In 1980, Tony Flynn published “A Strange Routine”, a compelling map to his terrain of loss – the loss of his mother, of his wife, of his child, of his past. Twelve years later, his “Body Politic” came out, another outright masterpiece, this time including an extended mourning for the victims of state repression.
It has been sixteen years since then, sixteen years in which you get the impression from his new collection “The Mermaid Chair” he became disillusioned with the possibilities of the written word, although the opening poem “The Wireless” embarks with optimism, being the story of how his father struggled manfully, but in vain, with the new TV, even resorting to climbing onto the roof
“…….. like an angry Zeus,
brandishing the aerial
in his massive hands …..”
before ceding the field
“to the wireless again,
I learned to love how words disclose
what does not correspond to anything.”
However, subsequent poems argue a contrary case – the inadequacy of the written word to describe the fullness of the soul: “Cosmology”, “Exalted States”, “Wound”, “The Ecstasy of St Teresa”, “Natural Worlds”, and “Love Poem” (silence). Indeed, there is much to be learnt within silence: “Sign” and “Seeing Voices”.
If I am reading this right, Tony unplugged himself from the anchor of his considerable art which nonetheless proved incapable of solving the problem, and moved onwards and upwards – specifically upwards:
Must darkness ever more abound?
A worm cries out from the edge
of creation – Forsaken
too? A voice in truth
against the odds – Beloved, though.
Tony’s earlier poems pinch you in the emotional groin after honeyed words. These are more cerebral, more questing, more eclectic somehow, and more random.
I am guessing here, but my hypothesis is that he virtually gave up writing except in odd moments of passion and compulsion. This is less biography and more archaeology – fragments to be pieced together.
There are many extraordinary poems here: “Fairy tale” which describes the consequences of the paternal suppression of independent thought; “The Scene of the Crime” where the shape of a departed lover is traced in the sand:
“Where you face was I score my name with a stick.”
….”Lectio Divina”, an exquisite poem which describes how Aberlard and Eloise poured over rare and sacred texts during the day, and over each other’s bodies at night; and “The Net”, a short piece on the beguiling, illusory nature of one last chance in a relationship.
And finally, the epiphany of the late birth of a child, and of a re-birth:
that somehow there will always be
one more note, half-imagined, just beyond
each last pause we had taken for the end.”
Welcome back, Tony – as if you ever truly left.
The new poems represent a different, contemplative, journey - one more than worth the price of the book in their own right. However, the inclusion of the out-of-print poems from “A Strange Routine” and “Body Politic” makes the decision a no-brainer.