Some collections you need to dip in and out of as a reader, to take a well-earned break from and on rare occasions, other collections are a full-throttle, entirely immersive experience and Peadar O’Donoghue’s book is that. When Peadar O’Donoghue The Death of Poetry arrived in the post one evening not long ago, I made the mistake of attempting to cook and read it at the same time. And the book won, dinner was burned and my goodness it was worth it.
A major theme that streaks through this collection, more than hinted at in the title, is a critique of Irish poets existing inside the ivory tower of the perceived poetic establishment;
Irish Poetry I
Such a tiny room,
so many elephants.
Whatever you say,
Whatever you do,
Irish Poetry II
We are aiming low,
we are harking back.
We are holding on
(to the hands of the hands of our friends)
and no one dare say
how deathly boring it all is
O’Donoghue is consistent in his criticisms, poetic and political and the effect is cutting, often bloody funny and always brutally honest. But more than that, this collection is what I can only describe as a fully human experience. Through O’Donoghue’s poems we get to witness first hand so many aspects of life – the innocence of childhood, the joys and dangers of heavy drinking, love, family, disgust with current world politics and a deep-seated sense of personal failure that I believe haunts everyone, but not everyone has the courage to stare it in the face. The voice in O’Donoghue’s poems is consistently urgent, often self-deprecating.
I Remember 1979 ends with
…I ran that day, spat,
held back tears,
kept on running,
and here I am now
nearly forty years later,
My favorite poem is the heart-breaking Sunday Nights.
Ten years old I pressed my face hard
to the cold spent-breath-misted glass
of uncle Liam’s overcrowded Cortina,
I could see the stars, I could see all
the tiny lights of the little houses,
I never wanted to reach home,
I wanted to die there and then,
partly because of what
inevitably lay ahead,
but mainly because I was
almost twenty long miles from home,
feeling so warm, so safe, so secure,
so loved, I knew life this innocent,
this good, could never last.
All the poems in the collection are written from an adult’s perspective, recollecting aspects of a childhood as in Sunday Nights, or more recent experiences. However, we understand in their reading that the wits of this young boy who appears in these poems, understanding or seeing more than he should, are the same wits in the man retelling the stories in each of these poems.