Thursday, January 04, 2007

Maurice Scully, Tig

Got Maurice Scully’s latest book, Tig (Shearsman Books, 2006, 102 pp., ISBN 978-0-907562-96-2), which is the conclusion to his massive meisterwerk entitled Things That Happen. Tig follows Five Freedoms of Movement (1987, 2001), Livelihood (2004), and Sonata (2006). At present I have not gotten my hands on the penultimate volume Sonata, so I’m looking at Tig as its own thing, and am not at the moment all that worried about how it ties in with the rest (although I have read the others, Livelihood being the bulkier volume).

But now that I see the gigantic scheme of all this, I am reminded of William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, which, like Things That Happen, is a large continuing poem written over the course of decades. And though I don’t want to stretch the comparison too far, Scully, at the very least, is obviously a poetic kindred spirit to Williams.

Tig opens with an image of a butterfly migration, an “immense blizzard of wings,” but Scully, as always, wants to get under the surface of the image. It is not only the beautiful forms and colours one sees, but also “...light exuding // over the visible / light intruding...” and there is a comment on the evolution of insect wings, and a rectangle representing a window, “rain on glass to the side of yr face...” Then comes what is more or less the book’s central (and recurring) image, a leaf falling from a tree (thus the cover photo), again seen from a windowpane, a windowpane that is the lense through which the poet sees, at a remove:

different (or) touching a windowpane where
drops gather ( ) difference ( ) &
or different

The window implies a house behind it, which is a central concern here too. A couple of sections have the title “A Place to Stay”: a space where one lives, or from where to engage with the wider world, as in a society, how one approaches society from one’s own space. In Munster Irish, the word tig means “house.” The themes are simple but the actual process may be complex. The section “Backyard” gives us a crisp picture, “on still pools oakleaf / folded in a muddy crevice” and wonders, “are we just / photographs talking...?” Life is “one elong- / ated crisis (with / modulations)....” Things that happen.

But it is the modulations that are of crucial importance here, otherwise why put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. The falling leaves suggest age; there is an oblique reference or two to death. And modulations in writing. The best thing about Scully, for me, at the moment, is his style, which he’s really honed at this point. It’s got clarity and precision, even the way it looks on the page is made for particular effect, the use of certain marks, and the occasional use of the Irish language and Gaelic literary tradition totally makes it. It has got purpose, and he says so:

I’ve had quite enough

Free Expression, Genius & all that.

Let’s communicate.

That’s the end of book one. Book two opens (nearly) with an observation, “essentially a poem is a flat surface covered in part by groupings of twenty-six quite well-known symbols.” Later an ironic joke:

All that these able writers have said on language has been
challenging, provocative, & generally very helpful.

Thank you.

And that’s where it starts to get really good, I mean really turned up a notch. All the images from the first half of the book are reconstituted, repeated, cut up in a sustained burst of energy, like watching a fireworks display, which keeps getting more and more spectacular till the end. For me, Scully is one of the very best Irish poets alive today. Tig reconfirms it; and this book is worth your while.


Che Elias said...

I never heard of him personally.. but i am interested in reading him... i thought i had delved somewhat in to poetry THere's surely a lot though that i don't know about it .....

Hopefully i will check it out

The Lettershaper said...

As a poet, and an avid reader, I have to say that I very much enjoyed my leisurely stroll through your was time well spent; entertaining and enlightening. I invite you to visit my own, if you like...