GERRY GALVIN’S No Recipe, Where’s Katie by Elaine Feeney, Invitation To A Sacrifice by Dave Lordan, and In Other Words by Mary Madec are all evidence that the Irish poetic revolution of the last 20 years has now reached something like completion.
That revolution began with Paul Durcan startling audiences with his surrealist poetic tales and continued with the caustic, troublemaking, poetry of Rita Ann Higgins. Today however, it seems that those days when poetry was about woolly jumpers gathering in groups of fewer than eight in white walled galleries to sip rough white wine and share anecdotes about the late Austin Clarke are gone forever. We shall not see their likes again.
The handsomely produced No Recipe is the latest offering from the new Galway publisher, Doire Press. Gerry Galvin is a fine poet, who clearly spends a great deal of time looking for exactly the right word. I particularly enjoyed ‘Cocktail Party’, a satire on the chattering classes.
Like all the best satires it is written by someone with an intimate knowledge of the people in question: “We stand verbose in fractured groups,/balding men letting our hair down,/eavesdropping avidly and hearing nothing/but the heady buzzing,/as sense takes off into the light.”
The opening poem ‘Alzheimer’s’ - as devastating as it is true - is one Philip Larkin might have written, if he had been gifted with a little more compassion.
If Rita Ann Higgins is to have a successor, it has to be Elaine Feeney. I first got to know Feeney’s poetry back in 2006 in the lead up to her being a featured reader at the January 2007 Over The Edge: Open Reading.
Her poems are full of dissatisfied idealism which refuses to accept that things have to be as bad as they are. In poem after poem her wit makes her anger palatable for the reader. My own personal favourite is ‘Urban Myths and the Galway Girl’, a performance poetry masterpiece. ‘War March’ is a fine anti-war poem, which transcend the clichés. From its great pop art cover, on which Constance Markievicz brandishes a gun, to its last line, Where’s Katie? is a joy.
In Invitation To A Sacrifice Dave Lordan knocks things over, usually things which deserve to be brought low. ‘Bullies’ is about hearing that someone who had bullied him at school had recently committed suicide. He responds as most would, but few would admit:
“I let out a screech of delight. I was alone in my bedroom/and no-one was listening. Save him, I’d like to imagine.”
In ‘Spite Specific’ he meets a nun at an art exhibition. They end up talking about the abuse scandals and it does not end well. Lordan meets the brutality meted out to himself and others with an equal and opposite poetic brutality. The fact that this book exists and that Lordan’s previous collection won prizes is proof of how successful the Irish poetry revolution has been.
Mary Madec has been a regular participant in the poetry workshops I facilitate at Galway Arts Centre. So, I am biased in the sense that I was present at the birth of many of the poems in her debut collection, In Other Words.
In the title poem she takes a beautifully witty swipe at “the wise fellas/up at the university.” In ‘Pope Has Breast Cancer’ she looks forward to a time when we might have a Pope called Christina.
In ‘When They Told Me About My Brother’ she remembers the day she was told that her twin brother was autistic and how she “ran like the Ugly Duckling to a silent lake seeking cover”. I have long believed that Mary Madec is one of the best new poets we have.