Skip to main content

Guest Review: Butt On McLoughlin

Maggie Butt reviews
by Nigel McLoughlin

It’s possible that Nigel McLoughlin may have the most extensive vocabulary of any man in Britain, and what a gift that is for a poet.  His contents page says: “the following abbreviations are used in footnotes to the poems: (Ir) Irish language, (Hib) Hiberno-English dialect, (collq) colloquialism or slang;” but he doesn’t list (Ac) academic or (Mu) the music of words or (He) the language of the heart – all of which he speaks like a native.  Even the title, Chora, is a word redolent with meanings which are different within the realms of ancient Greek, ancient philosophy and modern philosophy.  I expect he also knows it is a genus of nolid moths.

I first encountered McLoughlin’s work with the 2007 collection Dissonances (again a word with a range of meanings) so it was fascinating for me to see the genesis and development of poems published between 2001 and 2010. Some ‘New and Selected’s have poems in reverse order like a CV, but these are chronological, and enable us to walk with the poet through the growing sophistication of  his craft, through places and characters he encounters and leaves behind, through his themes of family and history as he strides out to ‘hobnail my way through all / the ploughed lands of language.” McLoughlin ‘’unroll(s)/ words like a carpet” and increasingly layers meaning, themes and rhythms from the clear simplicity of the earlier collections to the polish and craft I had already admired in Dissonances.

The extracts from his first collection, At the Water’s Clearing, are full of Irish music. From the plaintive mountain-and-bog setting of ‘Some Go Dancing’, through the rosaries and Ave’s, to the gritty urban landscapes of ‘Foreland Heights in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, this has to be Ireland.  From his first collection he introduces closely observed, un-named characters: his grandfather (?) who died in the first world war, a grandmother (?) who wove tales and divined futures , “and told me she saw faces in the flame”, the latchico (undesirable) and the Green Man with their magical powers, the ‘Poitin (potcheen) Maker’, who “avoids conversation like excise”, the navvy armies tunnelling through mountains, the fishermen at the lough, “here is a bond of blood / that pulls me to it – several ancestors/ dead by drowning.” 

With the 2004 collection Song for No Voices, the mix of musicality, intense emotion and tactile engagement with the world which characterises much of the later work, is emerging strongly.

From Blood there are familial blood-tie poems, “what it is to curl/all our hopes up in a ball/ and make a fist of them” , there are translations like ‘The Song of Amergin’ (who says the author is dead?), but most of all there is a pervasive sense of history, of the past living with the present, of a heritage and culture which is not just owned but breathed: “Forward and back, / forward and back, / all our histories go.”  This is “a land full of blood” where he manages, “to dance on bog, to heel/ and toe the line between / the mountain and the sky”  in a land of “whiskey/ coloured waters,” and stunted “pig-iron” trees where “even the grass is vaguely ferrous.”  These poems are deeply concerned with the history of Northern  Ireland, movingly, gut-wrenchingly full of the waste of it, “bloody as all our hands.”

After the tumult and terror of the Blood poems, the polish and experiment and – sometimes - joy of the poems from Dissonances where “everything burns, everything rings including me. / The great bell of the world vibrates and I am drunk / with winter sunshine” throws both into sharp relief.

And finally, in the new poems, McLoughlin circles again, around his themes of  Irish countryside and history, of families and of words, from the humanity of close observation of ‘Incendiary’ and ‘Synaesthesia’, to the chilling accuracy of ‘Exodus’ and ‘Market’, and the final poet’s-poem of ‘Chora’:

“The air greens into mistletoe. Something
moves in my head. I open the poem and enter it.
It shapes itself and imprints its flux like the arc
of a spark fading through.  The weight of a rhythm
cuts itself out of the place where forms form themselves.”

Dr. Butt is a British poet.

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

THE BEVERLY PRIZE SUPER SHORTLIST FINALISED!

Dr Bruce Meyer, a significant Canadian poet and writer, will be the final judge for this year's Beverly Prize For International Writing - the impressive super shortlist of 18 international poets and writers is announced below.
Any original unpublished manuscript, in English, by anyone living anywhere in the world, writing in any genre or on any topic, prose, non-fiction or poetry (even drama) is eligible, making it arguably the world's most eclectic "broad church" literary scouting prize. Last year's debut winner was Sohini Basak (her book is being launched in Bloomsbury July 5th, 2018).

The rules of the prize stipulate that any author chosen for the shortlist agrees to accept publication with Eyewear if judged to be the final winner; and may not be entered into other competitions at this final stage of adjudication.
Bruce Meyer is author of more than 60 books of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, literary journalism, and portraiture. He was winner of the Gwendolyn…

Review of the new Simple Minds album - Walk Between Worlds

Taste is a matter of opinion - or so goes one opinion. Aesthetics, a branch of pistols at dawn, is unlikely to become unruffled and resolved any time soon, and meantime it is possible to argue, in this post-post-modern age, an age of voter rage, that political opinion trumps taste anyway. We like what we say is art. And what we say is art is what likes us.

Simple Minds - the Scottish band founded around 1977 with the pale faces and beautiful cheekbones, and perfect indie hair cuts - comes from a time before that - from a Glasgow of poverty and working-class socialism, and religiosity, in a pre-Internet time when the heights of modernity were signalled by Kraftwerk, large synthesisers, and dancing like Bowie at 3 am in a Berlin club.

To say that early Simple Minds was mannered is like accusing Joyce of being experimental. Doh. The band sought to merge the icy innovations of German music with British and American pioneers of glam and proto-punk, like Iggy Pop; their heroes were contrived,…

THE WINNER OF THE SIXTH FORTNIGHT PRIZE IS...



Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.



Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand