Saturday, November 04, 2006

Black Mountain Review 14

Just received what is likely the final issue of the Black Mountain Review (that is, the Irish one, not the famous American one of the 1950s and 60s). It’s a shame that it’s folding, because it was a steady, well-produced journal focusing firstly on the North of Ireland, but then also the whole of Ireland and the world as well. I myself have appeared in its pages many times. I guess, however, many a good literary magazine’s days are numbered (and sometimes that is even what ought to be). BMR had a seven-year run, and began roughly at the same time as The Burning Bush. The associated Black Mountain Press has also published some very important books of poetry and prose, not least of which was the forward-looking anthology Breaking the Skin: Twenty-First Century Irish Writing. It is to be hoped that the Press can still continue in some way.

BMR 14 includes a range of poetry and short fiction, with some criticism mixed in, much of it part of this issue’s special feature on “Oriental writing” (I thought “Oriental” was becoming a politically incorrect term?). The piece that most caught my attention was British poet Kevin Bailey’s article “The Problem with Haiku.” I was very interested to read that there is currently a new generation of British poets coming to the fore who have been consciously influenced by the haiku and other Asian forms, as were the Imagists of the early 20th century at the instigation of Ezra Pound, T.E. Hulme, and others. In fact, Bailey goes so far as to call contemporary poets such as Chris Powici, Daniel Healy, Harry Guest, Gary Bills, et al. neo-imagistic.

One thing I would take issue with, perhaps – Bailey claims that “the entropy of the British literary establishment quickly snuffed out the Imagist movement.” He immediately goes on to question his own assertion by citing a “filtered-down” imagism in the work of Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas, and the later Hardy. Which is not off the mark, but is to ignore the fact that Imagism (along with Symbolism in France) essentially gave birth to the whole of Modernism, and thus poetry as we know it today. Free verse itself, the clear, crisp image, the move away from Romantic abstraction – all of this comes right out of the Imagist movement. Pound, William Carlos Williams, H.D., Wallace Stevens, etc. all started their careers as Imagists. Granted these were American, and Bailey here wants to concentrate on British poets; he wants to make that distinction. I don’t know if you can, at least not completely. Did Modernism too fail in Britain? What then of the likes of D.H. Lawrence, Herbert Read, and other British poets who directly took up Imagism and Modernism? In any case, Bailey’s article is quite elucidating, especially in regard to the more recently emergent writers he discusses.

Other things that struck me were the poems of Greagóir Ó Dúill (who has recently made the switch from writing in Irish to writing in English), Gary Allen (a very strong poet from Ballymena), Nigel McLoughlin’s translations of new Cathal Ó Searcaigh poems, “Ferro et Flammis” by Paul Maddern (on the clash between English and Native American cultures at Jamestown, Virginia, c. 1609), and Cosima Bruno’s article on contemporary Chinese poetry. BMR also included a reviews section, an important feature which some journals neglect. This magazine will truly be missed. But kudos must go out to its editors Niall McGrath and Sonja McGarr, who in their editorial at least hold out some small hope of a rebirth “in the next few years.”