The genome from which I’m constructed
Was restricted to certain parameters,
But that’s like most people I know:
We’re ordinary, rather than exotic
Specimens about whom the papers rave,
Not quite from the boglands,
More cowdale and sheephill.
The latest news is that I am regressive,
At least by some five or so percent,
Which would explain the reddish beard
They say the Neanderthals sported,
Sprouting when first it grew,
Though these days it’s more like bracken
Stubbornly hanging onto a hillside,
Threatening to slip into the fens.
TSTmpj: I found your poem to be deceptively flat, "ordinary, rather than exotic", only giving up its riches to my fourth and fifth rereading. Where, and or from whom, did you learn your poetical craft?
Edward Reilly: About flatness: we must realise no longer live in a Keatsian, much less a Eliotian, world, and so the whole question of poetic diction (in contemporary Australian English) really needs to examined. In 'Genome', I take my linguistic cues from Robert Lowell's History. I started writing seriously in the early 1970s when under the influence of some early poems by Seamus Heaney, then went on to closely read Shakespeare's Sonnets, all of Yeats, and then the Donald Hall anthology, especially the post-War USA poets. The books of Robin Skelton (1925 - 1997) were inspirational. Trevor Code at Deakin Uni. was my MA supervisor & Sue Hawthorn at Victoria Uni. kept a rein on my doctoral work in poetics.
TSTmpj: Given your Irish lineage, this is an obvious question, but I’ll ask it, who from the Irish Pantheon do you admire, and why?
Edward Reilly: 1. Antoine Ó Raifteiri (1779 –1835) for his vision & defiance against the onslaught of the Sassanach & their garbled tongue 2. Padraig Pearse, for his revival of Gaelic as a medium of discourse, his poetry & his supreme sacrifice in 1916 3. Yeats 4. Tomas Kinsella (b. 1928 & on whose poetry I wrote the MA thesis) a consummate modernist.
TSTmpj: Do you see in any of your students any specific echoes of where you were when you were a much younger man, beginning to become a poet? How do the upcoming poetry generation’s preoccupations as a whole offer similarities or differences, given the digital age we live in?
Edward Reilly: Yes, from time to time I see that a student will start writing, maybe give take a break for a while, and then come back to the task in their early thirties. On the other hand, one lass started writing verse when she was in Year 11 & has gone from strength to strength, has not really stopped! Others have transmuted their initial impulse into the hard grind of post-graduate studies & teaching. But, it depends entirely when the Muse chooses to appear & what she commands one to do. As for our present age, it's a mean, grey era we live in, wars and rumours of catastrophe assail our ears & eyes every evening, everything is happening around us like lightning storms without relief, when a nascent poet's need is for silence, love & prayer.
Edward Reilly (b. 1944 Adelaide); sessional lecturer in literary & education studies Victoria University & President of Geelong Writers; is internationally published.