Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review of The Lakes of Coma (2003) archived

The Galway, Ireland, free weekly paper, the Galway Advertiser, has recently archived their back issues. I’m there in a number of different contexts (reviews, letters, literary arguments), but here’s a link to a review of my first book, The Lakes of Coma, from 3 April 2003. It’s nice to see the actual (virtual) newsprint page, but I also reproduce the text here.

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Exiled from Main Street

The Lakes of Coma by Michael S Begnal (Six Gallery Press, €9)

THE MEDIUM is the message in The Lakes of Coma, a new collection of poems by Galway-based writer Michael S Begnal.

The Lakes of Coma offers fractured images of American urban existence, a dislocated, displaced eye taking in the secret “terror and beauty” of an underbelly world of transvestites, seedy cafeterias, and cracked pavements: “American cities/ inhabited by beasts and grotesques.”

Begnal is a beast of a different kind, a “stray cat in a rolling field” he calls himself in “Let’s Love America”. He writes from a periphery where nobody belongs or welcomes, travelling incognito. “Why am I abandoned?” he asks, but the harsh self-reflexivity of the writing forbids pity. Even the exposed and exposing language in which he expresses himself is subject to defilement. Poetry is “the liar’s accomplice”, another form of disassociation and of measuring his distance from himself. The centre cannot hold. Begnal, aware of the fact, makes poetry of fleeting images and perceptions, the detritus of observed life that rises “furious/ and ephemerally” before his eyes.

Begnal’s poetry is a kind of violent music (he is also a musician). Several of the poems celebrate music and musicians. “Black Flag” describes the raw energy of a mosh pit during a punk gig, and for once a sense of communion: The music “moves you, the crowd flowing”. In “Our Tradition” he sets out his artistic manifesto, affirming a way of living and writing that owes nothing to the past but “continually renews/ itself in the singular now”. He quotes guitarist Sonny Sharrock in a poem of the same name: “I’ve been trying to find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song,” said Sharrock, and Begnal’s improvised riffs, his unflinching notation of American life, is a bleak and darkly humorous look at the same terrible beauty.

Kieran Hayes

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