And in all I do
and say there’s the scene
the heart prefers,
of that first loneliness
and northern birds.
Seán Lysaght’s retelling of the tradition that has it that Achilles reached Achill is emblematic of the range of this watchful poet’s concerns.
His field-trips in the west of Ireland, following the footsteps of pioneering naturalists, resulted in exact, distinctive early poems that refracted a local focus through broader perspectives. Alert to the exertions of human presence he repeatedly pays tribute to the splendours of Ireland’s natural habitats. Excerpts from ‘The O–––––’ demonstrate in their awareness of the heroic migrations of sea-trout and salmon a capacity to explore ideas of language, self and identity in extended work. Poems from his ‘Bird Sweeney’ sequence include learning and lore as they conjure the frenzied movements of a cursed cleric in new variations on an archetype.
Seán Lysaght’s Selected Poems draws on the work of more than twenty years and five collections. Combining lyric darts and tracts of near-Wordsworthian contemplation, it is a carefully considered distillation of what Edward Larrissy praised in Stand as ‘a poetry of observation, but also of meditation; a poetry where the everyday verges on the visionary’.
Seán Lysaght’s Selected is commendably slim, covering five books of poetry — Noah’s Irish Ark (1989), The Clare Island Survey (1991), Scarecrow (1998), Erris (2002), and The Mouth of a River (2007) — in only 86 pages. There must have been a good few poems from those volumes baying from the limbo of Maybe-Maybe Not, but Lysaght has set his standards high and produced a book dense with prime cuts.
. . . nothing but communion surfaces in the relationship between poet and nature, a harmony under threat by human interference. The bird watcher, the auspex, just like the poet, brooks no interruption: the dynamic between the observer and observed is fundamental, establishing what Ted Hughes called the “sacred trance”. . . Lysaght’s gifts of observation and reflection move seamlessly from birds to sea, seals, marram grass, surfers, horses, gales and even midges.
There is authority from the start of the Selected, as if the poetic foresight of Lysaght’s younger self was predicated on the hindsight of his middle-aged self. Yet that sureness, that certainty of poetic terrain, deepens and matures further in the final section of the book, the poems from The Mouth of a River.
Throughout the book, Lysaght, the auspex, the piscator, has the eye, ear and steadiness to catch the feathered or silvery creatures that lie above, or within the depths of, our everyday world; he also has the sensitivity and insight to make poetry out them and the other-worlds they inhabit.
— James Harpur , Southword
Year Published: 2010
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 501 2
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 502 9
ISBN ebook: 978 1 85235 618 7