Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Fifty Minute Mermaid

Everyone has enjoyed being abuzz for awhile about Paul Muldoon (pictured here) turning into the new Poetry Editor for The New Yorker, about his playing in a band, and other notable accomplishments. But for me, the best thing he's done recently is something he's done for a long time without getting much recognition at all: he has served again as translator of the vastly undernoticed (that is, in the U.S.) Irish poet, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill. By "Irish poet" I mean a poet writing in the Irish language, which is, to say the least, rare. Rarer still is that perfect alignment of poet and translator. There's a palpable symbiosis between these poets which has been evident for years in their collaboration; I'm no expert, but it must have something to do with his own strangeness in combination with that of Gaelic's against-all-odds survival and its insistent employment by Ni Dhomhnaill.

Her new book is The Fifty Minute Mermaid, published faithfully by The Gallery Press in Ireland; usually their titles are eventually brought to press in the U.S. by Wake Forest University Press, but I can never wait that long. More easily available is her earlier book, Pharaoh's Daughter, which you can get here now; she's translated in that volume by Seamus Heaney, Medbh McGuckian, Ciaran Carson, the late Michael Hartnett (another contemporary poet who wrote in Irish), Derek Mahon, John Montague, Paul Durcan, and yes, Paul Muldoon, among others: a who's who of Irish poetry - which should serve as a higher recommendation than my own.

Why Ni Dhomhnaill isn't better known in the USA is a vast mystery to me, among many, when it comes to poets and their reputations.


I'll lay off the Ezra Pound for a while - a last riposte for now:

"The essential thing in a poet is that he builds us his world... You can forgive a poet his sins for the sake of his virtues, 'because he hath loved much.' But it is a consummate slovenliness of general criticism to see no flaw in the idol merely because numen inest." -- from Poetry magazine, 1915.

1 comment:

Carole said...

I've arrived here by googling 'The Fifty Minute Mermaid'. I'm based in the south of England and I'm currently planning a project on Nuala for a course I'm taking with the Open University. I'm concentrating on this collection and 'Pharoah's Daughter'. I get the impression that, with the help of Paul Muldoon's undoubted technical skill as a poet writing in English, the international reputation of this extraordinary poetic imagination is likely to continue to rise.