Continuing our support of poetry

Sat, Nov 24, 2012, 00:00

WORD FOR WORD:In 1944, in the introduction to an anthology titled Poems from Ireland, its editor, Donagh MacDonagh, expressed his appreciation of the encouragement the then editor of this newspaper, RM Smyllie, had given to Irish poetry. Smyllie, instigator of that anthology, proudly boasted that an original poem had appeared on the literary page “every week throughout the war”.

McDonagh had chosen the poems from the “400 or so” the paper had published in the previous 10 years. What strikes me now is the number of significant iconic poems among them: Austin Clarke’s The Blackbird of Derrycairn, Patrick Kavanagh’s Spraying the Potatoes, WB Yeats’s Under Ben Bulben. (Going back even further, next September will mark the 100th anniversary of the paper publishing that angry Yeatsian outburst September 1913, a poem that turned the headlines of the day into great art.)

Others in the Poems from Ireland anthology included Cecil Day-Lewis, Padraic Fallon, John Hewitt, FR Higgins, Francis MacManus, Patrick McDonogh and Louis MacNeice. A year later and another future Nobel laureate, Samuel Beckett, might have been included. (Beckett first published his magnificent, terse postwar poem Saint-Lo 1945 in The Irish Times.)

The literary editors of recent decades kept the tradition alive. I cannot estimate the number of poems the paper has published since that 1944 publication, but it surely runs into thousands by the poets of succeeding generations and adds up to an illustrious roll-call.

There has been no major severance of that commitment to the weekly poem and of the paper’s support for poetry’s values and its capacity to “startle us out of our sleep-ofdeath into a more capacious sense of life”, as Eliot put it.

It is now my task as poetry editor to continue that tradition, and I am honoured to do so. I hope, too, to introduce readers to at least some memorable poems, poems that will encourage a further engagement with the work of the published poet.

Over time, both established and lesser-known names will occupy this slot. As someone whose own first poems were published in a newspaper, in David Marcus’s New Irish Writing page of the Irish Press, I look forward to the discovery of new voices that will signal the future of Irish poetry.

New, unpublished work is the preference, though, on occasion, consideration will be given to previously unpublished poems from new collections. I hope, from time to time, to include translations. The limitation of one poem a week will of course be restrictive; the editor’s own tastes and values will, naturally, give rise to the disappointment of rejection.

Watch Out For

The launch of Harry Kernoff: The Little Genius,by Kevin O’Connor (Liffey Press), at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin on Tuesday at 6.30pm. O’Connor’s biography is the first of the Dublin-Jewish artist who identified with Leopold Bloom, painted James Joyce’s portrait and chronicled his adopted city. Admission free; see

Today’s study morning on Visual Satire and Popular Illustrationat the National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin, followed by an exhibition tour. Tickets €25, from 01-6633518.

The email for contributions is