Last week (apologies for another late post), another collection that I didn’t really ‘get’; this time, because it was so densely allusive I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on half the time. I hate writing that; I feel like a fractious child demanding that everything make sense to me. But it’s hard to engage with work you simply don’t understand, and if, as this review of The Lammas Hireling suggests, Ian Duhig has shed ‘the arcane references of his earlier work’, then I really don’t think I’ll be looking out that earlier work.
Perhaps Duhig’s impenetrability would be solved by research, wider reading and a better understanding of Irish poetry; perhaps the point is that it’s poet’s poetry, difficult, riddling, allusive. I did like its earthy, everyday nature, giving voice to disparate characters, telling their stories, despite its clever-cleverness. But none of it moved me much. Favourites were ‘Blood’, ‘Died for Love’ and ‘The Lammas Hireling’, which had me spellbound though I’m sure I don’t understand it, and which won the 2000 National Poetry Competition:
After the fair, I’d still a light heart
And a heavy purse, he struck so cheap.
And cattle doted on him: in his time
Mine only dropped heifers, fat as cream.
Yields doubled. I grew fond of company
That knew when to shut up. Then one night,
Disturbed from dreams of my dear late wife,
I hunted down her torn voice to his pale form.
Stock-still in the light from the dark lantern,
Stark naked but for the fox-trap biting his ankle,
I knew him a warlock, a cow with leather horns.
To go into the hare gets you muckle sorrow,
The wisdom runs, muckle care. I levelled
And blew the small hour through his heart.
The moon came out. By its yellow witness
I saw him fur over like a stone mossing.
His lovely head thinned. His top lip gathered.
His eyes rose like bread. I carried him
In a sack that grew lighter at every step
And dropped him from a bridge. There was no
Splash. Now my herd’s elf-shot. I don’t dream
But spend my nights casting ball from half-crowns
And my days here. Bless me, Father, I have sinned.
It has been an hour since my last confession.
You can hear the poet reading it here.