There have been lots of recession poems, and any poet sitting down to write about the topic has to navigate well in order to avoid descending into a rant. This brings with it the potential to be boring and familiar. Anne Irwin deals with the topic in an interesting way here, viewing it through the prism of sound. I think that’s why this poem feels so fresh.
Its extensive lists of place names and sights somehow sustain themselves throughout – maybe because they reflect the almost relentless progress of construction work. The only structures immune to eventual redevelopment are those deemed “heritage” sites. Here, Irwin creates a different kind of heritage, naming these places like some kind of intonation or prayer that will preserve them, at least in the reader’s mind.
Despite the noise of the jackhammer, the demolition ball and all that comes with it, this could be considered a fairly quiet poem, taking in the whole process over time, at a distance. It leaves the reader relishing the music of place names, as well as the noise that surrounds us, from which we carve out some space for quiet reflection.
Minor Concerto in Rahoon
In those days I woke to
the roar of the tiger
clawing into the craggy hills
and stone walls
her muffled blast
the rhythmic ripple
of the jackhammer
the crash of the demolition ball
on the Rahoon flats
the dust filtered sunrise
over the dome of the cathedral
the spire of St Nicholas
the Merview Mast
the spread of Ballybane
the men in helmets and orange jackets
queuing for ham and chicken rolls at Henchy’s deli.
Through the sepia haze
on circular road came
Cor na Luas and Currach Bui
between Bishop O’Donnell and Taylors Hill
like a phoenix from the rubble
rose Glen Dara,
Drom Chaon, Cuan Glas
followed in quick succession,
up Gort na mBro
came Garrai de Brun,
Carn Ard, Doire Geal
each with a subtle distinction
a sky lit roof
a red brick porch
a yellow paved front garden.
All that’s left
is the odd scratch of a digger
on Seamus Quirke Road
red and white traffic barriers
bags of sand
and men in yellow spraying broken lines
at the intersections
as a new bus lane emerges.
I was born in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, and live in Galway. During my teenage years in boarding school I wrote short stories and poems, but after studying English Literature and Philosophy in U.C.G. my writing career came to an abrupt end, to be resumed about six years ago after the birth of my third grandchild. During the intervening years I had a secret yearning to write but lacked the courage, until I realised that there wasn’t an endless supply of time (for me). I started attending workshops with Kevin Higgins in Galway.
My writing is influenced by my childhood in Mayo. My father loved nature, he had greyhounds and goats, we used to get up early and walk with him through the mucky fields and meadows, picking mushrooms, blackberries and hazel nuts. My mother was a musician, she taught music and played the organ in the church. She had musical gatherings in our house and read us stories at night by the fire.
I lived on Mweenish Island off Connemara for thirteen years with my three sons. I love its rugged landscape, the wildness of the sea and the wind. Irish myths and legends feature frequently in my writing, and especially in my political poems.
I love the profoundness of homeopathy, of which I am a practitioner and teacher. Its insight into the nature of substances greatly informs how I view the world. My other area of interest is Forum Theatre. I have been involved in devising and acting in many plays over the past few years.
My poetry has been published in a number of literary magazines, including ROPES, Skylight 47, Emerge Lit Magazine, Irish Left Review and Emerge Lit Review.
While this poem contains a relentless list of images, sound is just as prominent, as it’s based on the sustained metaphor of a song. What do you think are the potential benefits and shortcomings of stretching a metaphor out like this? Also, are there any poets you particularly admire or dislike who use this approach?
I was trying to portray, in a light hearted way, the unrelenting development that took place during the Celtic Tiger years, “the roar of the tiger, clawing into the craggy hills”. As I wrote I focused in on each individual sound and then progressed to the harmonies of the orchestra of machines playing out the development. I was also aware of the destruction of beautiful rugged countryside in order to create a sprawling suburbia. I was interested in the contrast between the sameness of the newly emerging housing estates, “each with a subtle distinction”, at odds with their unique poetic Irish names. Now communities live happily in these estates. In that sense it could be a metaphor for life or the creative process, something has to die for the phoenix to rise from the ashes.
I can’t imagine many people would wake to the “the rhythmic ripple of the jackhammer” and write about it in what seems like affectionate terms. Do you deliberately set out in your writing to tap into everyday things that others might not admire or even notice?
I think, because I am a mammy, granny and homeopath, I have a natural empathy for the underdog. When I focus in on what is unusual or odd my inner alchemist activates and is driven to make gold from the base metal. No, I don’t deliberately set out to tap into everyday things, but everyday things often inspire me. Generally I follow an idea, image or sound (in this case) and see where it leads me, it’s a journey, a meditation and through the process I get some deeper understanding or insight into life and my place in the world. I work better going from the particular to the general, from the commonplace to the profound.
At the stage of writing I had been listening to the diggers, jackhammers scrapers and rock blasters for 15 years, from early morning to evening. While writing I focused in on the detail of the sounds and began to appreciate their inner rhythm. It was a way of marking the transition from rural to urban.
Galway features very strongly in this poem, as in many of your poems. Apologies for the very broad, open-ended question, but how would you describe your relationship with Galway in terms of your writing?
I live in Galway, from the top window of my house I can see all over the city. It is immediate to me and it grounds my poems in the solidness and detail of a landscape. I also write a lot about my childhood in Mayo. When I write I sink back and become embedded in the drumlin landscape of meadows and mucky fields, hawthorn trees, hazel woods and the 50’s and 60’s town of Ballyhaunis.
Construction development is presented here almost as if it was an inevitable, natural process of growth rising from the soil. Are there any parallels here with your experience as a writer – constructing, developing, demolishing, etc.?
Maybe. But for me writing poetry is more like diving for pearls rather than engineering.
Why do you write?
Because I love writing, it makes me feel deeply connected to myself. This poem was fun to write.
What one piece of advice would you give a writer?