John W, Sexton’s official blurb:
“(JWS) was born in 1958 and is the author of four previous poetry collections: The Prince’s Brief Career, Forward by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (Cairn Mountain Press, 1996), Shadows Bloo / Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock (Doghouse, 2004), Vortex (Doghouse, 2005), and Petit Mal (Revival Press, 2009).
He also created and wrote The Ivory Tower for RTE Radio 1, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes. His novels based on this series, The Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed are both published by The O’Brien Press and have been translated into Italian and Serbian.
Under the ironic Pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontma, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records.
He is a past nominee for The Hennessy Literary Award and his poem The Green Owl won the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry.”
I’ve read Irish poet John Sexton’s work often online and in Star*Line, so when I read that he had published a (new) collection I asked if I could get one for review purposes. His Publisher very graciously sent me a copy from Ireland (remember that I’m in France, so it’s not such a stretch). I’m so glad I got to read this collection in the dead-tree edition. It’s a beautiful little volume of 57 mostly short length poems. The cover art by Ludmila Korol, called “Moon Wind” is stunningly perfect and beautiful on the paperback cover. The original is oil on canvas and is certainly even more vibrant in that medium. The volume is a perfect bound paperback printed on smooth cream-colored paper which is very easy on the eyes and a pleasure to hold in your hand. However, if you are in a part of the world that make procuring a hard copy of this collection difficult it is available on Amazon. Sexton has published widely online and in print and I’ve always enjoyed his work. He has written many Haiku sequences and hybrid forms, which are wonderfully evocative. Offspring of the Moon contains many poems which were originally published in print journals and anthologies and they defy categorization. Wikipedia states that his poetry falls mostly within the realms of Magical Realism, Fantasy and Science Fiction, but I would venture to say none of these here are science fictional in the strictest sense, nor are they pure fantasy. Magical Realism comes closer, but they are like nothing else I’ve ever read before. Sexton has a very original voice. Nevertheless, I was drawn in by the vividness of the imagery and found a kinship with the weird. I think that describes them best. They are simply weird, not in the lovecraftian sense, mind you, but strange and delightful in their flights of fancy, combinations of metaphor or analogy which struck me as something quite fresh. Here are a few examples:
The Cat Inspector leaves and Uncle Bal
rubs the carpet with his toe, and cat
patterns raise themselves from the pile.
— “Soft Furnishings”
The lens of the sky
a magnified beach:
clouds like ghosts of bones
— “The Mermaid’s Last Breath”
Beyond the Acorn door I found
seven goldfish inside a glass cat
–“The Acorn Door”
A man made of sunlight awoke on the edge
of the road. He was stretched for seven miles
— “Early One Summer”
I wait on the step catching light on my tongue
–“Waiting Patiently at the Stone Door”
the hedges blurred like the sea in a shell
–“On the Greymouse Bus”
and Heaven’s a piece of sewing that’s falling loose at the seam
–“A House of Golden Thread”
That grey cat sleeps in the dusty spaces
of the moon’s face…
She is the starlight’s whim
and may be glimpsed as troubled waves through grass
–“The Way Back”
I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity to read this collection and to dig deeper into it through this review. It was so worth it. It’s like a revelation with each reading.
Below are several audio recordings (by me) of poems from the collection:
“Sunlight” – A little like a riddle. If it weren’t for the title it might be a guessing game: Who am I?
“She Combed Through the Night” – The traditional rhyme scheme and meter make this a lovely enigmatic poem (i.e. I don’t know what it means really!) about the lure of the night sky.
“The Early Risers” – This is probably my favorite poem in the collection. And it’s a Petrarchan Sonnet! Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdecde. I love the image of the laundry rails causing lift-off of the whole house, the neighboring house and everything around them powered by the breath of six giant hedgehogs.
“Medusa” – What does Medusa’s hair do when it’s not turning hapless sailors to stone?!?
“Brain” – the Brain explains what it does and what it doesn’t do for us.
“The City of Angels” – The traditional meter and rhyme scheme (xaxa, xbxb, xcxc) belie the gruesome and loathsome narrative of this story.
If you enjoyed those, or prefer to read your poetry (you don’t know what you’re missing, I expect!) you can read some more recent examples of Sexton’s poetry online:
“All That Her Mother Left Her” at Strange Horizons
“Invisible Sister” and “A Portrait of the Artist as the Second Vatican Council” at Southword, New Writing from Ireland
“A Portable Philosophy and History Kit” and “Is That It Then?” at Burning Bush 2
“The Past and the Present Are Nothing to the Only Now” at Burning Bush 2
That’s it from me! My posts will be appearing on Wednesdays from now on, so expect me Wednesday in 15 days! In the meantime, all those who celebrate Christmas – have a joyous one! Those who don’t – enjoy the day off!