Mass, porn, and Nazi Party meeting minutes

IT WOULD be difficult to find three Irish poets more different from each other than Athenry’s Elaine Feeney; Belfast born, Galway resident Fred Johnston; and Dubliner Alan Jude Moore.

Reading Feeney’s The Radio Was Gospel (Salmon Poetry ), Johnston’s Alligator Days (Revival Press ), and Moore’s Zinger (Salmon Poetry ) one after the other, you are made confront the different things poetry can be.

Anyone who thinks poetry took a wrong turn after Kipling and needs to get back to manly rhymes and ti-tum ti-tum iambic pentameter should not read these three collections all in one go, if he – and it usually is a he – has not confirmed with his local hospital that there is a bed available in the intensive care unit. Such people may experience violent allergic reactions.

Feeney’s The Radio Was Gospel is ambitious in that it clearly aims to be understood not only by critics, academics, and other poets, but also by the woman in the hairdressers, the teenager on the verge, or indeed in the aftermath, of what Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan once called “seismic shifts at the school disco”.

Indeed, in ‘First Shift’ Feeney writes perfectly about that early sexual experience: “Ferocious scrawny kittens just born/stroking tongues longing for their mother’s teat.” However, despite the collection’s eye on the audience, nowhere does Feeney make the mistake of pretending – Joe Duffy style – to be more stupid than she is.

‘Little Picasso’ is a fantastically challenging love poem of sorts. In ‘Middle Ireland’ Feeney exactly describes those tens of thousands who borrow their thoughts from the Sunday Independent: “They are Saddam Hussein’s Shiraz Saåturday guests,/sipping from chipped Waterford crystal.” Her poem ‘Mass’ is a satirical triumph, religious practice has probably not been ridiculed with such smirking ferocity by an Irish writer since Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of A Tub.

Alligator Days is Johnston’s eighth collection of poetry. Johnston is capable of writing an excellent line, as the opening of ‘Bomb’ proves: “Weather’s drawing its nails down the door.” ‘The Way We Were’ is a fine poem about coming political catastrophes, after which we’ll: “creep back to the way things were/even if they are not quite the way they were”. Anger and disappointment lurk around poems such as ‘Insult’ – “Small lies make a fat round noise” – and ‘To My Daughter In Her Thirty-Fourth Year’ but are rarely expressed directly.

As George Orwell once said of DH Lawrence, Johnston is, mostly, a “change of heart man” in that he appears to believe the world would be greatly improved, if only other people would behave a little better. The most striking poem here, on a subject about which FR Higgins certainly never wrote, is the excellent ‘The Meaning of Pornography’: “An act of privacy as skulking/as a bankers’ meeting//Furtive, like theft, thrilling/as whiskey in a dry country.”

Alan Jude Moore is a rarity among Irish poets in that his influences are neither Yeats – certainly not the Yeats of ‘Easter 1916’ – nor Kavanagh nor Heaney nor any Irish poet. Instead, his guides are the great Italian Montale, Russian poetry, perhaps the French symbolists and, I think, Pablo Neruda.

His poems are not concerned with being fashionable and, yet, are strikingly modern. In the first two lines of ‘The Futurist’ his originality is on full display: “Somewhere there is your love/Lying in wait like an escalator.” Love has been compared to many things but never before, so far as I’m aware, an escalator.

‘The Power Station Looms Over The Bay’ is a socio-political poem of the most profound sort: “Rise rise twin chimneys rise rise above my mother’s street/of concrete gardens dying mechanics and crumbling railway arches.”

Into the mercilessly disquieting ‘Henry Ford’ Moore crams both “Nazi Party meeting minutes” and that far more sinister document “the early evening television schedule/of talent shows and pageants”. Zinger is a ground breaking work of singular quality.By Kevin Higgins

IT WOULD be difficult to find three Irish poets more different from each other than Athenry’s Elaine Feeney; Belfast born, Galway resident Fred Johnston; and Dubliner Alan Jude Moore.

Reading Feeney’s The Radio Was Gospel (Salmon Poetry ), Johnston’s Alligator Days (Revival Press ), and Moore’s Zinger (Salmon Poetry ) one after the other, you are made confront the different things poetry can be.

Anyone who thinks poetry took a wrong turn after Kipling and needs to get back to manly rhymes and ti-tum ti-tum iambic pentameter should not read these three collections all in one go, if he – and it usually is a he – has not confirmed with his local hospital that there is a bed available in the intensive care unit. Such people may experience violent allergic reactions.

Feeney’s The Radio Was Gospel is ambitious in that it clearly aims to be understood not only by critics, academics, and other poets, but also by the woman in the hairdressers, the teenager on the verge, or indeed in the aftermath, of what Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan once called “seismic shifts at the school disco”.

Indeed, in ‘First Shift’ Feeney writes perfectly about that early sexual experience: “Ferocious scrawny kittens just born/stroking tongues longing for their mother’s teat.” However, despite the collection’s eye on the audience, nowhere does Feeney make the mistake of pretending – Joe Duffy style – to be more stupid than she is.

‘Little Picasso’ is a fantastically challenging love poem of sorts. In ‘Middle Ireland’ Feeney exactly describes those tens of thousands who borrow their thoughts from the Sunday Independent: “They are Saddam Hussein’s Shiraz Saåturday guests,/sipping from chipped Waterford crystal.” Her poem ‘Mass’ is a satirical triumph, religious practice has probably not been ridiculed with such smirking ferocity by an Irish writer since Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of A Tub.

Alligator Days is Johnston’s eighth collection of poetry. Johnston is capable of writing an excellent line, as the opening of ‘Bomb’ proves: “Weather’s drawing its nails down the door.” ‘The Way We Were’ is a fine poem about coming political catastrophes, after which we’ll: “creep back to the way things were/even if they are not quite the way they were”. Anger and disappointment lurk around poems such as ‘Insult’ – “Small lies make a fat round noise” – and ‘To My Daughter In Her Thirty-Fourth Year’ but are rarely expressed directly.

As George Orwell once said of DH Lawrence, Johnston is, mostly, a “change of heart man” in that he appears to believe the world would be greatly improved, if only other people would behave a little better. The most striking poem here, on a subject about which FR Higgins certainly never wrote, is the excellent ‘The Meaning of Pornography’: “An act of privacy as skulking/as a bankers’ meeting//Furtive, like theft, thrilling/as whiskey in a dry country.”

Alan Jude Moore is a rarity among Irish poets in that his influences are neither Yeats – certainly not the Yeats of ‘Easter 1916’ – nor Kavanagh nor Heaney nor any Irish poet. Instead, his guides are the great Italian Montale, Russian poetry, perhaps the French symbolists and, I think, Pablo Neruda.

His poems are not concerned with being fashionable and, yet, are strikingly modern. In the first two lines of ‘The Futurist’ his originality is on full display: “Somewhere there is your love/Lying in wait like an escalator.” Love has been compared to many things but never before, so far as I’m aware, an escalator.

‘The Power Station Looms Over The Bay’ is a socio-political poem of the most profound sort: “Rise rise twin chimneys rise rise above my mother’s street/of concrete gardens dying mechanics and crumbling railway arches.”

Into the mercilessly disquieting ‘Henry Ford’ Moore crams both “Nazi Party meeting minutes” and that far more sinister document “the early evening television schedule/of talent shows and pageants”. Zinger is a ground breaking work of singular quality.

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