Getting into the swing of Eddie's private party

 

Anthology: In the introduction to this issue of Aquarius, compiled and edited by Constance Short and Tony Carroll, readers are invited to join in the celebration of the life and work of Edward Sean Glackin Quinn Watters Linden.

You might, at this stage, unknown to yourself, be mouthing the title of Sebastian Barker's 1979 biography or the 1995 play by William Tanner, Who is Eddie Linden?. Your curiosity will only be more piqued by the first essay, a thorough and affectionate piece by Sean Hutton. And before you know it, you're in the swing of a private subtle party. No one minds that you don't know who he is - you will, by evening's end.

This is a remarkable, tantalising, salute to the editor of Aquarius, the poetry review first published from Eddie's London flat in 1969. It is made up of more than 100 contributions - poetry, prose and drawings - by friends and admirers. Typical of the book, there is no strict biography of the guests, rather there are a dozen pages titled "About Ourselves", adding to the intimacy of the occasion. The list is eclectic and as impressive as they come. They are all here, the great poets, the politicians and the political parts of some of the rest. Poetry editors give us their thoughts and Bruce Kent wakes up to find Eddie at the end of his bed. The dead and the dying drop in, and here too are the 14-year-old Jackie Duffy and the surprised voice of Nessa Behan, daughter of Constance Short: "Eddie spent Christmas with my family since before I was born."

At some point it is important to note who the man himself thinks he is. His own verbal self-portrait is translated into Gerald Mangan's pen-and-ink cartoon, perfectly mirroring John Montague's poem. The drawing shows St Peter whispering to God about the specimen at the door: "He says he's a manic depressive alcoholic lapsed Catholic Irish working-class pacifist communist bastard, from Glasgow. And would you like to subscribe to a poetry magazine."

Eddie himself stands at the bottom of the stairs, bag packed, and lets them get on with the wondering we can see fleeing over their faces. Although how the man sees himself might not be important in the case of your average poetry editor, it is in this case, because that is what fuelled the dedication required to produce 18 editions of Aquarius, a question from the floor of the House of Commons and such a gathering as is here in this edition. In a time when some think that a book is any collection of paragraphs racing to any pointless conclusion, it is essential to know that there are still people who know what Art is, and that it matters.

Aquarius, all 18 issues of it (some double editions, bringing the total to 26), was a particularly astute stage for poets and writers, new and established. Poems and meaningful prose migrate from the desks of their makers and travel in envelopes to find homes in places like it. Places that could not exist without the dedication of people like Eddie Linden. When writers send off their lines, they know that they are participants in a never-ending desire by humans to use their language to add colour, smell and depth to the ordinary, the terrible and the joyous. All of which Aquarius, and its like, then present to us for our scrutiny and enhancement.

Old-style pubs, train journeys and literary readings get a lot of mention, in grown-up, throwaway sentences. Soon we are longing for the reek of smoke and a watery sky clouding over outside, making the day useless for anything else but talking of the truth, without petty political shenanigans, and the past.

And while the past can often be a deceitful dream, there is enough harsh confession here to shade any fall into sentimentality.

There is, too, a gorgeously polished wit about some of the contributions, hiding what we know were horrendous realities. I cannot think of a better way to placate the twitching of your book tokens.

Evelyn Conlon, novelist and short story writer, compiled and edited Later On, a memorial anthology about the Monaghan bombing

Eddie's Own Aquarius Edited by Constance Short and Tony Carroll Cahermee Publications, 172pp. €25