AILBHE DARCY grew up in Dublin, graduated with a PhD from the University of Notre Dame, and now teaches creative writing at Cardiff University. I first became aware of her almost 20 years ago when she submitted a poem, ‘Gavrilo Princip’, to The Burning Bush, of which I was a co-editor.
The poem juxtaposed the fact Darcy herself was doing the Leaving Cert at that time, with the reality that, when he was around or about the same age, Princip was busy with the altogether riskier - and even more stressful - enterprise of killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event which set the balls rolling quickly towards WWI.
There was a note of half-suppressed admiration for Princip in that early poem of Darcy’s. I was hugely impressed at this teenage poet’s ability to reach out of her own immediate experience and draw such a parallel. Remember, these were the days when history was meant to be over and politics had been emptied of content. It was fashionable then for your common-or-garden literary upstart to hug the occasional tree and feel disproportionately sad about the death of Princess Diana, but to know nothing about politics, history, or economics; indeed the less you knew the easier life was likely to be. In this barren context Darcy’s quietly knowledgeable, and mildly subversive, poem stood out hugely.
In her second full collection of poems, Insistence, published by UK based Bloodaxe last year and shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize, it is clear that, though Darcy’s poetic voice has matured greatly in the intervening two decades, she still has at least one eye on the apocalypse, which is far more obviously at hand than was the case back in the very early years of this century.
In her outstanding and formally audacious 20 page long poem ‘Alphabet’, the hope brought by her becoming a mother does battle with dark thoughts about the state of planet Earth: “We are not doomed yet//juggle the numbers//some of us are doomed/but not the 3 of us//or not the three of us/just yet//or maybe 1 of us,/the smallest,//the 1 of us/still learning/numbers,//who doesn’t know/what 2 of us/are keeping to ourselves."
In this minor masterpiece of a poem, in which she makes repeated mantra-like use of the word “insists”, Darcy brilliantly melts the fake wall between the personal and the political, and there are moments of great tenderness infused with undeniable political implications: “kin insists, kin insists;/your pink cheek tucked up/with mine, not thinking/of solitude or extinction/of the whale in your book”.
Ailbhe Darcy is a necessary voice for this wild and crazy age, and she is probably the best Irish poet of her immediate generation.
Ailbhe Darcy will launch Poems for Patience at the Cúirt International Festival of Literature tomorrow at 11am at University Hospital Galway, and will read, alongside Mark Granier and Jessica Traynor, at the Town Hall Theatre, on Saturday at 11am. See www.cuirt.ie