Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review of 'Summer Rain' - Dublin Review of Books

I will publish posts in the coming weeks about poetry in general (I'm very keen to share a wonderful video interpretation of a W.S Merwin poem) but for now, I thought to focus on my own recent collection and reproduce this very substantial review of Summer Rain by poet Enda Wyley in The Dublin Review of Books. 

Before that though, I will add that the DRB is a wonderful resource regarding Irish literature and culture, in all forms, and you can visit their homepage and read many excellent articles at: http://www.drb.ie/home

Here's the review.


*


'The Kingdom of Water' 

Noel Duffy’s third collection, Summer Rain, is structured into three different parts – each exhibiting a poetic range, an experimentation in form and theme which mark a departure from the more lyrical, autobiographical work of his previous volumes, In the Library of Lost Objects (2011) and On Light and Carbon (2013).
These are new sequences from a poet eager to take chances in subject matter and to push forward the boundaries of his craft. At the same time these poems protect what has been a striking feature of Duffy’s work to date – a fascination with the sciences, stemming from his studies in experimental physics at Trinity College, Dublin.
In the light of this interest, it seems entirely fitting that Summer Rain begins with a section “Games of Chance & Reason”. Here, eight poems, dated 1895–1907, follow the final years of the brilliant Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann. This is an unusual choice of subject for poetry – one better suited to a physics lecture or a scientific journal, you might think. And yet it is a measure of Duffy’s development as a poet that he has created a convincing verse drama infused with a dialogue that would work as well on radio as it does on the page.
In a compact preface, he explains the importance of Boltzmann’s theories. “Using a deceptively simple starting point, he posited that atoms existed and if we measure their behavior in vast numbers using statistical methods, all the laws of classical thermodynamics could be fully understood.” Boltzmann also believed that pockets of order existed within disorder. Duffy explains how this “gave a working foundation for how the complexity of life itself (an ordered state) could arise without defying the fundamental law of entropy as he had proposed it”.
These are challenging ideas and ones which today have defined Boltzmann as one of the most gifted physicists of the nineteenth century. But in his own lifetime he encountered much opposition to his ideas, most especially from the positivists – scientists who only believed what evidence could actually prove. Chief amongst these was the forceful proponent of positivist philosophy Ernst Mach.
It is out of the conflict between Boltzmann and Mach that Duffy develops an intriguing poetic argument. Ideas and counter-ideas battle for the truth.
Ludwig stands in the small wood-panelled
lecture room, a dozen or so students facing him
in rows. ‘I ask you to place your faith in me,
for there are those who say I am a charlatan
or a fool. And some who say I am both!
Of course, he was neither a charlatan nor a fool. And ultimately, it is his genius that Duffy celebrates, in poems which expose the thrill of Boltzmann’s discoveries, the excitement of his ideas – as well as the disillusionment and ultimate tragedy of his story.
Now all seems lost; lost to him in dispute
and the over-labour of duties. He knows
this cannot go on, that he falters more
with every step he tries to take, each ending,
it seems, in failure and regret.’
“Into the Recesses”, the second section of Summer Rain, moves us into a new imaginative zone, with an epigraph from Wordsworth as our guide. “A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.”
Sixteen observational nature poems follow, using twenty-first century knowledge as a means to reimagine pantheism. The poems succeed because of their powerful attention to detail and their allegiance to Duffy’s interest in physics.
In “Surface Tension” carefully chosen words like “membrane” and “meniscus” are subtly scientific, helping this small poem to lodge itself memorably in the reader’s imagination.
Water too has a skin,
that membrane that separates
its world from our own, the meniscus
that trembles in the light
late evening breeze, not breaking it
but forming small rivulets
upon its surface, a flickering
of light playing on the eye
separating our world from theirs;
the kingdom of water;
the kingdom of air.
Water flows purposefully throughout the poems in this section. In “Storm over Skiddaw” sheep huddle together while “rain falls down / heavily about them”. A waterfall is wonderfully described as a “cascade of quicksilver/ force”, finally slowing down to a “cantering measure” in the poem “Tyneware Waterfall”, while in “Molecules in Motion”, waters are “flowing downriver towards the lake / and the human scale of the waiting landscape”. These are poems which skilfully celebrate the cycle of water in a diversity of natural settings. They are carefully honed, complement each other and make for an arresting second part of an intriguing collection.
Duffy concludes his third collection with a series of ten intimate monologues, set in contemporary Dublin – although the city is secondary to the voices of each speaker, all specifically named and all very different in their concerns and experiences. Broken marriages, drugs, emotional problems, disappointments are the fabric of these poems as we are introduced to the troubled and disaffected of the poet’s making. And yet there is an overriding humanity flowing like the rain through the days of each speaker, which offers some consolation for the future.
Muriel, though devastated by her loss of faith, tightens her coat about her, walks out onto the streets, hoping the rain will wash away her sin “that I may believe in Him again / Jesus who no longer lives with me / Pray for me …”. Richard’s job is to clean dead bodies and yet he ponders how “there is a tenderness, in the end, in this work I do”. “Caroline”, the final poem of the collection, encapsulates the humane, enquiring voice which flows as consistently as water throughout the three sequences of Summer Rain – a collection, which for all its exactness of structure, should ultimately be enjoyed for its great empathy and craft.
I pick another canvas
from the pile stacked along
the studio wall, blank and waiting
for a truer mood. I will paint
the smell of rain instead and start
with earthen brown and red.
1/1/2017
Enda Wyley is a poet and children’s author. She has published five collections of poetry with Dedalus Press – most recently Borrowed Space, New and Selected Poems (2014). She was the recipient of The Vincent Buckley Prize for Poetry and the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship for Poetry (2014). She is a member of Aosdána.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Wild Cherries - poem

I never knew my maternal grandfather. When I try think of him the image that comes to mind is that of his namesake, my Uncle Dinny. I was so delighted my uncle made it to my launch in September but saddened to say now that he died a few weeks ago. So, I'm not sure if this poem is about him (indirectly as a guiding character) or my granddad himself, but either way I thought I might share at this time. I also can see no immediate place for this poem in terms of work I am currently writing but am still proud of it and hope it captures something of both men.

This, then, to Denis and Dinny O'Brien, great traditional musicians and great characters both.

*


Wild Cherries 
In Memory of Denis O’Brien

i. Prelude

You were a man I never knew
and never will – one whose life
mine depends upon, yet you are ghost
to me, grandfather, dying far away
across the sea before I was born,
fading like all others to an imagined past
that I will never understand or fully grasp.


ii. Kilsallaghan

O’Brien’s Bridge and the stony fields,
the lands your father and his brothers ploughed,
their lasting mark upon the landscape
of their birth to leave their old life behind
with the promise of a better future
in this newly-minted Nation: a good holding
far from the wild Atlantic shore
and the winding roads of County Clare,                   
a farm now in north county Dublin, Kilsallaghan,
as much country back then as the lands
your father had come from, its soil
dark and rich and good, but too little of it,
in the end, for all his sons to prosper by.

Young you left and went to the city.


iii. Uniform

My mam said you looked as smart                
as a policeman in your dark navy uniform,
the JJ&S insignia on your cap marking you
employee of John Jameson & Sons,
Whiskey Makers since 1781, a good job
by any measure as you led your dray horses
down along the banks of the Liffey and on
to the docklands where the barges waited
with their cargo of amber, ready to move
this seemingly inexhaustible bounty
to the four corners of town and country.


iv. Music

I will never know your gait or manner
or how you held yourself as you walked
into a room or pub, though I heard once
that you could set the place alight with talk
or your playing on the fiddle, a Woodbine
browning your fingers at the tips as it burnt
down to a butt, a pint of Guinness and a Jemmie
on the table before you as you played reels
and jigs at the barroom or kitchen session,
these places where happiness found you, music
your one true gift to those you tried to love
though sometimes failed, you sliding then into the well
of drink and the sinking regret that fell over you,
stumbling home late below the Harvest Moon
rising above the rooftops of these regimented streets,
no crops to be gathered in this over-filled place,
just to walk and walk and never reach home,
the darkness and the dark thoughts descending again
as if the very stars had died and dimmed to silence.             


v. Wild Cherries

So I give you this memory now as passed to me
by my mother: how on the first Sunday
of summer months you were given the task to take
the dray horses out to Kilsallaghan for pasture,
a place you came now to only half-think your own,
better here though than in the maze of streets of Cabra,
chatting instead to farmers in hedge-lined fields
discussing the high price of barley and wheat
and the burden of Independence on the farming life
–  though at least the British had started to trade
in our beef again, the war forcing them to depend on us;
and all the while the farmers’ wives fussing in kitchens,
giving you punnets of wild cherries and apples
to take home with you as a treat for the children,
so many the family could feast on for a month, 
grandmother making jams, sweet tarts and cakes.
A time when happiness reigned in the house.


vi. Memory

I try to fill the gap with fragments, anecdotes
and clues, though no concluding image comes
to mind to complete my rag-tag picture of you.
How we each pass with our dying breath into
the foreverness of forgetfulness – like the land
you once walked with your brothers so many years before,
the hope you felt out there in the wide open fields
fading now to a monochrome photograph
of another time, a different place; and the stories
that may yet still await to add again your human face
to those gathered around the family fireplace:
this partial and imagined portrait I try make for you
– grandfather I never knew.





Saturday, October 8, 2016

'Summer Rain' - Launch Photos

Well, I had a great launch for my collection Summer Rain at Books Upstairs in Dublin at the end of September. Here is some photographic evidence!


Old friends gather, including Sarah Douglas and Greg O'Brien




Poet and novelist David Butler sets the formal proceedings going by welcoming the audience and introducing the wonderful poet Peter Sirr to say some words about the collection. 



Peter spoke to the gathered audience with his extremely lucid (as ever), close reading of the work. It was a true honour to have him there on the evening.



Peter's summary of the collection as 'a book in three movements, symphonic in its breadth' was extremely humbling to hear... 






Finally, I face my nerves - and the audience - to say some words of thanks to the many who have helped me along the way with this one.



Physics corner: Poets Iggy McGovern, Kate Dempsey and Ross Hattaway read as I read - from my own collection, mind. Otherwise, that would be just rude...




I finish my short(ish) reading from the book with the monologue 'Ailish', one of my favourite pieces from the collection. 






The Host with the most, D Butler, returns to the floor and wraps up the speechifying, inducing folk to have (another) glass of wine and buy the wares on offer!




Old pals, Brian Walsh and Greg O'Brien chatting afterwards...



...while, thankfully, I had some books to sign.




My great friend from New York, Beth Phillips, chats with my mam.




The rest of the family had come in numbers also. My uncle Dinser and aunt Margaret, with my brother Paddy and his partner Valerie.



Still signing books, thankfully, when ambushed with a man-hug by my old pal and neighbour, Mick Cregan. 



My uncle Frank, original toubadour of the family, talking to my brother Aidan.



To finish, a shot of me - book in hands - ruminating afterwards... Naturally, we all then headed to the nearest tavern...




My profound thanks to all who came along to make the launch such a special occasion. Massive thanks also to Books Upstairs for hosting the event and their long and enduring support of contemporary Irish writing and my publisher Ward Wood for their continued support in publishing my work. And finally, special mention for my good friend Steve Wilson who took the wonderfully atmospheric photographs on the night.


Till the next one!


Friday, September 9, 2016

'Summer Rain' - Launch Details

I'm delighted to report that my new collection Summer Rain will be launched in Books Upstairs, Dublin, on Tuesday 27th September at 6.30pm. I'm truly honoured that the wonderful poet Peter Sirr has agreed to introduce the work on the night. I'm very much looking forward to it. Hope I may seem some of you there -  if, naturally, you happen to be in the Dublin area.









For those who may be busy (or live far beyond the fine climes of Ireland) and might be interested, the collection is now available from The Books Depository. They provide free worldwide delivery which is a great saving.

You can find it at: http://www.bookdepository.com/Summer-Rain-Noel-Duffy/9781908742575





Monday, July 25, 2016

New collection 'Summer Rain' - cover

I've been a lazy blogger of late but mainly because I was working on completing my third collection, Summer Rain. I'm delighted to say that the book has gone through its final edit and is now with the printer. It will appear in a few weeks time and I will add links to the many and varied places it can be purchased - should you be so inclined to do so.

For now, here's the cover and blurb. Hope it catches your eye!






Noel Duffy’s third collection, Summer Rain, takes the form of three sequences: the first, a drama, set in late 19th century Vienna, recounting the final years of Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann’s life. The second is a series of fifteen observational nature poems based on the cycle of water, reimagining the ideas of the Romantic Poets through the lens of 21st century knowledge. The final sequence is a series of intimate dramatic monologues unfolding in modern day Dublin as the ‘Summer Rain’ of the title drifts in and out of the awareness of the ten speakers. 


Praise for Noel Duffy’s Previous Collections

‘Duffy understands poetry. It’s his tradition, and he has a curatorial urge to see it thrive.
 He just gets down to the heart of things and gives us poems that matter.’

Poetry Ireland Review


‘Duffy’s work is rooted in a deep study of his medium and the poems in  In The Library
of Lost Objects work in concert in a way very few books achieve.’

Magma


‘A striking feature is the author’s fascination with the sciences, formal and natural... following in the illustrious footsteps of other scientist-poets: immunologist Miroslav Holub, biochemist Jean Bleakney, polymath Mario Petrucci, and fellow physicist Iggy McGovern.’

Orbis


‘There is throughout this book a sense of continuity through history... that paradoxically accommodates change through experience and experiment. As such, it’s not just
Duffy’s education in experimental physics that shows throughout this book but the
influence of science on the world of emotions and personal experience.’

The Lake


‘The truth is that the poems sing with the pure ideas of a poet who has honed
his craft, but still remains full of wonder.’

Write Out Loud



Friday, April 29, 2016

How E.E. Cummings Writes a Poem - by nerdwriter1 (youtube)

In 1991, after finishing my third year at university studying experimental physics, I spent a summer working in Washington State in the US. On my way home, I stopped off for a visit with an American friend who was then living in the East Village in New York. We had a wonderful four days hanging out and schmoozing, enjoying the boho atmosphere of the sidewalk book stalls and street-side cafes.

As I was about to leave my friend gave me a copy of E.E. Cummings' work simply titled 100 Poems and on my return to Dublin I became obsessed with this collection and read it over and over (and to my friends insofar as you read Cummings aloud and for as long as they could tolerate my enthusiasm for it). It certainly acted as a very distinct counterpoint to the trials of studying advanced physics, especially as my final exams approached. Perhaps now, looking back, I can see how the cryptic, puzzle-making technique Cummings used so often - even in apparently straightforward pieces like this one - attracted a science-minded acolyte such as myself, albeit one tuned then to a very different subject.

Recovering 100 Poems from my bookshelf now, I see that it is the most thumbed and battered poetry collection among all the others, sellotape keeping the spine - just about - intact. I was reminded of it again when I stumbled across this close reading of a poem by Cummings on youtube by someone using the (very apt) moniker nerdwriter1. It's a highly insightful piece and I particular enjoyed his examination of the use of parenthesis in Cummings' work (a very nerdy point in itself!).Oddly, seeking out 100 Poems today, I realised I haven't read Cummings for quite some time so thanks to this video, found myself excited to revisit it.

So here is nerdwriter1's sharp-nosed analysis of 'i carry your heart', with an audio reading of the poem by the poet himself:




Sunday, March 27, 2016

'In the Shadow of the Patriot' - poem

Tomorrow marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, the failed insurrection that ultimately changed public opinion in Ireland and led to the country's future independence from Great Britain as a self-declared republic. Many celebrations and state events have been taking place this weekend and will continue tomorrow. I haven't been asked to do any readings (I feel like the only poet in Ireland not to!) but, in truth, Irish history and Irish identity have never really been central themes for me as a writer. All that said, I feel very proud to have been born in an independent Ireland and very much appreciate the sacrifice of those now remembered in schoolbooks and whose statues populate the city streets of Dublin where I live.

So I thought today to post a poem from a new sequence I'm working on which explores the nature of memory and forgetfulness, both personal and cultural. To this end, here's a short piece from this new work (with all the provisos about the completeness of new poems that must apply). It's not a poem of Yeatsian grandeur in the historical sense nor is it intended to be, but somehow it feels indirectly apt in its own way to share, I hope. After all, those men and women who fought (and sometimes died) one hundred years ago did so, I believe, so that such casual moments among the living may happen in the shadow of their past. We remember them, of course, and live among their ghosts, but life continues on also. A hundred years on from the Easter Rising, here's my slant offering. I should add, it was written some months ago and not with today's commemorations in mind.





In the Shadow of the Patriot

The old quarter at dusk. The rain starts again.
A fire engine passes by to a rising and falling pulse, 
echoing down cobbled streets and alleyways 
rebounding against the tall windows and soot-grimed
red-brick buildings, the bars where the ghosts
of the dead linger, haunting the granite flagstones
with their long-lost footfalls... The late evening buses
pull away from pavements in turn, raindrops marking
fleeting circles in the puddled water of the drains:
and the young couple who stand by the statue
of the old Patriot, his hands and face weathered
to history and forgetfulness as they pull each other 
closer, their lips touching to warm softness.