Review: James Joyce, ‘Pomes Penyeach’

That James Joyce would have written and published formal poetry seems out of keeping with his image of the writer of chaotic language (as in how he chose to spell his work’s title rather than Poems, a penny each), but the poems he wrote in the early 20th century are in the language of the time… moderated by his rich words.

Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

His poetry is often repetitive, but occasionally rich and memorable. (Another of his slim volumes, “Chamber Music”, is arguably more interesting than “Pomes Penyeach”.)

Pomes Penyeach was so small–14 poems of less than a page each–that when Faber republished it they added three more pieces: The Holy Office, Gas from a Burner, and Ecce Puer. The first two are early, crude and bombastic multi-page rants against poets and publishers:

Thus I relieve their timid arses,
Perform my office of Katharsis.

Ecce Puer (“Behold the Boy”) is a later light, sweet meditation on his newborn grandson:

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Has come to pass.

You never know quite what you’re going to get with Joyce, and that in itself is one of the pleasures of reading him.

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