Originally published in the Cork Examiner, 1986
Zooming through life
The Burren Days is a longish poem of some one thousand lines. It signals an important advance in the writing career of John Ennis. A countryman, Ennis has combined in his poem hi feeling for the Irish landscape and his knowledge of, and disgust at, technological Ireland. He has managed to do so with a craft and control that distinguish this poem his last flawed by fascinating long poem, ‘Orpheus’.
The Burren Days is as much a story as a poem. Based on the legend of Diamuid and Gráinne, it tells of Ray Daly and his girlfriend Gráinne, who zoom to a world of landscape and legend on their Yamaha. Ray works as a laboratory technician, and much of the poem’s interest stems from the way Ennis sets down the scientific worked in which Ray Daly works and the scientific processes he used in the Bord Bainne laboratory. I have never seen this done before in Irish poetry; elsewhere, i have not always seen it done so well.
Set against managerial reductionism in the poem, the Burren is rich in plant- life and lyrical, subterranean mythologies. It is not sentimental opposite to the other world: it is a psychic counterpart if anything, and between them both modern Ireland is encapsulated as in a test- tube containing two different substances straining against each other.
Set in the attractive typeface, which is important for a long poem, The Burren Days shows the same delight in language as Ennis’s other books have displayed, but there is not the same proximity. There are echoes of Kavanagh: the line “Applause. Applause. ray Daly was not missed!” is a straight echo, for example, of the line “Applause / Applause / The curtain falls,” in The Great Hunger. Yet Ennis is not a Kavanagh clone: there is something of Kavanagh in anyone who writes poetry in Ireland by now, and Ennis remains his own man. A Selected Poems is about due: the best of Ennis, even when his often daring explorations of language and method do not completely work, is a rich and rewarding experience. He leaves many other poets looking watery and confined to limited forms, like people who never stir out of the house.
Words: Seán Dunne