Thomas McCarthy – Her Retrospective

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Her Retrospective, poems by Thomas McCarthy

Thomas McCarthy was born at Cappoquin, Co. Waterford in 1954 and educated locally and  at University College Cork. He was an Honorary Fellow of the International Writing programme, University of Iowa in 1978/79. He has published The First Convention (1978), The Lost Province (1996) ,Merchant Prince (2005) and The Last Geraldine Officer (2009) as well as a number of other collections. He has also published two novels and a memoir. He has won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize and the O’Shaughnessy Prize for Poetry as well as the Ireland Funds Annual Literary Award. He worked for many years at Cork City Libraries, retiring in 2014 to write fulltime. He was Humphrey Professor of English at Macalester College, Minnesota, in 1994/95. He is a former Editor of Poetry Ireland Review and The Cork Review. He has also conducted poetry workshops at Listowel Writers’ Week, Molly Keane House, Arvon Foundation and Portlaoise Prison (Provisional IRA Wing). He is a member of Aosdana. His new collection, Pandemonium, will be published by Carcanet Press in November. McCarthy (poet)

Counter-Mannerism and Early Baroque

If what I love is my true inheritance then I inherit this
Tremendous counter-point, our two lives running parallel
On a quiet Sunday before the year folds into Christmas,
Before we contemplate together Matteo Rosselli’s St. Paul

In Damascus, or this truly divine canvas of the Archangel
Michael looking like a pampered youth of Florence
With his mysterious grin. There’s half of Italy in this catalogue
Where Matteo rests, now, for ten thousand euro –

As if a door to love could be bought that cheaply. It is,
Quite simply, a cathedral, this love; it is entered on tiptoe
Like the cloister of the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata
Or an Adoration of the Magi at the church of Montevarchi.

On tiptoe I reject these distortions of High Mannerism,
And I refute, absolutely, any partial return to God
That art might promise in its chiarascuro and charisms.
But something of Rosselli’s simplicity, his grey mood

In plain tunic, his simple buttons, what looks like an unstarched
Collar –  so strange in Florence –  and a statement, perhaps,
Of the simple heart of an artisan; something of his rich
Clarity reaches us across the centuries. Love escapes

From its Roman mannerism to declare itself, so that as we sprint
Like exiles of the Waldense across the marbled endpaper
Of the year, we see the parallels between art and attachment –
How such an art declares love’s clarity, and its formal order.

Her Retrospective

In truth I have always want to ask her why she abandoned
Her life in art. To me it seems tragic, how a talent
That placed etchings before us, etchings as fine
As anything birdlike by Morris Graves or dog-like
In the manner of Lucian Freud; how such a woman
Could become indifferent to her great gifts: she is a mystery
To anyone for whom art is difficult. Her husband
Who is neither openly proud of her, nor discouraging,
Would nervously fix a complicated drink for me, or,
Worse still, fix me in his cold gaze, as if to ask:
Why are you so interested in my wife’s unused talent,
What business is it of yours? Mister, you are too late

In the life of her work; and even if you’d come early
Into her studio you’d never have been chosen. His
Arrogance is as vain as her long silence, it says
She abandoned art not because something died within,
But because life has revealed itself. Their inner
Annoyance, a thing intimate and personal like a marriage,
Has created an atmosphere; keeping us out, keeping art in.

© Thomas McCarthy

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