I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Different Furrow

A Different Furrow

Billy Mills
How Far From Daybreak, ed Nicholas Johnson, Etruscan Books, £15, ISBN: 978-1901538885 There is a widespread narrative of twentieth century Irish poetry that hinges on how the writers who followed Yeats dealt with life in his shadow. In this story, Austin Clarke (to take one example) struggled with both the influence of, and neglect by, the older poet; Patrick Kavanagh (to take another) reacted against Yeats’s aristocratic idealisation of peasant life to forge a poetry of the authentically local. This narrative is, in effect, the normative framework in which critical discussion of modern Irish poetry has taken place for most of the last one hundred years. While this framework has been useful for students of Irish poetry, it has tended to exclude poetry written from what may be perceived as the margins, such as poetry by women. In the case of someone like Brian Coffey, who set out writing poetry as if Yeats had never existed, it has resulted in an almost total exclusion of his work from both anthologies and general surveys of the terrain. In recent years, there has been some attempt at redressing this neglect, with the publication in 2000 of Donal Moriarty’s fine The Art of Brian Coffey and, a decade later, Other Edens, a collection of essays edited by Benjamin Keatinge and Aengus Woods. Given this general neglect, most casual readers of verse who encounter such stray bits of Coffey’s work as are generally available are left without much context in which to place it. Specifically, a full picture of his career as a poet can be difficult to piece together. Coffey first started publishing in the late 1920s in The Irish Student magazine under the pseudonym Cœuvre (or Couevre), a name that reflects his immersion in French writing at college, which included an involvement with his brother Donough  and friend Denis Devlin in student productions of Molière. These early poems are redolent of French Symbolism, but also reflect Coffey’s reading of Eliot and, to a lesser extent, Pound: In this waste place assessing loss here will I lay me down a while considering the promise of the final mile making a final violent recollection making a final absolute election … A number of these student poems were collected in the 1930 volume Poems, together with pieces by Devlin. Devlin’s poems also reflect their French interests, as do uncollected poems by another college friend, Niall Montgomery, although Devlin was less drawn to the…

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