Kerry Hardie, the recipient of the Lawrence O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry presented by the University of St. Thomas in 2005, has written often and wisely of grief, most intimately in The Sky Didn't Fall (2003), a collection composed in the shadow of her father's death. Indeed, loss draws near in each of her seven books of poetry—but so, too, does endurance, and so does consolation. In our opening essay drawn from her forthcoming The Zebra Stood in the Night, Hardie leads us though a meditation on the ancient wisdom that in the midst of life we are in death. There is nothing abstract in how she writes of death: it is, she says, "like a smell that stays in the nostrils." And yet, as Hardie reflects, it is precisely that materiality that leads us back from grief: "We, in our turn, must slip back into the life from which they have absented themselves. It must close over us and reclaim us."
Belfast might be seen as the very definition of a divided city, notwithstanding the gains that have followed the 1998 Peace Agreement. Today, many, even most, of the entrenched boundaries of its civic spaces remain visible—indeed, these boundaries are now definitively inscribed by the so-called "Peace Walls" that keep apart neighborhoods in conflict. Here, Dr. Julia Obert contemplates a new way that Belfast's residents might move toward finding a shared space: if we recognize that the urban sounds of Belfast can be heard by all, then we might also possibly begin to imagine the "soundscape" as a sort of commons. Obert's own field recordings, and the several artist's initiatives available online, indicate an unrecognized aural cohesion. Without overstating the case, Obert suggests that an attentiveness to the auditory environment can in some small way offer "more comfortable paths to belonging in a notoriously prickly place." Julia Obert's articles have appeared in such journals as Éire-Ireland, Irish Studies Review, and Textual Practice.
John B. Yeats once derided an Abbey Theatre audience as belonging to the "land of saints," quickly adding, "of plaster saints." His jibe was perhaps not too far [End Page 5] off, for as Dr. Ann Wilson shows, religious statuary and sentimental imagery (often wrongly believed to be inherited from a purer Catholic past) played a central role in Irish Catholic religious life of a century ago—and were promoted with gusto in Irish fiction of the time. Wilson draws on novels, religious periodicals, and memoirs to underscore the extraordinary power of devotional objects in Irish Catholic practice. Such piety was frequently ridiculed by non-Catholics, and even some Catholic clergy worried that the line between healthy devotion and outright idolatry was easily crossed. Nonetheless, Wilson notes, the emotive power of imagery usually trumped theological misgivings. Ann Wilson has published many articles on Irish art history; with David Lawrence, she co-authored The Cathedral of St. Fin Barre at Cork: William Burges in Ireland (2006).
Billy Ramsell's second book, The Architect's Dream of Winter is just out from Dedalus Press, following on his debut collection, Complicated Pleasures (2007). In the new book and in the poems presented here, Ramsell maps the suddenly wired, suddenly wide, world in which we find ourselves. His native Cork and the people he loves are to be in these poems, surely, but now we apprehend even the closest world with digital assistance. In "Memory House" he begins, "I outsourced all my memories to machines." In another poem, Ramsell is confronted with the hyper-opinionated Mr. Leahy—a plain and provincial man taking out his rubbish, but one who feels free to comment on Moscow and the Mideast. There is irony here, and sometimes bemusement, but the poet is no Luddite: in "Reel," a traditional tune heard on his iPod becomes "digital amber." Ramsell's poems offer a meditation on mortality through the intersections of music, machines, and memory—an intersection that draws close to longing.
The poetry of Biddy Jenkinson (b. 1949) has only limited currency in the English-speaking world; Irish-language readers and reviewers, however, consider her work essential to understanding...