The Cafe Review Vol. 27 Spring 2016: A Gathering of Irish Voices
Steve Luttrell, editor
XPress, Portland, 2016
76 pages, perfect bound, $10
Everywhere you go, it seems, there are people with a soft spot in their hearts for Irish literature. It’s a special-interest group, in a way, with a sort of heightened intensity of feeling about family or historical ties to the Old Country, or for the curiosities of the Irish Gaelic language, or sometimes just an affinity for W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney.
Here in Maine, I knew a press technician who was teaching himself Gaelic. Hugh Curran, a longtime Surry resident and poet who was born in Ireland, sends frequent email alerts about Irish poetry and culture. And Steve Luttrell, of Portland, also has these roots, and he traveled to Ireland last month to kick off the spring issue of his long-running Cafe Review magazine because it contains a healthy slam of poetry straight from contemporary Ireland.
The selections are diverse in subject matter, and relatively uniform in tone and tenor. From the 34 contributing poets, there are many angles on the Irish landscape (including several images from the cliffs of Moher) and on the relationship of language to both personal and sometimes political (a perennial Irish preoccupation) realities. And there are color reproductions of woodcuts by Nonie O’Neill and, in an inevitable nod to history, of oil paintings of Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan by Liam O’Neill.
The tone of the poetry is largely pensive and wistful, with exceptions of course, and many of the selections are focused on hyper-personal sensibilities, sometimes with highly didactic ramifications. Paula Meehan’s short poem “The Melter,” from a series titled “Geomantic,” begins: “I remember you well in Grogan’s. / You called it the Poet’s Horror Hole.” From John Liddy’s “Enigma”:
Motionless beneath die canopy,
birds hopped around the floor,
indifferent to human presence,
imparting lessons in humility.
Janice Fitzpatrick-Simmons’ “Easter Rising” opens pensively: “I lived inside a Shakespearean winter; malcontent, / agreeing to a poverty of the soul. And thus agreed / what followed was anger and regret.” And Jessica Traynor’s “Lost Things,” wistfully: “We are living now / in the era of lost things.”
Eileen Sheehan’s unusually terse “and he kisses you” offers a sort of hyper-personal melancholia:
he kisses you
tastes your loneliness
sings you a song
both beautiful and sad
he kisses you
tastes salt on your tongue
thinks he has healed you
when all he has done
is to agitate
the black ice in your heart
and he kisses you
Among the departures from the tone of high introspection are a couple of boisterously expressed poems by Ciaran O’Driscoll, a widely published poet from Limerick (Ireland) — “All right, this is what’s happening. / Andrew Motion will recite a poem, / then I’ll recite one. And then you can go home.” Another poem, “Close Call,” recounts in headlong detail a near-miss car crash from swerve of road to bend of back door, a moment of stunned shock in which the protagonist (“you”) momentarily believes herself dead, then discovers she’s living again and, making her way “back to the world of the living,” recirculates into her environs by seeking comfort from three commodious onlookers.
Luttrell launched the magazine last month in Galway where it was enthusiastically received, he said in an email. He gave readings there with poets Kevin Higgins, John Walsh and Susan DuMars, then went on to Limerick where he read with O’Driscoll and others. In Dublin he was received by Meehan, one of Ireland’s most prominent poets, and Theo Dorgan who named him an “ambassador of poetry,” and he took part in Toners Pub’s longstanding Staccato Reading Series. His visit wound up in County Cork.
“Ireland truly is the land of the poets!” Luttrell said from the Old Country.
If you’re one of those many aficionados of Irish poetry, you might want to pick up a copy of this well-edited selection of writings by poets presently practicing their craft in Ireland.
More information is available on the Cafe Review website www.thecafereview.com.
Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections every other week. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].