IN THE way he presents his work at readings, Billy Ramsell has much in common with other poets who have emerged from the spoken end of the poetry spectrum during the past decade.
Unlike most of them, his poetry is devoid of politics. Ramsell never goes in search of things it is safe to be against. Neither is he a scribbler of little lyrics about his begonias. In his new collection, The Architect’s Dream Of Winter, his second, published by Dedalus, he tackles one of the great issues; our ongoing relationship with machines.
‘Your Call Is Important To Us’ is a gorgeous satire on our attempts to get through to those companies which always take our money by direct debit, and so never need to get through to us. In ‘Half Time’ Ramsell has the Greek deities - Zeus, Aphrodite and all that crowd - gather together to watch a National Hurling League match on television.
‘From the Unconceived’ gives voice to all the potential sons, daughters, sisters and brothers you will never have: “Here are the daughters you permanently exiled/that night you didn’t let him pull your pants down/in your breath-hot postered bedroom/and on those nights you stayed faithful,/and on the nights you took recommended precautions.” It is a poem which will probably get anti-abortionists excited, but it has more in common, I think, with Richard Dawkins’ statement that we are the lucky few “who won the lottery of birth against all odds”.
The Architect’s Dream Of Winter is full of big ideas brilliantly executed.
Another second collection is Celeste Augé’s Skip Diving, published by Salmon. She writes passionately and only on things she really cares about. There is a glorious economy to the language; Augé is not one to fatten out a poem with adjectives. Most striking in this regard is the perfect five line ‘Insomnia’:
“I have come to like the hours/spent awake in bed,/the house silent,/everyone else put safely away,/ like clean dishes.”
Augé’s approach in some of her feminist poems challenges pre-conceptions. David Wheatley has opined that the work of Eavan Boland, probably our premier female poet, suffers from an “absence of any discernible sense of humour”. This is certainly not the case with the work of Celeste Augé.
In ‘Absolution’ - a poem in which she alludes to the Magdalene Laundries - she writes “I, too, have sinned,/in several different religions./(Roast pork, assorted blasphemies,/not to mention the fornication. )”
In ‘Leda Revisited’, Augé writes about the symphysiotomy scandal. It is not an easy subject from which to make a poem. For one thing, it is already so associated in the public mind with tragedy and pathos, that irony is almost the only way to achieve the originality towards which every poem must aspire.
The poem opens with a savagery entirely appropriate to the circumstances: “There’re worse things than being fucked by a swan”. A perfect beginning for such a poem in that it will offend all the right people.
Skip Diving is one of the best poetry collections I’ve read this year.