Life

Radio review: Poet Stephen Sexton is a breath of fresh air

Nuala McCann

The Poetry Programme RTE Radio 1

Belfast poet Stephen Sexton is a breath of fresh air in the new generation of poets – he grew up playing video games.

The child with the Nintendo became the young grown-up dealing with his mother's death.

So that - enmeshed with childhood memories of Super Mario - the small Italian plumber who could leap for Ireland - he found himself drawn deeper into the sorrow of back then, when his mother was ill and undergoing chemotherapy and when he was the one who ended up making the tray bakes for the local cake sale.

“I didn't intend to write an elegy,” he confessed but that was what happened.

Sexton was reading from his anthology: If All the World and Love Were Young.

Olivia O'Leary is an intelligent and perceptive presenter who has a great love for poetry.

“What do you have about commas,” she asked, “There isn't one from beginning to end.”

Sexton's poems are poignant and beautiful, playful and modern.

You come across traffic lights and “showers of sparks sheared off in a welder's workshop”.

His imagery pulls you up short at times, then dazzles you.

In time honoured tradition the baton is being handed on and it's heartening to witness such creative talent emerging.

But in looking forward, it's as important to look back.

In the wake of the death of gifted poet, accomplished musician and talented translator Ciaran Carson, the Poetry Programme went into the archives and emerged with a recording from 2008.

It was taken from the Arts Show and featured Carson reading his poem, Birthright.

There is a wry humour and edge to it - a recognition of the secret codes by which we lived and grew up. It is a beautiful poem.

Carson's final collection, Still Life, was written when he knew time was limited after his cancer diagnosis.

The pun in the title is a reflection on the importance of art and testament to the strength of the human spirit.

This Poetry Programme looked forward to the freshness of new artists like Sexton and back to the legacy of those who have left us.

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