A wounded pilgrim like us all
Indeed, Loop Head never seemed so aptly named as Argyle moves along the circuitous, contradictory routes of our human predicament, upending rigid codes and practices in search of the more complex, contingent reality. Rhyme is revelatory, the modulating music of meaning audible through such revolving linkages as “morning”/ “mourning”; “decadent” / “decedent”; “parish” / “perish”. The fortuitous end rhyme of “mitred wankers” and “keepers of the till and tally, bankers” authoritatively marries church and commerce in unholy alliance. At times, lines stumble over their breaks and the syntax seems tortured but such rhythmic faltering is pre-emptively excused by Lynch as “imprecise pentameter” in his Introit to the collection. The poet’s lapses and labours are Argyle’s own as he wavers between “opposing forces”.
“I’ve had this problem all my life. Directing funerals,” Lynch sighs mock-despairingly in the Tract that concludes his acclaimed 1997 essay collection The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, and his directorial presence is heavily felt throughout The Sin-eater.
For, as well as being prefaced with a lengthy, this-will-explain-everything introit that tilts the balance towards sermonising prose, the poems appear alongside photographs taken by the poet’s son Michael. As with Lynch Sons, Funeral Directors, this is a family enterprise. These dull, greyscale snapshots of west of Ireland rural locales and kitschy interiors oppressively cramp the poems, boxing the reader into a narrowly focused, imaginatively impoverished space, and this despite Lynch’s precept that “a good funeral like a good poem . . . moves us up and back the cognitive and imaginative and emotive register”.
Transformative processes of metaphor and meaning – truly the vital signs of the energetic, exercised mind – should be left for the reader to divine and experience.
“I like to play euchre. He likes to play Eucharist”, Robert Frost summed up the difference between himself and TS Eliot. Lynch, a skilled yarn-spinner, should revel in the exhilarating possibilities for ambiguity and mischief-making that poetic strategies afford, relinquish overt directorial control, and allow the poems, like Argyle, to find their own way in this turning world. I, for one, look forward to savouring more of Argyle’s irreverent escapades.
Maria Johnston lectures in the school of English at Trinity College Dublin and in the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies at Mater Dei Institute