“Poet Dave Lordan’s Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains was published over three years ago. I’ve been reading it again lately, and remembering the pleasure I felt at my first encounter with the work. It is serious material, beautifully finished and balanced.
The poems are really compelling and overwhelmingly brilliant; a real talent from West Cork, a distinctive voice trying with indignant honesty to find a suitable technique in order to contain, to handle, to embellish unusual viewpoints and sometimes eccentric visions. The poem ‘My Mother Speaks to Me of Suicide’ (p61) is a masterpiece, compelling and dramatic in its emotional monologue of suicides of young men, and the honesty of such lines ‘Here’s a cliché with some life in it –/ hope is what the spirit breathes.’
The twenty-part poem ‘Notes for a Player (for Denis Boothman) p41-60, is a terrific work too, varied, controlled, poignant and deeply felt as in ‘I knew I was a witness, for the first time in history,/ to the Standard of a Father who is dying.’ (xii.p52)
It’s an emotional male world, a politicized male emotion: ‘Hope, ya ould mutt, I hear yer in bits’ (p19). A poem like ‘Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains’ is technically beautiful, modulated, changing rhythm and structure as the emotion dictates, but spare and definite: ‘It’s so righteous to stray./ It’s so good to abandon./ It’s so just to ascend/ With the lost and forgotten.’
And that wonderful poem on bees, ‘Bees and the Authorities’ on p25 as well as the ironic cruelty of slaughtered cattle, of Estonian and Brazilians, in ‘Discover Ireland’ (p27). Lordan is a new generation poet, probably heartily sick of my generation and our baleful influence on public commentary and anthologies. He is doing in Irish poetry what Kevin Barry is doing in prose fiction, finding angles that seem daft only because they are original.
I feel ashamed that he is not more widely celebrated. He really deserves to be. His is a very new voice, developing a new method, less attached to Auld Decencies and old venerable names in poetry but more attached to the pulsing, angry, precise moment; sometimes emotionally overwhelmed by the very choice of hard material, but overwhelmed in the best way as he’s dealing with new sensibilities in an exiled Joycean way; and new, detached, bleak insights into the sheer cruelty of Irish life and how this life has betrayed a generation – a generation of demotic provincials as well as the educated travelled young of the cities.
OK, it’s great to praise the big poets when they’re good – Longley, Mahon, Boland, etc., but sometimes it is the newer poets who should be pulled forward, onward, upward to the microphones of attention. The newly mature need a push and a break too, as well as us old fellows.
With poems like ‘Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains’ and ‘Notes for a Player’ Lordan deserves massive, attentive praise right now. Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains is a masterpiece. I’m sure of this. It’s not just full of promise, it’s way beyond that: it’s actually full of real poetic achievement. Someday this poet will get the attention his gifts deserve.
Thomas McCarthy, Poet, Librarian, Member of Aosdana, bio at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_McCarthy_(poet)