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A Rage for Order: Poetry of the Northern Ireland Troubles - edited by Frank Ormsby



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Text: Frank Ormsby ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following extract has been contributed by the author, Frank Ormsby, with the permission of the publishers, The Blackstaff Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
This extract is taken from the book:

A Rage for Order
Poetry of the Northern Ireland Troubles
Edited by Frank Ormsby (1992) (Reprinted 1994)
ISBN 0 85640 490 X (Paperback) 361pp
(Temporarily out of print)

Cover painting by Rita Duffy

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This publication is copyright Frank Ormsby (1992) and is included on the CAIN site by permission of Blackstaff Press and the authors. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without express written permission. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


From the front inside cover:

Murderous, entrenched, complex - the Northern Ireland conflict seems to defy rational discourse. But from the contradictions and tensions has sprung some remarkable art, not least the poetry of the Troubles, now widely recognised as among the most vibrant contemporary writing in the English language.

This comprehensive new anthology from the distinguished poet and editor Frank Ormsby presents over 250 poems by writers who have their deepest roots in the region - MacNeice, Rodgers, Heaney, Longley, Fiacc, Paulin, Muldoon, Carson - and by outsiders like Larkin, Rumens, Raine, Adcock and even Yevtushenko who have responded to the violence from their more distant perspectives. Together their work faces up to the passionate intensities of the North, making this collection compulsory reading for anyone with a serious interest in modern Ireland.


CONTENTS

      PREFACE

              1
      ‘In this Irish past I dwell . . .

      Bogland   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Shane O’Neill’s cairn   ROBINSON JEFFERS

      from A severed head   JOHN MONTAGUE

      Meeting the British   PAUL MULDOON

      The Planter   JOSEPH CAMPBELL

      Once alien here   JOHN HEWITT

      The colony   JOHN HEWITT

      The Irish dimension   JOHN HEWITT

      from Cromwell   BRENDAN KENNELLY

      Traditions   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Under Creon   TOM PAULIN

      Requiem for the Croppies   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Carrickfergus   LOUIS MACNEICE

      from Autumn journal   LOUIS MACNEICE

      Epilogue to ‘The Character of Ireland’   W.R. RODGERS

      Ulster 1912   RUDYARD KIPLING

      A question of covenants   GERALD DAWE

      Settlers   TOM PAULIN

      Encounter, nineteen twenty   JOHN HEWITT

      Belfast   LOUIS MACNEICE

      Ballad to a traditional refrain   MAURICE JAMES CRAIG

      from The Battle of Aughrim   RICHARD MURPHY

      Belfast on a Sunday afternoon   DONALD DAVIE

      Those glorious Twelfths   ROY MCFADDEN

      Londonderry   JOHN ENNIS

      A new siege   JOHN MONTAGUE

      from The hero   PADRAIC FIACC

      Heroics   JOHN MONTAGUE

      On Slieve Gullion   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      From the Irish   JAMES SIMMONS

      The Tollund man   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Return   SEAMUS DEANE

      Antrim   ROBINSON JEFFERS

      Rathlin Island   DEREK MAHON


              2
      ‘Close one eye and be king...’

      The coasters   JOHN HEWITT

      Glengormley   DEREK MAHON

      In the lost province   TOM PAULIN

      Ecciesiastes   DEREK MAHON

      Little palaces   GERALD DAWE

      Stele for a Northern republican   JOHN MONTAGUE

      Servant boy   SEAMUS HEANEY

      from Singing school   SEAMUS HEANEY

      A schooling   SEAMUS DEANE

      The Brethren   SEAMUS DEANE

      Catholics   JOHNSTON KIRKPATRICK

      Sheepman   FRANK ORMSBY

      The Indians on Alcatraz   PAUL MULDOON

      Sanctus   PADRAIC FIACC

      Act of Union   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Derry   SEAMUS DEANE

      Bogside, Deny, 1971   JOHN HEWITT

      The hands   PAUL MULDOON

      The green shoot   JOHN HEWITT

      No surrender!   WES MAGEE

      Me as Moses   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      Reading Paradise Lost in Protestant Ulster 1984   SEAMUS DEANE

      Eden says No   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      Ulster says Yes   JAMES SIMMONS

      From the Tibetan   JOHN HEWITT

      Of difference does it make   TOM PAULIN

      Without mercy   TOM PAULIN

      Floods   FRANK ORMSBY

      A partial state   TOM PAULIN

      The fruit of knowledge   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      Desertmartin   TOM PAULIN

      Cadaver politic   TOM PAULIN

      Reasons of state   NORMAN DUGDALE

      Poem beginning with a line by Cavafy   DEREK MAHON

      Courtyards in Delft   DEREK MAHON

      Death and the sun   DEREK MAHON

      from Freehold II: The lonely heart   JOHN HEWITT

      For Jan Betley   JAMES SIMMONS


              3
      ‘How many counties...

      from Poems for Northern Ireland   DESMOND EGAN

      Ireland 1972   PAUL DURCAN

      Ulster names   JOHN HEWITT

      Postscript, 1984   JOHN HEWITT

      from Cromwell   BRENDAN KENNELLY

      Wounds   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      Claudy   JAMES SIMMONS

      The clock on a wall of Farringdon Gardens, August 1971   GERALD DAWE

      Lament for a dead policeman   JAMES SIMMONS

      Occasions of love   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      Station/An Ordo   PADRAIC FIACC

      Bloody hand   CIARAN CARSON

      Count   GERALD DAWE

      Soul music: The Deny air   EAMON GRENNAN

      Counting the dead on the radio, 1972   THOMAS McCARTHY

      After Derry, 30 January 1972   SEAMUS DEANE

      Casualty   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Child of our time   EAVAN BOLAND

      Falls funeral   JOHN MONTAGUE

      Under the eyes   TOM PAULIN

      The butchers   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      The more a man has the more a man wants   PAUL MULDOON

      More terrorists   PADRAIC FIACC

      H-Block Shuttle   RITA ANN HIGGINS

      As it should be   DEREK MAHON

      Gathering mushrooms   PAUL MULDOON

      Aisling   PAUL MULDOON

      Amazement   RICHARD MURPHY

      Christo’s   PAUL MULDOON

      Mourne   KERRY CARSON

      On the killing in South Armagh   JOHN F. DEANE

      Wreaths   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      The strand at Lough Beg   SEAMUS HEANEY

      A postcard from North Antrim   SEAMUS HEANEY

      from Station Island   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Marie Wilson   CONOR CARSON

      Sunday in Great Tew   PETER MCDONALD

      Remembrance Day   JOHN F. DEANE

      Intimate letter 1973   PADRAIC FIACC

      Requin   PADRAIC FIACC

      The mouth   CIARAN CARSON

      Identification in Belfast   ROBERT LOWELL

      The identification   ROGER MCGOUGH

      Campaign   CIARAN CARSON

      Last orders   CIARAN CARSON

      A burial   SEAMUS DEANE

      Le Dormeur du Val: Antrim   JOHN F. DEANE

      Aftermath   FRANK ORMSBY

      Neither an elegy nor a manifesto   JOHN HEWITT

      The inheritors   WILLIAM PESKETI

      Kindertotenlieder   MICHAEL LONGLEY


              4
      ‘Making things happen...’

      Men of action   SEAN LUCY

      The weepies   PAUL MULDOON

      The British connection   PADRAIC FIACC

      Anseo   PAUL MULDOON

      1969   PATRICK DEELEY

      from Viking Dublin: Trial pieces   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Hamlet   CIARAN CARSON

      Fleance   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      The spring vacation   DEREK MAHON

      A Belfastman abroad argues with himself   JOHN HEWITT

      Letters   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      The act   TONY HARRISON

      Altera cithera   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      The last of the fire kings   DEREK MAHON

      The dilemma   JOHN HEWITT

      The Boundary Commission   PAUL MULDOON

      In memory: The Miami Showband: massacred 31 July 1975   PAUL DURCAN

      Punishment   SEAMUS HEANEY

      In memoriam Francis Ledwidge   SEAMUS HEANEY

      The war photographers   FRANK ORMSBY

      The war poets   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      Belfast confetti   CIARAN CARSON

      Revolutionary revolution   GEORGE BUCHANAN

      A speaker in the square   GEORGE BUCHANAN

      Sandstone keepsake   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Where art is a midwife   TOM PAULIN

      Home thoughts from abroad   W.R. RODGERS

      from 7 Middagh Street   PAUL MULDOON

      The Irish for no   CIARAN CARSON

      A nation, yet again   TOM PAULIN

      Pushkin in Belfast   YEVGENY YEVTUSHENKO

      A wntten answer   TOM PAULIN

      Exposure   SEAMUS HEANEY

      From the frontier of writing   SEAMUS HEANEY

      from Station Island   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Rage for order   DEREK MAHON

      Ulster safari   YEVGENY YEVTUSHENKO

      Count Dracula entertains I   PETER MCDONALD

      Hercules and Antaeus   SEAMUS HEANEY

      The other voice   TOM PAULIN

      Osip Mandelstam   SEAMUS DEANE

      Chekhov on Sakhalin   SEAMUS HEANEY

      The snow party   DEREK MAHON

      Lyle Donaghy, poet, 1902—1949   GEORGE BUCHANAN

      Reunion   ROY MCFADDEN

      In Carrowdore churchyard   DEREK MAHON

      Lunch with Pancho Villa   PAUL MULDOON

      Apples, Normandy, 1944   FRANK ORMSBY

      The harvest bow   SEAMUS HEANEY


              5
      ‘To the other shore ...

      The importance of elsewhere   PHILIP LARKIN

      Please identify yourself   FLEUR ADCOCK

      Some notes for impartial observers   NORMAN DUGDALE

      States   TOM PAULIN

      Purity   TOM PAULIN

      The Toome Road   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Foot patrol, Fermanagh   TOM PAULIN

      Enemy encounter   PADRAIC FIACC

      Foreign field   JOHN MONTAGUE

      Army   CIARAN CARSON

      Night patrol   CIARAN CARSON

      from Tears/A Lacrimosa   PADRAIC FIACC

      As if it never happened   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      The bomb disposal   CIARAN CARSON

      A rum cove, a stout cove   TOM PAULIN

      Manichean geography I   TOM PAULIN

      And where do you stand on the national question?   TOM PAULIN

      Totalled PET   ER MCDONALD

      Provincia deserta   NORMAN DUGDALE

      From the other country   ANDREW WATERMAN

      Night-ferry   NORMAN DUGDALE

      Small hours   NORMAN DUGDALE

      Ithaca   NORMAN DUGDALE

      Kew Gardens   ROY MCFADDEN

      A graveyard in Ulster   PAUL WILKINS

      England   VICTOR PRICE

      From Belfast to Suffolk   WILLIAM PESKETT

      Flying to Belfast, 1977   CRAIG RAINE

      Leaving Belfast   ANDREW MOTION

      An Irishman in Coventry   JOHN HEWITT


              6
      ‘And hope and history rhyme...’

      Valediction   LOUIS MACNEICE

      Saint Coleman’s song for flight/An Ite Missa Est   PADRAIC FIACC

      Names   GERALD DAWE

      Trails   PATRICK WILLIAMS

      Afterlives   DEREK MAHON

      For my brother in Belfast   ALAN ALEXANDER

      Surveillances   TOM PAULIN

      An Ulster Unionist walks the streets of London   TOM PAULIN

      Yahoo   HOWARD WRIGHT

      The search   JOHN HEWITT

      The broadstone   ROBINSON JEFFERS

      Home   FRANK ORMSBY

      Night out   CIARAN CARSON

      Hairline crack   CIARAN CARSON

      Cocktails   CIARAN CARSON

      Summer truce   ANDREW WATERMAN

      Truce   PAUL MULDOON

      Derry morning   DEREK MAHON

      An Irish epiphany   JAMES SIMMONS

      Guerillas   SEAMUS DEANE

      A September rising   TOM PAULIN

      Triptych   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Thought on the Deny riots   ARTHUR MCVEIGH

      In and out of Deny   SAM BURNSIDE

      Reading Keats in Deny City   FRANCIS STUART

      Passing a statue of Our Lady in Deny   CAROL RUMENS

      Graveyards   SAM BURNSIDE

      Belfast tune   JOSEPH BRODSKY

      Goodbye to Brigid/An Agnus Dei   PADRAIC FIACC

      Cave JOHN MONTAGUE

      A foreign love story at Portmuck   JANICE FITZPATRICK

      The field hospital   PAUL MULDOON

      The knee   CIARAN CARSON

      King William Park   FRANK ORMSBY

      The bullaun   FLEUR ADCOCK

      from The Cure at Troy   SEAMUS HEANEY

      Incurables   FRANK ORMSBY

      The scar   JOHN HEWITT

      Solstice   GERALD DAWE

      Life on Mars   MICHAEL KINGHAN

      Radio Free Nowhere   MARTIN MOONEY

      from New incidents in the life of Shelley   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      Procession   JOHN MONTAGUE

      Funeral rites   SEAMUS HEANEY

      An Ulster twilight   SEAMUS HEANEY

      The hill-farm   JOHN HEWITT

      The other side   SEAMUS HEANEY

      At the end of the day   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      from Letter from Ireland   SEAN DUNNE

      Soldier bathing   FRANK ORMSBY

      From the canton of expectation   SEAMUS HEANEY

      In Belfast   IAIN CRICHTON SMITH

      A wish for St Patrick’s Day   ROBERT GREACEN

      Six loughs   SAM BURNSIDE

      Red branch (a blessing)   JOHN MONTAGUE

      Festival of Mithras   ROBERT JOHNSTONE

      Peace   MICHAEL LONGLEY

      ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
      INDEX OF POETS
      INDEX OF TITLES
      INDEX OF FIRST LINES


PREFACE

Somewhere beyond the scorched gable end and the burnt-out buses
    there is a poet indulging
        his wretched rage for order -
or not as the case may be; for his
        is a dying art,
    an eddy of semantic scruples
        in an unstructurable sea.

This anthology celebrates what the speaker in Derek Mahon’s poem at first dismisses or underestimates but later concedes -the values of art in times of violence. In particular, though not exclusively, it celebrates the poetry written during the phase of Northern Ireland’s Troubles which began in 1968.

The current poetry revival in the North had its immediate origins some years before that date, in the early and mid-1960s. Many of the emerging poets were ‘scholarship’ children, beneficiaries of the Education Act of 1947 (an act which also, by making further education more widely available to the Catholic minority, paved the way for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, the People’s Democracy movement and the Social Democratic and Labour Party), beginning to find their voices at Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin and elsewhere at a time of intense cultural activity in the North. At the start of the decade the English poet Philip Hobsbaum, then a lecturer at Queen’s, founded a writers’ group at which young poets such as Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Seamus Deane and James Simmons read their work and which continued to meet for several years after Hobsbaum’s departure from Belfast. The Belfast Telegraph and magazines such as Hany Chambers’s Phoenix, Threshold and the Northern Review provided early outlets for these poets, until, in 1965, the Queen’s University Festival (later the Belfast Festival at Queen’s) promoted a series of Festival Publications, the first pamphlet collections of, among others, Heaney, Longley, Simmons, Deane and Mahon. The process of consolidation continued when, in 1966, Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist was published to immediate acclaim, followed by Simmons’s Late but in Earnest and John Montague’s A Chosen Light (both in 1967), Mahon’s Night-Crossing (1968), Longley’s No Continuing City, Heaney’s Door into the Dark, Simmons’s In the Wilderness and Other Poems and Padraic Fiacc’s By the Black Stream (all in 1969). By the end of the decade, yet another generation of Northern Irish poets, those whose first collections appeared in the 1970s, had begun to publish in the Honest Ulsterman magazine, founded by James Simmons in 1968.

A number of other poetic milestones of the I 960s should be mentioned here. The appearance of Louis MacNeice’s Collected Poems (1966) and John Hewitt’s Collected Poems 1932-1967 (1968) confirmed these poets as exemplars and influences. Hewitt’s book also prefigured the re-emergence in the 1 970s of poets such as Roy McFadden and Robert Greacen, whose first collections had been published in the 1940s. The work of all four serves as a reminder that Troubles poetry (like the Troubles themselves) did not originate in 1968. The sixteenth section of MacNeice’s ‘Autumn journal’ (1939), for example, which makes direct reference to earlier Troubles incidents in the York Street district of Belfast, has a remarkably contemporary ring: its themes of sectarian division and intransigence, the fear, suspicion and violence that Irish children are heir to, the complex, turbulent relationship between Ireland and Britain, the Irishman’s love-hate engagement with his country, the artist’s (in this case ironic) ‘envy’ of the man of ‘action’; its depiction of a society where free speech is ‘nipped in the bud’ and the ‘minority always guilty’; its imagery of drums, bombs, banners, sectarian graffiti and of Belfast as a ‘city built upon mud’, make it a source poem for much of this anthology. John Hewitt, too, in poems such as Freehold, ‘The colony’ and ‘Once alien here’ (all written in the 1940s) and in many of his Glens of Antrim poems, had focused on the descendants of the English and Scottish settlers who had colonised Ulster in the early seventeenth century and he attempted to express their dilemmas. Indeed, his use of historical perspective and parallel in ‘The colony’, in which the speaker is a Roman colonist, may have served as a model for younger poets of how to address the Troubles obliquely with a dynamic balance of involvement and restraint; and the reservation he himself expresses about this approach, in a poem called ‘Parallels never meet’ (1969), his fear that the ‘coarser texture’ of reality in the north of Ireland may be sanitised or lost among the classical associations and resonances, anticipate a recurrent concern among Northern Irish poets generally.

So, when the most recent phase of Troubles erupted in 1968-9, it was inevitable that an already vigorous poetic community should reflect the crisis. Initially, the response was cautious. Although there was some journalistic pressure to produce a kind of war poetry, and although a number of poets engaged in the poetry of the latest atrocity (to adapt Conor Cruise O’Brien’s phrase about instant politics), the majority, while recognising the need for response, were more circumspect. Seamus Heaney writes that for Northern Irish poets at that time ‘the problems of poetry moved from being simply a matter of achieving the satisfactory verbal icon to being a search for images and symbols adequate to our predicament’ and described the urgent necessity ‘to discover a field of force in which, without abandoning fidelity to the processes and experience of poetry ... it would be possible to encompass the perspectives of a humane reason and at the same time to grant the religious intensity of the violence its deplorable authenticity and complexity’ (‘Feeling into words’, from Preoccupations: Selected Prose 196& 1978, 1980). Michael Longley records how Northern Irish writers in the late I 960s and early 1 970s were sometimes accused of exploitation if they wrote about the Troubles and evasion if they did not, concedes that the poet ‘would be inhuman if he did not respond to tragic events in his own community and a poor artist if he did not seek to endorse that response imaginatively’, but also states his conviction that ‘the artist needs time in which to allow the raw material of experience to settle to an imaginative depth’ (‘Preview’, Radio Times, 20-6 October 1979). The northern poets have continued, in reviews and criticism as well as poetry, to weigh and scrutinise the relationship between art and politics and the nature of artistic responsibility. Far from being cripplingly self-conscious -Seamus Deane has noted that artists ‘can often be more troubled by the idea that they should be troubled by a crisis than they are by the crisis itself’ (‘The artist and the Troubles’, Ireland and the Arts, 1983) -this preoccupation has proved enabling, underpinning and balancing the rich body of Troubles poetry of the last twenty-five years. It has neither stifled the cry of protest nor frozen the springs of compassion and in itself constitutes a valuable, challenging examination of the whole nature of ‘response’.

This is, perhaps, a suitable point to raise the question of what makes a Troubles poem. There is no simple answer and I have tried not to be prescriptive. It would, after all, be possible to compile a ‘relevant anthology of great political poems and elegies from world literature of all ages, and it is with the timelessness and universal application of such Poetry (and painting) in mind, as the poets themselves had, that I have included, fully or in extract, Heaney’s The Cure at Troy (after Sophocles), Longley’s ‘The butchers’ (after Homer) and ‘Peace’ (after Tibullus), Mahon’s ‘Courtyards in DeIft’ (after Pieter de Hooch) and Tom Paulin’s ‘A nation, yet again’ (after Pushkin), to mention some obvious examples. More problematically for the anthologist, it is arguable that any poem by a Northern Irish poet since 1968, on whatever subject, could be termed a Troubles poem, in that it may, consciously or unconsciously, reflect the context in which it was written. The unconscious element can only be matter for speculation, but there is interesting evidence of poets’ awareness of how the Troubles shadow their poems on other subjects. Montague’s highly personal collection The Great Cloak (1978), about the disintegration of a marriage and the growth of a new relationship, has the epigraph,

As my Province burns
I sing of love,
Hoping to give that fiery
Wheel a shove.

Montague has described the book as ‘a political statement.. . for love poetry is a form of political poetry’ (‘Beyond the Planter and the Gael’, Crane Bag, vol. 4 no. 2, 1980-1). The domestic and love poems of Michael Longley have a similar conscious dimension, as do his poems about the flora and fauna of County Mayo; these, as Peter McDonald remarks, ‘are not simply idyllic retreats from "the nightmare ground", but oblique ways of understanding it’.

Given also the extent to which the Troubles permeate entire book-length collections by Northern Irish poets -among them The Rough Field (1972) by John Montague, An Exploded View (1973) by Michael Longley, North (1975) by Seamus Heaney, Liberty Tree (1983) by Tom Paulin, Missa Terribilis (1986) by Padraic Fiacc, Meeting the British (1987) by Paul Muldoon, The Irish for No (1987) and Belfast Confetti (1989) by Ciaran Carson - it has proved difficult to select adequately from work that has radiated so widely and profoundly from its central concern.

The Troubles poems reprinted here are chosen from some twelve hundred I have read on the subject. Many of those omitted were worthy, heartfelt and sincere, but had little else to recommend them as poems. Many more were propagandist exercises -depressingly instructive but more likely (in Mahon’s words) to ‘perpetuate/The barbarous cycle’ than help (in Montague’s) to ‘give that fiery/Wheel a shove’. The poets represented are predominantly from the north of Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and England, but there is also work by a Scot, a New Zealander, two Americans and two Russians. Three contributors - Arthur McVeigh, Keny Carson and Conor Carson -were still schoolchildren when their poems were written. I have taken the opportunity to reprint in full a number of relevant longer poems, among them Hewitt’s ‘The colony’, already mentioned; Simmons’s ‘Lament for a dead policeman’, modelled on Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill’s eighteenth-century Gaelic poem ‘The lament for Art Ó Laoghaire’; Longley’s sequence ‘Letters’ (to three Irish poets); and Muldoon’s elusive, fractured narrative ‘The more a man has the more a man wants’.

The content, which includes some fifty poems already anthologised in the precursor to this volume, Padraic Fiacc’s The Wearing of the Black: An Anthology of Contemporary Ulster Poetry (1974), is organised in six sections. The first ranges over the historical origins of the Troubles, the clash and blend of different traditions in the North, the endless interaction, for better or worse, of past and present. The second focuses on the dangerous undercurrents of injustice and resentment, complacency and discontent, particularly in the period between the establishment of the Northern Ireland state in 1921 and the turmoil of 1968. The third is a sustained elegy for the casualties and victims: civilians, policemen, soldiers, hunger strikers, internees. In section four the predominant subjects are art and politics, the ways in which men of ‘action’ and, more especially, men of ‘words’, make, or fail to make, or might make ‘things happen’, artistic obligation, the centrality and/or marginality of the artist in times of violence, the search for artistic models, and the problems of reaction and response. Section five returns, in a more concentrated way, to the relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain, mainly as experienced by a number of writers who have lived in, or visited, the North; I have broadened the section to include poems by Northern Irish writers that depict the role and plight of the British soldier in the North and a number that portray Northern Ireland as a casualty of colonialism, abandoned or manipulated from outside by unscrupulous politicians and civil servants. The final grouping of poems begins with a reacknowledgement of the ‘odi atque ami' impulses recorded in MacNeice’s ‘Autumn journal XVI’ (section one) and the perpetually unfinished business of learning ‘what is meant by home’ (Mahon); its images of healing, peace, normality, have an appropriately vulnerable ring; potential and aspiration are constantly affirmed, their fragility constantly recognised.

Poetry is not, of course, so easily categorised, and while I am confident that individual sections of the anthology are coherent, I recognise that many of the poems included would fit comfortably into more than one section. It seems to me that imaginative relocations and permutations are among a reader’s creative pleasures in a collection of this nature.

Seamus Deane has written of the work of Heaney and Mahon that in their efforts ‘to come to grips with destructive energies, they attempt to demonstrate a way of turning them towards creativity. Their sponsorship is not simply for the sake of art; it is for the energies embodied in art which have been diminished or destroyed elsewhere.’ Deane’s comment sums up the affirmative thrust of the poetry collected here. The vitalities and humane perspectives of that poetry, its cumulative counterblasts to the reductive, lethal simplicities of the propagandist, its embodiment of ‘semantic scruples’ in a province where language is often a dangerous, sometimes a fatal, weapon, give it its own powerful ‘field of force’. Its underlying ‘rage for order’, as the multiple ironies of Mahon’s poem intimate, is much more than the wretched last throe of ‘a dying art’. Somewhere close to the ‘scorched gable end and the burnt-out buses’ it is sturdily and enhancingly alive.

FRANK ORMSBY
BELFAST, JULY 1992

 


From the back cover:

A Rage for Order

A comprehensive new anthology of over 250 poems from nearly 70 leading poets confronting all the passionate intensities of the Northern Ireland Troubles

F E A T U R I N G

FLEUR ADCOCK

EAVAN BOLAND

CIARAN CARSON

SEAMUS DEANE

PAUL DURCAN

PADRAIC FIACC TONY HARRISON

SEAMUS HEANEY

JOHN HEWITT

BRENDAN KENNELLY PHILIP LARKIN

MICHAEL LONGLEY

ROGER MCGOUGH

LOUIS MACNEICE

DEREK MAHON

PAUL MULDOON TOM PAULIN

YEVGENY YEVTUSHENKO

and many others


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.


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