Monday, February 04, 2013
Born in Cork in 1947 and educated there by the Presentation Brothers and subsequently at Leeds University, Robert was for many years Professor of English at the University of Ulster at Coleraine, and a great friend and encouragement to poets and writers.
Over the years he wrote extensively on Irish poetry and edited The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature (1996). More recently he also published the moving Kicking the Mamba – Life, Alcohol, Death which dealt with the loss of his son. Dedalus Press published two of Robert's early collections of poetry, Muskerry (1991) and Secret Societies (1997) from which the following poem is taken. Sympathies and condolences to his family and many friends.
Hope is crossing the road
knowing that your friend is in,
and that he'll ask you inside
into the aroma of a different house.
It is the calm stillness of the privet
in the summer, when there's been
no wind for weeks, or rain,
and the leaves are dusty with thought.
It is the dry earth beneath your hands
shaped into embankments, fortresses,
continents, as the toy soldiers are drawn up,
and snipers strategically placed.
It is the smell of rashers frying
on Saturday night, the walk home
in the expanding dusk, the smile
of welcome you know you'll not forget.
As many of us already know, ebook readers are fantastic in that they allow us to go mobile with large volumes of large prose works (novels, non-fiction that doesn't rely on graphic content, etc). But when it comes to poetry, things can turn a bit ugly.
Who doesn't squirm, for instance, when the line- or stanza-breaks of a favourite poem are mangled by the prose-fixated default formatting of their favourite ebook reader. And how many even avid poetry readers, so often disappointed by our local bricks-'n'-mortar bookstore, are willing to surrender this most distinguishing physical attribute of the poem in order to have its nuts and bolts (however jumbled up) available in a convenient, portable form. (Our own recent foray into all-digital poetry publishing on Apple's iBooks platform -- in the form of the anthology Airborne: Poetry from Ireland -- was much more reassuring than other digital poetry experiments, due to that platform's offering publisher/poets strict control over the appearance of their work. That said, it seems clear that iBooks, as yet at least, accounts for only a small section of the overall ebook readership.)
Prompting these thoughts is an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal ('Don't Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay: http://tinyurl.com/av28kmm) on the rise (and first signs of a fall?) in the popularity of ebooks. Whatever the truth of the claim (and one has to be careful about equating a slow-down in the sales of ebook readers with a falling-off of interest in ebooks themselves), it does raise an important question: As a poetry reader, avid or just occasional, in an ideal world what form would you like your next poetry book or magazine purchase to take? Are you like us, still inclined to search out hard copies of the books we want to really engage with but happy to read individual poems, and even the occasional anthology, in a more fluid (and sometimes frustrating) form?
It would be interesting to hear.