Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kevin Kiely, Literary Assassin

Reviewing and being reviewed sometimes gets hilarious for the third-hand bystander; not is it always so amusing for those in the thick of it. A reviewer can’t like every book presented to them and often needs to let it be known. Dennis O’Driscoll, poet, critic and frequent book reviewer stopped reviewing Irish poetry books decades ago after one of the nation’s senior poets took him aside on a social occasion and queried: “What did I ever do to you?” O’Driscoll mused “It never occurred to him that I simply didn’t like his book.”

Two great literary spats are raging this week. Eileen Battersby’s Irish Times review of Dermot Healy’s latest novel has drawn fire from novelist Eugene McCabe in a letter to the editor which in turn has attracted the censure of another letter by John Banville. On the web a self-published English woman has amused the world through what is being described as a “meltdown” in reaction to a review she received online. David Barnett touches on them both in his Guardian blog here

Therefore, in the week that’s in it, I think it is time for Book Ireland’s occasional poetry reviewer, Kevin Kiely to receive some of the fame and attention he clearly deserves. One doesn’t need to visit Kevin Kiely’s website to learn he has never been published by either Bloodaxe or the Gallery Press, his gratuitous sideswipe at those presses’ commissioning editors/poets in his latest Books Ireland article is evidence enough for that.

In discussing the Salmon anthology Dogs Singing he writes: “Every poet here is brought to their knees hugging their doggies in a verse anthology as infectious as your dog(s). Despite weak efforts from Neil Astley and Peter Fallon you get a kennel full.” I’ll pass quietly over the crimes against grammar here. Doubtless Mr. Kiely discovered other efforts he deemed weak in this 300 page tome, but his singling out Mr. Astley and Mr. Fallon like this succinctly bewrays Mr. Kiely’s usual blatant motivation for writing a book review: sticking the knife in.

His reviews are so infamously negative and gratuitously abusive that they really deserve to be better known. Mr Kiely’s reviews of poetry books are to reviewing what William McMonagal’s dirges on the Tay Bridge are to epic poetry.

In reviewing Tom Matthews’, witty, amusing collection The Owl and the Pussycat Kiely says: “However, these collected beer-mat jottings are ideal reading in the pub but perhaps should end up on the floor with the night’s sweepings?” (Is there another person alive with four university degrees associated with the English language capable of writing such a travesty of a sentence?)

Kiely not only doesn’t know the difference between good poetry and bad, he doesn’t know the difference between a literary critic and a hack reviewer. He describes himself as a poet, novelist, playwright and literary critic on his website, yet there is no evidence whatsoever to back up his claim to be a literary critic. Certainly the kind of blather he writes would never grace the pages of the LRB or the TLS. Can you imagine Anne Carson or even Charles Simic lowering themselves to this level of schoolboy diatribe?

In his round-up of poetry collections in the current Books Ireland debutants Paul Jeffcut and Orfhlaith Foyle get savaged along with Irish luminaries such as Rita Ann Higgins and Kerry Hardie. In the interest of disclosure I should say that Kiely was unimpressed with my last book Making Music in what was the first review in his current Books Ireland stint. Initially upset, by the time I had read the put-downs he had prepared for the other books in the same article, including one by a heroine of mine, Paula Meehan, I was breaking my sides laughing. Any excerpts I could quote here simply could not do Kiely justice; his diatribes need to be read whole to appreciate their full, egregious badness.

Kiely does not savage everyone; last year, in a particular round-up, his juvenile embitterment was put on hold when reviewing Gerald Dawe (instrumental in Kiely receiving one or more of his many writing degrees), Eilean NĂ­ ChuilleanĂ¡in (whom Kiely quotes saying something favourable about his own poetry on his own website) and Chris Agee (who is the influential editor of Irish Pages and the new Salt Irish poetry list).

The locution glass houses comes to mind when reading the sample of verse Kiely puts up on his web to represent himself: (scroll to end of page, as you scroll take note of the book title Plainchant for a Sundering – good enough for a Tony Hancock sketch)

Kiely seems so determined here to avoid what he sees as the verbal excesses of others that his own language is totally devoid of colour and if his articles are juvenile, this poem’s thought process displays his jejune cast of mind.

Every now and again an outstanding reviewer deserves to have his reviews reviewed, especially when they’re outstandingly bad. I’m only surprised that in this instance I appear to be the first to treat Kevin Kiely.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'm giving up irony for Lent

The Frustrations of Minor Capitalists No. 3 She sported tattoos of Christ’s wounds. On the beach while she sunbathed strangers would stick their fingers in her side. Others, tears rolling would break down in prayer. When buying cigarettes from corner stores, shop girls, mouths open, would place her change in a considerate circle around the ersatz stigmata of her palms. Shamans called on her to join them in leading seminars, community leaders asked her to speak to dissolute youth, television producers invited her onto afternoon chat shows but she refused them all with a smirk... much to the chagrin of Prince’s Street Skin Decor Ltd. who really, really badly needed the artistic credit and the free marketing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Comforting Pleasures of Sadness

'The Comforting Pleasures of Sadness' has been an unlucky poem. It was to be the title poem to a full-length collection which Salmon accepted in 1990 but never came out. It was also a key part of a selection of poems of mine which RTE accepted to broadcast on their Thought for the Day radio slot which then went out just before the 8am news, when the whole country was tuned in. But between the poems being accepted and recorded for broadcast Brian Linehan Sr., Fianna Fail candidate for President, was exposed as a liar and RTE dropped the whole project like the proverbial hot potato. The poem in its use of metaphor to make political comment was heavily influenced by the mythologising work of Zbigniew Herbert, Miroslav Holub and Marin Sorescu. When almost twenty years later and my first full-length collection finally came out (I had a book from Raven in 1990 - a long narrative poem, which I don't count as my first proper book) the issues dealt with in 'The Comforting Pleasures of Sadness' seemed so distant from the realities of the Celtic Tiger period that even if they had been dealt with in a straight realist fashion they would still have seemed surreal and out of touch.
Sad to say our reality is becoming like this again:


The Minister lived like a perverse King Midas:
Everything he touched turned to lies:
"Policemen wave wands not truncheons.
They are fairygodparents to the unemployed.
In place of cars we give them melons.
In place of steeds we give them vermin.
The unemployed, like children, are our treasured possessions.
Their innocence in the face of adversity,
Their meekness before hardship instills
The More Fortunate with paternallike pleasures.
The jobless, like children, are our much beloved.
They bejewel us with simple pride in our situation.
They bestow on us granaries of gratitude,
Dowries of deliverance, vaults of vicissimutunk,"

The Minister's dark limousine was disguised
As a crystal carriage before the eyes of the people;
His axeswing was a smooth caress.
His drownings were presented as baptisms.
And so the lies were spun like a noose.

"Sadnesses do not exist and where they do
They are pleasurable, as pleasurable as
Darkness and loneliness, silence and bleeding."

On the health of the nation he intoned:
"Measles is administered to preserve traditional childhood.
Cancer is dispensed to the people to make their every day more valued."

His darkest abode was made to seem
White as wedding cake. His richest suit:
A holyman's vestments. His minions told the people:
"The Minister is so close to God
That in his house he has clouds
Instead of carpets."

"And we have seen him make
Cake out of words.In his eyes
He absorbs the sadnesses of the world.
Through his heart is pumped
Everyone's love of the earth."

Thus did The Comforting Pleasures Of Sadness
Come to be spun like a noose,
Unravelled like a wound.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

S/Found Poem

S/Found Poem

The healthy don’t know what they’re missing.
It seems like someone
is cracking a whip
inside my ears
each time I move my eyes
swiftly from side to side.
Tinnitus sways to some strange drums.
Not everyone gets to experience
this inervating oddity.
And, Richard Burton once
almost lost an eye
in a knifefight;
it hung by a thread.
You know, he said,
you can see
the most extraordinary
things with your eye
hanging half-way
down your face.

Photo by Symphen