Queer and Celtic–a niche market? You bet. But there’s much to learn for everyone in this slim volume from Squares & Rebels, which taps a culture as rich and earthy as the smell from its turf fires. Wesley Koster has collected a diverse smorgasbord (yes, I know that’s Scandinavian, but I don’t know the Irish equivalent) of poetry, drama, memoir, and fiction that entertains as it educates. No mean feat, that.
The collection features old friends like Jeff Mann along with some authors I’d never heard of before who turned in some stunning work in terms of both depth and interest. Mann is represented by both poetry (“I Looked for You,” “Irish Coddle”) as well some wonderful travel writing in “Ireland,” which sees him in several cities from Dublin to Galway to Inishmore, as enamored of romantic ideals as he is confounded by reality as when he arrives in Dublin:
I’m not sure what I expected. Leprechauns and Celtic harps on every corner, perhaps, the atmosphere aswirl with almost palpable magic, with poetry and folklore. But Dublin is just another city. Building construction growls everywhere, with its ugly cranes, grit, and mud. The streets are too crowded and, to my surprise and disgust, scattered with litter. I regret not having read more James Joyce, whose works might have been able to gloss this unattractive reality with literary meaning.
But Mann is not the only one to find contradiction in the Emerald Isle. Trisha Collopy’s “21 Meditations on the Catholic Body” illustrates some disparities between the theory and practice of Catholicism, Robin NiChathain contrasts what does and doesn’t translate in “Debt of Light,” and Michael O’Conghaile shows us brilliantly what can and cannot be forgiven in his touching essay, “Father.”
Indeed, family is as important as anything in the Irish culture, and this is well represented in Diane Searls’s short scene “The Goldie Boy” as well as the escape from family as in Isaac Swords’s “Angry Sheep: Recollections of Growing Up Gay in Northern Ireland.” For me, however, the very heart of this book lies in the final entry, Brian Merriman‘s “The Gentleman Caller,” which sees a modern gay man reflecting on the death of a village octagenarian. Perhaps the last of a dying generation, this gossipy old man is a “confirmed bachelor” and tireless worker for the Church. Merriman leaves open-ended the question of whether or not Martin, the old man, was in fact gay. But Merriman uses the possibility as a springboard for rumination about his own life, his gayness, and his place in society. Mesmerising and emotionally powerful, this piece is one I turned over in my mind long after I finished the book.
And those are just a few reasons why this important volume should not be overlooked by any ethnic group. It’s lessons are timeless, universal, and beautifully written.
© 2013 Jerry L. Wheeler