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Yesterday, I had a hankering for haiku. Some days you just can’t fit in enough reading – from the newspaper to all those blogs in your wordpress Reader, from the paper book by your bedside to the steadily growing collection of samples on the Kindle. On those days, you might even read all your e-mails. But some days, less is definitely more. So I searched the topic ‘haiku’ and came across some really inspiring blogs. Then I picked up my 1985 first edition of Michael Hartnett’s Inchicore Haiku. I paid a fortune (€25.39 in Kennys book shop, Galway!) for this ‘discounted price’, slim hardback, but I sorely needed it at the time.

Michael Hartnett (1941 – 1999) is arguably one of Ireland’s lesser-known but best modern poets.

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His son, Niall, describes the poet’s work as follows: The path of his poetry is paved with poems that reflect in many ways the path of his personal life and his struggle to find a place in the world that he could only truly see from the outside.

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In 1985, the working class neighbourhood of Inchicore in Dublin was struggling with the economic downturn, which encouraged many Irish people to seek work abroad. Unemployment was high and Hartnett moved there as a recently separated man, a failed husband and father, as he saw it. As a poet, he was wrestling with issues of identity linked to his return to the English language following ten years of writing only in Irish. There is a sense of betrayal, displacement, darkness and psychic gloom in Inchicore Haiku, yet some of the imagery is quite beautiful, particularly when Hartnett refers to nature and his beloved, native West Limerick.

Here is my selection:

Rain turns creator
and the dandelions explode
into supernovae.

No goldfinches here
– puffed sparrows in sunpatches
like Dublin urchins.

This has got to be my favourite:

On a brick chimney
I can see all West Limerick
in a jackdaw’s eye.

tree in concrete

I want the country
here trees grow out of cement.
And paper leaves fall.

MHPainting

Hollows in my cheeks:
death giving me its dimples.
The tap drops a tear.

On Tyrconnell Road,
Catholic Emancipation
– Thirteen milk-bottles.

Books and poems flood
my room in a white deluge,
my pen hides from me.

References:

* Inchicore Haiku by Michael Hartnett: Raven Arts Press, Dublin, 1985.

* Niall Hartnett’s quote is taken his Foreword to Remembering Michael Hartnett by John McDonagh & Stephen Newman (Editors): Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006.

See also: http://www.michael-hartnett.com/index.htm

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