It is common knowledge that Gabriel Rosenstock belongs to the Innti generation of poets, that generation that coalesced around UCC in the early-1970s and who sparked the smouldering embers of a hitherto rural-based Irish language idiom and culture into life, a culture that was like an old dead woman whom a former lover can't bear to rest his eyes upon in the wake-house. The Irish language was battered and bogged down and had nothing urban or hip about it.
But the Innti generation of Ní Dhomhnaill, Davitt, Rosenstock, Ó Muirthile and co. came along and put a fire beneath it. Like the "Burnings Limbs"(or the "Géaga tré Thine" (2006) – (a title of one of Rosenstock's poetry collections) and inspired and energized by the tearing down of old barriers and repressions on the broader stage of the world - the burgeoning civil rights movements of Northern Ireland and the USA, the Paris upheavals, the struggles for minority rights among peoples, languages and cultures – the Innti generation created a new and transgressive language, a language of challenge and rebellion, both political and social.
This is all common knowledge. It is well-known amongst the literary cognoscenti of Ireland. Or is it?! The reality is that the Irish language including Irish language poetry is so marginal to this country’s literary circles in the apparently “multicultural” Ireland of today, so peripheral still, that no-one is quite sure what space it occupies – if any.
What might not be so well-known outside to those outside the small world of Irish-language literature is that Gabriel Rosenstock, of the aforementioned Innti generation continued (and continues) writing. This bilingual volume
Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso/The Flea Market in Valparaíso
(Cló Iar-Chonnacht) is a very comprehensive collection of his "New and Selected Poems" as translated by Paddy Bushe and selected (and excellently introduced) by Cathal Ó Searcaigh and brings together some of Rosenstock's best poems from 17 collections – collections as diverse as
Susanne sa Seomra Folctha
(1973) /Susanne in the Bathroom;
Ní Mian Léi an Fhilíocht níos mó
(1993) / She Has Gone Beyond Poetry now;
Bliain an Bhandé
(2007)/Year of the Goddess;
Style and genre
Included in this volume are poems of every style and genre, sad poems, ecstatic poems, wistful poems, poems of dry wit and irony, playful poems and every type of poem that a reader could wish for. And then there are the haiku. If one needed a raison d'etre for poetry or why poetry is important in this postmodern age, then read Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso . You won't be disappointed. The translations by Paddy Bushe are youthful and alive and redolent of the mobile/global generation we claim to inhabit – "Tuirsíonn na Himáilithe mé – "The Himalayas wreck my head"– being just one example.
Rosenstock and his fellow Irish-language poets are constantly breaking new ground and became interlocutors with the wider poetic worlds of Eastern Europe, the US and Asia long before many of their more staid European contemporaries did. Why is this?
As Ó Searcaigh correctly puts it, it is not because they have that ancient “sense of place” that so fascinated the Irish poets of old; it is that the language is their home-place rather than any geographical locale.
This brings with it an enormous freedom. And yet Irish-language poets such as Rosenstock are still an essential element and link in the Gaelic literary tradition. They haven’t abandoned the responsibility that goes with the oldest role of the poet in Irish culture – to act as a balm when people are hurt or damaged by the violence of this world, to celebrate profound sadness and ecstasy or to reflect more deeply on the nature of life and the world.
As Rosenstock hints to the discerning reader; it isn’t the poet that writes the poem after all; a poem is like the invisible flow of the river and just as the stream is made of water and forms itself, so too with the poem.
Anyone who comes to this beautiful book will take different images and feelings away from it. For many it will be when Rosenstock’s sensibility jumps in mid-stream bhakti – style and finds the pulse of nature, that incredible simplicity or stillness – the loneliness that only a poem can fathom.
This is where Rosenstock and his crafting of the Irish language is at its most powerful:
beagán ar bheagán
an domhan ag dul as
little by little
the world fades away