Tag Archives: Poetry Reviews

New and Renewed

New and Renewed Poems 1967-2004

New and Renewed
New and Renewed Poems 1967-2004

New and Renewed
Poems 1967-2004
Dublin, New Island Books 2004
ISBN 1904301568

PRICE: €9.99

New and Renewed can be ordered from New Island Books.

Such exceptional talent – Samuel Beckett

NEW AND RENEWED
Poems 1967-2004
Review by Philip Casey
The Irish Independent
23 Oct 2004

Brian Lynch’s poetry and its rhythms have beguiled me since reading a poem called Panic Stricken Love in his chapbook Outside the Pheasantry, (1975). This poem was included in his collection Perpetual Star (1981), as Panic Stricken, and here it is named Panic. Other than this, not a word has been changed from the original. Other poems have been altered, of course, hence the book’s clever title. The Jews Escape (‘the yellow stars are ours’), previously entitled Ghost House, is practically a new poem.

In New and Renewed, Lynch has not only written powerful new work, but has examined the premise of each line and phrase to realise the full potency of that previously collected. It is a very potent collection indeed, and not just because its theme is often Eros in the everyday.

Even when the poem is not overtly erotic, a sensual energy pervades it. Without artistry it would be as nothing, of course. Lynch’s hard-won imagery stays long in the mind, and is marked by interplay and interdependence. Take Pension Alcoy, which has also had its lines and line breaks renewed. In the original I loved ‘To be empty you must be played upon’, but the change seems exactly right, the gong reverberating through a thousand windows until stillness reigns:

To be open you must be empty
To be empty you must be struck
As if you were a gong.

Outside the window
The window is open
Its window is open
And a thousand more
And suddenly there is no more Mr Lynch.

This interplay and interdependence underscores the noted humanity of Lynch’s work, and is its hallmark. Relationship is central, and meditations on the death of parents, the regrets of love, the complexities of marriage, and the mysteries of parenthood uncover deep emotion, as with the daughters of Myth:

But when they do return
The house is empty in the sun,
Mother has gone north or south,
And, there now, fatherless,
The door is wider than it was,
Or wider than they thought.

The book ends with powerful political poems, including an eleven page excerpt from Angry Heart, Empty House, entitled The Murder of Margaret White, which really belongs in a book of its own. It is based on a harrowing true story, and will stalk your dreams.

Brian Lynch’s poems have always been haunting. With New and Renewed Poems it seems inevitable that he will be given the wider recognition he has so long deserved.

Philip Casey

PITY FOR THE WICKED

Pity for the Wicked
Pity for the Wicked. Photo of Margaret Wright © Pacemaker

PITY FOR THE WICKED
Brian Lynch
Published 9 May 2005 The Duras Press
ISBN 1-873748-16-7
PRICE: €15

Pity for the Wicked can be ordered from The Duras Press.

What the critics said

“Brian Lynch’s extraordinary testament is like a shattering alarm in the middle of the night.” – Gerald Dawe, The Irish Times. Full Review

“Brian Lynch does Irish society a service by tearing the mask from murder and terror, by dispelling the fog of romanticised amnesia in which horror is embalmed as history is rewritten to justify a campaign of murder, by trying to restore the meaning of language.” – Maurice Hayes, The Irish Independent. Full Review

“One of the most devastating critiques of the savagery of the Troubles and of the hypocrisy of the ‘peace process’.” – Dennis Kennedy, The Belfast Telegraph. Full Review

I believe that the publication of Brian Lynch’s book will contribute to the isolation of Sinn Féin-IRA, and their eventual disappearance from the political map of Ireland.” –Conor Cruise O’Brien, from the Introduction

In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert
In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert
Written between 1993 and 1996, Pity for the Wicked is a contemporary depiction of a momentous period in Irish history. It was first published in a slightly different form in The Ring of Words, the anthology of the 1998 Arvon Foundation/Daily Telegraph International Poetry Competition under the title An Angry Heart, An Empty House. About the section of the poem that deals with the murder of Margaret Wright (which was published separately in New and Renewed), Philip Casey said in The Irish Independent, ’It will stalk your dreams.’ Fiona Sampson said in The Irish Times that ’it is a shaming, difficult and necessary read; and worth buying the book for in its own right.’

from The Cowper and Newton Museum Bulletin Spring 2006, by Tony Seward

The Winner of Sorrow
The Winner of Sorrow
THE WINNER OF SORROW
Brian Lynch
Published October 11, 2005
New Island Books
ISBN: 9781905494255
PRICE: €11.99

from The Cowper and Newton Museum Bulletin, Spring 2006

Brian Lynch, The Winner of Sorrow: a Novel (Dublin: New Island, 2005)
ISBN 1 904301 80 0, paperback, 338 pages

Brian Lynch is an Irish poet and scriptwriter: this is his first novel. It is a richly textured, tragi-comic exploration of the life of William Cowper, a fellow-poet with whom he clearly feels a deep affinity. He insists that it is not a biography, but it would be fair to classify it as ‘fictionalised biography’, a genre which has become firmly established in recent times through the practice of writers such as Peter Ackroyd and Julian Barnes. Indeed, Brian Lynch has remained significantly more faithful to the known facts surrounding his subject than have some other authors in the field. There is evidence on every page of his intimate knowledge of Cowper’s letters and poems, and of the work of earlier biographers such as Lord David Cecil and James King. He has closely researched the poet’s milieu, and presents a convincing picture, not only of the lives of William Cowper, John and Mary Newton, Mary Unwin and the other dramatis personae of the story, but of life in Olney and the surrounding countryside.

But he does far more than this. Above all, he brings a poet’s eye to the narrative and structure of the book. Naturally, for a poet writing about a poet, questions of technique arise and are discussed at appropriate points in the story. There is a beautiful chapter in which Newton and Cowper visit a lacemaking school, on the way discussing the finer points of hymn-writing. At the school, Cowper is deeply moved by the pathos of the little girls working in freezing conditions, but also inspired by the power of simple verses, the lacemakers’ ‘tells’, to imprint themselves on the memory – which in turn feeds back into the continuing discussion of hymn writing. But the poetic method informs the book in more subtle and important ways – through imagery especially, but also through wordplay and a vivid particularity in the realisation of people and objects. For example, the poem ‘The Snail’, which is seen as clearly autobiographical, provides a recurring motif illuminating aspects of Cowper’s character and, in particular, his sexuality. The prevalence of wordplay is such that the reader must be ever on her toes if she is not to miss some of the subtleties of what is on offer. There is a mystery at the heart of the book – the meaning of ‘Sadwin’ – which is partially unravelled by discussions of the names of the characters, but which demands an alertness to the nuances of language which is as bracing as a Norfolk sea breeze.

The novel deals with large themes – madness, love, loneliness, creativity, old age – as played out amongst a group of people living in a small market town at a time of major social and political change. As in Jane Austen’s work, irruptions from the wider world of revolution and the French wars unsettle the apparently uneventful lives of the protagonists. Cowper and Mary Unwin, however, with the Newtons, constitute an inner circle which dangerous or interfering outsiders like Anna Austen and Harriot Hesketh attempt to penetrate in vain. Exclusion is a powerful force prompting action and forming character – exclusion of interlopers from the inner circle, Cowper’s feelings of exclusion at school because ‘he is not like other boys’, exclusion by death from his mother’s love, culminating, tragically, in the unshakeable belief in his exclusion from God’s love. Morally, all the characters can be selfish and manipulative, not least the saintly Mary Unwin when her stake in Cowper is challenged, but a measure of ordinary human kindness is enough to create lasting bonds between true friends and enable them to survive (‘All four of them had loved each other’, p.320).

As is appropriate for a hero who lived most of his life in an intimate female circle (there is a recurring image of Cowper as Hercules ‘unmanned’ when he became the servant of the queen Omphale), the women are given their full due. The character of Mary Unwin is explored with great delicacy as a person with her own foibles, weaknesses and jealousies as well as a heroic capacity for devotion. It is good to see the balance thus partially restored between William, who through his letters and poems was able to fashion his own image for posterity, and Mary, who has left scarcely any record of her real character and emotions. John and Mary Newton are painted with a broader brush and seem not quite fully realised, but the most challenging creation is Lady Austen, who imparts a heavy sexuality and vitality to the central chapters and then is cast off as brutally as was Falstaff by Prince Hal. Others have their exits and their entrances – Theadora, his first love, the Revd Bull, who weeps at every mention of Christ’s suffering, Johnny Johnson, birdlike saviour and carer for the old couple, and the appalling Samuel Teedon, whose frowstiness is evoked with a relish worthy of Dickens.

The Winner of Sorrows is a vividly imagined exploration of the life and inner struggles of a complex personality – it gives us a Cowper for our times. It is a demanding read, but worth the effort for the fresh insights it brings to our understanding of the man and the forces which shaped his poetry.

Tony Seward is editor of the Cowper and Newton Museum Bulletin – the museum is in Orchardside, the house in Olney, Buckinghamshire, where Cowper lived with Mrs Mary Unwin for seventeen years

Back to The Winner of Sorrow Main Page

Perception of a wonderful kind, by Rachel Andrews

The Winner of Sorrow
The Winner of Sorrow

THE WINNER OF SORROW
Brian Lynch
Published October 11, 2005
New Island Books
ISBN: 9781905494255
PRICE: €11.99

The Sunday Tribune
Perception of a wonderful kind
Rachel Andrews

The Winner Of Sorrow By Brian Lynch
New Island 14.99 340pp

BRIAN Lynch’s elegantly weaved novel about the life and times of English 18th century poet and confirmed madman William Cowper comes slowly into focus. The opening chapters, in particular, with their shifts in time and place – starting with Cowper as an old man, but quickly moving in and out of his youthful memories – challenge a reader to persevere. It’s a challenge that becomes worth it. Slowly, the book reveals itself as a meticulously crafted piece of work, a mixture of biographical research, expansive imagination, and a dedication to the examination of the rigours of being a writer.

This is not a biography -as Lynch himself makes clear in the sleeve notes – but it nonetheless draws a comprehensive picture of Cowper’s strange and eccentric world, and most importantly, makes the reader want to know more about it.

Why, for example, does Cowper, impotent and inept, barely able to make his way in the world, attract the care, attention, and sexual attraction, of women, who flutter about him, attempting to have themselves noticed?

The passages detailing the relationship between Cowper and the widow Mary Unwin, with whom he grew into old age, are among the most sharply observed in the book – sad, weary and strangely warm. Take these perceptive words, for example, describing Unwin’s frame of mind after she had proposed marriage to Cowper, but remained sexually unfulfilled even after the engagement was set: ‘She had prepared herself for regret and hardly felt it, because, despite the dulled steel in her hair, she was still the same person and, more, she was actually improved, at least in the sense that she now knew what she wanted, which then had been something only imagined from reading novels.’

But Lynch’s writing climbs above the necessary craft of human observation.

He finds ways to make his words sing, and of taking us with him on an exploration into the recesses of Cowper’s mind; surreal, poetic passages indicate at once how detached the writer was from the real world, but also give a sense of how he derived his poetic life. There is agony: Cowper is afflicted by the presence of terrible voices in his head, to which he gives names – the Mocker, the Judge, the Accuser. But there is humour too, subtle and wry:
‘Sometimes he thanked God he was mad – you could laugh out loud and not have to explain yourself.’

Although this story is primarily the tale of an internal life – as Cowper struggles with the process of writing, turning thoughts into words, imagination into penned descriptions – Lynch doesn’t neglect the detail of the poet’s external world. Eighteenth century England, with the discrepancies between the lofty nature of its religious evangelism, and the grimy nature of much of its real life, is accurately captured.

Lynch is himself an accomplished poet, and his own, beautifully created writing is one of the most satisfying aspects of this novel. He has managed to grasp hold of that most difficult of tasks – using the power of words to tell a story – and finely tune it, so that both language and narrative become almost the one.

A fine achievement. A wonderful book.

Back to The Winner of Sorrow main page

NEW AND RENEWED Poems 1967-2004 Review by Philip Casey

New and Renewed
New and Renewed Poems 1967-2004

NEW AND RENEWED
Poems 1967-2004
Review by Philip Casey
The Irish Independent
23 Oct 2004

Brian Lynch’s poetry and its rhythms have beguiled me since reading a poem called Panic Stricken Love in his chapbook Outside the Pheasantry, (1975). This poem was included in his collection Perpetual Star (1981), as Panic Stricken, and here it is named Panic. Other than this, not a word has been changed from the original. Other poems have been altered, of course, hence the book’s clever title. The Jews Escape (‘the yellow stars are ours’), previously entitled Ghost House, is practically a new poem.

In New and Renewed, Lynch has not only written powerful new work, but has examined the premise of each line and phrase to realise the full potency of that previously collected. It is a very potent collection indeed, and not just because its theme is often Eros in the everyday.

Even when the poem is not overtly erotic, a sensual energy pervades it. Without artistry it would be as nothing, of course. Lynch’s hard-won imagery stays long in the mind, and is marked by interplay and interdependence. Take Pension Alcoy, which has also had its lines and line breaks renewed. In the original I loved ‘To be empty you must be played upon’, but the change seems exactly right, the gong reverberating through a thousand windows until stillness reigns:

To be open you must be empty
To be empty you must be struck
As if you were a gong.

Outside the window
The window is open
Its window is open
And a thousand more
And suddenly there is no more Mr Lynch.

This interplay and interdependence underscores the noted humanity of Lynch’s work, and is its hallmark. Relationship is central, and meditations on the death of parents, the regrets of love, the complexities of marriage, and the mysteries of parenthood uncover deep emotion, as with the daughters of Myth:

But when they do return
The house is empty in the sun,
Mother has gone north or south,
And, there now, fatherless,
The door is wider than it was,
Or wider than they thought.

The book ends with powerful political poems, including an eleven page excerpt from Angry Heart, Empty House, entitled The Murder of Margaret White, which really belongs in a book of its own. It is based on a harrowing true story, and will stalk your dreams.

Brian Lynch’s poems have always been haunting. With New and Renewed Poems it seems inevitable that he will be given the wider recognition he has so long deserved.

Philip Casey

Of human loss and savagery, by Gerald Dawe

Pity for the Wicked
Pity for the Wicked. Photo of Margaret Wright © Pacemaker

Of human loss and savagery
Gerald Dawe

PITY FOR THE WICKED
The Duras Press
€15
ISBN 1-873748-16-7

The Irish Times, June 4, 2005

One Saturday afternoon in mid-August 1969 I was sitting in the upstairs lounge of the Spanish Rooms on the Lower Falls Road in Belfast with a couple of pals before heading to a city-centre club.

Drawn to a commotion on the street outside, we watched as British soldiers appeared, in formation, and proceeded to close off some sidestreets. We hadn’t seen them on the streets of Belfast before. There was something quite unreal about what was happening. There had been riots, disruptions, “disturbances”. This was different. For the young men and women of “our” generation – the watchers and the watched – the world as we had known it was shifting axis.

Thirty-six years later we all know how the story unfolded. The familiar world turned into the surreal, and from there into the disfiguring, unforgivable life of violence that Belfast (along with many other parts of Ireland and Britain) suffered for the next quarter of a century.

In this extraordinary poetic testament, Pity for the Wicked, Brian Lynch has re-entered the labyrinth of that cruel metamorphosis with a poem of steely indignation and damning rhetoric. Not since Thomas Kinsella’s controversial Butcher’s Dozen has a southern-based poet responded with such concentration to the “events” in the North. Not since Tony Harrison’s poems on the Gulf War has a poet spoken out with such immediacy about the politics of human loss and savagery in one place.

The voice that comes through Lynch’s poem is convincing, both in its strengths and in its weaknesses. Pity for the Wicked is unique in its unrelenting ‘‘highlighting’’ (to quote the poet’s introduction) of ‘‘a small part of the history [of the Troubles] in order to illuminate the whole.’’ The parts and circumstances which Lynch recounts are probably unimaginable to younger readers: the burning of the British embassy in Dublin, Bloody Sunday, the IRA bombing of Aldershot (in which five women cleaners, a gardener and a Catholic chaplain were murdered), the gruesome deaths of Margaret Wright (upon which the poem dwells), Pat Gillespie, Frank Kerr, Carol Mather, John Jeffries and Inan ul-Haq Bashir (the two London newsagents killed by the Provo bombing of Canary Wharf), Jerry McCabe, the sickening sectarian ‘‘loyalist ’’killing of Paddy Wilson and his companion, Irene Andrews, Alice Collins, and the “political” matrix out of which the brutal ending of these lives were viciously justified.

Pity for the Wicked is also unique in its unflinching condemnation of the Provisional movement and its leadership, and of the moral responsibility of the southern State (and “almost the entire intellectual class”) for both. Framed within an historical narrative that many will utterly reject, Lynch’s response to the ‘‘peace process’’ and what he calls its ‘‘anti- language . . . excavated of meaning’’, is shaped by indignation and outrage at the moral free-fall he associates with those compromises (which he charts) that the Irish State has made, under different administrations, with the Provisional movement. According to Lynch’s impassioned introduction, the peace process has now been brought bloodlessly “to an end south of the Border” and of all the ‘‘false hopes’’, its ‘‘most enduring legacy’’ may well be “a Mafia at the heart of Irish politics”. In the North, meanwhile, the probable demographic future will be “the movement of the communities into self-defined Catholic and Protestant territories” as each is driven “further apart than at any time since 1921″.

Son of a political family with ‘‘deep roots in Fianna Fáil’’ (both parents were elected to the Dáil), Lynch worked in the Government Information Services during the 1970s and was part of the delegation at the Sunningdale Conference in 1973. It shows; he knows the background. What comes through Pity for the Wicked is his conviction that the moral maze into which we took ourselves after Sunningdale has turned into a spider’s web from which we need to extricate ourselves.

As a substantial part of our civic past has been perverted by political violence, Brian Lynch’s poem refuses to let those whom he considers directly responsible slip by without the ‘‘repentance of the killers. But we have not heard the remorseful word.’’ ‘‘With time has come the time to let go,’’ yet such ‘‘dispiriting’’ freedom is at a cost, as Lynch testifies: ‘‘for many of my generation . . . the best part of our lives has been spent in the shadow of terror, fleeing from or fighting with it.’’ But ‘‘those who have been literally dispirited, the dead, will not allow us to forget what happened to them.’’ Nor should the ‘‘political and moral catastrophe’’ be further compounded by ‘‘our efforts to conciliate the murderers,’’ since we were ‘‘tainted by their shame.’’ The ‘‘stern memory’’ which Lynch insists upon is what makes Pity for the Wicked such a deeply troubling work, both as self-doubting poem and as politically charged document; not so much a wake-up call as a shattering alarm in the middle of the night:

I’d written verse – what match was that for screams,
For cries of real death? No match was made.

© The Irish Times

Gerald Dawe is the author of six collections of poetry, including The Morning Train (1999) and Lake Geneva (2003). He teaches at TCD and is currently compiling an anthology of 20th-century Irish “war” poetry