Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Progress": Alan Gillis

They say that for years Belfast was backwards
and it's great now to see some progress.
So I guess we can look forward to taking boxes
from the earth. I guess that ambulances
will leave the dying back amidst the rubble
to be explosively healed. Given time,
one hundred thousand particles of glass
will create impossible patterns in the air
before coalescing into the clarity
of a window. Through which, a reassembled head
will look out and admire the shy young man
taking his bomb from the building and driving home.

from Somebody, Somewhere (Gallery Press, 2004)© Gallery Press, 2004

Note on author
from Stanza: Scotland's International Poetry Festival. Alan Gillis is a Lecturer in English at the University of Edinburgh. Publications include Somebody, Somewhere (Gallery Press, 2004), which won the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award for Best First Collection, and Irish Poetry of the 1930s (Oxford University Press, 2005). His second collection, Hawks and Doves (Gallery Press, 2007), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize.

Personal note:
Around the start of 2002, I hosted a panel the first night of a conference of "New Irish Criticism" at Queen's University, Belfast. Although my own paper had been turned down, I wanted to attend. However, I had to take the train to Derry early the next day, and therefore on a brief stay (I had to teach and it was but a short weekend on jet lag), I could not remain at QUB long.

In 2005, I went to another conference, IASIL in Prague. At our final meal there in a splendid Art Deco hall, I ran into Alan Gillis. He welcomed me warmly; I complimented his presentation. He remembered in amazing detail my own research, my brief appearance at QUB way back, and my own academic connections (or woeful lack of). I knew he was a critic, as his book "Irish Poetry of the 1930s" had just been published. But, I forgot he was such a poet.

I am reviewing for print today Michael Parker's literary history "Northern Irish Literature: 1956-2006"; Parker ends his second volume gracefully with this very poem. The format as I reproduce it may not jibe; click Stanza hyperlink to see "real" line breaks. I liked it so much I quoted it all as my own essay's conclusion, and I copy it here for you(se). P.S. I like "The Ulster Way"  too.

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