Joseph Brodsky, the great Russian poet, was once called the "lone wolf" of Russian poetry. He seemed to live inside his native language while finding an "outside" voice in English. In a strange and fascinating way, Tom MacIntyre inhabits a similar double-life to Brodsky's but in three different genres: his fiction, collected so far in The Word for Yes (1991); his dramatic work, from the early experimental pieces of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Find the Lady, Doobally Back Way and Rise Up Lovely Sweeney, culminating in the stunning transfiguration of Patrick Kavanagh's The Great Hunger (1983), and his own obsessive poems, which hunt the "soulscape" somewhere between English and Irish.
Hardly surprising that MacIntyre, entering next year his seventieth year, has influenced a powerful bilingual mix of writers, including Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Dermot Healy, Marina Carr and Michael Harding, not to mention the undoubtedly physical influence of his drama on stagecraft and theatrical direction in this country.
Stories of the Wandering Moon, MacIntyre's new collection of poems, published by The Lilliput Press in an exquisite edition with illustrations by Barrie Cooke, is a perfect introduction to MacIntyre country for those who have never been there before. The words are all that matter; each word is given full force as if the reader was hearing it spoken for the first time. Everything lives in the words on the page, literally, because for MacIntyre language becomes a route in and out of experience. Words are worlds: sensuous sounds, physical things in a way which recalls that great trickster, Paul Muldoon, but with MacIntyre there is less of an eye on our getting the gist.
For throughout Stories of the Wandering Moon we are either overhearing or are being told straight these stories of love, passion and the end of such things, shorn of any social etiquette or literary formality. Nuance in MacIntyre is the whole business; not a subtlety cleverly registered, but the entire reason for a poem to be and ignite.
What shades there are in MacIntyre's poetry come from an almost frenchified medieval past, Gaelic without doubt, and formed out of folk song and custom, place name and piseog. As in the opening to "A Certain Room":
Is it true
that in a certain
room of the castle we always
love the once beloved?
Where's that room?
On the seventh floor!
Questions abound in this book which find no answer other than the sound of one man's voice going on: hypnotic, betimes, and, like a character from Beckett, bedevilled, such as in the rest of the poem, "A Certain Room":
Once a lifetime,
you may by accident
or prayer or unsolicited gift
discover it, shed the maze,
Everything as was.
And more. And more.
Gerald Dawe's most recent poetry collection is The Morning Train. His selected essays on Irish writing, Stray Dogs and Dark Horses, has just been published.