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Peter Fallon

Poet, Publisher, Editor and Translator
Richard Rankin Russell
Irish Academic Press


Peter Fallon was my first poet - the first I met, the first I heard read poems in public. When I moved to Dublin in 1970, unlettered in the ways of the poetry world, Peter (born in 1951, barely three years my elder) was already well on his way to becoming a man of letters. Ringleader of every worthwhile poetry plot, he was rejuvenating and regenerating the art, dusting it off, stirring it up with the whirlwind stamina of a young Yeats or Pound. His dashing dress code and exuberant spillage of ink-black hair lent him an aura that was as dandyish as it was hippyish, as mystical as it was modish. I was aware that he had a musical side, with prominent rock group affiliations; but my congenital deaf spot for rock music left me ignorant of that dimension of Peter's life. To me, he was primarily a poet, irrespective of any alterative persona - Trinity College student, arts impresario, band associate - he might present to the world. And he remains for me what then he was. Poet first and foremost. Editor. Man on a sacred mission: passionate, driven, resolute.

Peter's energising omnipresence lit a neon torch for a generation that had had its fill of staidness and - appetite freshly whetted by Lunch Poems and Howl, by the Beat school and the Liverpool Poets - was hungry for an Irish poetry with more pizzazz, more jizz, more jazz, one likelier to appeal to the metalhead music fan than the egghead academic. As performer, festival organiser, magazine editor and book publisher, he expanded Ireland's poetry constituency, making the art accessible to an audience that had felt excluded from this 'elitist' pursuit. His Tara Telephone readings in 1970 were credited by the Evening Herald newspaper with bringing poetry 'to the people-where it belongs.'

In about 1974, I was purportedly the warm-up reader for Peter in a Lantern Theatre reading, but I merely chilled the audience with my then-ghoulish poems. It was left to Peter to clear away my cadavers, thaw out our listeners, and skillfully pilot them towards the more congenial climes of his far warmer, far more proficient poems. Around that time also, he and Daniel Reardon allowed me to host a lunchtime reading of their work in University College. Their fee - whatever voluntary pennies were tossed in the circulated mortar board by the penurious student audience - would scarcely have covered the cost of a Guinness fill-up in the campus bar, much less a fill-up for Peter's Guinness-black Morris Minor.

For all his associations with pop poetry and Beat poetry, Peter was independent of poetry schools and groups, camps and campuses. Trendy though the young man may have seemed, in the John Lennonist mode, the young poet was fashioned in the John Clare mode (minus the madness), setting out on a lone rural journey that steered clear of trends and fads. His poems were neither flared nor tie-dyed. 'Solitary' is the final word in his accomplished first collection, Among the Walls (1971), and the book as a whole - containing poems written for the page rather than performance, and devoid of the twee side of Sixties verse - is the work of a poet seriously committed to his art. The same may be said of Co-Incidence of Flesh (1972).

That his dedication had yielded early dividends was evident by the time his third collection, The First Affair (1974), appeared, its taut, well-crafted poems flourishing both in performance and in print. Peter's plangent readings of poems like 'If She's Your Lover Now', redolent of young love and perennial pain, linger in the memories of his audiences: the mood music of a generation. In 'Shillings', another retrospect on lost love, he coined three priceless lines that bring 'the time and the place and the loved one together', recreating - in about twenty thrifty words - a bygone phase of twentieth-century Irish life: 'My pockets are full of shillings. // I used save them for the meter in your flat; / Such habits are not easily broken.'

Part II of the collection saw the poet mapping out his future path: changing poetical and personal direction, setting his watch to rural time. The development in his work, over so short a period, was as startling as it was impressive. Still only twenty-three, he had found his true voice and his true subject matter had found him, commandeering that voice for poems that have every claim to inclusion in any collected edition of his work. The verse is more disciplined formally; the sonnet, A Hungry Eye', could slip unnoticed into his later collections, so fully does it anticipate some of the distinct features of his mature work: the affectionate and sympathetic depiction of neighbours, the acknowledgment of their hardships, the incorporation of demotic speech ('I mind the time we'd snows in May') and proper names ('Joe Lynch').

Fallon's life-changing decision, in the 1980s, to transplant The Gallery Press (which he started 'in innocence' in 1970) from suburban Rathgar in Dublin to rural County Meath was an audacious one - although he had personal ties with Meath, having spent portions of his childhood on the Lennoxbrook farm of his uncle, Peter Mullan. Finding his place there, he is happy to explore, if not explain, local lore and legend. Like Brendan Kennelly ('Proof is what I do not need'), an early signing to the Gallery Press list, Fallon believes that 'The man is wise who'll not ask why, / who'll not explain'. He can be simultaneously respectful and ironical towards folk cures:

 my mother would cross a sty in your eye
and if that didn't cure it it wasn't a sty

 'Mole', one of the pair of Fallon poems selected by Seamus Heaney for his anthology of emerging poets, Soundings 2 (1974), heralds the splendid imagist to come: 'Thalidomide, earth-seal / of muscle, tail a teat / and nose the sound of stone . . .  It is among the poems which resurface - some with revisions - in The Speaking Stones (1978). One senses that Fallon regards that fourth collection, assured in idiom and secure in locale, as a fresh beginning, his Opus 1. While this implies a harsh judgement on the earlier collections, sidelining them as apprentice work, the discernment is consistent with Fallon's editorial scrupulousness at The Gallery Press; he is doing unto himself as he does unto others. Residence in a Loughcrew landscape of passage graves, many millennia old, has heightened his sense of what 'time' means in that 'test of time' to which all poetry is ineluctably subjected. The rhythm must be right, the structure watertight, the evocation exact, the metaphor striking, the emotion true.

Dennis O'Driscoll