Protest Poet Tempers His Eire in Print
A Contrary review by Grace Wells

        Dave Lordan is a man of furies. They keep his company and he in turn is a daemon of the Irish poetry world. Winner of the 2005 Patrick Kavanagh award, he has built a reputation as a poet of protest, a political performer whose passionate readings are dominated by force of feeling and provocative, shocking language. Early appearances had Lordan reciting five or six protest poems, poetry of marches and demonstrations, (anti-globalization, anti-war). He presents a formidable façade, for Lordan’s quality is mythic, other; part dark Dionysus, part Clytemnestra wringing hands, seeing visions in blood libations, Lordan is something of a modern oracle—a consummate truth teller. Now with the publication of his first collection, The Boy in the Ring, we get to see behind the illusion of performance, to see if the writing stands up on its own.
        Not all his ‘demonstration’ poetry has made it into the collection, which is a shame because it is good. There’s a feeling that Lordan, or some editorial hand, has tried to erase the political from the poet. Only “Migrant’s March”, Genoa July 19, 2001” (with its classic line “The universal bits of English like “War”, and “McDonalds’”) has survived the axe, so some of Lordan’s ire has been dissipated. But reading the work still has the nature of a sacred or ritual dressing-down. Lordan’s angry vision scalds the flesh, paring it back to bone. This level of honesty is not for everyone, and if Lordan is an Irish oracle — or the Irish oracle — there will be those who cannot palate what he has to say.
        His poetry is rooted in Irish experience, yet surprisingly the minute details of ordinary Irishness that pepper the work, whether they be booze and vomit, or blood and betrayal, only serve to make the work universal. Lordan’s poems are thronged with Ireland and its voices; he has the shape-shifter’s ability to speak in colloquial tongues, to get right into his character’s lives, and stepping out of his own experience often allows Lordan the dispassion of a cooler tongue.
        Whatever dark, small-town forces shaped Lordan, you can only be grateful. The majority of his poems are a lesson in how rage, scorn, bitterness and pain can be channelled and transformed into beauty. The Boy in the Ring is not just the story of a child in the centre of bullies (the plot of his title poem); it is the revelation of human development in the midst of shaping forces. Ringed by limits, pettiness, disdain, political corruption, violence, war, gross materialism, by life being “a mouldy stage”, the boy in the ring could easily turn to despair or become one of the forces of the ring itself. He doesn’t. Lordan rises up from the punches, (the spitting, piss and puke which feature perhaps a little too heavily). He becomes flame in their centre, sometimes fiery orange, sometimes focused in a searing, precise blue. Ultimately his book is not just a triumph of language, but a triumph of soul.

Reviewer Grace Wells is a British poet living in Ireland. Her poems have appeared in the Autumn 2007,  Spring 2007, and Winter 2006 issues of Contrary.

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commentary | poetry | fiction | chicago | autumn 2007
The Boy in the Ring
by Dave Lordan
2007, Salmon Poetry
An Only Child | Dave Lordan
in memory of Zhao Liu Tao, murdered in Dublin in January 2002.

I had my grandfather’s mouth.
In famine he was told to thrive on hunger.
He wouldn’t swallow it.
They cut his tongue out.

I had my father’s eyebrows.
They arced like blackbird’s wings
and nearly touched across his brow.
He kept his head down.

I had my mother’s lips.
She sang true songs of long ago.
Now my lips are blue,
she sews her’s up in grief.

I was last in a line,
shouldering well the hope of many.
I was an only child
bearer of a name’s eternity.

When they burst my skull with an iron bar
they murdered so well, so often.
They killed my father, my mother
and all before and after for ever and ever.

Like a stream vanished in a drought
we are gone to a place without laughter,
a place without children,
a place of endless silence.

When I came here only wanting
to open my mouth,
when I came here only wanting
to learn how to speak.

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