Sarah Clancy - Galway’s wandering minstrel

FOR THOSE who have seen Sarah Clancy recite her poetry, the title of her latest collection, The Truth & Other Stories, published by Salmon, will come as no surprise.

Always challenging, somewhat defiant, Clancy does not mince words, and, using a rhythm and delivering with a style that any self-respecting rap artist would be proud of, berates and derides the status quo incessantly, but always with a sense of humour.

Although this is only her third collection, it seems as if Clancy has been around forever, a natural descendant of the Galway that emerged in the 1980s when the nascent Salmon poetry movement fostered such poets as Mary O’Malley, Rita Anne Higgins, Anne Kennedy, and Eva Bourke.

Despite the fact she has already published two collections, her reputation is based not on her written work but on her rendering thereof whether it be on a soapbox in the marketplace square or more formally in the green pastures of NUI Galway. Her delivery is original, lively, feisty, and without apology. She is aware, however, that she is serving a literary apprenticeship and has been working extremely hard to reach a maturity in style and language that will in essence be her true poetic voice.

The Truth & Other Stories is a major step towards this. Despite her hesitation in the introductory preamble, ‘Cold Case’: “Let’s not go in there/sharp-stick poking/turn now with me – this time/let’s keep on walking.”

In the first poem ‘Pagan’s Votive’ she sets out her table fairly and squarely:

“I pray that I will write/a disassociated poem that floats me with it/to somewhere without bitterness/I pray that I will wear it/like a scapular against cynicism/and that it will act as agent/to distil my anger into action/I pray that on pet days like this one/that somehow finds me/in the sanctuary of St Bridget’s well/beside a young person grieving/that it will make me able/ that it will make me gentle.”

At first glance this is not the Sarah Clancy Galway has known. Immediately however Galway’s rapper is back in full flow as her second poem begins: “…for the striving, for the starlings all fetched up by cold/for the crow and his shriekery, for the everyday ebb/and its thievery, for the lap-dancing punters who look/into the faces of the prey they exploit, for the do-gooders/who wouldn’t, the god-be-with-yous and for the dot the dot the dot the dot.”

What follows is an amazing panorama of thoughts, beliefs, savage attacks, lyrical and romantic interludes, sometimes stinging, sometimes cajoling (one of the poems is entitled ‘My Thoughts Are Carrots My Thoughts Are Sticks’ ) never sequential, a whole dam burst of words that leaves the reader breathless and bewildered. As the collection develops, out of this existentialist mayhem, a synthesis, albeit a fragile one, emerges and Clancy attempts to reach a deeper level of honesty and truth:

“Somedays I am applicant,/somedays I am unsuccessful applicant/or one of more hundred highly qualified applicants/most days now I am not disappointed by this/because I had to make some cuts/and first I severed the part where hope lives/yes that was severe but remember/ we’re all suffering here”.

Eventually she seems to find her place and a basis to work from:

“And I know about Mahon who seems to conclude/that the only true poetry is not to write it/but he does anyway just not so very much/as he used to, on the way back I passed the postman/and made him a symbol of something/of structure and timekeeping and capitalism/and I thought I am a prisoner of theory and culture.”

In its totality, this is possibly the most important poetry collection to appear this year, not only for its energy and vibrancy, its word power and its intriguing rhythms, but also because of the poet’s honesty in admitting freely of her aesthetic fragility. In doing so, she has taken a massive step towards poetic maturity and has fully served her apprenticeship.


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