Gerard Beirne was born in Ireland. A Canadian citizen, he has lived in Canada for over thirteen years.
He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. He is a past recipient of The Sunday Tribune/Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year award. He was appointed Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick 2008-2009 and is a Fiction Editor with The Fiddlehead, Canada's oldest literary magazine. His collection of poetry Digging My Own Grave was published by Dedalus Press, Dublin. An earlier version won second place in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. His collection Games of Chance: A Gambler’s Manual is forthcoming form Oberon this Fall (2011). His novel The Eskimo in the Net (Marion Boyars Publishers, London, 2003) was shortlisted for the prestigious Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award 2004 for the best book of Irish fiction and was selected by the Literary Editor of the Daily Express (England) as his book of the year “scandalously ignored by the Man Booker judges...”. His most recent novel Turtle was published by Oberon Press, 2009. His short story Sightings of Bono was adapted into a short film featuring Bono (U2) by Parallel Productions, Ireland in 2001 and released on DVD in 2004.
Gerard Beirne Interview, with Nicelle Davis
In your poem, Meditation 1—Too Much Time, the persona imagines their bones on sale as curiosities. How much would you hope your bones would be sold for—and what sort of curiosity would you hope they’d evoke?
Well I have another poem from this new collection, Song of the Bone Grubber (a bone-grubber being a rag-and-bone man) where I envisage my bones being ground up and crushed for manure. So if they are to be sold, I hope it's by the bagful. I like the idea that our remains decompose and nourish the soil providing nutrients for the foods that will sustain the next generation. In this way, we literally become a part of the land, a part of the plants, a part of the people to follow. Eternal life. I find that curious.
Why / How did you choose to use implied line breaks in your meditation poems?
The new collection is divided into three parts: Songs, Meditations and Visions. I had the notion of “Meditations” on death before any of the poems had taken shape. However, I really struggled with the form and the content. Being meditations, I was torn between the prosaic and poetic nature of my thoughts. I made many attempts to find some common ground between the form and the intent but nothing seemed satisfactory. My personal reflections such as they were remained decidedly shallow and superficial. At some point I happened upon the idea of incorporating the “/” as used when lines of poetry are run into text to indicate the line breaks. It provided me with the opportunity to create prosaic type lines, which still had poetic line-breaks. Nevertheless, the formal pacing still seemed incomplete. Gradually the poems veered towards the tercet while maintaining the “/”. It enabled me to continue the long lines while still accommodating the inherent pauses that meditations require. In essence, I introduced a line-break within the line itself. False endings. Is that not the way we live life, in fits and starts? Avoiding the end of the line.
How exact can our words be?
Unfortunately our words are very inexact, which is why we created poetic expression. As I say in the poem referred to in your question, Meditation #28 Striving To Stay Alive, “Suppose/And I am talking into the wind....” This is how it feels to me, that my words are already scattered as soon as they leave my mouth, blown into disarray. We have an inherent sense of ourselves, our lives, our existence, but we are constrained in our understanding by the limitations of the body, its formal construction. So much of the universe is outside of our sensory perception. In this way the poem mimics our own dilemma. We constrain the words formally, we use concrete expression to search out the inexpressible. Concreteness to embrace abstraction. My current collection of poems, Games of Chance: A Gambler's Manual (Oberon Press) tackles this head on exploring how science and reasoning can lead to enlightenment.
If you were to “whisper to me your over-indulgence” what secrets about the poet-life would be reviled?
I have a feeling you meant “revealed” but I like “revile.” Perhaps I'll attempt to answer both – they may turn out to be the same thing. So what secrets of the poetic life would be assailed with abusive language? That it's free. That it is not exclusive. That it searches for the truth. That it never finds it. That most people who write poetry do not read poetry. That it is an end in itself. That it never ends. That it does not even exist.
What new poetry projects are you working on?
I am working on the Visions section of my manuscript right now. Visions of death. I take inspiration from the many historical visionaries such as Don Francisco de Quevedo the 16th century Spanish nobleman and writer or the twelfth century religious texts of the Irish knight Tnugdalus while other poems envision rust or the camera obscura. Thinking about death so intimately has been quite exhausting. And of course I am none the wiser. Just a little older that when I started. Now there's a revelation.
Meditation 1 – Too Much Time
In a hospital ward between visiting hours/smoking and drinking coffee/steadier on my feet/the usual accoutrements at hand/an AM-FM radio/two nightstands/books and papers/a less than present mind/
More dead now than those who have died/devoid of love immeasurable and unappeasable/I have tried
to learn compassion/not for others but for myself/pain not only hurts but frustrates/and in the end I am frustrated more than I hurt/Diseased, deceased/I desist from what I am doing/putting words in order in a world that is disordered/this ought to......and I can go no further...
Too much time/too much time to think and contemplate the devastation in this world/the insomniac, hypochondriac, accident-prone, chain-smoking, suicidal, lecherous-womanising, depressive-alcoholic, gangly and inept, who leapt to immortality/a man dropping like a lost shoe/a foot uncertain in its wake/
The air has never felt so good/my mind reeling/words plummeting/If I could somehow stall/hold this moment/ here mid-air/no raised voices/no juke boxes/no tinkle of glasses/just me in this irreversible act/no way out/no way up/nothing to break my fall....
Don’t forget the wave before he jumped/broken and hungover/the cigarette he was smoking/the poetry half-spoken/the development encroaching/the wide plain sloping/ the railroad blackened from age/the steel-neck of the crane on the downtown skyline/the smoke stacks belching thin white streams/
the water fast approaching/In my dreams I see where you do not/the cafe, the bookstore, the antique shop/my bones on sale as curiosity/the drop but a vagueness later/talking to myself on the way down pleading for me to listen this one time/the metre specific and the acoustic never greater/
Meditation #28 Striving To Stay Alive
If I really am what I say, it is more than weighing my words/and I am back to rivers now/where
meanings flow past the point where I stand/the words are weighing me/sinkers revealing infidelities, breakdowns, addictions/It is true that my confessions are bereft of mass atrocities/but I daresay.../
What exactly is it that I am saying /what exactly is it that I am trying to make sense of/late-night
skinny-dipping in the creek/ditching our bathing suits amongst the martini set/I am not making light
of this/but don’t you feel it, that chaos in your life/the unliveable striving to stay alive/the water
trickling through the stones at the soles of your feet/shifting the ground beneath you/It’s not
the body of the words that reek decay/but the mind decomposing/Suppose/and I am talking
into the wind /but suppose this claim is true/in other words/suppose I am incoherent/the blood
clotting the veins just so/bruised and raging/On other days I wake up terrified/the page conceals
the pen/We have reason to be afraid/I have endured the ferocity of the imagination/its confusion/
in the end.../ Pretend I never said these things/the only delusion is thinking we can say what we intend/
Meditation #32 Indulge in Dying
Let us stand out in the thunderstorms to be struck by lightning/not once.../who is ready
to admit defeat/the naked vulnerability askance/ensconced in doubtful self-belief/a fitting
sentimentality to shore up survival/At our core we indulge in dying/death’s other great rival/
I am not blind to the trivial or the insignificant/the wooded by-pass of memory/but up ahead
of me the light is doused/the cows come home ignoring grunts and unfamiliar noises/chewing
on the wet grass through which the current spreads/ in through their mouths and out their legs/
eating away at their own death/chewing on its cud/I should intervene/Listen to me/what if
the thunder never comes/the darkness is stunned into silence/or better yet/we forget all
that we have lived through/that hunger that never stops for breath/Relief/would we call
it that/What I am getting at/famished as I am for life/my appetite barely whet/ I can’t believe
I pass on chances and then regret the last of days/There are other ways to starve yourself/
retrieve your past when it’s long spent/Repent, repent/whisper to me your over-indulgence
in all that’s heaven sent/we have lived through dark times and are hell-bent/the unfortunates
lament the stricken multitude that illuminate the way