I am trying to find an approach to new collections. I do not see myself as reviewing them (and I hate to be called a "reviewer") so I wondered how I should talk about them, how do I see what I am doing? I am not reading the collections only as discrete works of art, I am placing them in my mind as part of the Irish literary tradition. I have my own preoccupations of course, just like the poets do. Irish poets are very self-consciously Irish, they know they are in the shadows of Giants. The only poets I have read extensively are Whitman, Crane, and Yeats. Sometimes I think why should I read anyone but the greatest of poets. In the works of writers such as Alan Patrick Traynor I am finding an answer. I sense Irish poets love their wounds, they have no intentions of letting them heal. I also think more than in other cultures, Irish poets write for each other. Irish poets are fixed on death, many poems are about seeking escape from loss and pain.
I am not technically trained in the mechanics of poetry, I am not an academic or a scholar. I just read stuff and post about it. I am not aligned with any particular school or group of Irish writers.
Posting on short stories is harder, for me, than novels, and posting on a collection of poems even harder. In speaking of short story collections I have used a guiding metaphor of visiting a forest. I think in posting on a poetry collection I will see myself as exploring a new to me city. In some cities I will be without guide in a place where I share no common language with the inhabitants. In some I will scream out "tourist", in some I will know I am not really welcome. In some I will fit in very well and feel right at home. In the best collections I will see things I never saw before, my range of experience will be strongly stretched, in some I will realize I never fully saw what was in my own town. One of the best impacts of poetry is to increase our perceptivity. One of the highest goods of deep reading of quality literature is that it allows and sometimes forces us to see the humanity in other people. I know that Euro Disney is not Nirvana. I know that the luxury and comfort of the people in the rich part of the city are paid for in tenements and sweat shops. I know when politicians say all must share austerity they mean they will sell their smaller yacht while old people who cannot afford their medicine die. I know there are monsters lurking in the city, I know that Pol Pat hated cities and the people in them. I know the imperial foreign policy of England caused massive famines not just Ireland but in India and Africa. I know ideologies are dangerous. I need poets to help me move beyond reading facts to feeling, to seeing the skull mask behind the smiles. I need them to move beyond a miasma of bitterness and contempt for humanity, I need them to see the naked face of evil. A good poet should sometimes see this in the mirror and so should a good reader. There is a beauty in evil, Thanatos is erotic.
I will keep saying this until I see I am wrong. There is a deep fascination with death in the Irish psyche. All of the the poetry collections I have so far read, manifest this. Traynor's collection is a hymn to the victims of the Holocaust that costs the lives of around six million Jews and one half a million Gypsies. He powerfully mourns lost lives. These poems scream, they transcend trivial rationality. They are not hand ringing TV documentaries. They force us to see the killer and the victim in ourselves. They are about huge cultural losses, poems never written, diseases never cured, paintings never realized. Behind a smiling cleric you can see a Mayan priest. The holocaust is not over. Just open your eyes, Traynor will help you do that.
There are seven poems in this very intense collection. All focus on the Holocaust. I read each poem several times and in different places. I will just talk about some of them to help me explore his collection, increase my understanding of his poems through writing about them and to give interested parties a bit of a feel for his works.
"Seven Days of Ashes" is the title work in the collection. It is told from inside the ovens, from the top of a Central American pyramid six hundred years ago, from a Cambodian work camp, from a luxury resort for leaders of the European Union pondering austerity measures and scanning pics of 1000 Euro an hour hookers on their mobiles, maybe the Irish WW Two era leaders who looked up Hitler as a friend should leave the room while this is read, maybe C. K. Chesterton will explain "I just liked the uniforms". Day 1 is murder, it was just an order. This makes me think why do murderous ideologues love order, not just orders. I want you to read these lines:
"I am the skeleton mother,
A voice that reads the grave,
The borrowed sharpened flint,
We are the beautiful, the horrific beauty
And we are dead".
This poem is already so compressed it is near possible and it would be a travesty to paraphrase it. There is no answers for the questions this poem brings forth.
"Under every soul that slept wept the
Angel of Warsaw"
"Wept the Angel of Warsaw" is a searing eulogy for Irena Sendler, a Polish nurse who helped 2500 people escape the massacre of the citizens of the Warsaw Ghetto. It begins with an account of her torture by the Germans. From this it expands to an umbrella of compassion in a world of mindless brutality. It also brings as part of its meaning the life of one of the rescued children, Elżbieta Ficowska who lived a long life in America.
"The Splintering Wind" is the final poem in the collection. I think it may be the the most powerful.
"They made barbed wire out of children
Mother stood and watched Father held the pliers
A choir of goosebumps rained down humming
Even Mozart rose up from the grave Like a blameless train
Oh pull their hands out from not a grave
From not a grave is Heaven The bleeding leaves of God Held their snowing heads so white
But remember this and never forget it!
A pen is nothing but a withering tree In the hands of an oven
I really do not want to "Explain" this poem, from which the above is but a fragment. I do like to think Mozart wept.
These are powerful poems, meant to say the truth, or maybe to transcend it. I feel deep pain, mourning and compassion in these works. I feel hatred. Somehow there is joy here also.
Alan Patrick Traynor is a Poet from Dublin Ireland. He is the author of SEVEN DAYS OF ASHES, a poetry book written on the spirit of the Holocaust and published by Plum Tree Books.
It has been said that his poetry is the mystical galvanic paint that sets the fields of Provence on fire. It shocks the eyes and the soul at once!
Alan has been featured in Literary Journals worldwide, and is greatly respected amongst his peers. "Edit not my soul” and "Edit not blood" are two of his own phrases that describe him best.
You can learn more about his work on the web page of his publisher, Plum Tree.
I look forward to reading more of his work.
I anticipate doing a q and a with Traynor so look for that soon.
The Reading Life