The Art of Dying
Page Count: 70
Publication Date: Tuesday, November 08, 2016
Cover Artwork: Fly dear © Nuvolanevicata | Dreamstime.com
About this Book
From mountain pass to storm-tossed seashore, from Barcelona to the Drakensberg, these new poems by Adam Wyeth feature journeys both witty and surreal. There is much that is busy transforming here, from kitchen to ice-rink; rock to hatching egg. In the richly imagined Talking Tree Alphabet, a birch tree becomes Marilyn Monroe holding down her skirt, while the blackthorn is a ‘ravaged whore’. At the heart of the collection, the still point around which the energies flow, is a boy’s relationship with his father, the absurd indignity of death, and the ceaseless unfolding of the generations: ‘An ancient vellum/ where the next life is written’. Language, the raw material of the poet who shapes and makes sense of the world, is celebrated without forgetting the humble source of it all, Yeats’s foul rag and bone shop, or ‘thorns/that draw blood and score the heart completely’ (from ‘Gorse’). Dancing on the edge of civilization, preferring the energizing potential of dream and myth, Wyeth’s is a refreshing new voice on the Irish poetry scene.
‘Adam Wyeth’s work is fresh and intriguing, alive with imaginative riffs, grave humour and more besides – it rewards close attention.’Katie Donovan
‘Wyeth is a beachcomber on the edge of his own infinities, where fact, legend and anecdote flow together.’
‘The Art of Dying is a beautifully crafted performance by a poet who brings a cold, thoughtful eye to the eternal themes. The poems are alive with wit, long contemplation, and verbal energy.’
‘Wyeth is a poet of ideas exquisitely wrought and swarming, demanding a reader awake to complexity on a subtle scale.’
‘Strong and moving...’
‘Fresh and imaginative...’
Adam Wyeth lives in Dublin. His critically acclaimed collection, Silent Music, was Highly Commended by the Forward Poetry Prize. His poetry has won and been commended in many international competitions, including The Bridport Poetry Prize, The Arvon Poetry Prize and The Ballymaloe Poetry Prize. His work appears in several anthologies including The Forward Prize Anthology (2012 Faber), The Best of Irish Poetry (Southword 2010) and The Arvon 25th Anniversary Anthology. In 2016, he was selected as a Poetry Ireland Review Rising Generation poet. Adam’s second book The Hidden World of Poetry: Unravelling Celtic Mythology in Contemporary Irish Poetry was published by Salmon in 2013. The book contains poems from Ireland’s leading poets followed by sharp essays that unpack each poem and explore its Celtic mythological references. Adam has also had several plays produced in Ireland and Germany including Hang Up, produced by Broken Crow (2013), which was adapted into a film in 2014 and premiered at Cork’s International Film Festival. It was also staged in 2015 in Berlin as part of ‘An Evening of Adam Wyeth’ at Theaterforum Kreuzberg. Adam runs online Creative Writing workshops and editing programmes at adamwyeth.com and Fishpublishing.com.
Read a sample from this book
Girl with a Bag in Barcelona
What was in the bag of the girl who had
just arrived in Barcelona? She sat down
on a bench and unfolded a piece of paper
that contained the address of her final destination.
At the moment of her taking out a cigarette
and assisting a passer-by with a light,
another man leaned over and placed his hand
on her bag, taking it away so simply,
I assumed he was a friend playing a joke,
until he broke into a bolt and the passer-by
turned cold as he ran after his accomplice,
flicking the cigarette over his shoulder
that sparked a trail before going out.
By the time I’d shot up and shouted, Thieves! –
they were halfway across Plaça de Catalunya
disappearing among the throng on La Rambla.
The girl didn’t move and went on smoking
like nothing had happened, as if she didn’t care,
taking long draws on her cigarette.
Perhaps there was nothing of value in the bag:
a magazine, toothbrush, tampons, dirty underwear.
On the other hand, perhaps her stillness was a sign
that there were items of overwhelming cost:
legal documents, her great grandmother’s watch,
a diamond ring, a signed copy of Ulysses, first edition.
‘Should I call the police?’ I asked, sitting back down.
She gave a shrug that showed the futility of my question.
She seemed to have complete self-control,
I thought she might be a pupil of the mysterious
Tibetan school who acquire material possessions
only so they can let them go: to learn the art
of dying, slipping away quietly between
thoughts when no one is looking. The thieves
by now had been swallowed into the underbelly
of Barri Gòtic; prising open their booty
like ravens scrapping over road kill.
The bag, the cigarette, the moment,
snatched like a loose thought tossed to one side.
While high above the muggy streets, behind
the velvet-curtained sky, a satellite spun out of orbit.
My mother’s kitchen was a sea of blue cupboards
and shiny surfaces, the door was always closed
or just ajar. Sometimes I’d peep in and spot her
dusting packets on shelves, or mopping the floor
smooth as an ice rink. A pot of wilting thyme
sat dying of thirst on the window sill, while outside
a bare hedge ringed our home, fortifying us
from next door. When I asked for water she’d startle
out of her cleaning waltz, spin on the spot, then
take a polished glass from the highest cupboard
and dash to the taps. I’d catch her twisted image
bending in its chrome arm, letting the gush of water
run cold before filling the glass. I’d stand at the door
wanting to break through its icy exterior – the sea
of glass – but knew if I did the world would shatter.
The old oak is our father
coming home late at night,
turning his key in the door,
leaving it off the latch.
The leaves are still falling.
I hear his slippered footsteps
shuffle on the stairs, scuff
along boards. He stifles
a cough opening my door
and releases the catch
from the window, taking
my breath as the curtains
mushroom. A pattern
of webbed branches frames
the moon. His great shadow
bows low and creaks
down the years, pressing his
whiskered cheeks to my brow,
whispering good night.
The old oak swishes and moans,
low mutterings meander
through the house. The wind
brushes my face, the sound
of leaves patting the pane.
The moon is in the wind
and the wind is in the bough
and the bough is in the door
that our father leaves open.
All poems © Copyright Adam Wyeth 2016
Review: World Literature Today, Nov/Dec 2017
Like a child’s magnifying glass, the eyes of Dublin poet Adam Wyeth brim the world over with rich detail in this adventurous collection of poems. The wide-roaming scenes that the reader rushes through in The Art of Dying find humour in surprising places and profundity in the simplest, imbuing the natural, the exotic, and the domestic with equal measures of myth.
Review: PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018. Reviewed by Tara Bergin
Adam Wyeth’s second collection The Art of Dying is published by Salmon, one of Ireland’s leading poetry publishers. The book is divided into three sections, with each section demonstrating a different and gradually more daring poetic approach. The first section is the most conventional in the sense that it contains a variety of poems describing the world that we live and die in. Many of the poems here are striking for a number of reasons: ‘Girl with a Bag in Barcelona’ for its compelling story-telling; ‘Foxglove Fantasia’ for its beautiful closing image of cotton dresses blowing in the wind; ‘Anatidaephobia’ for its clear diction and surrealist overtones; ‘Tomas Transformer’ for its title and its mysterious brevity. The forms in this first section are unobtrusive and the language is plain and clear. Adam Wyeth’s adjectives are precise, for example in ‘The World’, a poem about a young boy watching his mother clean their kitchen, in which the adjectives are as follows: blue, shiny, closed, smooth, wilting, bare, polished, twisted, chrome, old, and icy. This list alone is a powerful evocation of a relationship from the boy’s point of view.
But then there is a poem such as ‘Mythmakers’, which suggests that a second poet lurks beneath the first. It’s a hint of what’s to come:
The crafted but abandoned tone of this last stanza marks an interesting move away from objective description to a more interpreted reality, and it’s a style that is developed further in the second section of the book. This section is called ‘The Talking Tree Alphabet’, and contains a set of fifteen poems about trees: Elm, Rowan, Pear, Birch, and so on. Some are very short (‘Elm’ is four lines long; ‘Ash’ is seven), some are only slightly longer, and all of the poems apart from ‘Pine’ fit on one page. This uniformity of length and of theme, along with the shift in style, brings the writing into a more highly-wrought realm which is very effective. These poems don’t try as hard to explain what they mean, and most importantly their metaphors have become, as Yeats said all metaphors should, symbols. Here, for example, is the poem ‘Pear’ in its entirety:
What is so pleasing about this is the way that it condenses the whole story of the father and son into such a small space, and in so doing, turns what could be a personal anecdote into a universally accessible tale. It ends almost abruptly, raising a question to which we the reader must find our own answer. Nature writing is difficult, but Adam Wyeth has found a way.
The third section of The Art of Dying is formally very different, though the subject matter connects with the two preceding parts. Entitled ‘The Hedge’, this final part comes in the form of a duologue, and it could be read as a short poetic play-for-voices. The characters have no names and are known only by their pronouns: HE and SHE. While they appear to be talking to each other, they never connect in conversation. The effect is dreamlike, evoking a sense of suffering as well as beauty, like the image of the trembling aspen leaves that HE refers to. Both characters are obsessed with perception, and with solving the riddle of their own magnified, or shrunken, or distorted vision. Whose perspective is the right or true one? Again, as with ‘Pear’, we are left questioning our own understanding, and again, by the end we see that in metaphor we can find reality: ‘Then I see a beautiful head growing out of a bough, spreading its branches in all directions.’ Like the son, dreaming of his father who is in turn dreaming of his own father, in the closing lines of ‘Hedge’, this is a book which holds within it two more books; each decreasing in size but gradually containing more and more insights.
Review: METAMORPHOSES: REVIEW BY ROSS COGAN for ORBIS
“The words are turning in on themselves / and then turning into something else.” Thus begins The Art of Dying, Adam Wyeth’s assured and impressive second collection. The remarkable poem they are taken from, ‘Metamorphosis’, stands at its head like an inscription, introducing some of the symbols that will emerge and re-emerge throughout this work – trees, birds, water, shells, dreams, and of course the “Black-licked words” that
But it also acts as a key, a gateway. For these poems are Wyeth’s Metamorphoses – an exploration of the “many deaths” that, according to Jung, “everything that lives must pass through” on its way to the greatest metamorphosis of all.
Some of these changes echo the great set pieces of his Latin original. In ‘Apollinaire Smoking’, for example, the poet explains to his lover how, at the end of a poem, he wants to disperse
It’s impossible to imagine that Wyeth didn’t have in mind Zeus seducing his different lovers in the form of a shower of gold or a dove – poetic God merging with pagan God. Meanwhile in ‘Birch’ Marilyn Monroe metaphorically becomes “the silver birch she sat under as a child – // the one that lit up like a maypole after rain”. An extra depth is added to this beautiful poem by the parallels with the myth of Apollo and Daphne.
In others the transformations are more oblique. Wyeth’s father becomes an oak; a hospital mirrors an aging and failing mind in ‘Visiting the Poet’; Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer is apostrophised as ‘Tomas Transformer’ – poet as alchemist.
In one striking poem, called ‘Poem’, the author takes home a large, polished pebble to use as
The pebble later hatches. Four pages on, in the appropriately named ‘Verse, Reverse’ – which wears its debt to Heaney on its sleeve – the gulls turn back to words, following in the wake of a tractor “like loose letters // settling on a page.”
Perhaps the best poem in the entire collection, though, is ‘Pear’. A son asks his father where everything comes from. In response the father hands him a pear pip and asks him what he sees inside. “The son bit into its husk / and said there was nothing / there. They continued / through the orchard without / a word between them.” As modern creation myths go, this is powerful and beautiful in its profound simplicity.
There are fascinating and exciting things going on in Irish poetry at the moment. Adam Wyeth – who was named one of Poetry Ireland Review’s ‘Rising Generation’ in 2016 – is at the heart of them. This outstanding collection deserves to be widely read.
Review: by Zoe Cassells
The Art of Dying would seem an incongruous title for Adam Wyeth’s astonishing new poetry collection, because it is so richly alive with nature’s characters – personified trees, ducks, Mafioso foxes… But two particular characters give the title its meaning: a man and his dying father. Wyeth is already a lauded poet, his previous work having been Highly Commended by the Forward Poetry Prize panel; it is clear from his references to Jung, Yeats and Rumi that he is drawing from a broad knowledge of myth and language.
Like so many poets before him, travel becomes an act of contemplation and renewal. In “Solstice Drive”:
Wyeth has a talent for ushering in images without cliché, and often so subtly that they escape thought or analysis. In fact, he includes a whole series of poems (“The Talking Tree Alphabet”) in which various species of tree are animated with words like “tongues” and “knuckles”. While luscious in its descriptions of colour and movement, “The Talking Tree Alphabet” quickly turns sorrowful when the trees become tangled in memory. Poems like “Oak” see a father “whispering goodnight” to his son. Here, Wyeth takes the symbol of a tree and stretches it to its most human – what it means to have ancestry, and what happens when these roots are severed by the loss of a parent.
The only poem in the collection to address grief directly is “The Flesh and the Spirit”, a brutal, graphic piece in which the father’s
In this piece, Wyeth demonstrates his ability to transform; from abstract verses that float in and out of intellectual, semi-mystical territory, to sharp observations on the body. Further evidence of this is found in his lighter poems. He explores the strange humour of death and defies first impressions with a witty piece on Rovio Entertainment’s Angry Birds game. “Angry Birds” is as unexpected and perceptive as “The Flesh and the Spirit”, though they could not be further apart in tone.
There is a sense of care within every poem, a sense of rewrites and edits. Despite this, Wyeth will have us believe in moments of beauty – and he, a Romantic poet penning from inspiration while
Wyeth takes on a muse in “Aisling”, a pictorial poem, words move across the page in a slant to the right, mimicking the shape of a harp. This piece is wonderfully lyrical, striving to capture a young woman busking in rough winds. What “Aisling” shares with the rest of the collection is a fascination with nature, its capacity for interruption as well as for celebration – lines for any who enjoy the hidden wonders of the everyday.
The final part of the collection is challenging, and unlike anything in the preceding pages. “The Hedge” is a surreal, one-way exchange between a woman and a man. The man seems lost, and is very likely the same character in previous poems: the grieving son. His wife, a woman reeling from his absence, is unable to reach him, metaphorically as well as physically. Perhaps the message of “The Hedge” – indeed, “The Art of Dying” as a whole – is simply to journey on and let life grow out of death, as
Review: The Art of Dying reviewed by Emma Lee
The High Window
Adam Wyeth’s poems are cerebral, setting up a slanted look at a scenario and inviting readers to think around them. In ‘Girl with a Bag in Barcelona’, once the narrator recovers from the surprise of witnessing a thief run off with a handbag, his attention turns to the woman whose bag has been stolen, wondering if there was nothing valuable in the bag:
The rhythm follows the narrator’s moods with enjambment hurrying the rhythm when he’s busy with the need to react and then the caesuras fall more naturally at line ends when he picks up her calmness and is forced to focus on the crime’s victim rather than himself. Her lack of reaction seems to be the opposite of ‘the art of dying’. It’s drawn attention to her and provoked speculation. It also feels as if the narrator is intruding, a theme picked up in ‘The World’:
The neglected thyme and leafless hedge contrast to the spotless cupboards and suggest the kitchen is a bolt-hole from everyday cares and responsibilities. A retreat where everything is in its place and she doesn’t expect to be interrupted. The kitchen is the mother’s domain, her escape into daydreams, a world the child is aware he can’t intrude on no matter how much he wants to share in it.
‘The Talking Tree Alphabet’ is a sequence, not a complete alphabet and not in alphabetical order, but a series of poems inspired by names of trees. ‘Pear’ looks at a father and son relationship:
It captures the awkward non-communication where things are assumed to be understood. The father gives an indirect answer, which leaves the son to think about the husk and make his own mind up. When the boy gives an answer, the father doesn’t respond, leaving the son to assume he’s right. The father gives no sign that he understands the implications or the lack of offered reassurance. The reader can picture them walking in parallel lines, as far as the trees will allow, trapped in their own thoughts. In ‘Birch’ Marilyn Monroe wears the dress she made famous in ‘The Seven Year Itch,’ standing above a subway grating:
It says a lot about Marilyn Monroe’s talent that she could make an image, which would have been repeated numerous times to get just the right feel, look spontaneous. It also says something about the nature of glamour that in order to achieve an iconic image, she had to go to a happy place rather than be focused in the moment. The flickering, short-term nature of breeze through leaves could stand as a metaphor for her life.
The final section, ‘The Hedge’, presents two voices giving different viewpoints of a scene with readers picking out clues to figure out where the truth lies. That’s primarily what the poems in The Art of Dying do, explore how truth can be coloured by viewpoint, how communication relies on context and non-verbal clues and the liveliness of people’s internal worlds in contrast with the mundane everyday routines they undertake.