Poems that cross all boundaries

IN THE early 1980s Eva Bourke was an active participant in Galway Writers’ Workshop, when the group used to meet in a room above Taylor’s Bar.

Her debut collection, Gonella, was the very first book published by Salmon Poetry. The most important idea to emerge from that long gone room above Taylor’s is that you do not have to be dead to be a poet.

Yes, the great poems of the past are a well from which we will forever drink, but poetry is not the property of any imagined elite, dead or otherwise. It is something anyone can try, and many can do well, if and it’s a big ‘if’ they work hard at it.

A couple of years ago while doing the weekly shopping in Dunnes, I was approached by a woman who told me she had written a poem and was wondering if I would have a look at it. She took out her poem and I read it, as we both stood by the fruit’n’veg.

I offered her a few suggestions and then went in search of blueberries. I doubt very much if this woman wants to be a Yeats or Shakespeare, but isn’t it great that poetry is now something that can be discussed while you do the shopping on a Friday afternoon?

Eva Bourke is one of a group of now established Galway poets who did their bit to make poetry something it’s OK for women buying broccoli in Dunnes to think about, and even to write. For this she deserves the respect of everyone who values poetry.

Her latest collection, piano (Dedalus Press ), is expansive to say the least. There are more than 100 pages of poetry here. The poems range from the very short and formal, such as ‘Boston Underground Haiku’, to the 12 page prose poem, ‘Journal from the Mirrored Cities’.

Her subjects vary from ‘A History of Photography’ - peppered with epigrams from Susan Sontag, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Roland Barthes – to the apparently mundane ‘As if mid-tilt’, about a journey on the Galway-Dublin train.

Trains feature in several poems. The first poem in the four part sequence ‘The Heart of Things’ has a particularly powerful opening: “At the station, newspapers, hot/coffees, the metallic smell of departure”.

I greatly enjoyed the prose poem, ‘Memoir’, with its stark opening: “The story of my life will never be written”. ‘Lacrimae rerum’ is a satirical masterpiece, and I would not until now have thought of Eva Bourke as a satirist.

The poem’s subject is, among other things, the German sense of humour. The poem opens with the statement “German jokes are no laughing matter” and picks up speed from there. Like all the best satires, it dazzles the reader to such an extent that you’re unsure whether Eva is laughing at her fellow Germans, or at you. ‘Lacrimae rerum’ is a great weapon against self-pity and humourlessness and is certainly my poem of the year so far.

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