MARTIN DYAR won the Strokestown Poetry competition when George W Bush was still in his first term and all was well with the world.
That it has taken Dyar most of the past turbulent decade to work towards his debut collection, Maiden Names, published by Arlen House, shows he is someone who takes the craft of making poems seriously. Indeed the line breaks are all where they should be.
In many ways Dyar, with his bias towards the rural and small town themes which are his comfort zone, is a very traditional Irish lyric poet. Dyar is different, though, to the common or garden purveyor of the Irish poetry pastoral in one important respect. He is a poet of startling originality.
The opening of ‘Wild Salmon’ is an example of the utter newness of the imagery that drives his poems: “Wild salmon, that’s what Peter used to call/the Charlestown girls,/the few that would appear in the small pub/a few times a year./And just as we couldn’t keep up with him in his swift/drinking,//we could never hope to match his handling of these/visitors.”
This is easily as good as anything Michael Longley has ever written.
Another similarly fantastic piece of work is ‘Tea With A Silage Queen’; and I say that as someone not generally given to praising poems with silage in them. ‘Independence’ is a heart-wrenching poem about rural male loneliness: “His mother and his sisters gave up on him/in his forties”. It made me think of my uncle Paddy who committed suicide during the floods of November 2009. Given such content, this book is in serious danger of being praised by John Waters. Don’t let that put you off. Of its type, Maiden Names is a near masterpiece.
Kevin O’Shea’s The Art Of Non-Fishing, published by Doire Press, is similarly the fruit of 10 year’s work. O’Shea began writing when he attended a creative writing class at Galway Technical Institute in 2001. He shares with Dyar a fascination with the storytelling possibilities of poetry. O’Shea is, though, very much a city poet.
‘Grocers’, will be of interest to those who, during the 1980s, were aficionados of Mick Taylor’s Bar on Dominick Street. If you ever spent an evening there talking about the Sandinistas over gruffly pulled pints of Smithwicks, you must read this poem.
O’Shea’s influences are many. His quite experimental poem ‘The Surrealist’ ends sharply with the lines: “This will be my last painting./I haven’t dreamt in years.”
‘Drinking Everyday, 2012’ is after a poem by that monumental crank, Kingsley Amis. It opens with the beautifully harsh lines: “Fat priests piss me off/like Ryanair baggage charges”. In the perfectly formed ‘Questions for Macky’ and ‘New Trick For Jessie’ he proves himself master of the lyric everyday. The opening stanza of the later is fine poetry indeed: “The vet looks more like a/professor of lost languages,/perpetually sad at their passing,/than a handler of departing animals.”
Perhaps the most complete poem here, though, is the barbed political five liner ‘Democracy’: “The day after the election/I cleaned out my Nationwide account,/filled my satchel at an unfinished estate/with palm-sized and weighted rocks/and went looking for the chanting crowds.”
A fine debut collection, this. O’Shea is a poet of many talents. I have no doubt that, as he goes on, and his subject matter becomes ever more clearly defined, O’Shea’s subsequent collections will be of even great interest. This man has a future. And it is poetry.