Songs of love, lust, life and youth
by Joe Horgan
In the poem "Noise", in this first collection, the poet has a pianist say
of the musician is to create
a sound even sweeter than
In these simple lines, I think, lie the intent and bravery of this truly impressive collection, for Edward O'Dwyer arrives here as a poet of a markedly different order, and with this collection there is something fresh on the Irish poetic landscape. These poems, at their best, have a swagger of arrogance and cockiness that poets do not usually possess and the work is all the more seductive because of it.
So when O'Dwyer speaks of breaking a silence he does so in the full knowledge that there faces every poet the idea that there might be 'nothing to add / as I sat composing blank lines' ('Note Following a Blank Page'). In a society awash with noise, blogs, phone-ins, Facebook and Twitter, it must occur to every artist that silence might be the best response. Thankfully Beckett has already done that for us, so we know that it has been done better than we ever could, but we do write and Edward O'Dwyer writes with an ease and a poetic simplicity that is again part of the overarching confidence that this collection embodies. He does not dazzle you with pyrotechnic language or displays of cleverness but you are left in no doubt that this is because he does not need to. Like a Limerick Raymond Carver, he keeps it simple because he can.
The collection begins with the romantic 'Just by Chance', and romance, love and sex are O'Dwyer's big concerns throughout. This is a lusty, headstrong collection and is adept at exploring the vulnerability and insistence of young men and young men's sexuality. In 'Playing Guitar', for instance, the truth that this collection is an album of poems attempting to seduce women - or attempting to write poems to seduce women - is laid bare, even if we have to forgive the poet for wanting to play 'Eric Clapton's Layla'. There are darker elements, too, as in 'Keeping', where the poet seems to imagine the reaction to his own tragic demise, or the sudden shock of 'A Corpse in Snow'. There are nods to writing itself that anyone who has ever thought of writing will recognize:
'times when pen and paper
and he trusted that fickle little voice
whispering again and again
I'll remember, I'll remember'
This is an honest poet, able to engage with his own craft in a way that is not at all self-indulgent. There is a lot of well-judged humour, too, in such poems as 'Pints With God' or 'They Have Mistaken Me', and a gorgeous children's rhyme quality to 'The Secrets in the Sea'. I am less fond of the villanelles, 'This Old Pain" and 'Things Are Always Changing', as I am not really taken with form - shape, yes, but form to me is just the kind of parlor game with which poetry is bedeviled. But that is just me, and this collection is not marred by these, and for a first collection it has very few weak tracks. It is not an album with a lot of filler, and if I had to release one guaranteed hit single it would be 'Deciduous', which is a beautiful, heart-stopping whisper of a poem - whispered, that is, by someone like Tom Waits:
Does it feel like winter?
Does it feel as though love
Come one! How good is that?
I will come clean and admit that I asked to review this book, and at the risk of injecting way too much of myself into the review I will add that as a rule I do not review poetry, because as a poet myself I find doing so just too loaded, too personal - which is daft really, because someone has to. However, I heard Edward O'Dwyer read once and I was really struck by him. If you ever get a chance to hear him make sure you do. You will remember it. He is like a younger Billy Ramsell or a male Eileen Sheehan, two of the finest poetry-readers in this country; and yes, I did have a pint with him afterwards and a chat, but I am at best an acquaintance and this is an honest-to-God review.
I am a cranky old fell at this stage and I do not give out the bouquets easily. But, boy, this is good stuff and I really hope it finds its readers. It is a collection full of love and lust and life and youth, and Edward O'Dwyer has more than a whiff of the true poet about him. So I will let him sing us out, with a few lines from the title track, 'The Rain on Cruise's Street', a hymn to rain, Limerick and women.
'The full and luscious drop.
like a lover's liquid tongue.'
Yeh. Edward O'Dwyer? He's got it. Hasn't he?
Review: The Rain on Cruise's Street reviewed by Liam Murphy for The Munster Express (November 2014)
There must be something remarkable about the rain in Limerick, since Angela's Ashes. Has it literary qualities or must Limerick writers tag it or reference it in their work. Salmonpoetry's new poet on the block, Edward O'Dwyer, is an exciting new voice, and his first full collection, The Rain on Cruise's Street, demands attention as he poetically pinpoints a single drop of rain between Claire's and Boots, as it trickles down a girl's neck.
Some of the work is juvenile, and pop lyrical with rock chicks, punk rock, ripe age of sixteen. Then he changes up the gears with, The Dark And The Wind ("I just can't remember what youth taught me... youth left no farewell note on my pillow"). He segues into the surreal in, Pints With God, and hopes the Deity will turn "two pints into many".
Love and the years move swiftly on, and the poet is no longer worried that his 'proud parents' would read 'this book' and discover "I've had a sex life/ and all of that time out of marriage,/ often even out of love" Concerns are 'Gooogled' and 'no results found' in a poem, Your Life On The Dole.
Love is, Mostly For You, where the 'other woman' is Emily Dickinson. Quickly it is the love, they used to make ("they both remember it very well; only look at each other like they've forgotten")
In a section, At A Loss For Words, the concerns of a poet for the meaning and value of words is powerful and you begin to notice the development, and depth of meaning some poems proclaim loudly ("to produce them out of nothing").
You linger with, Things Are Always Changing, but you wonder why he sounds resigned to end that poem with "Just let them be". You might bristle at the selfie of fame "as if to suggest an Angela's Ashes minus all the shit weather would not be such a downer of a read".
Edward O'Dwyer is not 'such a downer', and next year the prestigious, Forward Poetry Anthology, will include the poem, Just By Chance, from this collection, with its beautiful " we kissed our first kiss in that unlikeliest of ways. Sometimes things happen so perfectly, and yet just by chance". This book shows that 'sometimes things happen so perfectly'.
“I can write a poem, yes, / but it's not the same as playing guitar.” It's rare to find such a straightforwardly youthful sentiment expressed in a poetry collection, but then again Edward O'Dwyer, born in 1984, is a relatively young poet; and what young person, despite their talent, has never longed to be anything other than what they are? The difference between being a writer and being a musician is examined in the poem 'Playing Guitar', which is pretty much the difference between which one will attract the attention of whispering girls who agree that “guys who play guitar are so sexy”. Meanwhile, 'The One Worry' also deals with an issue that might be particularly troublesome for a younger writer: the revelation to parents that their son has had sex—and moreover, written about it. “Yes, lust soaks these pages,” O'Dwyer declares in the collection's second poem, “will drip out of them.” But despite the promise of sexy times to follow, most of these poems aren't exactly a scandalous depiction of the writer's sex life, but are rather a thoughtful examination of the self, building to a solid personal mythology in which every moment in this writer's life has been crucial in bringing the writer and his work to this point.
O'Dwyer's debut collection, The Rain on Cruise's Street
, thus has a powerful beginning poem in 'Just By Chance', in which two lovers are brought together apparently by coincidence, but with the suggestion that something closer to fate might be at play:
Then, surely, it was just by chance of the way of the tide
that a pair of swans came floating out from the bridge's far side
towards us, and so I learned that swans mate for life
just by chance you'd read it somewhere once, but couldn't remember where.
Its exploration of a relationship's origins is also an appropriate beginning to the collection, as many of the poems that follow are, in one way or another, love poems, whether dealing with the eventual disintegration of relationships or the narrator's unrequited yearning for one of his elusive female muses. 'Library Girl' skilfully develops the metaphor of the poet wishing himself one of the old books decaying on the shelf in his local library – “a yellow fever slowly gripping me all over” – so that the girl he longs for might go through him “page by page”. Conversely, 'We'll Always Have Paris' is an anti-love poem full of sad humour about the things we hold onto after a break-up to convince ourselves of their worth, despite their having come to nothing. “[M]y darling, aren't you glad / we'll always have Paris, / always for one thing, that really glorious kiss— / was it Arc de Triomphe or La Tour Eiffel?”
The poet's idolisation of women can wear a bit thin at times, a perhaps-misplaced awe that's summed up in the image of girls “each beneath / their own personal spotlight / of sunshine.” In 'Visit from a Poem in a Dream', a beautiful woman is the embodiment of a poem “never meant to be written.” Herein lies the problem with O'Dwyer's muses: they usually exist only for the poet, within the bounds of the poems they inspire, but never with an agency of their own (similar to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope of TV and film that in recent years has been criticised for its depiction of a female character who exists solely to teach a male character something about himself). Happily, there are a few moments in this collection when the poet fades into the background to give more prominence to women's personalities and stories. 'Rock Chick' delves into a young woman's own fantasies and desires, and the assigning of a personal mythology to someone who is not the poet/narrator – more significantly, to someone of the opposite sex – is a relief after so many poems whose women are mysterious, unfathomable, unreachable. 'Paradise' also addresses a woman:
You might have been Eve today
as you stood there, cream-skinned naked
something of Eden about you.
But this woman is compared to Eve not for the poet's sake but for her own: portraying her against a landscape of blossoming flowers, rivers and fields that he is largely absent from, he acknowledges that she is “being [herself], no more” in her “remaking Paradise / intact again as an unbitten apple.” The poem is a delicately-explored example of how writers have the ability to find significance not only in the events of their own lives, but also in those of the people they interact with.
Unsurprisingly for a first collection, there are a few missteps. There were one too many poems about trees, leaves and the changing of seasons, and I was reminded of a wry tweet from the News for Poets account: “Poet refuses to see fall leaves as anything other than extraordinary.” Another minor but jarring detail is the word 'suddenly' appearing in three poems in a row. And there's a bit too much poet self-consciousness that I disliked, with a slightly unhealthy the ratio of poems about writing poems to poems that are not about writing poems. However, it's a brave soul who writes about a rejection from a literary journal and includes the editor's note: “thoughtful and intriguing / but in need of a little more craft.” No doubt O'Dwyer has come a long way since then, as his poems are meaningful and heartfelt. Yet his second collection will be telling—of whether he continues to work on his craft, as all writers should no matter their age, and urges his poems further into the realm of poetic sensibility, ambiguity, surprising imagery, and language that has been crafted and recrafted until it seduces the reader as easily as O'Dwyer is enraptured by one of his muses.
Róisín Kelly was born in Northern Ireland but has mostly lived south of the border. After completing her MA in Writing at NUI Galway, she moved to Cork City where she currently lives and writes. Previous and upcoming publications that feature her work include the Bohemyth, Wordlegs, Mslexia, HARK Magazine, the Stinging Fly and the Interpreter's House. In 2014 she was placed second in the Dromineer Literary Festival poetry competition, and third in the Red Line Book Festival poetry festival.