Lullaby City; Abnegation
By: Oisin Breen
This reality, an idle dream, dressed in fantasy,
Scares itself to sleep with darkness it once created,
Then with laughter it exchanges graveyards for the pulpit,
From which it cries: ‘what am I but terror?’
So to the raving sun I cry of how I fought reality
Eye-to- and yet still I fell, because I long mistook
Its golden claws for how close I was to virtue.
Yet now I know how the city groans, I hear it too,
It’s not a thing but fascination.
Yet my lost dreams tempt, and so it is and I am weeping
And now I limp along on angry fists, and I ask you this:
‘What’s more terrifying a loss of liberty or a loss of comfort?’
Yet I must insist I knew scorn before I should
I played the fool before I knew I could, afraid greatness was but a ghost
Here where I see signs of what I fear the most:
Reality’s Madonna claws are leaking.
If we are judged
Know that abnegation
Is the root of our vitality,
Where absolution comes
Only through resignation,
I was told.
Yet, even so,
I choose to drink
The witches’ brew,
And to yell
In empty forests
Words too old to speak.
Oisín Breen is a 36 year-old poet, part-time academic in narratological complexity, and financial journalist. Dublin born Breen's widely reviewed debut collection, ‘Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits, forgotten’ was released Mar. 2020 by Edinburgh’s Hybrid Press.
Primarily a proponent of long-form style-orientated poetry infused with the philosophical, Breen has been published in a number of journals, including the Blue Nib, Books Ireland, the Seattle Star, Modern Literature, La Piccioletta Barca, the Bosphorus Review of Books, Mono, and Dreich magazine.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
Well that's both a tricky one and a simple one, depends on how we define 'writing'. If we're talking about dabbling, ach, since I was a young teenager. The first piece I wrote, ever, I was about twelve odd, and it was a submission for a national children's poetry contest. Somewhat unusually for a 12-year-old I submitted a lament for the age of chivalry. I never wrote another poem for years, dabbling, instead, in short stories. I got back into it roughly when I was around 16, and wrote a fair bit of poetry thereafter, though was more focused on novel-writing. That said, the fact that women liked men who wrote poetry ... well that was certainly an inspiration and a motivation for a young man of Dublin town at the time. I continued to write, though I stepped back from sharing it widely between around 20 and 27/28, as I had what my mother would describe as the cream part down pat, but some of the structure, the balance, the musicality of the works wasn't satisfying me.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Damn... Christ, it was probably more the film Dead Poets Society, which I saw when I was about eight or nine, cheesy as that may be, so that got me aware of poetry, and I picked up, a few years later, of course, bits of Whitman and Byron, then snaggled my teeth into some of the late 19th C and early 20th C French poets, then the beats became a real thing, Ginsberg, Corso, Lamantia, and the romantics, Byron, Shelley, Blake, and Coleridge, rather than Wordsworth and Keats... and of course the Irish poets, Yeats especially, and so on :)
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Well, a lot of the above, and I do love long form ... But favourite poems... Lets go this time around with Lemon Tree by Montale, the Second Coming by Yeats, the Bomb by Corso, Peyote poem by McClure, the Harbormaster by O'Hara, Mannfred by Byron, anddd... as it's just come to mind the twa merrit wemen and the wedo by Dunbar.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Honestly, not so much ado here... Depends what I'm writing, some pieces just fall out of the brain and onto the page when I put time aside to write -- I love a spot of beer and improv singing with friends, too -- some become thematic works this way; others I have an idea, like that last big long form piece I wrote about the conversion of a sensualist into a terrorist; some are deliberate and involve research -- I'm presently working on a series about migrant potato pickers from Donegal and linked boating accidents, which has taken a chunk of research and time; and, lastly, there's the works where I just sit and realize there's a concept that needs elaborating, and work to hew it from the rock.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I'm of the modern sort here, mostly, I typically just see what the poem is as I work with it, and hew, and cut, and change as it speaks back. That said, my longer form work often has a fairly deliberate meta-structure to it. Omar Wiley in the Seattle Star nailed how my last book functioned formally, for instance.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
The trite answer is write and write more, and if writing becomes a thing that if you don't do it your brain melts, you're half way there, so keep going.
The real answer? Read. Read. Read. Read all the poets you can, but don't focus on contemporary work, read contemporary stuff, sure, especially in the journals, but try and avoid the saccharine, introverted, self-obsessive stuff popular in most cities scenes, as all that will teach you is how to write what a peer group feels, rather than to listen to what the words want to do, and to the music. Make sure you read from every century, and make sure you read it out loud. Then play. Play. Play.
What is your editing process like?
Entirely random. Sometimes a work is just done the first time, and I'll just read it about 40 times in a row, and end up arguing with myself, through multiple coffees, over a letter or two, or a word or two, and then go 'ah done'. Other work takes rewrites, longer stuff especially, and sometimes then I'll rip it apart ... flay it is the better description, and see how it looks reassembled in all sorts of ways, and it can then become something vastly different. I do also keep a file of things I cut, but like, and sometimes then use that for future inspiration. Mainly it's just about 'feel', and afraid, for the last question, when do you know that a poem's finished, the answer's the same... It's kind of like... Post World War Two the US military (might have been before, it's been a while since my study of philosophy of AI) wanted to track sea mines. They had sonar operators, who knew how to spot sea mines, but none who could verbally explain how to... You just had to sit with one and as they go 'ah sea mine'... after enough spots, your brain goes, 'ah sea mine', so they had to build a vast connectionist architecture to make a computer algorithm simply mimic the 'ah, sea mine' concept, but no one knew how that worked either. A poem is finished when, as a writer, you know it's finished, but lord knows I can't tell you how I know it's finished.