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Faux - Naive
on 24 March 2001
Picador's blurb tells us that Michael Donaghy's 'Conjure' is a Poetry Book Society Choice, a Forward Prize winner, along with the curious information that Mr. Donaghy is a 'poet's poet'. Well, I have to confess that I'm not sure what any of this really means, though I'm sure it's meant to impress me. Is a 'poet's poet' therefore not a 'critic's poet', or an 'academic's poet', or even a 'reader's poet'? Christ knows.
But what about the poems? Well they have a certainly have a pedigree - falling somewhere between Robert Frost and Paul Muldoon most of the time, it seems. I guess I'm supposed to be lamenting that most of 'modern poetry' is lacking in both learning and prosodic craft, and swooning before Mr. Donaghy's wit and invention. But mostly I'm not. Many of these poems read more like slick, stylish film-noir synopses. Yes, there is wit, 'cool' and invention aplenty, but so somehow the material often fails to seem that deeply experienced or felt, to this reader, anyway. This is art coming out of art, and more art. Maybe this is the point. Maybe Mr. Donaghy is trying to make me uncomfortable. Maybe this is all a very clever way of dislocating me from naïve prejudices about the difference between truth and fiction; of the genuine and the ersatz. 'Conjure' certainly mixes both.
Having said this 'Black Ice and Rain' is a tour-de-force of dramatic, narrative construction, mixing 'melodrama' and 'confession' quite brilliantly, whilst still managing to stir up all the above. Is the 'voice' one we can trust? Is it telling us uncomfortable truths about our world and the way we live, or is its 'pathos' and 'sophistication' a mere bid to get at our attention; a playing to the gallery of a far more slippery and subtle kind. You can never be quite sure with Donaghy.
Elsewhere there are also some lovely lyrics, beautifully crafted.
are shed, and every day Workers recover The bloated cadavers Of lovers or lover Who drown in cars this way.
And they crowbar the door And ordinary stories pour, Furl, crash, and spill downhill - As water will - not orient, Not sparkling, but still.'
Yes, thank-you, Marvell, for that. Compassion and pathos as well as wit and invention. More please.
These poems, and a handful about 'the poets' (how naïve of me to assume) father, justify the price of this volume. Uneven, but sporadically satisfying.