Plays and poems in Icarus by Maurice Scully: A Review

sp18playsPlays, by Maurice Scully, Smithereens Press, free e-book (plus additional material published in Icarus)

Maurice Scully is consistently one of the most interesting poets writing in English today and any new work from him is to be welcome, and this short e-booklet along with some associated/overlapping material published in the TCD literary journal that Scully once edited, is no exception. Plays comprises a series of eight interrelated texts, two of which reappear in Icarus, along with a ninth, and a short prefatory note written especially for the magazine. The Smithereens sequence is literally framed by play, a dog playing with a ball on a pier, in brief at first, and then a more extended treatment at the end. These texts call out the deliberate nature of play as a rule-bound activity, much like language. This parallel is developed in Placed, the second piece in the sequence, which starts from a game of tiddly-winks, moves through a kind of painterly abstraction:

Slim textures

in circles squares

diamonds cylinders –

 

I heard

you rang

you answered

you

and moves, as the prose note calls out, from this ‘motley’ to thoughts of Yeats, Easter 1916, and the ‘decade of commemoration’ and all it implies.

At various points Scully’s language draws on ‘canonical’ lines form what many years ago he dismissed as ‘the gem school’ of poetry.

The poets in question are Patrick Kavanagh:

O co memor

or emco morat

may by water

vat or em

 

rald grass.

Followed by Wordsworth and Heaney:

I wandered lonely in a crowd

as a meaning-bearing creature digging

over vegetables flashing signals to

light-sensitive weed-seeds in the dark.

Between yr fingers & yr thumb, humble

ambition.

These reworkings are, as I read them, sardonic comment on the persistent myth of the poet as Romantic hero, grappling with ‘significance’, the solitary purveyor of the profound. Scully, by inference, favours a more modest, social, and fruitful view of the process of writing as being in the world. In this work, the poet is both solitary and connected, exploring life as it is, not as it ideally should be, dancing in the weave of things.

The action of

burning’s a

complex action.

Crumpled

 

paper napkin

with a base

pattern of

indentations

 

overlaid with

a pattern of

pumpkins

 

mushrooms

peppers

their names

in clear letters

 

under circular

stains where a

cup was placed –

the action of

 

fending for yrself.

Scully’s control of verbal music is evident in, for example, the patterning of the sounds represented by the letter ‘a’ in the second quoted stanza above, which play across the variable single and double stress lines. The result is a complex simplicity that perfectly enacts the ‘sense’ of the lines.

The implications of this approach to writing are profoundly political, precisely to the extent that it avoids didacticism. In the note in Icarus, Scully speculates that the book-in-progress to which all these texts belong ‘might be about “power”. But I don’t know yet.’ There is a cliché in wide circulation that art (and everything else) should ‘speak truth to power’, as if truth were that simple and that power didn’t know it. The indeterminacy of Scully’s approach is, I believe, ultimately more effective. The business of poetry is to explore questions, not present answers. Scully’s restless art does this better than most.

from Pensato: Free E-book from Smithereens Press

coverToday my first ever e-book was published by Kenneth Keating’s Dublin-based Smithereens Press. The title, which is the past participle of the Italian verb pensare, meaning to think or realise. It’s also a musical term indicating a note that is written down but not played. The ‘from’ is there because I hope to write more of them.

Why not take a look; did I mention that it’s free?