Voices from the Nettleway
by Brian Lynch
Dublin, Raven Arts Press 1989
cover painting by Rosaleen Davey
designed by Susanne Linde
Out of print
cover painting by Rosaleen Davey
designed by Susanne Linde
Out of print
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]
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
With all there is room for in that,
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.
above the grey-black wasteland.
takes hold of the light-tone: there are
still songs to be sung beyond
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.
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.
cover image by Rosaleen Davey. Back cover photo by Roy Esmonde incorporating a drawing by Rosaleen Davey
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