Yellow Lullaby My mother wore a yellow dress . . . —Louis MacNeiceA spill of sunlight and a yellow dress.A yolk. A yellow flower. A candle flame.A moth-light, moon-like, in the nursery’s darkness . . .Every time my daughter cried, I camebarreling out like some semi-derangedtrainee barista: friendly but perplexed,and in the dark of night, Lo! I was there,perplexed—and ratty—when she cried again.And thereafter on each new occasion that she cried:the form, the limb that moved, the light that shone, the hand that soothed her and the flesh that fed.The voice-that-wasn’t-silence that replied,there in the night—so she was not alone.Not talking, I mean, with the unborn and the dead. August 30th 2013Summer is fading when we get the news.Another rain-soaked, work-stretched, child-struck summerpulled into bits; one eye’s to Syria’sbombing, debated with the Commons’ answer,another’s on the progress of my daughter,who’s five now, at the college swimming pool—quite the improbable and wriggling swimmer,quick as a slippery fish—but that’s forgottenjust seconds later when the moment’s stillsurface is smashed. We’re rocked from top to bottom.Two texts. I get an email on my phone.Twitter erupts, it seems, in shards of verse.Phrases from ‘Postscript’ serve to set the tone(under 140 characters),then struggling to the coffee-shop downstairswe stand like cattle, dumbly looking onfor something on the widescreen’s coverage, wherenews breaking here at length, at length it’s saidafter all those reports—online, diverseand instantaneous—the short word: dead.It’s timely, in a way, to hear from sourcesfar-flung and disparate, that you, whose voicemade itself heard above your fellow voicesin poetry that leaned in awfully closeto living speech, and which was crafty, yes,patrician sometimes too, but down to earth,adept and fluent, all self-consciousnessand forward-motion—oh, and and amorous. . . that you should die. The media holds its breath.Then the reaction, which is clamorous.As all of us, it seems, both men and makersget to our keyboard to express the loss,for blog post/status update/evening papersof everything that you had been to uswho was, if not synonymous with ‘verse’then weather system, backdrop, Northern star,and moral compass of such bending force—like it or not—we overlooked just howyou were required as man and mortal source(not merely ‘touchstone’, as required here now).And while our networked culture makes lamentperhaps we’re mourning too a passing age:the Derry homesteads, flax-dams, bagged cementand benediction—and the pen, the page,enshrined in those broadcasts, long-wave, analogue,in which we watch you, awkward and intent,declaiming poetry about the bog,wild-haired, wide-collared, for the BBC—those I miss too, or what they representwatching them now . . . a lost Authority?Or is it life more communal—that orderyour work displayed, its faint whiff of the classroom?The bag behind the chair, the patient readersat with his fellows and content to listen,while this day shows we favour conversationfrom every quarter—now!—hyper-kineticand self-renewed—all excess and sensation—with commentary and meme, so to and frowe zigzag digitally, thrilled, freneticbut slowly forgetting how we might go slow.Or slow enough to let the matter settle;for some small thought to grow before it’s said—typed, rather, on the message boards for battle—there to be liked, disliked, the thing agreed . . .Oh brave new world: crowd-sourced and quantified!Of rave reviews, conglomerated hypefor audiences vast, readily-made,but never mind the minor—or the freelance.And never mind the few who rarely ‘like’(loving intensely), or the witty silence.And as foretold, our standard is the dollar;spurred by the age’s itchy self-promotion—our only term of value now ‘best-seller‘—‘Me! Me!’ we cry out, jostling for attention.‘Dumped down’ unfiltered, ‘written with intention’you would have called these efforts—unenthralledby daydream, born both from our fragmentation,toward it (both ignored and over-rated) . . .which is to say our poetry’s installedwith AirCon, WiFi AND is central-heated.. . . But this is my idiom. Not hawthorn stickor hobnail boot and waxing operaticabout how Lit-Crit culture’s getting sickwill only make me seem a touch arthriticif not potentially undemocratic . . .So let me row back—boys and girls don’t scorn mefor I too bend before the times Mathematicand Algorithmic; also, pass the tissues,please understand where I am on my journey:a messed-up woman poet with daddy issues.‘The way we’re living, timorous or bold,’you wrote of Lowell, ‘will have been our life’;and all these gripes aside, I’ve not rebelledbut drifted: campus-bound, prosaic, staff—so have no moral stick to beat her withthe Goddess Dullness squatting on our pages—her language slack, her mind a monolith—and would it make a difference if I triedmounting the lectern, auguring Dark Ages?Me, not just timorous, but terrified.The way we’re living will have been our life;that steely line—that Future Perfect—castin an impending retrospective lightour present efforts, not as some rough draft,but, mid the multi-platform din and drift,as instrument and something to get right;which is another thing you will have left(or have left—past tense now—those choices made).An ethics, which instructs: Now shut up. Writefor joy. Be deliberate and unafraid.
Copyright © 2018 by Leontia Flynn
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Leontia Flynn was born in County Down in 1974. Her first book, These Days (2004), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, and saw her named one of twenty “Next Generation” poets by the UK Poetry Book Society. Drives, published in 2008, earned her the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and a major Individual Artist’s Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Her third collection, Profit and Loss, was a Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn 2011 and shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. She was awarded the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry in 2013 and the AWB Vincent American Ireland Fund Literary Award for 2014. She lives in Belfast and teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University. (Author photo by John Duncan)
In The Radio, Leontia Flynn exercises her signature wit, formal inventiveness, bitter irony, and unique blend of vernacular speech and literary allusion…. This is a volume about transmissions that sometimes assault us and sometimes help us escape, signals breaking through from outside in, from past to present, from parents to children. As the “glazed God’s-eye / of the transmitter” keeps watch over home, the city, and the “fanciful list” of people who inhabit these spaces, we are made aware, and made wary, of the intrusion of technology into the mind of the poet. These formally inventive and superbly controlled poems balance Flynn’s trenchant observations with a deeply sympathetic understanding of her subject.
Praise for Leontia Flynn:
“Leontia Flynn disentangles complicated feelings with extraordinary elan and maturity. She has a natural’s feel for cadence and melody, and launches her singing line boldly and with a propulsion that energises her often elaborate syntax…. Affectionate and truculent by turns, disenchanted but relishing the world around her, quick-witted and big-hearted, Leontia Flynn looks like the real thing.”
“Such currents of difficult feeling, beneath the wise, glittering fronts of her poems, make them all the more remarkable.”
“Flynn’s is one of the most strikingly original and exciting poetic voices to have emerged from Northern Ireland since the extraordinary debut by Muldoon 35 years ago … She doesn’t put a foot wrong on the page.”