Out of a few ‘crumbs’ – the greening blade of a crocus, a gnarly old olive tree, the chatter of finch, the clouds that drift aimlessly by – Mark Burrows has gathered in his new collection, like a busker in the subway or Christ in a desert place, enough to handsomely sustain us.
There can at times be an attention-seeking particularism about Irish writing – look at us, we like to say, look how unique, and how very interesting, we are. When I was a boy, we were taught that post-independence Ireland was poor but uniquely virtuous. Today we are taught that it was poor and uniquely wicked. Both positions are misguided: we were never as different as people have made out.
As a poet, Iggy McGovern celebrates certainties – the certainty of the slow ticking of a public house clock, ‘a quarter-hour ahead’, the certainty of scientific exploration, of a life clearly recalled, the certainty of the BBC Home Service and of course, the certainty of ageing.
‘Consumer culture’ may not be as new as we think it is. Consider the ordinary Venetian oar-maker who left his widow forty-three shirts, twenty-five sheets, sixty-three tablecloths and napkins and 105 pewter plates in 1633. And what does Harrods’ offering of a hundred models of briar pipe tell us about the consumption patterns of London gentlemen in the 1890s?
Though he was long perceived as an apolitical writer, Samuel Beckett’s three main publishers, in Paris, London and New York, were known for works with an overt politics and a dedication to civil liberties. This context mattered to Beckett in terms of where his work appeared.
In 1945 a new housing authority in Northern Ireland set itself the target of building 30,000 houses over ten years, houses that would be allocated on the basis of need, not religious affiliation. In Belfast, some religiously integrated estates lasted, and thrived, until the start of the Troubles.
Zadie Smith is an opponent of dullness, mediocrity, pusillanimity and taking yourself too seriously; she is a champion, and in her work an embodiment, of position, attitude, rhythm and style, like her favourite dancers, Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson. Her essays afford not just pleasure but joy.