Doire Press poets on tour: A Crack in Everything
Maurice Devitt, Susan Lindsay and Louis Mulcahy to visit libraries across the country
Maurice Devitt, Susan Lindsay and Louis Mulcahy
“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect.” This is the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, which finds beauty in the transient, the incomplete and the broken – seams which run through the work of Doire Press poets Maurice Devitt, Susan Lindsay and Louis Mulcahy, who bring their tour A Crack in Everything to libraries across the country.
The crack in Devitt’s life came with the death of his father in 1971, when Maurice was 14: “It was something I was never prepared for, yet it forced myself and my siblings to grow up quicker. It had a profound effect on my mother; though tragically sad at the time, it forced her into a life that she would not have experienced otherwise, a life that became hugely personally fulfilling. Her death in 2014 was the next big ‘crack’ in my life but, between the two, I experienced 43 years of a wonderful life.”
Looking back on this life, Devitt’s debut Growing up in Colour revisits a vanished childhood, travelling to a past, and to an Ireland which no longer exists. Derived from Buddhist philosophy, wabi-sabi is partly concerned with absence and with suffering – and whilst joy breathes quietly in this collection, loss is what interests Devitt more.
“The artists I like most, such as De Chirico, Magritte and Hopper, create images that beg questions about what is missing, what is unsaid. Most of us have anxieties, shades of darkness; this is often about something that is lost or missing in our lives. I’m fascinated with the way our lives are unresolved, incomplete, always on the point of major or minor change.”
Buried at the back of the hot-press
this old cardigan of yours.
A summer colour in a winter sale,
a shield against the darkness
that sometimes crept into your eyes,
it matched everything you wore.
* * *
But what is it about time and taste,
that prompts us to cast off
our favourites, yet never
give them away? Woven
with some small relic of our past,
it is like the reassurance
of a friend lost somewhere
in a crowded room – no need
to touch or even see, their power lies
in knowing they are there.
* * *
I leave the cardigan casually
on a chair, as though expecting
you to walk in anytime and put it on.
The Etiquette of Loss
When the milkman left
two cartons this morning,
I happened to be
looking out the window,
noticed how he seemed
to linger for a minute,
take time to set them
in the corner of the porch,
as though, just at that moment,
his memory tripped
and his eye caught
the shadow of a blue tit,
waiting for the clink
of glass on the step.
This idea of being on the cusp of change marks Milling The Air, the third collection by Susan Lindsay. Speaking to our fractured selves in a digital age, questioning our place on a planet in turmoil, these poems talk of transformation, of flux – not least as we age in a world which keeps turning.
With increasing focus on achieving things at a young age, whether it’s being on the Booker shortlist before 30 or having a best-selling novel at 15, Lindsay says it’s crucial to value older voices – but also to be aware that as we mature we must stay alive to the changes around us. Doire Press is no stranger to publishing young writers, such as Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Dimitra Xidous and Kimberly Campanello, whose recent reading at Books Upstairs was full of rage and beauty. But upper age-limits for prizes and opportunities have closed doors for older writers (“older” of course being relative): as Joanna Walsh points out, we emerge as artists at any age.
“It’s important to give young people in all areas support,” Lindsay says. “With a growing aging population, entry to responsible job opportunities can be delayed at the other end of the scale. But this is not a reason to abandon older voices and older emerging artists – given that many now are entering the creative world having already had a previous career, whether raising a family or in the marketplace.”
This collection asks the big questions through small, intricate prisms: who we are, why we are, where we are headed. “The deeper one travels into any field of knowledge, the more it becomes clear that right answers are, mostly, only correct within certain defined limits. It is in finding the right question, having any question for which to search for an answer, that is at the heart of discovery.”
Stay curious, says Lindsay, to stay connected; as we grow older we need to re-examine what we know, perhaps jettisoning knowledge acquired earlier in life: “It takes a long time for us to get our heads around new landscapes – not only external but internal landscapes need to be reconfigured as life goes on.”
Old Ways Confuse
Once the route had us pass by
the Baldoyle Race Course
spot wading birds on the estuary
the red tiled roof of Portmarnock Golf Club
grandeur amidst the links
then cycle straight on, to turn left at the carting track
the horseshoe door of the old forge.
On occasion we dismounted
to boil water and picnic beside the ditch
before pedalling on to the airport
where we propped our bikes
against the terminal wall
climbed the steps to the tarmac viewing platform
recalling how the roar of the jets taking off
terrified us, when younger, on family outings.
Now the passenger to a daughter
almost twice the age we were then
I can navigate to a certain point
until the overlay of motorway
access and exits, the way it
bridges the once ‘Belfast road’
confuses. Is Airside north
or back toward town? Where
is the Pavilion? ‘L’ plates
allow leeway for delay
as other drivers pass by
their impatience not quite concealed
before we travel on to find the retail outlets.
I discover that only by disregarding
once valuable knowledge
of the old ways
can I find my way now.
Accessed from the M50 route south to Sandyford
it takes a while to dawn,
having come at it from a different angle,
that the Toyota garage is a short stroll
from the Luas halt only a shanks-mare ten minutes
from Stillorgan pre-tram home of twenty years.
We learn to navigate
the passing years of family
shape-shifting patterns of lost familiars,
garnered from shared experiences,
a map then essential to have
now to jettison
to make space
the building of new neural pathways
the constant re-imagining requisite
to navigating life today.
Louis Mulcahy wrote his first poem at the age of 64, coming to a new craft after decades working as a renowned sculptor and ceramic artist. In the medium of clay, of pottery, the wabi-sabi aesthetic is important to much of what he makes: “We use the kintsugi technique on big sculptural pieces that often develop cracks – but not breaks – in the firing process,” he says, explaining how this also informs his poetry. The tradition of kintsugi, or kintsukuroi, which translates as “golden seams” or “golden repair”, has been used for centuries, and involves pouring gold lacquer into fractures in the sculpture or pot, making a beautiful feature out of a flaw.
In his new collection, The Potter’s Book, Mulcahy illuminates this creative process which often mirrors the fallibility and fragility of being human – but also affirms small miracles of survival, of beauty. James Harpur describes his poems as having “the elegance of his pots…the uncanny sheen of their glazes.”
The breath withheld
in intuitive dream,
as hands are driven
from deep in a mind
that is true to clay
in shape and mark.
The breath withheld
as clay and glaze
are offered to flame
and worn hands leave
their fingers’ print
fading on a potter’s cloth.
When the going is good
we are charged for hours,
maybe days, even months
by a haze that is slightly crazed.
Circadian cadences stop
yet the mind coasts easily on
pursuing a shadowy grail
on a narrative thread
whose length and breadth are as indistinct,
yet important to us,
as to some is a tortured figure
fading on a winding cloth.
Perhaps more than anything, Mulcahy’s collection is about the creative impulse; fittingly, in making the book itself, he found refuge: “Writing saved my mind and business during the recent recession. That recession was, in fact, for most people in my main field of activity, a deep depression. I only turned to poetry to learn how to write succinctly; in my innocence, I never noticed that it was netting me. Shortly after I turned to this discipline I never wrote another word of prose. Drafting and revising has occupied nearly every spare moment of the past fourteen years and helped me get through dark times, by keeping my mind off the trouble besetting us.”
The title of the tour, A Crack in Everything, springs of course from Leonard Cohen, and his remarkable legacy. In writing about his poetry, Adam Cohen says his father didn’t want to explain his process, to ruin the magic. Because there is a mystery at the heart of creating anything, whatever form it takes: these three poets let us inside it for a moment, through poems which work with the clay of our being – always mortal, always changing, never perfect.
Belfast: Central Library, 18th October, 3pm
Cork: City Library, 23rd October, 6.30pm
Dublin: Pearse Street Library, 25th October, 6.30pm
Galway: City Library, 30th October, 6pm