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Making Music

 

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Making Music contains more of the 'quirky, strange and thought-provoking' for which Cotter has been praised. Angels in various forms proliferate in this collection, musing on mortality, the centrality of art, the fragility and misguidedness of humanity. The book is rounded off with a pair of Celtic epyllia more influenced by Logue's Homer than by Lady Gregory.

 

Reviews


Making Music (Three Spires Press, 64pp. €10), Patrick Cotter’s second full-length collection, is full of inventive mischievousness and idiosyncratic wit. In the Kiddies of Lir we’re told the kiddies’ “necks poured forth like pus congealed”. The Wedding Night of Aoife and Lir becomes a mock-heroic told by Aoife where Lir “snuffled at my girly, unkissed feet”. Any romance is thrown out the window when she reveals that she was “impaled like an apple being cored”. The humour is dark and an iconoclastic heart beats throughout Cotter’s work. The Unembroidered Cloths sends up Yeats’s embroidered cloths of heaven by situating us in an “Underworld” where we “waken to find ourselves/ treading on our nightmares”, while Not Being Kavanagh is a hilarious paean to disenchantment.

Making Music is also saturated with the presence of “angels”. But unlike the glut of angels in American poetry, Cotter’s angels are of a different species altogether. In fact, one particular “Angel” has more in common with Hughes’s “Crow” than any other celestial being: “Angel failed to pack his feathers on his trip to hell”. In these poems, and specifically in Journal of a Failed Angel Whisperer Cotter creates a subversive, impish creature: “Angel beckoned/ and I radiated upwards out of the oven of my body”. A book more of nightmares than dreams, Cotter writes nonetheless that “The undreamt life is not worth living”. An anarchic voice in Irish poetry, Cotter’s new collection is playful, irreverent, and welcome.

- Paul Perry The Irish Times August 2009


Poet and critic Fred Johnston professed himself jealous, in a review in Kiosque, of some of Patrick Cotter's earlier work. And so it will be for most poet-readers who will envy as much as enjoy the inventive, exuberant language and delicious surprises that are present in Making Music, Cotter's second full collection after Perplexed Skin (Arlen House, 2008)

Making Music opens with the poem "Saint Barahane's Butterflies" which has both a historic and a contemporary feel to its narrative. Barahane was a 5th century Irish hermit-monk and the narrator too is alone in his room with just a butterfly for company. In the poem, the insects of the title are "convulsed on buddleia nectar" and the narrator's fists "stealth" after them. This vividness of verb usage and joy in language generally is a hallmark of all of Cotter's work. The opening poem promises much for the reader new to his poetry and s/he embarks confidently into this collection on a journey through language that both informs and delights.

Cotter enjoys referencing the historic while rooting his poems in a 21st Century European aesthetic. In ‘Protecting the Eaters of Prayers’ he echoes the ancient Irish poem about a monk and his cat  "Pangur Bán" ("White Pangur"), but this poet's cat is black and he chases angels, not mice. And here we find the recurring motif of this collection: angels. Patrick Cotter's angels are not the frothy creations of New Ageists, nor are they the kindly Biblical type – these are the angels of one poet's imagination and he teaches us about them and their ways with a sort of manic glee. Did you know - for example - that "purring is the approximation of angel speech" ("Protecting the Eaters of Prayers"), or that angels are nationalistic ("Angel Patriot")? Or that they write books that languish in second-hand bookshops ("All You Need to Know about Books by Angels")? It is this sort of imagining that makes vivid self-contained narratives of many of these poems, while also linking them into a unified set. The best of these angel poems is perhaps the hilarious eight part sequence "Journal of a Failed Angel Whisperer" in which a docile angel disrupts the narrator's life and has the local crows laughing and "shedding quills with slapstick abandon." It all ends badly for the household of the angel, the whisperer and his motley crew of pets.

Cotter draws on folklore and the Bible to good effect in his work, He has a gift for the tilted angle; the back door is his preferred entrance into events and occurrences. In a poem about a saints vision of her wedding ("Saint Catherine of Siena's Ecstatic Vision of Her Wedding at Grabhall Bay, near Crosshaven, Co. Cork"). Cotter displays his aptitude for approaching things slant and for placing the unusual in a poem and making it work. In this surreal and celebratory piece, for example, the groom offers his bride a slice of foreskin as a wedding ring-"a malleable band of His Holy Flesh,/sliced since infancy"-making it "a holy band of covenant"

Cotter is an urban poet, as can be seen from an early poem entitled “On Not Being Kavanagh" (meaning rural Ireland's poet-icon, Patrick Kavanagh). Still, natural things feature frequently in his work and he has the ability to "bring the scarecrow to the city." as poet Patrick Deeley said. Where Deeley had a scarecrow, Cotter has “milkseeping dandelions struggling up from dry gutterdirt" and "'a sad little girl" who plays all alone at shop and is poisoned by digitalis leaves because, as a city-dweller, she doesn't realise they are dangerous ("Rumours")

This poet likes to write about writing, too, and as a writer who is also a publisher and editor, he is well versed in the many sides of the process. He writes about the aging writer reading his earlier work in "Too Too," where "the poet must read aloud time and again/the poems he composed when young"- and which the audience lap up - though the poet himself feels like a plagiarist "for being so different a person" from his younger self.

Patrick Cotter is a poet capable of being both playful and serious to excellent effect. His humour can be frenzied at times, in the poems in Making Music, but it is a softly done frenzy. He has a gift for creating a rueful narrative voice that milks both sympathy and laughs from the reader. The writing is always finely crafted; it is conversational but learned, seemingly effortless, and is studded everywhere with the poet's vast and unusual vocabulary. He is a modern poet in the best sense of that word and he deserves many, many readers.

- Nuala O’Connor Poetry International (San Diego) Issue 15/16 2010

Angels are both figures of annunciation and fellow-travellers in a pitiable world. They instruct and suffer, telling the poet home truths and collapsing ‘slumped colourless on the wardrobe’ (‘Journal of a Failed Angel Whisperer’), when the burden of mortality that the poet carries becomes too chthonic and full of ectoplasm. Keeping the company of angels might bring grief to any poet, but Cotter is an adroit and knowing artist; his verse is as likely to be soiled by a passing pigeon as enchanted by ethereal beings. He is, after all, a disciple of German poetry. Rilke was Cotter’s first angel when he was a youthful poet working in Waterstones in Cork, though his language become as dark as a cadaver in a page from Gottfried Benn as he matured. Angels in this book have guarded him from the nest of rats below the diaphragm, from decay and corpses.
And there are other tones in this collection: the title poem’s beautifully paced ironies, the witty excrement in ‘Courthouse Steps’, as well as the provocative rhetoric of ‘On Not Being Kavanagh’ and the vulnerable devotion of ‘So So’ – ‘I could cut the veins in my fingers / they are so soft since touching you’. Making Music is not an easy book to read; but it is sui generis Cotter, quirky, uncompromising and a roar of colour from among the speckled birds of the South.

- Thomas McCarthy Poetry Ireland Review March 2010

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Stained Glass for the Blind

 

It is true most angels outlive their masters
like Amanakeela who loved the beauty of glass,
leaded, stained, fired.
She sighed as she paused by every varicoloured
interpreter of light her master passed by,
oblivious. It never failed to fill her
with a melancholy as sweeping as an astral wind:
her master’s nothing-knowing
of the nuances of cobalt, azure smalts.

She laboured all his lifetime
to acquire the skill of glass
which reshaped sound.
One solitary window of such musical vitreousness
she had seen, heard, smelt,
in a hermitage of haphazard rocks
in a distant century
on an island the sea
had long since reclaimed.

Only close to her master’s death
could she unveil her one worldly creation:
a glass marked with stains
which revoiced the sighing of the wind,
here into the groan of a narwhale,
there into the whinny of a unicorn
and below these a pane whose stain
amplified the whisper of a breeze
into the galaxy-shaking shout of God –
loud enough to stop a man’s heart,
long enough to launder his soul.