Shortlisted for the 2017 T. S. Eliot Prize
In her fourth collection, Leontia Flynn rehearses and resolves the concerns and forms of previous books, beginning with a sequence written in the aftermath of her father’s death from Alzheimer’s disease and during the care of her daughter in infancy. Moving on to explore the constructed nature of childhood, via a long poem imagining her mother’s experiences in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and in an elegy for Seamus Heaney, the poems also seek to contrast the isolation and privacy of an experience of family life with increasingly pervasive and relentless digital technologies.
Drawing on a range of other voices and literary exemplars, including a tradition of verse drama and dialogues, and particularly Plath’s ‘Three Women’, The Radio sees writing poems as a communication that begins with an act of interior listening, for sounds and forms, and to personal sources of meaning.
The Radio explores the pressure the interior life faces from both the usual quotidian struggles and the new stridency and quick-fire certainties of virtual communication. Showing her superb mastery of form, Leontia Flynn’s poems are fragile, funny, observant and engaging – reminding us, once again, of her originality and importance.
Celebrated as an unusually original poet - nervy, refreshing, deceptively simple - Leontia Flynn has quickly developed into a writer of assured technical complexity and a startling acuity of perception. In her third collection, Flynn examines and dismantles a fugitive life. The first sequence moves through a series of rooms, reflecting on aspects of the author's personal and family history. Using the idea of the haunted house or the house with a sealed-off room, and Gothic tropes of madness, doubles, revenants and religious brooding, the poems consider ideas of inheritance and legacy.
The second section comprises a magnificent long poem written in the months leading up to the banking crisis and presidential election of October 2008. Taking as its occasion a flat-clearing, it assumes a more public voice (inspired partly by Auden's 'Letter to Lord Byron'), and reflects on aspects of the rapid social and technological change of the last decade. An extraordinarily moving reflection on mutability and mortality prompted by the spring-cleaning of a life's detritus, 'Letter to Friends' evolves from a private reliquary to a public obsequy.
Its collapse back into private griefs, including the poet's father's decline into Alzheimer's disease, is pursued in the third section of the book. Here the theme of a tallying of private and public balance sheets, of different kinds of profit and loss, widens to include poems of motherhood and marriage, the possibilities of hope and repair.
Following on from the assured day-to-day poems of her first collection, Leontia Flynn's second, Drives, is a book of restless journeys - real and imaginary - interspersed with a series of sonnets on writers. Beginning in Belfast, where she lives, she visits a disjointed number of cities in Europe and the States - each one the occasion for an elliptical postcard home to herself.
Alongside these reports from abroad, portraits of dead writers flicker through the pages of this book - Baudelaire, Proust and Beckett; Bishop, Plath and Virginia Woolf - all revealing aspects of themselves, their frailties and their sicknesses, but also, we suspect, aspects of their ventriloquising author.
What these poems share is a furious refusal of received opinion, of a language recycled and redundant; they are raw exposed and angrily aware of distance - the distance between what one needs and what one receives, between love and what is lost. In particular, the lives here are haunted by the lost idyll of childhood, while poems about the poet's own mother and ageing father bring the collection to a close. With an alert ear for fracture and disarray and a tender eye for damage, Drives is a passionate enquiry into what shapes us as individuals.
These Days represents one of the most strikingly original debuts in recent years and won the 2004 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Leontia Flynn - still in her twenties - writes about Belfast and the north of Ireland with a precision and tenderness that is completely fresh. While her subject matter ranges from memories of childhood to the instabilities of adulthood, from the raw domestic to the restless pull of 'elsewhere', her theme throughout is a search for physical and mental well-being, for a way to live a life. A number of exquisitely moving poems about her father highlight her extraordinary gifts: her exact ear, her heightened, filmic sensibility, her bittersweet tone - all of which combine in poems that are accessible but not obvious, witty and serious, delicate but tough, and always surprising.
These Days is not simply a first book of great promise; it marks the arrival of a new, exciting and important voice.
Leontia Flynn was born in County Down in 1974. Her first book These Days (2004) won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, and saw her named one of twenty ‘Next Generation’ poets by the Poetry Book Society. Her second collection, Drives,won the 2008Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and a major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Her third collection, Profit and Loss, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. She was awarded the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry in 2013 and the AWB Vincent American Ireland Fund Literary Award for 2014.