If you ever go to dublin town... you're likely to meet a poet
aNTHOLOGY: Ghosts of poets and storytellers can be found on Dublin street corners and a new book will help you track them down, writes Dermot Bolger
WITH the exception of several pubs where writers boisterously drank together – or drank apart, in feuding silence – Dublin never possessed an artistic 'Left Bank' quarter.
They may have drunk together, but there was never a district where Dublin writers all slept together – even in separate beds.
Dublin may be synonymous with a dozen famous authors who have immortalised landmarks like Howth Head and Sandymount Strand, but no city is owned by just a dozen writers.
Now a remarkable new anthology entitled If You Ever Go (Dedalus, €11.99) proves that no Dublin district is untouched by some writer's ghost or by a host of living writers who continue to charm poetry from the everyday life on its streets.
Readers will find it impossible to cross Dublin again and not feel accompanied by phantoms from some writer's imagination, because the editors – Pat Boran and Gerard Smyth – have presented the poetry and songs of over 150 writers in a way that forms a map of Dublin.
There are innumerable guide books to Dublin, but If You Ever Go is unique in essentially being a map of the city's imagination.
Brendan Kennelly (like many of the poets featured in the book, a culchie adopted by Dubliners who are in no hurry to give him back) said that to "stroll through Dublin is to stroll through history ... (it is ) ... more a stage than a city."
This book gives you the chance to stroll through Dublin at various times in history and see unfamiliar streets rendered new as the stages on which love affairs and other everyday wonders were played out.
Years ago when foreign journalists visiting my house on Ferguson Road in Drumcondra asked if – as a writer – I lived in James Joyce's shadow, I would say that I had no option, pointing out my kitchen window at the house backing onto my garden where Joyce once lived as a boy.
A developer demolished that house years ago, but what a pleasant surprise to find myself in this anthology not only with Joyce (in a poem recalling cattle being driven down from Cabra) but also with Sir Samuel Ferguson, after whom my road was named.
The joy of this book is that it doesn't just move from the Liffey side to the Northside and the Southside, but when it reaches any one place it juxtaposes the different voices from across the centuries who have passed through the city.
Therefore when the book reaches Finglas, you have the beautiful poem by Paula Meehan, born in 1955, My Father Perceived as a Vision of St Francis (set in the back garden of a corporation house in Finglas), printed beside an extract from The Smock Race at Finglas by James Ward, born in 1691.
I will never again walk past the Cat and Cage pub in Drumcondra without thinking of a 16-year-old Maurice Scully kissing a 16-year-old schoolgirl outside that bar, in the poem here which gently commemorates that moment.
I'll also stare at the ruined Magazine Fort and recall the savage put-down made by Jonathan Swift ("Here, Irish wit is seen/When nothing's left that's worth defence/We build a magazine") and maybe chuckle at Paul Durcan's great poem, Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin.
Because it is so central to Dublin life, Grafton Street is much featured. But what is wonderful is that the editors have left out very few places.
Here are poems set in Clondalkin, Tallaght, Bluebell, Dundrum, Deansgrange, Ringsend and Booterstown, alongside Michael Hartnett's Inchicore and Patrick Kavanagh's Raglan Road.
Here are superb voices like Philip Casey, that deserve to be better known, and the words of Nobel Laureates like Seamus Heaney mixed in with the anonymous ballad seller who wrote The Waxies Dargle.
If you Ever Go is the Dublin Unesco City of Literature book of the year. You may never have bought a book of poems before, but you've never seen Dublin like this before.
So whether you are a fan of Bagatelle or Phil Lynott or Yeats or Dublin's earliest bard – the blind singer Zozimus, they are all gathered here, waiting their turn. It's a reminder that what makes Dublin a writers' city is not just its internationally celebrated authors, but the fact that hundreds of men and women, both famous and forgotten, have reshaped this city in their imagination.
This book will inspire hundreds more to do so – conscious of the ghosts of other writers on every street corner – as their words make Dublin's ever changing streets imaginatively new again.