Seamus Heaney’s review of The Burren Days in the Irish Literary Supplement

The Burren Days

The Burren Days

Originally published in the Irish Literary Supplement, Spring 1986

Three Irish poets to Watch

John Ennis, however, could have been adduced to O’Loughlin as one of those new Irish poets who operate with a “fully conscious innocence”. The Burren Days is the fourth book by this too- neglected, oddly gifted, undiscouraged poet, and if one needed proof of the continuing efficacy of Kavanagh’s work, one could begin right here. What a thrill to open a book which starts like this:

Ray Daly’s Super Yamaha ate up the miles and gleamed
Toward the white portals of the Bord Bainne complex

This is narrative, aware not only of its own relation to the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne, but even more immediately aware of its stylistic debt to ‘The Great Hunger’. The fact that the substance of The Burren Days is sexual joy rather than sexual repression only serves to emphasise Kavanagh’s continuing availability as an influence. Lines like the following are both fully themselves and eerily ventriloquistic:

The evening wore the sharp cold blue of early April
They’d rushed at love too strongly in the rising sun.
Withdrew from the climax till it became torture.

Lines like these begin in allusion and proceed into parody:

Applause. Applause. Ray Daly was not missed.
The minister’s gut roarded as the clapping died.

And finally, lines like these are the bonus which the Kavanagh spirit bequeaths to the Ennis voice- direct, sudden, generous, unmediated perceptions:

Daly and Joyce exchanged smiles like sister moons.
Each swung out of the other’s solitariness.

And Ray Daly loved the tremble running
Through the Chemical Plant at full stretch…

Ray Daly is a young laboratory technician, Gráinne Flynn is his student girlfriend, and Mr. Joyce is the manager of the Bord Bainne laboratory. These are the principal characters in The Burren Days, an account structured in five parts to match the five working days of Ray Daly’s week, culminating on the Friday with a visit from the Minister of Agriculture, who arrives to perform “the Ceremony of the tape” and to open a new extension to the plant. But:

At the precise second
Ray Daly, laboratory technician and sometime lover,
Brought to life his Yamaha 850,
Set out at his ease on the eternal road to Gráinne
And the great silences of Maam.

So the poem ends with a conclusion that is entirely satisfactory, since the thing is not only an account of Ray Daly’s working life but an evocation of his dream life as well: the writing is realistic insofar as it abounds in images of the new Euro- Ireland, but it’s erotic also, full of hankerings after the old aisling– Ireland. Yamaha’s and rowan berries vie with each other as poetic properties. Long descriptions of chemical processes are matched (too schematically and too unrelentingly) with daydreams of breakaway weekends in the Burren or Connemara. If at times it all feels very gawky and open faced, this is the penalty of John Ennis’ salutary readiness to dive into the usual life, put his faith in the god of details and try to close “the gap between Irish identity as it is experienced and Irish identity as it is formulated and perceived outside Ireland.” (After Kavanagh.)

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