Tag Archives: Poetry

L’Imperfection

for Françoise Connolly

The time will come, perhaps,
(But death will come first)
When we may be able to visit
The dead and where they lived
When we first knew them,
And then, though they will not
Be able to see us, we shall
Look at those faces we
Loved once with better thanks
And more praise than we gave,
Or were able to give,
In those moments – how few
They were – of love expressed, and
More praise and thanks, too,
Than we can show even now,
Even now when regret
For the things we have lost,
Les choses perdus which we chose
To lose, would seem to have made us
Capable of showing,
And of saying, too, what
We are mindful of, so bitterly,
Because we cannot help
Imagining that there is
A heaven on earth at all times,
And those so disembodied bodies
We knew once have found there
A joy that is like our own
In thinking lovingly of them,
Though love maybe was not
What we felt at the time, nor did
The places seem as lovely
As they do now in memory,
So that in this mistaken joy
The dead and ourselves are
Reconciled to a world they grew
Weary of, and that we are
Growing weary of, too,
And refreshed then by
Our shared tiredness,
In the heart-felt way of
What the aging, perforce,
Think is the best way of
Passing their remaining
Time on earth, that is to say
Looking back (unlike the new
Born, who look forward with
The cry of the newly homeless),
In thankful recollection
Of the world as it once was,
Or, rather, as it once
Was not, perfect in –
The French are to blame for this too –
Its imperfection.


The first two lines in this poem were spoken by the poet William Cowper to his friend the Reverend John Newton on the 28th of May, 1781. The general thought is also Cowper’s, but greatly changed, in part by reflection on the way Marcel Proust imagined the past as another world concealed in this one. Cowper, although his attitude to France was very much that of a Protestant Englishman of the revolutionary period – ‘Love your country, beat the French and never mind what happens next’ – greatly admired Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (1648 –1717), the French Catholic poet, mystic and prisoner of the state. An episode in my novel about Cowper, The Winner of Sorrow, quotes briefly from the book of translations he published of her poetry.

Brian Lynch

Peter Jankowsky’s translation

click to enlarge, click image for slide show

L'Imperfection translated by Peter Jankowsky L'Imperfection (2) translated by Peter Jankowsky L'Imperfection explanatory note translated by Peter Jankowsky

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.’

PLAYTIME

Playtime
Playtime

PLAYTIME
Dublin, RHA Gallagher Gallery and New Island Books 1997

Cover Painting by Gene Lambert

This book has a troubled history. Gene Lambert, who had heard me read from ‘Pity for the Wicked’ at the Dun Laoghaire poetry festival, suggested including in the book the section referring to the murder of Margaret Wright. I agreed and wrote a poem, ‘The Childhood of Margaret Wright’, tying it to the cover painting, which also appears on the back of ‘Pity for the Wicked’. There were other poems relating to the theme, and the introduction, which I wrote, explained the connections.

In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert
In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert

The then Director of the RHA Gallagher Gallery, Ciaran MacGonigal, was enthusiastic about the collaboration and, at my suggestion, arranged a co-publishing deal with New Island Books. However, shortly before the book was to go to press, Ciaran announced that he had got legal advice that the Margaret Wright extract was libellous of the people involved in her murder. I agreed reluctantly to remove the extract, the other poems and to rewrite the introduction – some, not all, of the details are set out in an appendix to ‘Pity for the Wicked’. As far as Playtime was concerned, the result was that the book was not distributed to bookshops or reviewed in the newspapers.


EASTER SNOW

EASTER SNOW
Bremen, die horen and Galway, Salmon Press, 1992

Poems by Brian Lynch with photographs by Peter Jankowsky. Translated into German as Oster Schnee –Ein Iland vor Irland.

Another book with a less than happy publishing history. As it was being prepared for printing, Jessie Lendennie’s Salmon Press was in grave financial difficulties and in the process of being taken over by Philip MacDonagh’s more commercial Poolbeg Press. The result was the book was poorly distributed and scarcely noticed. However, Michael Viney wrote about it warmly in The Irish Times.

Sadly, too, the quality of the reproduction of Peter’s photographs is not the best – they deserve better and I have often thought that either a new edition or an exhibition of the photos and the poems together would be a good idea.

When I wrote the majority of the poems I had never been on Clare Island, so the book is, for my part, purely, or impurely, formal.

The poem reproduced below describes a carved head in the Abbey on Clare Island – when I saw it the abbey was open to the four winds and one could only dimly see the frescoes on the ceiling through moss and mould. These extraordinary works, almost all of them secular rather than religious, have now been restored after many years of labour by Christoph Oldenbourg and others and can be seen in the Royal Irish Academy volume devoted to the fourth Clare Island survey. The images do not appear to be on the web, which is unfortunate, not least because the interpretation of their meaning is still uncertain and their significance in the iconography of European art history would seem to be great.

[Update: some pictures of the conservation are now on the web. Conservation work on the Abbey]

The Face

1.
This is a religious object,
Which means it’s hard to find,
In the ruined Cistercian Abbey
At Cille on Clare Island.

I’d searched and couldn’t see,
Yet when my German friend,
Whose photograph this is,
Showed me it was obvious,
This hidden thing, and godly.

2.
The stone on which it’s carved
Is stuck into a wall, waist
High, the first block
That butts the arch
Above the bishop’s throne,
The sedilia, as it’s known.
The other blocks that make this up
Are otherwise unmarked
With carving, and this is odd
Since as the face is side-
Ways to the vertical,
You’d think it would repeat
Until the curve were capped
And held together by
An image of the Lord.
It does not. It’s on its own.

3.
The face is mantled with a mould,
A shawl of blooming stuff, a moss
More tightly napped and emerald
Than baize. It’s earlier than the church
And probably was used by chance,
Because it fitted into place.

Because it was there and fits here.
This is an answer to anxiety,
A definition of the art of poetry.

For this face, as you can see,
Opens its mouth and sings or cries
Or shouts the glory of its maker –
In art there is no difference
Between our grief and joy: it’s all,
In high or low or no, relief.
In life there’s no confusing them.

4.
Being sideways and damaged round
The eye and nose does not affect
Its wholiness. Instead it adds to it,
As a lover sees on the beloved’s neck
A bruise and knows who made it
And for that reason will not forsake her,
The wounded creature of the day
Displaying what their night approved….

5.
Nor do I disregard, being blind
To grammar, the ambiguity above:
I knew then whose was this photograph.
This is a German face you’re looking at –
And a poet’s too and also yours,
If you have come to be this hard to find,
All those who ever have been moved
By god, the sex of art, or earthly love.

PAUL CELAN : 65 POEMS

Paul Celan 65 Poems
Paul Celan: 65 Poems

PAUL CELAN : 65 POEMS
Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1985

translations from the German by Brian Lynch with Peter Jankowsky

This book sold out rapidly – there was a great interest then (and there is still) in Celan’s work. The publishers were grudging about permissions, insisted the edition should be confined to Ireland, and as a consequence a second edition was not pursued.

Peter Jankowsky and I subsequently did translations of a further ten poems which were published in Krino and the large volume that anthologised that magazine. For more information on Peter Jankowsky see the links to Easter Snow and the TV drama Caught in a Free State.

Review

RIPPLES FROM A POET’S LIFE

PAUL CELAN: 65 POEMS
Translated by Brian Lynch & Peter Jankovsky
(Raven Arts Press, £3.95 pb)

Paul Celan, regarded as one of the great poets of the German language, thought of his poems as stones.

When he drowned himself in the Seine in 1970, his pockets were full of stones.

His later poetry is akin to stones washed clean by the remorseless flow of water. His style, as the introduction to PAUL CELAN: 65 POEMS points out, “becomes increasingly lapidary, avoiding what he called the “thyme carpet” of language. Yet, to stretch the metaphor, the water’s mineral traces cling to the stone, and build up as time passes.

In several of the poems here, one has almost to stop thinking to let the meaning come through of its own accord – even when it seems most obvious.

TO STAND, in the shadow
of the wound-mark in the air.

To stand-for-no-one-and-no-thing.
Unrecognised,
for you
alone.

With all there is room for in that,
even without
language.

In a sense, this is only difficult in its simplicity. Celan’s poetry, more than any other, requires a suspension of expectations, an ability to meditate on the purity of its language.

HAIR-LINE SUNS
above the grey-black wasteland.
A tree-
high thought
takes hold of the light-tone: there are
still songs to be sung beyond
mankind.

In Jankowsky and Lynch, Celan would seem to have ideal translators: the precision of Jankowsky’s German coupled with Lynch’s sense of poetic power and correctness. It is interesting to compare their translation of ‘Matiere de Bretagne’ – one of the few poems from this volume translated before – with that by Michael Hamburger in the ‘Selected Poems’ (Penguin 1972).

That they have succeeded in doing justice to Celan in these 65 poems I have no doubt. A pure poetic spirit and sense of precision sing out from them. It is a very exciting book.

– Philip Casey, The Sunday Press, 1985.

Beds of Down

Beds of Down
Beds of Down

BEDS OF DOWN
by Brian Lynch
Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1983

Cover design by Leo Duffy from an illustration in the Poetical Works of William Cowper by Thomas Secombe

The title comes from a famous passage in William Cowper’s great long poem The Task, which begins:

‘And now with nerves new-braced and spirits cheered/ We tread the wilderness’, and goes on to describe ‘the thresher at his task./ Thump after thump resounds the constant flail,/ That seems to swing uncertain, and yet falls/ Full on the destined ear’ – a wonderful phrase – and then goes on: ‘Wide flies the chaff,/ The rustling straw sends up a frequent mist/ Of Atoms sparkling in the noonday beam./ Come hither, ye that press your beds of down/ And sleep not – see him sweating o’er his bread/ Before he eats it – Tis the primal curse,/ But softened into mercy, made the pledge/ Of cheerful days, and nights without a groan.’

I was clearly under Cowper’s influence by 1983, an influence of course that led to the writing of The Winner of Sorrow.

This is the first poem in the book – as can be seen, it has some connection with the Cowper passage, though I don’t think I was aware of the link at the time:

The New Typewriter Ribbon

A new blackness, less penetrable.
What seemed to be an afterthought, tonight
Turns out to be the main thought.
Because of this I don’t go out much
Any more: a blackness that turns –
I have to look now – from left to right
Or from right to left and back again.

A bell rings. The door opens next door
And John Doyle laughs Ha Ha and then
Come in he says I hardly knew ye.

I set to thinking about returned greetings,
About how writing is the purest invitation
And about the time my mother called
And I was found out in the way I said hello,
Being guilty of what I most attacked.

A new blackness, less penetrable, more smudged,
And yet I am ready now and willing,
Both aimed and pierced.

Perpetual Star

Perpetual Star
Perpetual Star

Perpetual Star
by Brian Lynch
Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1981

cover image by Rosaleen Davey. Back cover photo by Roy Esmonde incorporating a drawing by Rosaleen Davey

Some reviews

Laurels should be placed in a champagne mood on Lynch’s brow for one very great and clear reason. Our culture, notoriously cold in sensual knowledge, has produced here a love poet of absolute integrity. – The Sunday Press

This is highly impressive work. If one is to go into ratings, I rank with this Durcan’s recent collection as the best in Irish poetry today. –Cyphers

Here are some of the finest poems written in Ireland since World War II. – Cork Examiner