John Lanchester’s review of The Burren Days from Poetry Review

The Burren Days

The Burren Days

Originally published in Poetry Review, 1985

One of Pearse Hutchinson’s poems, ‘Manifest Destiny’, satirises Ireland ‘tugging green plastic forelock’s to a future American President. John Ennis’s ambitious new poem takes a long look at this new, Irish Development Agency Ireland, land of EEC subsidy and Papal Visit. The book is a single long poem, an adaptation of the story of Diarmuid becomes Ray Daly (‘Durex Daly)- a lab technician working for the Irish milk board- remembering his trips all over Ireland on his Yamaha 850 Special with Grainne- a student of Irish history. The trips duplicate the light of the lovers in the original. the erotic and the timeless is juxtaposed with the detailed life of the new Ireland:

Grainne beckoned to him in the naked shower.
He sank into the trailing barley of her hair
Fine-combed in the evergold prickly river of his memory of her.
One day I’d like four sons and one daughter, she’d whispered
As the operator called testily for more 10p’s.

The poem is full, full to bursting, of the language of Ray’s Bord Bainne job. We hear of the Toluene distillation and the Van der Ploq quadruple evaporator, of demineralised whey and scorched particle test, of antimony tri- chloride and low actinic glass ware (‘For moisture will render the reagent useless’), of the Rose Gottlieb Test, the Negler reaction and the ‘the exigencies of the Carr- Price method.’ Meanwhile, the salmon die, the lakes are choked with slurry, ‘the ether of life is diminished’. There are moments during the poem when the oppositions it uses seem to be becoming too stark, its exploration of contrasts too deliberate and wilful- but in the end it is this very relentlessness which makes the poem a success., the fact that Ennis does not choose to soften of compromise from executing his long, single- minded, unified work. ‘A tour de force, a genuine long poem continuing from a single impulse’, says the blurb: it’s true.

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