Today is Alden Nowlan's birthday. The beloved poet would have been 86 years old.
Here are some recent reviews and features about Nowlan, and the poem “Bobby Sands,” selected by Brian Bartlett, editor of Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan, who wrote this incredible feature for Atlantic Books Today about the first time he heard the late poet read.
Robert Fulford's take in the National Post on Nowlan's life: "Nowlan wrote honest, forthright accounts of friendship, parenthood, love, fear and the pleasures of being alive. His own life, flaws and all, often became his subject and sometimes inspired a rueful comedy. Once he met a woman who said it was really exciting to meet someone who didn’t go to university. That, of course, went into a poem."
In his review of Collected in The Malahat Review, David Eso concludes, "If this magician’s trick is no trick at all, one wonders about the proximity of Nowlan’s artistic confabulations to his experience of a world potentially limited by geography and class but broadened by his wide reading and inspired wit."
for Robert Weaver
I did not cry for Bobby Sands, but I almost did,
thinking of my grandmother whom I loved, and who
and of how her voice would break when she told me again
how her grandmother died in a field in County Wexford
with green stains on her lips, her hands filled with grass,
and of how in that same year the English wagons
escorted by English troops carried Irish grain
down to English vessels for shipment to England.
yes, that was a long, long time ago; but somebody should
remember Mary Foley, somebody should weep for her,
even if it is only a drunken listener
to lying ballads. Being human, we
each of us can bear no more than a particle
of pain that is not our own; the rest is rhetoric.
Better to shed a tear for Mary Foley
than to rant or babble about suffering
that is beyond our capacity to comprehend.
And what of Bobby Sands? We talk too much,
all of us. In common decency, don’t speak
of him unless you have gone at least a day
without food, and be sure you understand
that he loved being alive, the same as you.
Then say what you like. Call him a fool.
Call him a criminal. You’ll get no argument
from me. I’ll agree with everything
you say in dispraise of gunmen. Oh, but Mary Foley’s
ghost was left in my keeping.
I know in my heart that if he had come to me
for a place to hide I could never have shut him out.