The varied voices 
of three Irish poets

The varied voices 
of three Irish poets
A Little Book of Ledwidge: A Selection of Poems and Letters of Francis Ledwidge

compiled by John Quinn, with an assessment by Seamus Heaney (Veritas, €9.99)

India to Ithaca

by Paula Lahiff (€10.00; €12.50 including postage, contact

Santiago Sketches

by David McLoghlin (Salmon Poetry, €12.00)

In Ireland the role of the poet has been respected since prehistoric times. Among the Gaels the poet was an artist, a judge, and an arbiter of all aspects of life. Some of the respect in which such wordsmiths are still held has been reflected in the widespread mourning for the death of Dolores O’Riordan.

But poets come in all kinds of shapes: the poet with an academic post, the young people using poetry to express their complicated feelings and desires, the performance poet who entertains in the back room of the local pub; the variants are endless…

In these books under review we have a varied selection of poets, all of interest, all worth reading, in their very different styles.

Francis Ledwidge belongs to a large category, the talented poets whose careers were overshadowed by the gigantic status of such figures as Yeats, Kavanagh and Heaney. These days he is seen (given the various forms of commemoration going on) as a Great War poet, one of the company with Owen, Sassoon, Graves and others. But this in a way does him an injustice. He was a poet who took his inspiration, his daily stimulations, from the natural life of his rural home, a natural world which war and revolution distorted.

In this selection writer John Quinn presents a moving selection of both his poems and his personal letters, to which the late Nobel Laureate extends his blessing.

Paula Lahiff is a poet representative of a great many in Ireland. She has long been a member of local writing groups in the places where she and her family have lived. These groups are these days an important part of Irish social and literary life.

This collection relates passages in her life that have inspired her, from her birth in South India to the West of Ireland. On the rerun voyage from India as an infant she contracted polio. The disease passed but came back upon her in the form of post-polio syndrome.

She recounts her life’s odyssey in a very moving way as a poet who writes out of a kind of necessity to record those concentrated moments of her own life that she values. She captures in her poems a great deal of life pain, the pains of illness and parting and of family life. But also moments of recalled loveliness such as a butterfly brushing her check to land on the cooling earth.

This is a collection well worth encountering for its startling observations, and its gentle though sometimes sharp way with words.

For the occasional poet like Paula Lahiff poetry is a recreation, for a poet like David McLoghlin, poetry is a way of life, or perhaps life itself. He is very much a poet of our time, a young man of varied cultural experience, from middle class Dublin to the Kerry Gaeltacht to the labyrinth of Spanish life and literature, and now urban America. His early connections focused on Ireland very much, but here he devotes his new book to his Iberian experiences.

Countless people (as we know from these pages) have written about their experiences on the Camino to Santiago de Compostella. But those writers seem only to have experienced the Way and the other pilgrims. Here, for once, the focus is on the experience of the city itself, what it means and what it gives, but so few receive or understand.

The poet combines his prose with his poems in a way that reminded me of the Basho’s ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’, a great work of literature that should be better known. The city is described, or rather sketched, in prose, but the poems are used for those more intense moments of insight and feeling. This all works very well. The book represents a distinct advance in his work. Those who want to experience something of the inner Spain through an Irish imagination will value this book.

Perhaps he may be able to achieve something of the same kind again to describe his transpontine experiences in Brooklyn. His feelings for at least seven cultures of Ireland, Europe, and the Americas, make David McLoghlin a unique voice in modern Irish writing.