Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Cornelius Eady

Introduction by Brighde Mullins

Cornelius Eady's poems are joyous, incantatory, experiential. A verbo-visual kinesis radiates from his second book of poems, entitled Victims of the Latest Dance Craze. There's a spectacle, an event that's charted in the long title-poem of the book -- here's a short section:

"Here is the world (what's left of it)
In brilliant motion,
The oil slick at the curb,
Danced into a thousand 
Splintered steps.
The bag ladies toss off their
Garments to reveal wings.
"this Dance you Do," drawls the Cop,
"what do you call it?"
We call it scalding the air--
We call it dying with your shoes on."
The page turns out to be a score as the poet turns into a choreographer -- the individual in the city is the dancer -- and an intensely urban performance takes place. "We call it scalding the air. We call it dying with your shoes on," is the marvellously ambiguous answer that the dancers give.

Cornelius Eady's most recent volume of poems, entitled You Don't Miss Your Water, is a non-chronological story that moves in a meditative way. The book is structured as a series of prose poems, and the story circles around the final days, and associatively, the life and times, of the poet's father. The titles of the individual poems are song-titles, evocative of the blues, and this evokes a background melody. A strong music lies in the details and in the lyric bursts of energy within the poems, which move backward and forward in time. There's an insistence on fidelity, on saying what happened -- "Okay my Daddy wasn't what you'd call a model parent --" one poem begins, and from this colloquial register, the granite foundation of fact, the character of the father emerges; there are multiple lines of causality here, and with patience and with skill these lines are made audible.

"The house has gone down, I tell my father, it isn't worth that much any more. He won't have any of it...." one poem begins, and ends with these lines "This is how life, sharpened to a fine point, plunges into what we call hope. This is how death, if it's given enough time, irons out the small details." There's remarkable compression at work in this book, another aspect of its musical nature. There's also a tremendous amount of desire: for the Poet to see deeply into this situation, and, in turn, for the reader to see more deeply. The outer world gets into the poems, as we encounter the Office of Social Services, Medicaid, & the gradual Signing Over of a life and a death to the System. There's a tracing back here, to the sources of the struggle, and yes they are societal, institutional, political, and as is characteristic with Eady's work, there is simultaneous strength and pathos in his poems. What emerges is an elegy: the final lines of the book are these: "I think that every hymn is a flare of longing, that the key to any heaven is language."

Cornelius Eady's work is a glossary of earthly objects and human events, and his linguistic responses provide pleasure even when they are provoked by injustice, or by pain, or by loss.