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Black ice and rain

By Lavinia Greenlaw

challock%20woods%202.jpg
The changes in the weather here have become less gradual, more brutal. Hailstones fall out of a blue sky. There is snow in October and then there isn’t.
It is four years since the sudden death of Michael Donaghy, at the age of 50. Donaghy was an American of Irish descent, who went to the University of Chicago, where he edited The Chicago Review, before settling in London in the 1980s. His poetry was the subject of this year’s T.S. Eliot lecture, given by Sean O’Brien, which focuses on Donaghy’s “Black Ice and Rain” in which a man at a party follows a woman into her bedroom and tells her how he met a woman at a party… O’Brien concludes:


I’ve discussed ‘Black Ice and Rain’ in novelistic terms, through story, plot and character, in order to indicate Donaghy’s artistic confidence. He’s not simply rubbing up against fiction in the familiar timid and affectionate manner of a great many poets. He incorporates its forms and possibilities into the work while retaining the pacing, orchestration and variety of register which are the province of a poem. The poem more than stands its ground. What we have in ‘Black Ice and Rain’ is much more than another honourable addition to the genre of dramatic monologue. The poem offers a compelling renewal of the genre’s possibilities, applied to subjects – belief, value, the confusion of art with the self and the self with the good – which the era of postmodernity has lent new colours and new urgency. The poem is also, slyly, circumstantially, damningly, a critique of postmodernity as a mass cultural movement/product on the grounds of its simultaneous fetishization of ‘creativity’ and denial of artistic authenticity. Donaghy disapproved of the notion of artistic ‘progress’, with its banal suggestion that ‘now’ is somehow better than ‘then’; he would even have disputed the notion that at bottom ‘now’ is even different from then. For him – as it surely should be for us – the poetry that matters, that deserves to live, that engages the imagination and nourishes the memory, emerges in contact with ‘a live tradition’. It offers itself to a general audience as both challenge and invitation, to create a space which can be colonized neither by vulgarity nor remote self-regard. It is, in the teeth of the odds, poetry undertaken as an act of good faith.
The lecture, On Michael Donaghy: Black Ice, Rain and the City of God, can be read on the Poetry Book Society Website and is a version of Sean O’Brien’s introduction to the forthcoming Collected Poems of Michael Donaghy, to be published by Picador in March.

Comment (1)

  • On October 31, 2008 at 5:06 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    If Donaghy were alive today, he may have been up for giving a thumbs up for the second All Ireland Live Poetry Championships, which take place on Wednesady 12 November at the hite House pub in Limerick city centre.
    Delivering from memory, was the duty of a bard, from all the seven levels on the 12 year course, which began on the first day of term, today Samhain – trans. summers end – when the students from thes 1200 yr in print institution of poet-schools that ran from the 5 – 18C, gathered at their ollamhs door, ready to study through the long six month semester, until Beltaine on May 1, breaking up at the first sound of the cuckoo hooting in the wood, where the bard schools were situated.
    Each grade from focloch (sapling) to ollamh (poetry professor), the trainee fili (poet) had to learn so many tales from the 350 in the syllabes, 250 of which were primary, learnt by the first six grades, and a 100 aecondary, secret, never written narratives transferred as all their learning was, from tongue-tip to ear, as we see in the imagery of the Irish god of language, eloquence and poetry Ogma, who the first proto-Old Irish script ogham derives from.
    Ogmios is the Gualish equivalent who Roman writer Lucien depicts as an aging bald with bow and club, leading a happy band of scholars chained by their ears to his tongue, signifying the bardic practice of oral transmission for learning.
    Only 200 of the tales live on in print, in the four cycles of Irish myth, all primary, the secondary ones gone, along with this tradition of learning for most poets. But Michael, as O’Brien says, living tradition, on show in Limerick, unsponsored and paid for out of my pocket, so if any wish to help, please seek me out online and write to me for a lesson on how to reach imbas, Segais and the three extemporised methods took in the eighth year of learning the ancient art of filidecht, alive since the first culdee came and wedded themselves to God, breathing still in this Kilmainham bedsit, a wanderer retunred whose story’s not one of dislocation and loss as so many of our diaspora, but that of re-connection, home to Nechtan, Connla’s well, with cupbearers, tales and myths, taken from the pages time almost forgot.
    gra agus siochain


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, October 31st, 2008 by Lavinia Greenlaw.