If the Faber New Poets series is meant to be a series of snapshots into the future of how a Bright Young Thing might develop, Declan Ryan's pamphlet (nº12) is a miserable failure. That's because the future is already here. Ryan's poetry is fully formed, original and waiting to strut its stuff.
The chapbook may only contain ten poems, but each of them offers up a perfectly layered narrative. Dramas reveal themselves, line on line. One such example is the opening to "Girl in Bed":
"He brought the painting to be valued,
knowing something of the price
of this tantalising neck..."
Of course, as readers, we too now know something and are being tantalised ourselves by these very lines. Empathy is immediately established. There is warmth.
And this warmth is key to an understanding of Ryan's verse. While his is a poetry of cultural and geographical baggage, shot through with such connotations, it never loses its keen humanity. Joe Louis, Trinity Hospital, John Coltrane, The Hague, The Washington Post and Kilmainham take on the significance of characters in this collection, yet we encounter them alongside intimate turns of phrase such as the following stanza from "Transmission":
"I suppose that was a sort of dance
on the platform, afterwards:
our feet shuffling towards one another's,
your palm on my chest,
exactly the right size for my heart."
Deft handling of linguistic expectations is in evidence here. The poet is only too aware of the overdone image of a heart lying in someone's hand. He thus subverts it, recharging its possibilities.
Declan Ryan's Faber New Poets 12 is buoyed by the delicious challenge of portraying individual emotion within society. His meshing of sociocultural allusions, linguistic playfulness and authentic feeling creates a poetry that stands out in contemporary verse. Get hold of this book and see what I mean!
Derek Walcott, poet and playwright of Saint Lucia, died on 17 March at the age of 87. I think I recall my first Derek Walcott poem. It was 'The Season o...