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Review: folk, by Tony Curtis

Michael McKimm, The Warwick Review, Vol.5, No.3, September 2011

Tony Curtis's folk has an epigraph from Yeats: I have spent all my life clearing out of poetry every phrase written for the eye, and bringing all back to syntax that is for the ear alone. Beginning thus, Curtis is telling us that his poems are to be read out loud and listened to, and having heard Curtis recite from his work a number of times, I would challenge anyone not to be won over by his readings. His humour and charm, and ability to turn a poem with the seemingly simplest of images, and that understanding of how words will play over the listener's ear, are hallmarks which are pleasingly brought to the fore on the page in this hefty new collection. His greatest skill is to make readers go 'yes, of course'; he reminds us of what we've known all along though perhaps not recognised, and reading his poems is therefore an uplifting experience. In a beautiful elegy for Michael Hartnett he describes returning to that poet's house, looking at the garden, seeing how everything had changed, A life cleared up and packed away. He lingers there, describing everything in detail, before cutting in with: I just missed him. It's often much later than you think.

For Curtis, Folk is

Such a warm little word,
full of greens and browns,
like something woven,
a thread into the past.

He follows that thread down various avenues, recounting family members, old friends, people he has met on his travels; as the title of the collection suggests, these stories recapture an oral folk tradition, and his work is a welcome return to, and reinvention of, that lineage in Irish poetry.