Sunday, July 21, 2013

`The Skill to Free the Leaden Words'

Several weeks ago the Irish-born poet Greg Delanty sent a note thanking me for writing about his poem “Loosestrife” in a post last year. He also acknowledged my fondness for Dr. Johnson, in particular his “Works of the English Poets’—I have a first edition of the whole, more than 50 volume set.” As if that weren’t enough, Delanty had shipped me three of his books – Collected Poems 1986-2006 (Carcanet, 2007), Loosestrife (Fomite, 2011) and The Greek Anthology Book XVII (Carcanet, 2012). All are inscribed, and on the title page of the Collected volume Delanty writes: “For Patrick K, through The Mystery p94—Best Wishes, Greg.” The reference is to “The Composing Room,” a poem in seven twelve-line sections first published in The Hellbox (1998). 

Born in Cork in 1958, Delanty comes from a family of hot-metal printers. In “The Composing Room” he deploys the argot of printing – “dingbat,” “quoin,” “hellbox” (respectively, a printer’s ornament, a block used by printers to lock up a form within a chase, and the box that holds broken or worn-out type). I entered newspapering in the last of the last days of the old, pre-digital typesetting era (electric typewriters!), and thought of printers as a Masonic guild, heirs to centuries of arcane wisdom. In his poem, Delanty writes of composing as a metaphor for his own craft, making poems. Like many another writer, he confesses, “every time I read the word world I wonder/ is it a typo and should I delete the l?” Printing, he suggests, gave him a feel for the physicality, the heft, of words – an excellent apprenticeship. "The Mystery” he refers to in his inscription refers to the last of the poem’s final stanzas: 

“grant me the skill to free the leaden words
from the words I set, undo their awkwardness,
the weight of each letter of each word
so that the words disappear, fall away 

“or are forgotten and what remains is the metal
of feeling and thought behind
and beyond the cast of words
dissolving in their own ink wash. 

“Within this solution we find ourselves,
meeting only here, through The Mystery,
but relieved nonetheless to meet, if only
behind the characters of one fly-boy’s words.” 

In a print shop, the “fly-boy” catches the printed sheets as they come off the press.

No comments: