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Charging Ahead

Ronan Sheehan

UCD Belfield Metaphysical: New and Selected Poems, by Kevin Kiely, Lapwing Publications, 80 pp, £10, ISBN: 978-1910855676

This collection by Kevin Kiely, a self-styled modernist from Co Down, contains forty-plus poems of varying length, scope, style and subject matter. Much Irish verse ‑ what Kevin Kiely might call conventional Irish verse ‑ recreates images from nature, from rural life, from family life or whatever and, for good or ill, constructs a statement upon them. Implicit in the procedure is the proposition that the poet, he or she, is a nice guy, a good guy, someone who could safely be placed in charge of a creche. Someone who is life-affirmative. Who is, too often, to use Flann O’Brien’s phrase “concerned to be well thought of. A holder of a Guinness clerkship, the third class.”

Kevin Kiely does something else. Virtually every line of his charges ahead with a near manic intensity to set up a confrontation with experience. Images here are not stored in a hallowed granary of memory and the soul. They are broken down and interrogated. Thus:

The cut aches beneath eyebrows of sky a glimpse of cherry red
dusk light distorted through water in a glass, trees are sickly yellow
“A Map Of Melancholy”

Antonin Artaud invented a mode of drama: the theatre of cruelty. It may be that Artaud is the unacknowledged mentor or legislator for Kevin Kiely’s Poetry Of Cruelty. The aim is to make the reader feel what the poet feels, usually pain, something we normally shrink from. Kiely forces us to come with him.

It is high-octane, high-risk, exhilarating stuff, a roller-coaster ride through different levels of consciousness. You connect or you don’t. Kiely doesn’t waste time trying to persuade us to believe in him or like him. He gets on with it. Thus:

She is more than time’s apparent movement taking me with her
more than time ever shall; life is not life as when travellers exhale and ask
how much time have we got? I don’t ask. I don’t ask anything because she
is in the Holograph and the Melancholograph, resplendent archive ...
“A Map Of Melancholy”

The aim is to manufacture insight, create a visionary moment, by hurling the elements of language together, by creating a linguistic explosion. For me this system works often enough to make the effort worthwhile and more than that, a pleasure, rewarding. Doubtless the poems which flash by me will connect with other readers and vice-versa.

Of At-Swim-Two-Birds, Dylan Thomas remarked “If your sister is a loud, boozy girl, give her this book.” If your brother has enlisted in a Special-Ops regiment and is preparing for an assault course, give him this one.

1/12/2018

Ronan Sheehan, a Dublin writer-solicitor, graduated from University College Dublin in English and Latin in the 1970s.

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