Malachy Trainor’s Hawks of Morning is a work of cryptic poetry. The reader has to work at deciphering and is best advised to come equipped with some knowledge of the author’s past which helps provide a context to his words. Otherwise a meaning different from the one intended will be drawn from a poem like Some Other Time.
Despite having a substantial amount of reading material to get through I opted to ignore the title of that particular poem, simply deciding that some other time would not do, there being no time like the present. So I read the collection early one morning this week on a bus journey to Dublin. One reading does not suffice. There are poems that I returned to and recited in a bid to tease out meaning. The writer also teases his reader, inviting them to probe deeper. Of one poem he says:
It could be about young unrequited love — the missed chance, the struggle for a unified Ireland or even a reflection on what it would mean to be free from jail.
The poet here demonstrates the wisdom of the observation that meaning is rarely fixed and more often positional.
Malachy Trainor is a former blanket prisoner and this is his third volume of poetry, having being preceded by Thoughts and The Changing Age. He also wrote a play in 2002. Being one of those indolent types I found the unsolicited prompt to probe a bit daunting. I prefer poetry - like the novels or works of political theory I read, films I watch, art I look at or music I listen to - to be uncomplicated. It makes for an easy life, my eternal pursuit. Abstract is not a word that makes me comfortable. So when Monsignor Raymond Murray in his introduction to Hawks of Morning describes Malachy’s work as surreal I tend to wince and hope it doesn’t baffle me.
Some of it did but that’s part of the challenge. The end result of his wordplay is not the aggregate of some random assembly of words but is, as he puts it in the poem Dam Runs so Dry simply, ‘my words pulled from a thought.’ Trying to identify the thought that breathed life into his words is an important reading strategy for this collection.
When reading No Patron Such, I felt I was being invited back to the era of prison protest, ‘marching for those next in line ... until those bells ring in time’. The author doesn’t state it outright, leaving it to the reader to draw what conclusions they may, but it seems that prison experience has shaped his poetry to an extent greater than the unfamiliar reader would appreciate.
Monsignor Murray suggests that Malachy Trainor writes of ‘the absurdity and inevitability of war down the ages: no change, just in modern times building up in more sophisticated fashion for the future.’ Although Raymond Murray drew on the poem From The War to make this observation I found it more pronounced in Until Meeting.
Oh no those riots of sixty nine
When time was that useful glide
And now all over some do smile
Except the walls move higher now
Sky high all life on leaving sigh
In the collection’s closing poem we find the words ‘One more refugee from war.’
One more to add to the endless stream of people who over the centuries have tried to escape this most horrendous of human activity. Yet the ‘political poet’ behind this work is determined not to be a refugee from experience. He told one interviewer ‘if you’ve witnessed a hunger strike it never leaves you and you feel compelled to let people know how it was.’
Like the drizzle that would assail the faces of prisoners as they walked the yards of Long Kesh these poems may either disturb or refresh, but they can not go unnoticed. A collection to be recommended for sure, to be reread for definite.