Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains
Page Count: 68
Publication Date: Wednesday, October 01, 2014
Cover Artwork: Dave Lordan
About this Book
Dave shines a light into the darkest corners…around the cities, through the towns, up the mountains and on down the rivers, and always that bit of hope we surely crave. There are some of his poems that I would love to sing.
Over the past ten years Dave Lordan has emerged as a vital – in both senses of the word – presence in this country’s literary culture. The Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains sees the fury and exuberance of his earlier work refined and distilled but in no sense diminished. In these sixteen surprisingly tender and reflective poems he presents a honed and coherent vision of what it is to be human in this transitional century, one that’s unflinchingly honest about our species’ failings while clinging to the battered, beat up hope of what we might just become.
‘It may be said, in truth, that he changed his manner almost for every work that he executed’, Vasari said of Di Cosimo, and in Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains the anger that often characterized the poems of Lordan’s first two collections is transformed into profound explorations and expressions of loss, love and hope – ‘music as a possible sanctity’.
Dave Lordan is the first writer to win Ireland’s three national prizes for young poets. He is a former holder of the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award, the Kavanagh Award, and the Strong Award. His previous collections of poetry are The Boy in the Ring (Salmon, 2007) and Invitation to a Sacrifice (Salmon, 2010). He is a renowned performer of his own work, which the Irish Times called ‘as brilliant on the page as is in performance’, and has read his work by invitation at festivals and venues across Europe and North America. His poems are regularly broadcast on Irish national radio and he is a contributing editor for Irish literary magazine, The Stinging Fly. He is a founding member and editor of experimental and cross-genre arts journal Colony.ie. He blogs on poetry and creativity at www.davelordanwriter.com. @vadenadrol
Read a sample from this book
Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains
for Christy Moore
I believe in them, so they do exist.
In the Wicklow Mountains
It is easier to hide than you think.
In sunless crevices.
In densest rhododendroned foliage.
On slopes of fluttering shadow and scree.
Nothing I know of, apart from these lines,
Speaks of this tribe.
They might be waifs that escaped from
They might be vagrants who dropped
out of ballads and poems.
They might be rebels
Who outran the redcoats
Until the redcoats dissolved.
They might be ravers and Wiccans
who squat in high ruins
holding thousand day hooleys,
cavorting in roofless great halls.
They might change into foxes in moonlight
And paw through the motorway snow
To scavenge the exurban dustbins.
But, sincerely, this tribe has no patterns. It fits no descriptions.
Nothing about it – beyond its certain existence – translates:
No reason, no theses, no customs, no goal.
The tribe is my credo. That’s all.
Strong is my faith.
Strong is my beat.
Strong is my magic.
Strong is my want
& wanting, I rise till
I’m vanishing with them,
Spinning in to a mist
Where I’ll never be spotted
It’s so righteous to stray.
It’s so good to abandon.
It’s so just to ascend
With the lost and forgotten
To summits the rooted
Cannot even imagine.
She plays Farmville and pokes friends
on Facebook most of the day,
scans a few sites for celebrity gossip –
photos and headlines –
scrolling up and down independent.ie
every quarter of an hour or so.
At 15.10 she takes a break and lounges
for half an hour
with the other women on the scheme
eating brown soda with orange-and-duck-liver pate.
Then they sample black pudding
reheated from yesterday,
chomping fat and gut and gristle
over CSI, Dragon’s Den, American Idol.
Each one has something well worked-out
to say about the royal wedding.
Later on, closing in on 5pm – the goal –
she rises and jacks up the Korean office stereo
for Shakira, almost dancing
the way back to her chair.
Leaves max vol on for the jingles
witching for Stout,
for The Sound of Music
in the Grand Canal Theatre,
for cut-price bananas,
for less-than-half-price toys,
three mince-meats for a tenner,
for closing-down firesales
of repossessed furniture.
Some of these ads she has
the dubbing of,
and when the DJ’s billion-kilometre tongue flicks
through the speaker
and into the room
to put a question to his nation:
whether it is right to cut the benefits
of those who refuse a reasonable
offer of employment?
she damn near leaps from her desk with her very soul giving answer,
damn near levitates in an ecstasy with her arms and legs spread out,
damn near crashes through the roof, ascending
to the satellites
and the space debris
Yes, Yes, of course it is Yes,
Yes, of course it is, Yes.
Copyright © Dave Lordan 2014
Review: Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains reviewed by Kevin Higgins for The Galway Advertiser, Thursday 4th December, 2014
Ireland’s leading protest poet discovers hope
A WOMAN told me recently that if she hears one more bad poem about water charges, she may take the extreme retaliatory action of paying her water charges bill, in the unlikely event that it ever actually arrives.
Protest poetry is in fashion right now; its chosen method of delivery usually the internet. Most of it is terrible in a naïve, almost forgivable way. The essential ingredient the clunking rhyme; “nation” and “detestation”, “water” and “slaughter”.
However the worst thing about it is that those who write it, generally speaking, appear to have no understanding of the political and economic establishment they think they are against.
Dave Lordan is perhaps Ireland’s leading protest poet. Unlike the pretenders, though, Lordan has an intimate knowledge of what he is against and from that comes the outline of the better world his latest collection of poems, Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains (Salmon Poetry) points the reader towards.
‘Workmate’ is about a female office worker who spends most of the day playing Farmville and poking friends on Facebook. When a shiny sounding DJ on the radio asks “whether it is right to cut the benefits/of those who refuse a reasonable/offer of employment?” she responds with an almost orgasmic, multiple “Yes”.
The defining thing about this book though – Lordan’s third - is that it represents a sharp turn away from anger, towards a very particular kind of hope. ‘Love commands the neighbourhood’ is a startling poem about all those Lordan thinks we should love, but do not: “Teenage thief who nicked your MacBook/in the park and in the café your keys/and will die sometime tomorrow afternoon...” This poem urges us to empathise with those broken by things as we’re told they have to be, and its implications are revolutionary, because implicit within it is the idea that an entirely different type of society is possible, if only we would let ourselves imagine it.
Elsewhere Lordan takes the risk of titling a poem ‘Hope’: “Hope, ya ould mutt I hear yer in bits./I heard somebody stomped on yer throat an’ all ya can do now is grunt.” As the poem goes on, he urges the aforementioned hope to get up because “I ain’t ready tuh let ya/go jus’ yet”.
Lordan is also a poet capable of moments of profound lyrical beauty and his 20 page elegy for Denis Boothman ‘Notes for a Player’ is full of such moments, starting with the fantastic first line: “Towards the end you had hair made of moonlight”.
‘Fertility Poem’ is a comedic, but also emotionally charged, poem in which the poet’s six-year-old daughter points “at graffiti/on the slats around the back of Superquinn”. Someone has written the C word “in dripping lipstick red”. She asks what it says: “It says COUNT sweetie, COUNT.” And then the six-year-old proceeds to spell the word out phonetically, as she’s been taught to at school: “Kuh-Uh-Enn-Tuh COUNT”.
Dave Lordan could make poetry of anything; he is one the few of his generation who deserves to be called great.
Reading Dave Lordan’s latest collection of poetry, Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains, I thought at one point of Marco Polo in Calvino’s Invisible Cities, assuring the Khan:
“Yes, the empire is sick, and what is worse, it is trying to become accustomed to its sores. This is the aim of my explorations: examining the traces of happiness still to be glimpsed, I gauge its short supply. If you want to know how much darkness there is around you, you must sharpen your eyes, peering at the faint lights in the distance. ”
The blurb on Lost Tribe makes much of its moments of “love and hope”. “Always that bit of hope we surely crave,” Christy Moore promises us. “The battered, beat up hope of what we might just become,” adds Billy Ramsell. The “anger” of Lordan’s first two collections, we are told, has been “transformed.” But, if anything, what glimmers of hope there are in Lost Tribe serve to gauge the profound darkness of Lordan’s vision. This book is deeply, deeply dark.
Early on, hope is addressed directly. ‘Hope’ personifies her as a half-dead, strung-out, beat-up, coke-raddled, disease-riddled wretch, whom even St Vincent de Paul wouldn’t bed. “Mostly, here in zombied Ireland, I can’t even see ya, yer such a famished fuckin’ wraith, / Ya flicker in an’ out uv the view, accept no particular shape…,” writes Lordan, capturing precisely that feeling that’s been abroad in Ireland these few years – a nation not quite ready to admit despair, but certainly flirting with hopelessness. The poem’s speaker beseeches Hope not to give up just yet: there’s a glimmer. But I’m not sure how much faith we can have in the poem’s speaker. The arc of his speech is that of an abuser, talking Hope down, then screeching at her – “I said GET THE FUCK UP!” – then the guilt-trip, the whine: “I cudden love nothin’ if I cudden love you.” The effect, finally, is of a drunk fighting with a ghost only he can see, and the poem admits as much: “yer only visible when I ain’t right-minded.” What hope is there here, if any?
In the breath-taking ‘My Mother Speaks to Me of Suicide’, Lordan revisits a theme that had seem to hover behind much of his first collection, The Boy in the Ring: the sheer number of young men in Ireland who die by their own hand, a feature of our times that journalists often see fit to describe as an “epidemic”. Lordan conjures a mother cataloguing the various deaths of various young men, “always verging though never quite breaking into a keen”, as though wondering how her son, almost alone among men, has survived:
The poem, without glorifying suicide – quite the reverse – manages to refuse the implications in the concept of an “epidemic” that these men were unavoidably the innocent victims of some plague sweeping Ireland, dreadful stuff but nobody’s fault, and instead declares the thing unmysterious, “obvious and sure”: young men are going to keep right on killing themselves until life is made worth living.
Another of the book’s most powerful poems, recounting a kind lie told to a little girl about a violent word, becomes a reflection on the meager measure of resistance available to us in late capitalism through language – and, by extension, a reflection on poetry’s own diminished but continuing capacity to resist:
Here is a glimmer of hope, insisted upon, yes – but also irrevocably overshadowed by that “tinily and privately.” That play of light and shadow, that sense of the limits set on hope, stays with us as we turn to the sequence at the heart of Lost Tribe, perhaps surprisingly – given the political bent of Lordan’s work until now, and of the rest of this volume – a long elegy for an individual. ‘Notes for a Player’ commemorates the death of Lordan’s father-in-law, the actor Denis Boothman. Reflecting on the private and the public and on the fertility of lies through Boothman’s theatrical persona, the sequence enters complicatedly into conversation with a little host of past elegies, certainly among them Yeats’ ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’, Hartnett’s ‘Death of an Irishwoman’ and Muldoon’s ‘Incantata’, all poems in which the dead refuse to mean quite what the living want them to mean. ‘Notes for a Player’ offers, in the shape of the dead man’s adoring granddaughter, the brightest glimmer of hope in Lordan’s book. But, for the reader, that hope is coloured by the knowledge that everything the child has seen in her grandfather has been theater, fertile lies: he has “flared into a magnified, mesmeric presence” only despite the excruciating pain of a “drawn-out death”.
This is Lordan’s most complex work yet, exhilarating and disturbing. From its first sure-of-itself halloo to its last unsettling and ambiguous call-to-arms, Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains is essential reading.
Ailbhe Darcy was born in Dublin in 1981 and brought up there. She currently lives in Germany. She has published her poetry in Ireland, Britain and the US, and selections of her work are included in the Bloodaxe anthologies Identity Parade and Voice Recognition, and in her pamphlet A Fictional Dress (tall-lighthouse, 2009). Imaginary Menagerie (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), her first book-length collection, was shortlisted for Ireland’s dlr Strong Award at Poetry Now / Mountains to the Sea.
My mother calls me up again to speak to me of suicide.
Another young man in the west has committed his suicide.
She tells me that I knew him in my teenage years
before I left home instead of killing myself
But I don’t remember him atall.
Over the past 40 years Ireland has been transformed by its integration into the world economy via its membership of the European Union.
Lauded by politicians and big business, both as the “Celtic Tiger” during the years of growth and boom and for its “exemplary fiscal responsibility” in the years since the banking crisis erupted in 2008, it has been held up as a model for smaller economies to follow. Yet, as with most countries that have adopted neoliberal policies, Ireland has witnessed a rapid and obscene rise in inequality.
It is against this backdrop that we need to set Dave Lordan’s Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains. Born in 1975 he makes no claim to be an impartial and gentle observer — he is both welcoming and worried by the changes he sees. He is outraged at the suffering hidden by soulless statistics. Here we have a “witness to the beast” who, in his own words, “is on the side of the losers” and no matter how difficult it proves, wants to use his art to “speak truth to power”.
He succeeds in this because of three vital intertwined components that form the basis of the work he produces. He has developed a tremendous ability to construct work that effortlessly paints pictures in the reader’s mind — lines such as, “my brain bloomed like a desert bush”. He has no fear of using this sensitive and highly attuned talent in a didactic way. Something is wrong; people’s lives are being spent and wasted; the earth and the environment are being destroyed — he is unwilling to look away for the sake of an imagined higher artistic purity.
The third component grows from the fusion of the first two in that Lordan’s work attempts to convey events, feelings and moments that are manifestly of their time, yet contained within them is a truth or message that transcends that time and moment and conveys a universal and timeless observation.
Walter Benjamin remarked on the Storyteller that he “joins the ranks of the teachers and sages, He has counsel — not for a few situations, as the proverb, but for many, like the sage.”
Lordan’s work has something of this quality. Written before the huge unrest that has exploded against the imposition of water charges in Ireland, this selection has a certain melancholic air to it yet still contains a vital and pulsating call to resist:
It is so righteous to stray
It’s so good to abandon
It’s so just to ascend
With the lost and forgotten
Summits the rooted
Cannot even imagine.
Review: Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains reviewed for Cunning Hired Knaves
Is there anything to be said for another poem?
This week the Irish government released a video to promote the 2016 commemorations of the Easter Rising. ‘Remember where we came from’, the captions implore, even though there is no reference to the Rising itself, nor those who took part in it.
The Rising is no longer a political event, but something to do with training children to sit in front of computers and having a multinational corporation as a superego.
If the 1916 protagonists have been kept out of our imagination as ruthlessly as Stalin ever did with Trotsky, other figures of note are still allowed to take their place alongside the Queen, David Cameron and Bob Geldof.
I’m referring to poets. Yeats is there, as is Beckett, as is Seamus Heaney. (Michael D Higgins and Martin McGuinness too, but not for their poems)
Ireland’s elite culture uses poets and their prestige as a kind of fireproof decoration. Whatever it is they have said or written, they are not going to get in the way. Phil Hogan, the mastermind behind Irish Water, even wanted Seamus Heaney to run for President of Ireland. From the perspective of rulers, poets are supposed to be figures of consensus and conciliation, not rebellion and confrontation, and the same should hold for their poems.
I’m not best placed to make pronouncements on what poets have to say about this, either in our outside their poems. I don’t read much poetry. I’d like to do more but I don’t have much time and never cultivated that much of a habit. I don’t really feel that comfortable writing about poems either. I remember reading somewhere that the only true response to a poem can come from another poem. I don’t know if that’s true, but it feels true.
Shouldn’t we worry about the fact that people like me –that is, most people around here- don’t read or listen to or talk about poems? What happens to our imagination, our collective sense of who we are, our historical memory, when literary culture and tradition becomes little more than an elite pursuit of distinction, or part of an elaborate national branding exercise?
It isn’t as if poetic constructions will cease to exist; they’ll just be used by assorted commissars for stimulating our consumer appetites and maintaining our allegiance to the flashing corporate logo above our head as we descend into confused nihilism.
Luckily for us, however, there is Dave Lordan.
In My mother speaks to me of suicide, one of the poems in his vital new collection, Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains, the poet announces he is tired of the ‘public platitudes’ – ‘a plague, a scourge, an epidemic’- used to describe what happens when young people in Ireland annihilate themselves:
[…]Not medicine nor scripture
can explain it; suicide at Irish rates is self-destruction
as mass movement and tells us that the life we live
the all-of-us, here-and-now, has something
seriously wrong with it.
A friend of mine philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop, writes, after Spinoza, that every suicide is preceded by ‘a murder, by a transformation in the essence of the individual by an exterior cause that destroys him from the inside, like a cancer or an autoimmune disease’. But also, he writes, within the phenomenological description of suicide one can include the choice of death as a ‘lesser evil’.
Suicide is thus ‘the encounter of the individual with a destructive and invincible power’. In which case, he concludes, the option of death itself becomes an affirmation of life.
In this sense, what Dave Lordan names as “self-destruction as mass movement” can be thought of along the same lines as the conservation of dignity inherent in Seneca’s suicide or in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising:
A young man double-barrelly decapitating himself
in a cow shed;
the gun-roar submerged in the chaos of cows and machines.
A young man jumping into a fast-flowing river-
dead-cold-halt after zooming through
a three-day bender.
A young man jogging a dirt track leading up to a cliff,
then lepping off.
Crucial to Dave Lordan’s broader poetic approach to the social destruction told of in My mother speaks to me of suicide is the way he recognises something similar to what Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop describes here:
Though at times the only way of conserving one’s dignity is suicide, there often exists the possibility of rebelling alongside others, of recognising the wrongs we suffer in others. It is what is known as indignation. Indignation is a sadness, but it is a sadness that brings to light our social fabric, solidarity, community, and can even give rise to an empowerment of the individual when she becomes able to fashion alongside others, and in the face of a hostile power, a new reality that makes it possible to live.
Or, as Dave Lordan writes:
young men in Irish small towns and townlands,
suburbs and exurbs, flat-blocks and villages
are going to go right on killing themselves
until this life, this incredible life I adore
and which must not be wasted
be made worth living and living
and living again, for everyone.
It is this all-of-us, here-and-now that confronts certain young people as a destructive and invincible power. But if it is, what can you do about it? More to the point, what can poetry do about it? As Lordan writes in Lost Poem:
Who am I to instruct
a modern professional like you?
I’m poetry. I’m the thick
and endless forest of the lost.
What it can do, in Lordan’s hands at least, is confront this ‘all-of-us, here-and-now’ in its manifold guises.
Discover Ireland, the name for tourist initiatives that enjoin Irish people to get out and about and spend money across the country, is set in a slaughterhouse, in which ‘Ireland’ could be the entire operation itself, or the precarious migrant executioners slitting the cows’ throats on fear of penalty.
Or, it could be the ‘unstunned cow’
kicking and bucking and butting
against the eighteen-inch blade,
even as the blood is being drawn
Spin starts off in polite contrast to the carnage of the abbatoir. Silence personified has taken hold, and it is silence doing the talking:
Would you just shut-up about the budget?
Nice things, why can’t we just talk about nice things?
The lovely hedgerows and lawns hereabouts. Butterflies.
Our far flung children, high achievers all.
Old country recipes. Recent sporting victories.
Weddings we have been to. Other public ceremonies.
But in this version of the all-of-us, here-and-now imposed by silence, we careen towards the social abbatoir where silence holds sway:
I am the broken promises factory skirting every Irish town.
I am the Hotel Empty. My rating is five black-holes.
I host the most magnificent cobwebs, prestigious cracks,
Glittering slug-trails, drafts of international importance.
And into oblivion:
Shhssh! Silence is packing us up in a jar,
Diving us down to her black uninhabited realm,
Roots that throttle us in wrecks, grey silt-weeds
This ‘black uninhabited realm’ sounds like the ideal place for the ‘morbid accountant’ poet of the aforementioned My mother speaks to me of suicide.
She calls and she calls and she tells and she tells,
as if she was the ledger of death self-inflicted
and I – her firstborn, the poet – a morbid accountant
who must reckon the substance, the meaning,
the worth of all this self-slaughter.
Against this silence, against this grim rationality, against a rootedness that asphyxiates, Lordan professes his faith, in the exhilarating title poem, in the realms where the human imagination flourishes, among the traces left by outcasts and rebels and apostates and the shadowy fringes of modern urban life.
It’s so righteous to stray.
It’s so good to abandon.
It’s so just to ascend
With the lost and forgotten
To summits the rooted
Cannot even imagine.
‘The rooted’: those frozen to the spot by the sense of obligation to tradition, convention, and silence. But if Dave Lordan is out to accompany the lost and forgotten to the highest peaks, he is also concerned with seeking them out, gathering them in. The poem Irish history locates those who might have built a different all-of-us, here-and-now:
[…]dying in dark visions and fits
in an abandoned industrial unit
on the outskirts of Manchester
with your rummaging Aberdeen girlfriend,
full of pills made in Hoxley and vintage vomit,
syphillis breeding with TB
inside you like those gigantic
Norvegicus that swam behind you
in the wake of your ferry,
Saint Patrick II.
And yet, despite the vistas of uncompromising cosmological bleakness, there is hope to be found, and Lordan locates it in the strangest and most familiar of places: within ourselves. The poem Hope addresses the reader or listener directly, in the sounds and syntax of a down-and-out, as though the reader or listener were the very personification of hope:
I know yuv a hundurd millin virgin spouses pushin’ up slums
an’ high-tech factories from underneath the battlefields.
Tis tuh the dead we can never repay yud mos jusly return,
them that rose an’ wuz crushed for yer dreamin’, the manygod
that manytimes gave ya generation. But I ain’t ready tuh let ya
go jus yet. So get up. Get up. I said GET THE FUCK UP!
An’ c’mere and give us a hug and give us a peck
on the cheek, and give us a drag on yer spliff.
The final poem in the collection, Love commands the neighbourhood, recalls William Blake’s The Divine Image in its injunction to love the human form in all its diverse states of fracture and disintegration and imperfect beauty.
What commands in the end, above all, is the mutual embrace of all those condemned to oblivion by a system in meltdown.
Love all those with a love like a grieving,
for they too are leaving, they too are going their way.
Close by there’s a man who stole through the barracks
after bombardment, collecting watches and teeth,
and a woman who walked out of a bomb. Love them.
Love as a refusal, love as a form of militant resistance. Perhaps poetry looks puny when considered alongside ‘the DJ’s billion-kilometre tongue‘ on the radio playing in Workmate, the formidable media apparatus that commands ecstatic erotic consent for sadistic violence upon the multitude of the poor. But in Dave Lordan’s hands this poetry raises our gaze, towards the summits to be conquered, where the realm of true freedom lies, an all-of-us, here-and-now of where the ‘everyday holy‘ is worshipped, and where communion is ‘sharing abundance’. He does it with dazzling technique, accessibility and explosive power, and if you have any sense of humanity, you will read this collection.
“Wonderful lyricism… [Lordan is] trying to do for his generation what Heaney and Yeats did for theirs.”