Kinship


White Coins
, James Byrne (87pp, Arc)
Boy Running
, Paul Henry (71pp, 9.99, Seren)
Several Dances
, Maurice Scully (157pp, Shearsman)
Selected Poems 1967-2014
, Trevor Joyce (143pp, Shearsman)


The kinship of poetry and music is long established, whether or not it is well remembered now. Are we in more of an age of poetry and the visual and akin to theatre and to chat? I'm not seeking to pigeonhole any poets here considered, and perhaps the category most evidently related to at least some of them them is the journal, the talking to oneself. Not new in poetry, of course, self-reflexion, woe or blessed, but it does, for a reader, often amount to the questions, am I interested in this person? Do I care what they have to say?

As the cover information tells us, James Byrne's White Coins
'refuses one defining aesthetic or mode of writing'; put more positively, he chooses several, at least in spreading the words variously about the page, some poems in stanzas, some more loosely spread, others as sonnets. Here is the opening of section one (of four) of the more streamy, 'River Nocturnes' [parenthesis as printed]:

      (Scrub moon requitals)

           Gemming white flints pearl up
            a transmutable necklace -

                          presage of jade
                                       as if Ferris-powered

              watercrowned / watercorridored
   at the dock birth

              the river snaked by
                           a wash of marble

The river snaking by
seems to me the giveaway. And through the book the language of juxtaposition, whatever the shape, has about it a watch-me and for my next trick; not mystery but plying cleverness. Which is not to say it is not fun and purposeful to himself alone.
             
Paul Henry's 'Boy Running' is announced as autobiographical. Pain is transmuted into cleverness of another kind, look at my woe so imaginatively and honestly expressed. The poems - including one sequence of separate poems - each fit on to a page. Here is the whole of 'A flock of bells...':

   A flock of bells  takes the air
   and you come to me, out of nowhere

   and I smile, knowing you'll visit me
   always, that this is how it will be

   till the last thread of an island
   slips through a bell-ringer's hands

   and they put me in the listening earth.


Looking to find something both of the real and the made, the necessary, it came, I thought at first, with the Irish. In parts, anyway. I mean reading what seems necessary to the poet who has the craft of a maker handling it. But even with Maurice Scully's 'Several Dances', you see it and you don't, in my reading of him.

   It's Saturday again & you
   sit down early to get some
   work done in the tradition
   of the First Strong Coffee &
   the Niggling Idea, the Private
   Space & the Public Domain.

This in the middle of two and a half pages (and by now I don't care) of Thread-Bridge'. There are other poems that wander as if wisely,

           Wind sand waves
            his as they
         make contact
           with what
           someone
       at some stage
    somehow got to call
             reality
           (I think)

(from the middle of 'Geometric'). I think I'd like him if I met and wandered with him - not that he'd much like me now - and I'd ask about his down-a-ladder poems, short lines, and whether I should read all his longer lines as poetry
. Here is the opening of a poem called 'Poems':

   The oldest seed ever known to germinate
   was a 2000-year old date-palm seed
   retrieved from archeological excavations
   of Herod's palace.

and so on, the lines and then words breaking apart about the page.

Irish poet Trevor Joyce's voice is not dissimilar, yet his Selected Poems
- all previously published - have more substance. 'Hopeful Monsters' is a bright six-page prose fancy ('When my great ancestor succeeded to the throne,...') and the final flow, 'Stillsman', seems a duty-bound thing and none the worse for that, post-James Joyce, post-Beckett, voice alone in the dance or on the run, ten pages unpunctuated, upper case, small print (tiny as it seems when you're faced with it).

The contrast with the rest of the book, in a small, quiet voice, in shortish or short lines, by way of some long poems or sequences or parts of, is by comparison homely. I 'hear his voice' - have never heard it -

   VII

        You high sad wrecks and views, you Rome
   all fake but for the name, you tombs
   that still hold safe the brief slight fame
   of souls long gone up to their Gods;
        arch that's pure win, spires shot up so
   they scare the sky, tick tick, too bad
   that bit by bit you end in ash,
   scarce worth a laugh, your spoil our source;

This is poetry, not mere talk or wordiness, as much of what these books offer is; Trevor Joyce is never far from song, which means voice as inherited and trained, nature's and culture's own.

   David Hart 2015