Invitation to a Sacrifice
Page Count: 128
Publication Date: Sunday, June 20, 2010
Cover Artwork: Dave Lordan
About this Book
Lordan is the poetic voice that Ireland needs and he arrives exactly upon his hour. William Wall
Invitation to A Sacrifice demands to be read and heard in the way that Lordan's great precursors (including Burroughs and BolaĂ±o) command our attention. No other Irish poet writing today has a clearer sense of the rottenness of the contemporary Irish state, or the courage to critique it in the way Lordan does in this collection, 'boiling with love and the apocalypse'. Ignore and stay ignorant. Philip Coleman
Dave Lordan's poetic voice bristles with humour, outrage, tenderness and terror. From its epic articulation of the confusion and helplessness of economic meltdown, to its wry, intense evocations of people, places and circumstances, Invitation To A Sacrifice is a dynamic and inventive poetic experience, reflecting Dave's ability as a live performer. Conor Shields, New Belfast Arts
Dave Lordan was born in Derby, England, in 1975, and grew up in Clonakilty in West Cork. In 2004 he was awarded an Arts Council bursary and in 2005 he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. His collections are The Boy in The Ring (Cliffs of Moher, Salmon Poetry, 2007), which won the Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish writer and was shortlisted for the Irish Times poetry prize; and Invitation to a Sacrifice (Salmon Poetry, 2010). Eigse Riada theatre company produced his first play, Jo Bangles, at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in 2010. He has lived in Holland, Greece and Italy, and now resides in Greystones, Co Wicklow. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Read a sample from this book
In the catacombs in Palermo
there is a stuffed toddler,
You see her as you round a corner,
at the far end of a new corridor,
facing you from the next turn.
Momentarily she seems to glow with life,
to be about to leap out from the wall and run
Like a real live infant.
But who would bring a real live infant down here?
Down here to run the gauntlet
of the upright, flaking dead.
Closer in, you see that she really is
very well preserved.
In a dress. Ribbons.
As if a bridesmaid. Or on a visit
to a distant relative
who must be impressed.
She looks, you think,
like an ideal child.
A made-to-order child.
A child designed by advertisers.
Almost a mannequin.
Blemish free, perfectly symmetrical.
You guess, and the guide affirms,
that it is the mother, the father,
the grown-up sisters and brothers, and so on,
who line the gallery fanning out on either side of her.
Obviously, they were a rich family,
powerful, rapacious, cruel. Tender beyond reason
to their little girl. Showering her with gifts.
Protecting her from all harm.
Daring anyone to so much as look at her
with bad intent.
They must have visited her very often.
Perhaps even every day.
One of them,
The Methods of The Enlightenment
I was at high tea with a certain northern plumber, and a certain northern plumber's life coach and lover, who also does a little bit of plumbing. We were discussing our rivals in the local plumbing trade. How we could crush them. Various proposals were put forward by the life coach, who had convened the high tea, and was always eager to act as our mouthpiece.
By the time the eight-cup pot had run dry we had come round to settling on proposal number 4.
Since I am our plumbing circle's archivist, I minuted our decision in an invisible ink of our own design. On our very own invisible paper.
Recently, we have had approaches of interest in our archive from the British Plumber's Library in Harlsden centre for contemporary plumbing.
I was glad it was proposal number 4 that had won out. The other proposals were run of the mill, the usual combinations of letter-writing campaigns, anonymous e-mails and web-postings, free-for-all rumour spreading, targeted slanders, and clandestine meetings with county councillors and arts' colonels.
Proposal No 4 went like this: Invite our rivals around to our apartment to join the editorial board of a new plumbing journal of international significance, with guaranteed gold-standard funding from abroad. The beckoning of conferences galore. Give them each an alluringly fancy title as a kind of peace offering to smooth over previous attempts on their life and reputation. Say 'International Editor', or ' New Plumbing Bongo-Bongo Man' or 'Plumbetry Geronimo'. As an added bait, beg them to bring along their latest work, as much as they can fit into their satchels, for sharing and complimentary appraisal.
When they arrive, compliment them hugely on how beautiful they are in their sarongs and their various tweeds and handcrafted woollens, how distinguished looking are their sidelocks, how eyecatching is the twinkle of their chandelearings.
Separate them from their writings by telling them we are going to put the type-sheets in an anonymous pile and draw lots on the reading order, so as to be strictly democratic and equal opportunities. Put the writings safely away in the utility room.
Serve the writers canapes, and Lambrusco laced with rohypnol and valium. Tell them the vegetarian guinea pig is in the oven. Put on some hopeful ethnic music. Dance with them. Tell all of them separately that they are fabulous dancers. When, one by one, they begin to complain of exhaustion, sit them down sympathetically around a heavy fire.
As soon as they are all seated and their eyes have started to droop, beat them to death with fire extinguishers.
Afterwards, whenever we have exhausted all of our other enthusiasms and peccadillos, divide their unstained papers among ourselves, using the Methods of The Enlightenment.
Review: "Dave Lordan: Consoling Angel" - Invitation to a Sacrifice reviewed by Donagh Brennan on the "Dublin Opinion" blog
(Visit the Dublin Opinion blog HERE>)
And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them lockd up in coffins of black;
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opend the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
William Blake: The Chimney Sweeper
Of all the forms of writing that there is it seems that poetry is the least read. More people read manuals for discontinued electronic gadgets than read poetry. It is the most esteemed yet least consumed form. Many years ago I remember listening to Paul Muldoon explain why poetry despite being so unread still mattered to people. It provides consolation in times of trouble, he said. Sure they wouldnt read it everyday, but when things fall apart they reach for it to put words around an experience they hadnt prepared for; that goes beyond their understanding of how things work. Poetry has a resonance that can act like a soothing song, which is capable of lulling us again after we have been shaken by a nightmare.
Dave Lordans collection of poems Invitation to a Sacrifice forces us not to forget but to experience the nightmare. He is a chronicler of bad dreams. But dreams, even bad ones often make us look at what we try to ignore in our daytime world.
In the poem Nightmare Pastoral, Lordan imagines a scenario where the South American poet/novelist/activist Roberto Bolańo stays for a week in a small village in the West of Ireland around the time of the first moon landing. He sits in a pub (and general store) on the night when mans boot first hit the lunar dust and gets destroyed with all the local gawkers while watching it on TV. Later that night, during a fitful sleep in unfamiliar lodgings, he has a terrible dream.
In the dream two pissed priests are raping a nine year old girl
up a boreen (he says grassy lane)
in the back of a van not too far from a petrol station.
The terrible dream gets worse. They kill the girl, dumping her body out the back and drive off, stopping at the petrol station to get petrol and cigarettes. The cops, to use Bolańos word are about to arrest one of the priests but are forced by the powers that be to back off and to drop it. The priest themselves are hauled before the Bishop, with a face like a pack of cards and sent off to the missions in Africa.
When Bolańo describes his terrible dream to the locals in the pub the explanation is simple: Bad pint/the last in the barrel/the mind-bending dregs.
Bolano continues to drink hot toddies, and according to his account got very drunk. Later he is arrested for this own safety/ and to preserve public order.
But none of this happened. None of it is real. But Roberto Bolańos disturbing dream is no different to Toms in the Chimney Sweeper, of seeing thousands of his work mates, child workers like him, lying in coffins. The dream expresses a reality, speaks beyond our everyday understanding to what is happening and what has happened, even though we find easy explanations of it during the day. We know from the Murphy report that systematic abuse happened in the Church and we know that the powers that be cover it up, moving the perpetrators around to avoid a scandal. There is also the complicity of those who chose to ignore it.
But while there is a message here, it would be a mistake to reduce Lordans poetry to a vehicle for political point scoring, no more than Blake could ever be accused of being a mere polemicist. Lordan considers himself to be a performance poet, someone for whom the poem takes on an extra dimension when its read out to an audience and where the sounds and rhythms of the poem work like an incantation, a mesmerise act of communion. And like the best standup, its good to get a laugh too.
In Surviving the Recession Lordan adopts the style of a newspaper article, providing advice to those in the grips of austerity. It mocks the mantras of the media and politicians who say that we must sacrifice ourselves, hence the invitation, for the greater good.
We are all of us together as one going forward sharing the pain knuckling down wearing the jersey sporting the badge licking the whip sticking the sticker shaking the sleeve drinking the milk patting the mascot sucking the cloves rimming the bowl flying the flag of surviving uh surviving uh surviving uh surviving the recession.
Reading the poem you get a sense of the humour and energy of the poem, but listening to Lordan perform it gives a proper flavour. Especially, the repeating of words and phrases, building to a kind of mania - not of the poet, but of the simulacrum that passes for what were supposed to accept as reality.
Another poem, Spite Specific, works on the theme of churchs part in the abuse of children, but does so in a carefully crafted way. It involves a conversation with a nun at an exhibition in a workhouse in Birr. I like this poem a lot, not only for the power of what it has to say but also because of the way the poem breaks down, regenerating previous lines, mixing them up, repeating them, hammering them home. The mixed up lines dont make any sense quoted on their own, but because you have read them already, Lordan is able to riff with them, turning them around, using repetition as a kind of rhetorical reinforcement. And the use of riff here also suggests the way that so much of the construction of these poems seems to be influenced by music, rock music specifically. After all, rock music repeats lines again and again, in order to build up the effect on the listener and uses guitar feedback to create a distorting loop which builds a piece of music to an increasing crescendo of ear-splitting white noise. The effect is supposed to be hypnotic, to build excitement and involve the listener completely. These poems try to involve the reader in the same way.
The book is divided into five sections with the final one the long poem Resurrection in Charlesland. This is a brilliant scream at the destruction of society that Ireland is experiencing especially by those who think that we only live in an economy and provides some finely turned satire, my favorite being against those Killiney Pinocchios that pass themselves of as experts:
of all the high-toned Pinochets
on the Radio
of a thosand and one Killiney Pinocchios
of the UCD Friedmanite
and his unchallenged pubgang of preppy echolytes
in the necessary suffering of others
and how well they should bear it
and of a brutal commentariat
droning for national government
for slashing whoevers timid and convenient
they keep saying that
deep and swingeing cuts
must happen quick and always,
always be more significant
These poems have a liberating quality too, one that defines death as the willful negation of life - if capitalism has an animal spirit it is a distilled one, with the power of formaldehyde, preserving the dead creatures with the floating semblance of the living.
You cant help but get a kick out the vivid account of death that capitalism renders on those coffin borne fools that pass for consumers in Funeral City Passeggiata:
How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful we are!
The policemen so proud to be upright and dead
and beating dead gypies and junkies to death.
The girls with the surgical tits
and the mannequin heads
are a thousand years old
and ten thousand years dead.
And I couldnt help but thinking about Funeral City Passeggiata while following the deadening circumlocutions of our politicians, the Frank Fahys, Michael Martins, Brian Cowens, and those other dead politicians, claiming that they are still alive, still vital, worth more than just imposing misery from a height:
The headless politicians round here dont stink any worse/ For being dead and digesting dead donkeys./Anyway everyone gets to be political when theyre corpses.
Although there is great diversity of style, structure and themes in the poems presented here elements of death, nightmare, rage and satire seem to move through each of them. There are great prose poems which use everyday language in an act of ventriloquism, providing a character with gruff, charged speeches and it is not surprising that Lordan is a dramatist too. But there is also a wonderful lyrical quality in some, such as Invisible Horses, which reminds us of the childhood game of galloping rather than running, imagining ourselves on a tall handsome stead, a hand whipping our backsides to get the horse to run faster. The poem tell us about the eldest child of a family that has parents who are unable or unwilling to help their offspring and the responsibility that child takes on, herding their brothers and sisters back and forth to school:
You used to whoop and lasso
As brazen and loud as you could
From up front
As you all went by together,
All you brothers and sisters
On your way to school or from school
Urging the smallest, the last, the wheeziest,
Whoever downhearted was falling behind
To get up and ride
This poem contains the kernel of what Lordan is trying to say I think: that we cant get through this on our own. We have to act together, with the strongest helping the weakest, not acting together in order to sacrifice the weakest imagining that we are protecting ourselves. We need rage to give us the energy for the fight, but need love too so that we will fight for each other.
You were Love and you were Rage.
Imaginations Crazy Faith.
All tomorrows Sustenance and Glory.
The Undefeated Forward Flow of Hope and All-inclusive Energy.
And this energy is needed to fight an enemy that has made its appearance in Lordans debut collection, The Boy in the Ring. Its the bully that needs to be faced up to. But the bully has no power of their own, they need the complicity of a community of adults that allows the bullying to happen.
These is dealt with very directly in Bullies:
Unlike Mom I cant seem to stop remembering
although I sometimes wonder if such cruelty
as I can recall going through and witnessing
could really have been allowed go exist as it did, that is
with the complicity of thousands in an average Irish town.
You see the little brute who made me chew worms
with bleeding gums was only a compact, a figurine,
a garden version inspired by the cell of fat-sadists in teacher masks
who lined up in a five year long guantlet
of terror for infants at the heart of the parish,
in the midst of our community.
Ultimately the poems are about power, and its abuse, and how it is used against people to make them dead. The dead look upon the living with contempt, treating them as living scumbags with filthy germinating breath. It is those living scumbags that Lordan is trying to set free, using poetry as a life affirming weapon against those who consider the Euro sign, the dollar and the pound as more important than the quality of peoples lived experience. While Blake said of the theological Milton that he was of the devils party without knowing it Lordan rages and laughs like a devil. But he is, at the end of the day, a consoling angel and his poetry is the bright key with which he wants to open the coffins & set us all free.
by Donagh Brennan for the "Dublin Opinion" blog (Visit the Dublin Opinion blog HERE>)
Review: Jennifer Matthews reviews Invitation to a Sacrifice for Southword: New Writing from Ireland (December 2010)
It is important and awful that in the year this book is published Ireland is dealing with questions of economic sovereignty, the fallout of murders and suicides of the depressed and unemployed, and the absolute disregard and abuse that a government has inflicted on its own people. Students who have protested exorbitant fee increases were beaten, making the message clear: say nothing, do nothing, deal with your pain quietly and in private. Sure, we can develop our own economic recovery plans down the pub, re-tweet scathing newspaper articles and sign a multitude of petitions but there remain defeating feelings that nothing can be done and nothing will ever change.
Lordan confronts this ambiguity in the books title poem Invitation to a Sacrifice. The reader is an omniscient presence, witness to an impending rape. He asks, if you could:
stretch a giant hand
and raise her from this picture
And then what would you do with her?
Even if we save the victim, it doesnt take away the violence already done to her. Damage is done.
Invitation to a Sacrifice is divided into five sections: Surviving the Recession; Nightmare Pastoral; Somebodys Got to Do Something; The Methods of Enlightenment; and a resurrection in Charlesland. There is a great variety in form, from raging monologues to tight, haiku-like verses. Like his first book, Boy in the Ring, he excels at creating a collection. The poems work together to form an encyclopaedia of our modern dystopia, but also stand alone as independent pieces dealing with single issues. While his first book was more biographical, his newer work weighs in more politically. With Lordan, however, the personal is always the political (and vice versa). This isnt work that co-opts pain from a news story in order to borrow gravitas, as some lesser poets have vainly done. This is work that barks and bites.
The first two sections contain several poems (Invitation to a Sacrifice, Surviving the Recession, Bullies and Site Specific) which are some of the most powerful in the book. They employ a conversational voice which engages you, makes you complicit and demands a response. However conversational they are, they dont skimp on artistry. In Site Specific, the poem begins as a seemingly straightforward story of visit to a workhouse exhibition. An altercation with a nasty nun follows when she denies there was abuse of children, and suddenly the elements of reality (the event, the space, the people) fall apart. It is up to the narrator to recombine the elements, reconstructing a picture which is more truthful, of the neglected children whod:
called and called and called
telling me and my Aidan musician bud
that a phantasmagoric real nun contemporary
was on exhibition today in a spitehouse.
The nun isnt left off the hook. Neither is the bully, the heckler, or the politician. There is no turn the other cheek or forgiving psychoanalysis of those who commit acts of violence. This can make for difficult readingjoy is expressed when a bully commits suicide, for example. The nun is called a wanker. But this makes us aware of how often it is expected of victims to be inhumanly angelicto pray for their oppressors, to understand or accommodate them in some way when theyve undergone such unspeakable torture themselves. Lordan has the bravery to confront the virtue of (societally enforced) forgiveness, and ask if this is really victim blaming, if this is just another form of violence.
A few of the poems in the first half I felt were alternatively a bit heavy handed (Clonakilty drowning in sewage) or undercooked when compared to powerhouses such as Site Specific. In Funeral City Passeggiata (a favourite of several other reviewers) the target of the parody was unclear to me; I wasnt sure if this was in reference to Italian culture specifically, or if passeggiata was being borrowed to describe a generalised class of image-conscious people. While the beginning of the poem uses unique, startling figures of the living dead (girls with the surgical tits/ and mannequin heads) and causes of death (policemen, beating dead gypsies and junkies to death), the poem leaves them behind. It tries to incorporate so much over its seven pages that the centre doesnt hold and the reader isnt sure what to take away with them.
The second half of the book, however, is packed with work that is innovative, important and profoundly moving. He roasts consumerism and greed to cinders in the Legends of Dundrum series and his perfectly constructed long poem, a resurrection in Charlesland. (This a poem in the vein of Howl which, by all rights, should be read in the Dáil while bankers, developers, and prominent members of Fianna Fáil are locked up for thievery).
In this collection, Surviving the Recession will surely be most peoples favourite, as intelligent, rollicking, and accomplished a protest as it is. For me, though, the most interesting work is the entirety of the fourth section: The Methods of the Enlightenment. A group of six prose poems, they seem to well up from the subconscious, employing the voice of authors alter ego Vade Nadrol (an anagram of Dave Lordan). The poet shows the ultimate respect to his readership here, leaving them to tussle with a shift in consciousness, abandoning facile messages or easy metaphors. These are poems we are meant to be experienced and returned to, abandoning a need for literal, immediate meaning. Running throughout these pieces are threads of what it means to be a writer; the relation of arts to government, academic and social structures; pain, self-deprecation, power and dominance; visions of beauty and of horror. And ever present is Lordans mastery of the sound and rhythm of language. Walk on I will, through all of this albumin, towards the eggshell, towards zeros edge, towards the fate of work and presidents and horses. Indeed, he will.
© 2010 Jennifer Matthews
Radio Review: Arena, RTE Radio 1, 13th August 2010. Review by Colm Keegan, in conversation with Sean Rocks. Listen here>>
Review: Burning the Tiger's vanities, a review by Eamon Grennan, The Irish Times, Saturday 7th August 2010
Dave Lordan's new collection bristles with satiric energy and a richly varied vocabulary of attack that, at its best, is morally pointed and comically exuberant, converting anger into a performative language of wide cultural reference and rhythmic power. Like any conscientious objector, Lordan's contrarian stance questions the culture (Irish as well as global) he lives in, implicating himself by his use of pronouns ("our", "us", "we") in the general rot. I'm startled, then satisfied, by the speed, scatological diction and kaleidoscopic image-making of a poem such as Funeral City Passeggiata . Pieces such as Invisible Horses or Spite Specific reveal, too, the positive emotional side reinforcing Lordan's satire. There's a remarkable energy at work here, impatient of shibboleths and sacred cows, while indifferent to conventional lyric effect.
Let go on, losing focus, some of Lordan's pieces become just stand-up routines: the poem on automatic, not outliving its own jokey cleverness. At times, too, the poems degenerate into mere lists of peeves or hates. Another drawback of the collection is that it's over-packed with too many poems. A sharper editorial and/or authorial eye would have trimmed the whole thing down (omitting, for example, the section of prose pieces, which simply cloud the general effect). At times, too, it's hard to determine what exactly the enemy is - a sharper sense of the sniper rather than the blunderbuss nature of good satire would serve him well.
The long final poem, however, A Resurrection in Charlesland, is a bravura showpiece, working brilliantly on the page, as it must in performance. In it, Lordan breathlessly turns his head-on rant against our late but not lamented Celtic Tiger into powerful polemic, letting the rush of linguistic mayhem (Swiftian and Joycean riffs recur) be the proper metaphor for an anarchic state of things that's mostly (by conspiracy and public collusion) hidden from sight, For all its differences of register and verbal manners, this poem might claim a place beside the poems of Kavanagh's satiric period and Kinsella's Nightwalker . Like them, it is an act of creative resistance to a suspect status quo, a resistance which Lordan correctly sees as part of poetry's business.
New collections (for each their third) by three Irish poets, each with its own voice, its own way of wrestling with the language, its own decisive view of the world. One of my pleasures in reading them was the sense each one gave of the ways in which poetry can engage immediately or indirectly with public facts, as well as with the private forces (of feeling, intelligence, talent, sense of form, love of language, and so on) which determine its expression. Each volume, so, is political in one way or another, embodying (as each poet struggles privately with the language) some decisive attitude to larger and smaller aspects of Irish life as it is right now, and as it has been in our recent past. Between them they suggest the instructive, positively agitating intersection between poetry and its cultural contexts.
(also reviewed: Frightening New Furniture by Kevin Higgins)
Review: After the Revolution by Kevin Higgins, The Galway Advertiser, August 05, 2010.
In Invitation To A Sacrifice Dave Lordan knocks things over, usually things which deserve to be brought low. 'Bullies' is about hearing that someone who had bullied him at school had recently committed suicide. He responds as most would, but few would admit:
"I let out a screech of delight. I was alone in my bedroom/and no-one was listening. Save him, I'd like to imagine."
In 'Spite Specific' he meets a nun at an art exhibition. They end up talking about the abuse scandals and it does not end well. Lordan meets the brutality meted out to himself and others with an equal and opposite poetic brutality. The fact that this book exists and that Lordan's previous collection won prizes is proof of how successful the Irish poetry revolution has been.
Review: The Munster Express. Review by Liam Murphy. Published on Friday, August 6th, 2010
Dave Lordan, who read at the Sean Dunne Writers Festival a few years ago to exciting acclaim has a new collection of poetry out with Salmon Poetry - Invitation to a Sacrifice.
He is a blast of passion and good old socialist values and his work rips along part rant part chant as he knows well where to lay the blame as his opening section Surviving The Recession that includes the title poem tells so well. Irish poetry might not be ready for the prose style of Lordan as he invokes the Patron Saint of FĂS to share the pain - hurt as many people as you can.
Despite the rocking and a rolling, the anger and the blaming there is a bleak core in the title poem - that if you could save the world - if you could save someone, what would you physically do with that person?
You have to read a poem like Funeral City Passeggiata out loud to experience the rush of words of political impresarios, pestilential pumpkin pie, in a world that "Jerry Lee Lewis never set fire to anything here/ neither did the sixties..."
A poem such as Bullies, touches familiar Irish ground that tells us - "We're silent about past crimes because violence works." And if you think Ride On is the greatest song (Jimmy McCarthy wrote it) then you have to read the whirlwind of Lordan's Invisible Heroes.
The ills of a nation and the recession are the stuff and stuffing of this book and a powerful poem like Sewage begins with - "It is the year of the tightening belt and takes you through a place "neck deep in shit".
A piece called "Somebody's Got To Do Something" is another blast of words, a searing blow torch to poetry and society.
If it's cynicism or sarcasm that you want then turn to the Plumbing Council which could be about the Arts Council but it is the final long poem A Resurrection in Charlesland that will rip into you and carry you along on a torrent of words as Lordan lashes out at headshops, joblessness - "Force feeding ourselves Dan Brown, valium, parox, Gerry Ryan and Angelology."
Lordan promises us that "Our grandchildren's days will be worse than our nightmares could dream of" as he rants and chants - "Tomorrow Stinks."
Radio Review: Arena, RTE Radio 1, 13th August 2010. Review by Colm Keegan, in conversation with Sean Rocks. Listen here>>
Review: Socialist Worker Online (UK)
This poetry collection tackles the dominant rhetoric of sacrifice in an Ireland facing recession.
It documents the barbarism that subjugation to the market brings.
The poems rage against the institutions of the state with emotion, satire and humour. They are also something of a call to arms.
The tone moves between plaintive and howling while the language is clear and invigorating.
Cork's answer to Adrian Mitchell deserves a wider audience outside of Ireland.