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Black ice and rain
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.