Memorable poetry of sustained lyrical power - Peter McDonald, TLS
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About Justin Quinn
Justin Quinn’s poems are formal in the very best sense, finding rhythms and rhymes to match the complexities and intimacies of our lives and the world in which we live them. Lyrically exact and engaging, accessible yet intelligent, he is a poet with a gift for finding the universal in the apparently personal and local. Whether it be a “wake of men” stood at the sight of a beautiful Russian woman sashaying down a street in modern Prague, reminiscent of the “old allegiances” of the Cold War, or the poet and his family out walking during ‘First Spring Days’, finding a couple’s moment of intimacy suddenly emblematic, Quinn has learnt much from his literary precursors – W. B. Yeats and Elizabeth Bishop, but also Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon – in achieving his poetry’s transformative, metaphor-making possibilities. As ‘A Glove’, included in the freely-available online selection of this Archive recording, makes clear, these are poems that understand the “close quarters” at which a poem’s relationship with the reader unfolds, but also the distances and disconnection involved, just as the poet “lost a glove / and kept the other, / my life on hold / through snow and storm, / one hand cold, / the other warm”.
Justin Quinn was born in Dublin in 1968. He is part of a talented generation of Irish and Northern Irish poets who emerged from the mid-1990s onwards: Sinead Morrissey, Conor O’Callaghan, Alan Gillis and Leontia Flynn, to name a few, and the poet-critic David Wheatley, with whom he edited the literary journal Metre. Like many of his contemporaries, Quinn’s interest in Ireland as subject matter – politically, culturally, personally – is matched by a decidedly international outlook; having lived in Prague since the early 90s, a multilingual flavour is as likely to colour his work as shades of home. In ‘Seminar’, this manifests itself in the lessons the English poet gives his Czech students, introducing them to American literature – “Hawthorne’s Salem, Ellison’s blacks and reds, / Bishop’s lovely lines of late summer air” – before they “ready / themselves for their daily trek / across a continent and ocean home”. But there can also be dark undercurrents, as ‘Hoopoe’ reveals, with the eponymous and elusive bird of the title serving as a metaphor for political corruption: “The hit-man [who] gets rich / and lives beyond the scope / of the curious and the keen”.
Aware of both language’s capabilities and limitations, Quinn’s poetry is most productively uncomfortable when charting the frayed territory between self and other. Just as the lover in ‘Divorce’ awakes from fitful sleep, and the poet sees how “your eyes ask of me / who on earth I am”, the poems in this Archive recording explore the ways in which the individual can often be set adrift and alone by the unforgiving pace of modern life. Delivered in surefooted but emotively hesitant tones, they confirm what Rory Waterman has described as Quinn’s “wide-eyed but intelligent fascination with his environments”.
Justin Quinn’s recording was made on 5th May 2015 at the Basecamp Studio, Prague, Czech Republic.