The Oomph of Quicksilver by Michael DavittMichael Davitt
edited by Louis de Paor
Cork University Press (14.95)

by Thomas Rain Crowe

In recent years, in many of the Celtic countries and/or colonies, there has been an indigenous language resurgence, none more evident than the "Innti" resurgence in Ireland which began in the '60s. Founder of the magazine INNTI, Michael Davitt and his now well-known cohorts (such as Nuala Ni Dhomnhaill and Gabriel Rosenstock) created it to defy the seeming inevitability of the decline of the Irish language, especially whereas their two-thousand-year-old literary history was concerned. By staging public readings in Dublin and across the rest of the country, Innti quite literally brought poetry back into the streets. The scene during the '70s and '80s in Ireland resembled that of the San Francisco Renaissance during the '50s and '60s—a comparison not lost on Davitt, as much of his work from that time forward has been, by his own admission, highly derivative of the outlaw American scene; his influences include ee cummings, the Beats and Bob Dylan.

"Michael Davitt is one of the most compelling and innovative poetic voices in Ireland in the last thirty years," says Louis de Paor in his introduction to The Oomph of Quicksilver, a selected poems with work from his seven major collections. Because of his stature in Ireland and the Celtic world and since this is the first time his work has been made available in any quantity for English language readers, it is something of a cause celebre. Some American readers will quickly be drawn in by Davitt's connections with this country and its recent literary past, while others will be more taken by the Irish/Celtic traditional influences or the universality of his "cross-bordered" oeuvre. In any case, all will come away from reading Michael Davitt for the first time with a clear sense that they have experienced a true original.

In poems like "Dissenter" we see clearly Davitt's passion and activism ("I don't agree that to champion / my people's language / I've turned my back / on bitter truth. / The only cause I espouse / is man's right to find / his own centre, stand firm, speak out, / then be kind"), while the soft lyricism of "To You" shows his love for Ireland and the female sex ("don't hold out too long / if I don't come in sweet summer / sometimes the sea has her way with me / on the long road to you / she is swollen with my tears / salvage your heart / never say I left you / say I drowned"). Rarely have we, here in the United States in recent years, been privy to such well-crafted passion. I think of Patchen, or of Dylan's "the sky cracking its poems in naked wonder," a line that aptly describes the work found in The Oomph of Quicksilver.

"What is important is to continue believing in the Irish language as vibrant creative power while it continues to be marginalized in the process of cultural MacDonaldisation which is sweeping through our ‘island of saints and scholars'," Davitt writes, voicing not only the sentiments of Ireland's canonical past, but also those dark maps of our own past and present. In the world of poetic literature, Michael Davitt and those like him keep us looking, hopefully, to the future.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2001 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2001