The Gladstone Readings Anthology (Famous Seamus, UK, 2017) is an anthology of contemporary writing, though predominantly poetry, and which was compiled and edited by the poet, editor and translator Peter O’ Neill. This is O’ Neill’s second stab at editing an anthology, the first was published in conjunction with the French poet and editor Walter Ruhlmann and was published by Walter for mgv2>publishing ( France, 2015 ) And Agamemnon Dead, an anthology of twenty first century Irish poetry.
Some of the same names appear in The Gladstone Readings Anthology that appear in And Agamemnon Dead. Michael J. Whelan, Christine Murray, Rosita Sweetman, Arthur Broomfield, John Saunders and Bob Shakeshaft, so there is a correspondence between both works which is immediately identifiable in the contents section.
Thematically there are similarities between both works too. Violence, as indicated in the Yeat’s quote of the first book, is once again a recurring theme uniting this latest anthology, with a short story by Helena Mulkerns, taken from her debut collection Ferenji ( Doire Press, 2017 ) complementing Whelan’s visceral poems written many years after his experience touring the Lebanon and Kosovo as a Peacekeeper for the UN.
Indeed O’ Neill, in an article published by The Irish Times ( May 12th 2015 ) was at pains to point out, after the publication of And Agamemnon Dead , that violence was the unifying element which connected all the pieces, but violence as understood in its most global way!
For example the violence of Brendan McCormack’s Dublin poems, contained in The Gladstone Readings Anthology, are central to the anthology, with their anger and rage against the complacency of middle-class Ireland’s double standards, vis a vis religious indoctrination and embrace of hyper-consumerism. McCormack’s formal constructs, devoid at times of any punctuation, a physical manifestation on the very type face of his complete disdain for orthodoxy of any kind, such is his mistrust of authority; Caravaggio being a kind of avatar for the poet, a subject which he treats with real greatness, and worthy of the 17th century baroque master.
Indeed Brendan McCormack, placed in the centre of the collection, preceded by work from John W. Sexton and the formidable Daniel Wade, could be seen to represent a school of current poetic exploration particular to this island, and which Whelan’s and Murray’s writing also echo; that of a return to modernism, with its insistence on formal exploration, historical accuracy and embrace of linguistic invention. As if to underscore the tension created by the above mentioned apocalyptic trio, Sexton evoking a demonic stiletto wearing Muse, My Love Came Riding, while Wade’s long poem on Savonarola, uncomfortably making parallels to Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland excess, and McCormack’s own inner-city howlings ( a city he has long since abandoned, living in exile as he does from the nation’s capital, in favour of the wild countryside of West Cork) are then carefully contrasted by the quieter introspective tones, of the American poet David Rigsbee whose poems masterfully explore the deeply personal with the public; in which such all too familiar topics such as homelessness A Certain Person, racism ’68, and Art Falsetto are so magnificently treated.
John Saunders and Enda Coyle Greene then take up the baton, both similar to their American counterpart in that both, in their work, attempt to in both formal and informal register, explore, using rhyme, rhythm and alliteration, the conceit and metaphor of Living!