The Boy in the Ring
Page Count: 80
Publication Date: Sunday, July 01, 2007
About this Book
Winner of the 2008 Strong Award for Best First Collection and shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award 2008
The Boy in the Ring is the debut collection from a prizewinning author who has already made a considerable reputation through publications and readings. In poems that are provocative, energetic and experimental, though never obscure, The Boy in the Ring explores themes of violence, self-harm and survival, ranging in focus from schoolyard bullying, through adolescent suicide and addiction, to the wars and terrors of the adult world. It is a rousing collection, sometimes comedic, sometimes disturbing, sometimes despondent, sometimes raging, sometimes ecstatic, full of memorable characters and stories that are sure to touch readers' hearts as well as fire their imaginations.
'Heartstopping lines' Mary O'Malley, Irish Examiner
'Compelling poetry...immediately engaging with its vivid language, energy and passion'
Theo Dorgan and Paula Meehan, Judges report, Patrick Kavanagh Award 2005
'Roars like an angry staccato of poemfire, reminiscent of old Ginsberg' dublinka.com
Dave Lordan was born in Derby, England, in 1975. He grew up in Clonakilty in West Cork. He took an M.A. in English Literature at University College Cork in 1998 and an M.Phil. in Creative writing at Trinity College Dublin in 2001. In 2004 he was awarded an Arts Council bursary. In 2005 he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for poetry. His work has been published widely and he is a regular and popular performer of his own work. He is an experienced creative writing teacher and workshop leader.
Read a sample from this book
The Boy in the Ring
Review: Jennifer Matthews for Southword - New Writing from Ireland (December 2009)
Dave Lordan did a reading at O'Bheal in Cork a few years back where he kept the audience engaged with his intensity and wry humour. I remembered the poems as being dark with a strong voice, and that he said poems without clinging to a page. The delivery was personal and powerful. From a lazy assumption on my part, I had him pegged as (exclusively) a performance poet and assumed The Boy in the Ring would be pieces better heard than read. How wrong I was. They are very accomplished pieces, working both on the page and in performance (something often assumed to be paradoxical). It's no surprise that it won the Strong Award for Best First Collection.
This collection is a secular Book of Revelations, warning the world to get its affairs in order. It catalogues violence, isolation, depression, loneliness and political exploitation. Few are safe here as the collection goes about its business of exposing sins that had been ignored, covered up or too easily forgiven. In 'Ode on de winning of de Entente Florale' he subverts the idea of a commissioned poem, in this case taking the piss out of Clonakilty winning the Tidy Towns competition. The poem's persona uses the win as triumph over the undesirables, the 'filth o' de likes o' ye', he so hatefully wants to make disappear. 'We've patched every crack with vines/ blossoms cover every stain.' The Boy in the Ring's mission is to cut away the vines and blossoms and expose the way things really are.
As in 'Entente Florale', Lordan resists romanticising Ireland in his work. He is anti-pastoral. In 'Scrobbers':
on the whip of grass
For a stray foot-fall
on that sun-leatherned muck
Would set the wild dogs
And draw the farmer down
out of his stony house
Violence is part of the stained, cracked reality that Lordan is exposing. Images of rings (wedding bands, cliques of people, etc.) are recurring in this claustrophobic context. There is 'The Boy in the Ring', being bullied, 'sitting down/and crying/ and looking at himself'. Or 'A Game of Donkey' where domestic violence is witnessed by pub-goers, 'making a ring/around a man and his wife', but nothing is done. Everyday cruelty is hauled into the reader's view, showing society as either constrictively inclusive or cruelly exclusive. We are forced to examine our moments of quiet complicity. Who hasn't seen a mother give a belt to a child on the bus, or a man shouting into his girlfriend's face on a late night street? What did we do about it?
This answerless question, and what did we do about it, is even more resonant within the poems about depression and suicide in The Boy in the Ring. In the relentless 'Mail for a dead guide' the author examines control, repression and powerlessness as a cause of suicide:
I do believe
it was because
you wouldn't harden to their mould
that you went out
that January day
into the forest's changeling ground
'Cureheads' and 'Dying for Ireland' are also profoundly moving and crucially unromantic. Depression is something often unfathomable to those who don't suffer from it, and work like this could go a long way in helping people understand those of us who do live with it, chronically:
big bully shame had me under the blankets,
bully boy shame had me pinned to the mattress,
and no-one would call to my door for fear of infection,
for fear I would lead them down tunnels and wells,
for fear I would lead them to forests of wolves.
Lordan's poetry is very real. This is how it is.
The author looks beyond the personal as well, moving into global and political violence. He is known as an activist, and poetry is an extension of his efforts. Political poetry is hard to write well, but Lordan manages to employ restraint and doesn't abandon the craft of poetry to diatribe. Particularly effective is 'Explanations of War'. In the hands of another poet, this poem could have been lazy or cheesy. Instead he 'makes strange' the violence, allowing the images to pass by our preconceived filters:
And the high fires that climb above the rooftops-
These are the rejoicing souls of our city flying to heaven.
And the black clouds of smoke blotting the beautiful woman
of the moon-
These are our dark acts evaporating.
The Boy in the Ring moves Irish poetry forward, looking at modern realities rather than the Platonic ideals many poets are still relying on. Beyond his thematic choices, this collection is worth buying for its craft alone. His poems are built using startling images, expert restraint and energetic lines. They wake you up, shake you, insist you pay attention.
© 2009 Jennifer Matthews. Visit the Southword website.
Review: Irish Theatre Review, February 2010
Derek West reviews "Jo Bangles", a play by Dave Lordan, starring Mary McEvoy, which had its premiere in Dublin in February 2010. Read the review here>>