You might not think it, but size and weight seems to matter in poetry anthologies. Hey, feel the weight, it must be good, or at least significant! Some weeks ago all 922 pages of The Book Of Irish American Poetry, edited by Daniel Tobin, arrived from University of Notre Dame Press, Indiana. What a doorstep or doorstop of – prodigious and remarkable of literary scholarship – (in their words) but it has given me sore wrists. Now, the School of Humanities Publications at Waterford Institute of technology, have just brought out a massive twelve hundred and eighty-page anthology of poetry from Canada and Ireland called The Echoing Years.
So, it’s on with the steel toecaps, climbing tackle, ice-pick, bullshit meter and oxygen mask. The Echoing Years is a masterwork and an impressive triumph for John Ennis as the third book in a wonderful series that started with The Backyards Of Heaven (2003) and However Blow The Winds (2004). Both of them looked at Irish and Newfoundland/Labrador poetry and this new work opens out into the vastness of Canadian poetry.
The vision, insight and scope of John Ennis, has to be marvelled at and his love of poetry shines out before any lip-service to politics or literary crowns. This new anthology is a major contribution to Irish/Canadian literature, including as it does the work of one hundred and eighty six poets and translators. From WIT and Waterford’s point of view, it is a significant marker for the campaign for University status.
John Ennis was joined, in this remarkable addition, by two Newfoundland scholars, Randall Maggs and Stephanie McKenzie, in preparing the work and including West-Indian (Caribbean) Canadian and First Nations (Cree, Metis, Okanagan, Delaware, Ojibway) alongside French Canadian and English Canadian verse. The side also establishes a first by including not only poems as Gaeilge but translations by Irish poets of work from Eastern Europe and Nigeria that reflects the new contemporary multi-cultural Ireland.
As if there might be some debate about such inclusions, Ennis includes an academic overview by Jonathan Culleton of Irish society and immigration (1995-2006). Then you might wonder what Peter Fallon’s version of The Georgics Of Virgil is doing there until you remember Hedgeschools and Brian Freil’s Translations. Then the book falls open on Leonard Cohen’s work where he says he is too old to learn the name of the new killers
There are very few of us left
And that seems the best way to review such a massive tome. Sample at random, savour or skip, love or leave, marvel or mutter, applaud or avoid, sing or shut-up. Poetry should be adventure, challenge and emotion; it should be as comfortable as fur and as funky as leather and if its gonna bleed let it bleed.
The Canadian side opens with Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm touching on revisionism
– my touch is a history book full of lies and half forgotten truths written by others who hold the pens and power.
Lots of memories of the way things were like Anurima Banerji, born in Ottawa but she has lived and written in Montreal, Delhi, Calcutta, Toronto and San Francisco. Her soft-porn rant wants poets to bleed guns speechless with words. Roo Borson does victim as well as clichŽ and Dionne Brand takes you on journeys to life unglamorous.
Once again the pain of cancer in Diana Brebner’s poetry is stunning and Port explores voyages and chemotherapy. You wonder if only academics can like Anne Carson and why does Leonard Cohen want to dribble over all the universes. Mary Dalton’s I’m Bursting To Tell is amazing. Louise Halfe was reared on an Indian Reserve and her poetry makes words sing in a primitive almost new-minted way. bpNichol experiments with words, sounds and layout and you’d wonder why he got such a lot of space. Armand Garnet Ruffo has fine Geronimo and Cochise poems.
Don’t for the life of me know why Darren Wershler-Henry is there with extracts from reviews he has written. Then you discover the gustiness of Zoe Whittall – I almost died in a freight elevator on my way to get laid by someone twice my age I couldn’t even really talk to. And she can do punky too as in – Today I kicked the bank machine.
Initially the irish selection offered familiar, favourites, friends, the balm of recognition and the surprise of new and future poets. Great to see Eavan Boland, Michael Coady, Anthony Cronin, Louis De Paor, Sean Dunne, Paul Durcan, Alan Garvey, Seamus Heaney, Pearse Hutchinson (translated by Greagor O Duill), Brendan Kenneally, Thomas Kinsella, Dave Lordan (Fuck The La-dee-da…), Thomas Mccarthy, Paula Meehan, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Dennis O’Driscoll, Peter Sirr, Aine Ni Fhoghlu.
But then to discover Denise Blake (who was born in Ohio) and her wonderful marriage poem, Vows and you understand, For richer or poorer. Then it’s Gerry Murphy’s translation from the Polish of Katarzyna Borun-Jagodzinska. Irish poet a Gaeilge, Colm Breathnach, was a richness, especially his The Severed Limb. Vincent Buckley’s Hunger-Strike, stirs a dormant and difficult nerve, but is he not Australian with Irish and Canadian publishers. The inclusion of Ellie Carr, who died in a caravan fire, might be viewed as a touch of political correctness as her work was story and recorded reminiscence but if Ciaran Carson can be included for a Dante poem, and Peter Fallon for a Virgil translation, more power to your memory, Ellie Carr.
Tom French’s Pity The Bastards is a revelation, like a pickaxe handle of a poem. Anne Leahy is a discovery about the wonder of books, even big books and to think this blockbuster had three editors and too kind a heart to prune a poem too many.