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BOOKS AND AUTHORS RONDO TO JAZZ: THE POETRY OF MICHEAL O’SIADHAIL GALE SCHRICKER SWIONTKOWSKI with his latest volume Hail! Madam Jazz: New & Selected Poems (1992) Micheal O’Siadhail comes of age as a poet. O’Siadhail is an established poet in Ireland, where he has published six previous volumes, three each in Irish and English, and where Hail! Madam Jazz was named best poetry collection of 1992 by the Dublin Sunday Tribune. As the first of O’Siadhail’s collections to be published in the United States and as a presentation of poems from the beginning to the present of the poet’s career, Hail! Madam Jazz effectively introduces this Dublin poet to an American audience. American readers who associate Irish poetry with Irish politics, however , will find Micheal O’Siadhail to be a poet of another stripe. O’Siadhail’s poetry is remarkably nonpolitical, in the usual sense of the term. The poet is careful to defend his personal, inner-directed poetry against any suspicion of an apolitical nature—and does so convincingly. In an essay entitled “Poetry and Society,” O’Siadhail questions the dominant contemporary expectation of a “visible political context” in poetry and argues instead for what he calls an ecology of poetry: The ecological image seems particularly appropriate, as it implies that loss of poetry could throw the habitat out of equilibrium. There is, of course, the further implication that poet and society are in a relationship of mutual responsibility.1 Ideally, the poetic witnessing of one man can function as an emotional and perceptual touchstone for a whole culture: Who can re-root language in genuine feeling? And by feeling I don’t mean emotionality but rather something cognitive and affective—a merger of RONDO TO JAZZ: THE POETRY OF MICHEAL O’SIADHAIL 156 1 Micheal O’Siadhail, “Poetry and Society,” Poetry Ireland Review, 33 (Winter, 1991), 3; hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (“PS” 3). Slightly altered, this essay appears as part of “Covenants of Trust: The Citizen Poet” in the present issue of ÉIRE-IRELAND. mind and heart. . . . What might appear as a marginal, harmless, even selfindulgent , occupation is then a tiny mechanism functioning as our ecological fail-safe. (“PS” 4–5) Thus, O’Siadhail speaks of the politics of poetry on a generic, human level not restricted to the political realities of any particular place or time. Yet, only the poet in a particular place and time can tap into the “(pre) political potential inherent in poetry”: We can only evaluate any truth existentially at its personal, local and particular level. All real knowledge is inhabited. This is where the testimony of an individual poet’s journey may have its validity. As the individual burrows deeper and deeper into his own narrative, only time will tell if in any sense it is a soundboard for others of a generation. (“PS” 8) This is O’Siadhail’s “niche,” his strength as a poet—his poetry evolves from personal emotions and insights, but it speaks as the emotions and insights of his generation. The Chosen Garden, his previous volume, embodies the experience of middle age. The five earlier volumes show the poet’s youthful approach to this turning point of maturity, and the newer poems, presented for the first time in Hail! Madam Jazz in a collection called “The Middle Voice,” glimpse a freedom that follows the ambivalence of the middle stage. O’Siadhail’s poetry is fully conscious of speaking not for a nation but from within the personal life-quest we all share. Hail! Madam Jazz opens with thirty-five poems, selected from the three volumes originally written in Gaelic, which now appear together for the first time in the poet’s English translations. O’Siadhail does not hesitate to present here the poems of his youth, even though many of these poems lack the sophistication of the older poet’s more recent efforts. The value of the early poems to this collection is twofold: their presence affords a more complete picture of the poet’s development, and they show the origin of images and themes that persist throughout O’Siadhail’s writings, thus lending consistency and depth to a retrospective gathering of...


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