beginning to get high/from lack of oxygen’ or because when the Brahms’ piece comes on the radio and the sound is cranked up, ‘…I am away,/out of the car, out of my body,’/soaring into the late afternoon air/above Parliament Bridge,/to the rousing strains of Gaudeamus Igitur.’ This poem seems to perfectly encapsulate Murphy’s poetic ‘take’, being at once earthy and absurd, and heavenly, intoxicating and powerful.

*****

Enda Coyle-Greene’s Indigo, Electric, Baby reviewed by Ken Evans

Indigo, Electric, Baby by Enda Coyle-Greene. £11. Dedalus Press, 202. ISBN: 978-1910251690

There is an intense attention to sound, music and light in this collection, riffing on variations of the colour blue. At the core – literally, in the middle of this collection of 64 pages, starting at page 32, is a dozen – eleven short lyric interludes and an ‘Intro’ poem, all of thirteen lines each – again all drawn from a wide variety of song. Schubert and Puccini feature as well as Sixties’ pop like the Beach Boys, Carole King, The Supremes and Beatles, and on to relatively recent acts like Arcade Fire and Tori Amos.

This sequence Coyle-Greene calls ‘The Blue Album – Eleven Small Self-Songs,’ echoing album titles by Joni Mitchell and Weezer, among others. Leaving aside the coyly ‘cute’ sub-head of ‘Small Self-Songs’, this sequence has an almost synaesthesic quality, where ‘notes/found somewhere’ are ‘earthed/in breath.’ ‘A piano played/the way a stream plays/over stones, a flow through/the notes like poetry.’ ‘A broad bench’ has ‘a shine/as high as C.’ Elsewhere, ‘the light seems/buttered as the vowels I taste/when I say California.’ In the Puccini based poem, No. 4, a man ‘is listening as we all would/were we able to hear air,/or defer to a moment before it’s gone.’

Light gains its own mini-sequence of three, nine-line poems – four couplets and an end-line – in ‘Friday, Saturday, Sunday, City.’ These seem about perception and the way light transfigures what we see. Glass is the perfect prism for exploring these fleeting variations as ‘strangers/only inches away/beyond the glass,/gone as soon as they arrive/on the pavement outside,’ describes the kinesis and play of light on people passing a window in front of the poet, all ‘in their own strange lives.’ The pane of glass as a barrier to knowing, as well as a prism, casting light. Or we see ourselves, ‘ghosted/in shop windows,’ having conversations ‘in the brittle glint of spring.’ There’s the Sunday melancholy of ‘in the rain/you hail a taxi, my lift arrives,/and I look back at you through glass/the wipers can’t quite dry.’ There is something passive is the passenger leaving in the taxi, rendered and ‘fixed’ in the light, and no wave or farewell kiss, just the light dividing the couple – intransigent and unassailable. The short lined, short poems here seem to ‘breathe’ more fully because of their brevity in the middle of the white space of the page, which almost seem to embody the light the poet is rendering, both powerful and emphatic, but also brittle, slight and elliptical, a fleet passing of brightness and shadow.

Ken Evans’ work has been longlisted for the Poetry Society’s National Competition (2015) and was highly commended in the 2015 Bridport Prize. His debut collection was shortlisted in both the Bare Fiction First Collection Competition and in the Poetry School/Nine Arches ‘Primers’ selection.

*****

Gerard Smyth’s The Sundays of Eternity reviewed by Malcolm Carson

The Sundays of Eternity by Gerard Smyth. £11. Dedalus Press. ISBN: 978 1 910 251 713 14

The title of the first poem, ‘ Riddling the Ashes’, epitomises the majority of poems in this excellent collection. Nostalgia features heavily throughout. In the first section, ‘The Street’, it is exploited with beautiful effect:

The first sound I heard was anarchy when the herdsman
and his cattle passed on their way to the cattle ships.

And then in the second section:

It was where I wore my sheriff’s star,
my Robin-of Sherwood hat, where I saw the hearse
and funeral cars taking forever to pass.

So, no apologies here for looking back at where we come from, and why should there be? However, there’s a difference between nostalgia and self-indulgence, and Smyth has the wonderful ability of standing back from his past and expressing it with discipline and musicality. Look for instance at ‘Chesterfield Street’:

That summer was a scorcher,
denim danced with corduroy.
In the gallery we got to know
the portrait painters, the landscape gazers –
their Dutch skies, their idea of the sublime.

That last line takes us beyond the moment to when their lives were enriched. Notice too the gentle rhythm of the lines, something that is evident in the bulk of these poems.

In ‘Our First House of Marriage’, Smyth hints at the wider political scenario where their lives were lived:

I think of the days in our first house of marriage,
in our country of clouds that were black
like shadows on shadows, when hope and history
seemed to hang in the balance
between the bomber and the assassin.

In ‘Room to Room’, he beautifully conveys the life of a house:

In the house of bygones
everything has been kept:
crystal, lace, table linens,
the book of recipes for family dinners.

There’s a room for every purpose –
a room of hush, a room for the shouting match,
a parlour crammed with pilgrims’ gifts –
souvenirs dusted once a week.

There’s a room for hiding shame,
for sorrow and celebration.
The marriage bed shows its age.
It is as old as the marriage itself.

A young bride’s face, dulled by time
is pressed to the glass of a photo-frame.

The melancholy here is expressed with fine constraint, just as in the beautiful poem dedicated to the much-lamented cellist, Jacqueline du Pré:

Even in death, she touches us,
especially in that moment on the gramophone disc
or hissing cassette, when the orchestra stops,
sits dumb and she’s alone: no first violins or second strings,
no woodwind or brass assembly, only her cello
like the lyre of Orpheus at its most transcendent. (Cello Girl)

Smyth’s employment of pared down language and his exercise of discipline is further developed in ‘Burning the Manuscripts’ in which he describes when ‘My first manuscripts vanished in the fire…’:

The blaze was exuberant, it consumed
the whole songbook of my youth…

A lesson for all who imagine that everything they ever wrote is wonderful.

Smyth makes a lot of dedications to his poems, and writes beautifully of friendships. One such is ‘Nights at the Round Table’ in which ‘we are like seafarers in the harbour bar…’ where they have their ‘nostalgias for songs half remembered…’ Despite ‘A sign of age… when we keep forgetting / names from the morning roll call / but not the faces…’ there is little sense of regret, rather a celebration of the richness of life together with its attendant weaknesses.

There are poems where Smyth shows a restrained anger towards the destruction of our wider environment, as in Idolatry:

In the gap where the cinema used to be
instead of plush red seats there’s a garden of weeds,
a wall of graffiti where the big screen titles
once appeared in the dust of wild stampedes,
heroes and heroines in their close-up scenes.

In ‘News from Aleppo’, Smyth describes how:

In a city drained of all its colours
there is no trace of sisters and brothers:
they have vanished or departed,
daring to sail in leaky vessels.

The anger emerges when:

No one says Come in.
If they drown on the shores of Europe,
they rise again in fishermen’s nets.

And in a powerful diatribe dedicated to Thomas Kinsella, Smyth attacks the city planners for the destruction of communities and their histories, including the hiding places and escape routes of the ‘Rebel Irish’, and the places of those who sought refuge in our society, notably the Huguenots. His ire then finds its resting place as it becomes more personal, but no less emphatic as:

…[they] left no trace of the picture house
where the patrons paid half-price
to see Jim Hawkins sail in search of Treasure Island. (Taken)

‘The Rain in Armagh’ is a beautifully understated lament for what is likely to happen with the catastrophic Brexit shenanigans. In the likely event of the re-imposition of border controls, he describes how seamless his journey is at present, and has been in the recent past, moving between the Republic and the North of Ireland.

The green of the North
looked like the green of the South.
No shade of difference between them.
Slieve Gullion was as mystical
as the Cooley Peninsula,

the route of the Táin.

Accepting that a border exists, and is likely to exist for the foreseeable future, Smyth at least asks that it be as invisible as possible, just as the sparrows never have to stop think ‘Where are we now….’

Smyth, however, reserves his real anger for the monster across the Atlantic in A Remake who ‘has no answers from the heart… .’

The mask he wears is a Florida tan, his gang of sycophants
say O My Captain every time he croons his claptrap.

There is so much to savour in this wonderfully varied collection. One of the joys of reviewing is coming across someone whose work you didn’t know, and who you regret not knowing about before. Gerard Smyth’s is just such a one for me. A joy to read.

Malcolm Carson was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. He moved to Belfast with his family before returning to Lincolnshire, becoming an auctioneer and then a farm labourer. He studied English at Nottingham University, and then taught in colleges and universities. He now lives in Carlisle, Cumbria, with his wife and three sons. His two previous full collections, Breccia in 2006 and Rangi Changi and other poems in 2011, and a pamphlet, Cleethorpes Comes to Paris in 2014, were from Shoestring Press. Route Choice, published in 2016, is also from Shoestring.

*****

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