MALACHY TALLACK: IN PRAGUE
visit the website of North Idea
email the author
visit the website of Malachy Tallack
Web design by
This page last updated: 10th December 2007.
|MALACHY TALLACK: IN PRAGUE|
The quote from John Banville that opens this collection says in part,
Cities exert a strong, strange fascination, and none is stranger or stronger than the pull of PragueThe poet, Malachy Tallack, takes the reader on a year-long trip to Prague that begins with his INTRODUCTION, passes through the seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, back to Winter, and ends with AFTERWARDS.
IN PRAGUE is a handsomely produced chapbook with brilliant yellow cover and simple black artwork. Passing, as it does, away from the spine of the book, the artwork appears to be beckoning the reader to follow its path into the poems inside the covers.
A passion to preserve the past emanates from Tallack's writing. And, in the knowledge of events that follow, reading these poems with their stark images can have an unexpected poignancy, for example the opening poem INTRODUCTION contains these observations of going back in time, spending a year trying to capture the past and recollect the history of the city of Prague:
Looking back to a beginning From somewhere beyond an end A dense flatness is visible. Through the turning and grinding of time An untraceable line is traced Between past and more past, Drawing together Season with season, Winter with winter.This poem sets the tone of those that follow, foreshadows Prague's historical past, the European setting, and the buildings and suburbs visited by the poet. Tallack takes no sides as he recreates scenes with ordinary people he meets in the depth of winter, as in the poem KACEROV:
I shivered my way through various introductions. Hands are shaken Fingers, limp with cold Press against the frost wrinkled glass.Nonetheless, he offers an insider's view that is highly intimate as in the Spring poem MOST LEGII:
What would you call it? Love? You wouldn't dare, would you? You whose heart was being pulled By strings wound tightly round another's fist.With a fierce economy of words — minimal use of adjectives, short sentences and few prepositions — Tallack depicts an entire scene, drawing the reader into it with his speaker's repetition of "our".
NARODNI TRIDA captures a time when trams rumbled
through straight-line streetsand the speaker heard chants
Ring out across the years — '18, '68, '89, and all that They say.Again, Tallack creates an intimate atmosphere as he recalls the heroes Massaryk, Palach and Havel. These lines not only render an image of the repetition of history but also make the reader privy to the relationship the poet has with the city and its history.
In the section Summer, the season is nicely evoked in PRUHONICE:
A shower of colour Sprinkled on early summer Where water doubles the world. Heat trickled like blood Through the swollen veins Of those blazing days.Tallack suggests a harmony in the scene that is reinforced by the images of "doubling" and "blazing days". This is achieved from the contrast between the icy winter of the previous poems and the brightness of the early summer. As autumn advances in the poem DIVOKA SARKA, the title summons the world of natural beauty to be found in the forest and parkland northwest of Prague, where the poet strolls with his companion:
I lost us in comfortable trees Where two deer escaped Our cautious approach.As if deferring to these animals, everything else around them is described as not making a sound, and that includes the "uninvited guests".
VYSEHRAD II brings us to autumn. The irony between the "Quiet cemetery walks" and the families who have spent their wealth, seems to imply that ordinary life continues in spite of greater events. Money may now be gone but other things retain their value such as the beauty of the autumn leaves:
Scattered leaves, Leaves in piles, Leaves drifting from tree To littered ground Where feet scuff through golden crackles And toe-steps crumble Into autumn sounds.HRADCANSKE NAMESTI concludes this section by creating new images, which are more unsettling. The lines,
The trees reach upwards Towards the crumbling facadesfor example, may simply be conveying the scene. Yet, coming as they do after lines recounting
the haze-drawn stretch Of city dawnthey contribute an uneasy atmosphere of seemingly inevitable decay. While the dawn haze suggests calm and peace, the facades may signify the poet's awareness of the turbulence of the city's history.
Returning to winter in the poem MALA STRANA, Tallack takes "one final walk". Here the speaker recounts how tourists now march through the streets — "My streets", as the poet calls them:
As the giant metronome Aching with age and purpose Draws time through frigid air Where Stalin used to stand, I wait my turn like everyone else.In the final section, AFTERWARDS, Tallack places all these images amongst unbelievably horrendous things: colliding journeys, glacier ice, twisted pathways, fragile love:
It is here that two journeys collide. One, straightforward and slow Is relentless in its movement: Solid and unforgiving as glacier ice. The other leads me backwards, A more intricate and twisted pathway Still littered with glass And fragile glimpses of love.Unbelievable not merely for their horror but, more significantly, that such things could happen in a beautiful, historic city such as this, as we see in the second stanza of STAROMESTSKE NAMESTI:
As distance stretches out Pulling tightly against this molten core The star points of history Bullet-holed against the black night Contract All vacuums are filled All details lost To the vast censorship of time And the cruelty of memory.Here the words "molten core", "Bullet-holed" "vacuum" and "cruelty of memory" express the poet's feelings of horror at what has happened in his city. The speaker, waiting his turn "like everyone else", has in mind the fate of all those whisked away, never to be seen again, under Stalin's regime.
This is writing with a purpose. Its subject may be weighty, but is never weighed down by it. The interest in the collection lies in its view that life, though never wholly comprehensible, is always interesting and worth revisiting.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|