The Wexford poet and academic Eamonn Wall (b 1955) has resided in various cities of the United States since 1982 and his Irish accent bears traces of disparate influences. Through six volumes of poems published to date, one has the sense of a poet who has sidled up to and rubbed shoulders with other traditions, be they American, native American, or even Finnish (the poet has spent some time in Finland.)
Thus not content with mining the Irish tradition only, in one of his most evocative poems, Basque Museum, Boise, which is taken from the 2006 collection, A Tour of Your Country, Wall recalls the train journeys made by Basque shepherds from Chicago westwards.
On a landscape/ without shape,/stone boys,/ you built/ harrimutilaks,/affixed fish/ to aspen trees:/gills pointed/ to the sky.
The Basque word 'harrimutilaks' translates as 'stone boys', signifying columns of stones once used to mark shepherds' routes.There is a stolid empathy with the lives of the Basque emigrés in the poem, and Wall does not glamorise or over-decorate their experience.
Early poems viz a viz Ireland seem conscious of the great distance from home. In his debut collection, Dyckman 200th Street, published in 1994, the poet's native County Wexford is viewed with a sense of muted drama and conflicted longing from a New York point of view. Some of those early poems are redolent of that tantalising observation - to borrrow an early Pierce Turner album title - that 'it's only a long way across.'
River Slaney: New Year's Day is freighted with delicate, absorbing images. The poet remembers playing hurling as a boy, a sense of
. . .confusion in summer about when and how the day might end./ I do not/doubt the river now nor the insistent voices in the elms/excluding no one, but I have entered into other loves beyond this old town and landscape."
Later poems explore Wall's relationship with his native island in a different way - the dynamic is less existential, more familial and immersive. It is as though the recent years of increased frequency of return - twice, sometimes three times a year - have dispelled the ache of being away. That ache, incidentally has, according to the evidence, never been a discontented ache, more like a dull ache.
Yet all this may be to make too much of any such evolution, as the poet at his best stands and observes, irrespective of where he is. Take the memorable poem In Rainwater, which evokes a 1960s summer Summer evening scene. The Royal Showband would hucklebuck the hall at sundown as first/ elements of autumn took hold of sweet pea stems, roses, and fuschia/bells.
In Bringing the Pony to the River the images are painterly and vivid, as the poet describes the winter light now fading on an evening/ breathless as a baby's room. Both of these poems come from the aforementioned A Tour of Your Country, arguably Wall's strongest book, whose magic works through its absorbing stock of imagery.
As the years pass, so friends and family pass and Wall's most recent collection, Sailing Lake Mareotis (2011) includes The Monastery Bell, a very fine poem composed in memory of the poet's father.
The book begins with a number of new poems, including My History Teacher Calls Out To Me Across the Decades, an affectionate, respectful hommage to Fergus D'Arcy of UCD.
Professor D'arcy guided more than one fortunate student into post-graduate possibilities which he/she may not have expected and the poem begins with a profoundly touching conceit. It's as though this kindly, unusually encouraging teacher is guiding the poet at the wheel, forty years after the poet was his student.
He'd whispered out since winter's halt:
you might take this route it's not too late.
This morning's turnpike's so lightly quiet:
great swaths of maize-land lay drying out
Ultimately, Wall continues to weave a spell bound up with the constant gyre of transatlantic crossings which enrich his work to such impressive effect.