Trevor Conway and the poetry of fear

Breeding Monsters by Trevor Conway (self published)

HAVING PUBLISHED his first collection with Salmon, Trevor Conway has taken the courageous decision to self-publish his second, Breeding Monsters, which, in every way, looks as good as the books currently emerging from any of the main Irish poetry publishers.

In Breeding Monsters, Conway’s main theme is fear. It is a big subject. We all feel the fear sometimes, and some of us spend most of our lives living in fear of something or other: illness, debt, death, being found out, that Paschal Donoghue might be the next leader of Fine Gael, that The Marian Finucane Show will never end. There are many legitimate reasons to lie awake, overcome by fear of a winter’s night. Conway has decided to embrace his fears and the fears of others. In his introduction he says “fear gets a bad rap...True, it affects us in negative ways...But I think fear is the greatest motivator we have. It spurs us on to react.”

The fears Conway tries to confront in these poems are indeed the big ones, and by no means all belong to himself. In ‘Marrow’, the collection kicks off with a nice bit of death: “A bone spoke to me this morning,/one of my ribs./‘Some day, you’ll be dead’, it said,/‘nothing left of your flesh,/just rags of skull and brittle sticks.’" It is a thought all but the most terminally sunny of us have had to fight off at some time or other.

In ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and ‘Stalingrad’, Conway takes on two of the most fear-inducing scenarios in recent history. In 'Stalingrad' he adds some deft lyrical touches to bring into focus that particular apocalypse: “So cold that thousands of German soldiers/freeze on piles of rubble,/the souls of buildings ghosted away/like insect’s empty husks."

In ‘Out of Fashion’, Conway wittily pokes at every writer’s not-so-secret fear; that we and everything we have written will pretty soon be forgotten: “Generations from now,/no-one will understand my words/which might be best./I’ll be the enigmatic genius/who said://It’s been some time/since I’ve heard the phrase/‘having it off’.”

In the excellent ‘Seven Fears Of An Imminent Father’ he faces the additional frets that come with parenthood which range from the tragic “a car could swerve/into our lane/before you’ve uttered a word”, to the more commonplace: “you might hate me,/and I could never know why.” With this collection Conway establishes himself as the antithesis of Mary Oliver – the recently deceased American poet of everyday uplift. His poetry has some of the grim wit of Philip Larkin, without – so far as one can see – being weighed down by the fascist sympathies and bondage magazines Larkin carried about the place with him.


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