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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Remembering Gerard Fanning

It was announced yesterday that poet Gerard Fanning has died. He is remembered fondly by many, and WFU Press is no exception; he played an important part in The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry Vol. III, edited by Fanning’s friend and colleague Conor O’Callaghan. O’Callaghan spoke warmly of his relationship with Fanning and the lasting legacy that his poetry leaves on the literary community:

“Gerard was a heck of a poet and real pal. He was the only poet I met for pints in Dublin, and many the pint we had. I saw him only last month, and even then he was pulling out clippings from the Irish Times of new poems by his hero, Derek Mahon. Gerard was always too modest about his own poems, the best of which are head-and-shoulders above the crowd. There is, in his work, a Mahonish ache for the crepuscular, the derelict, the past. But in addition to that there is a boyish charm and wit and secrecy that is all his own. He worked as a civil servant, and his best poems play with the persona of the faceless foot-soldier traveling under the radar.

“His lines are saturated with references to movies and music, both of which Gerard knew way too much about. We had pints the summer before last with a few others. At one point, talking music, I was dumb enough to suggest that each of us name the best gig they had ever seen. Dumber still, I told Gerard to go first. He said he saw Van Morrison do an acoustic set in Maine in the early 70s. He had bussed up especially from New York. We sat in silence for a bit, then changed the subject. All bets off… I am sad he is gone. Far sadder, indeed, than Fanning would have cared me to admit. But I do believe the poems will live on longer than most.”

In an interview question posed by O’Callaghan for The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry, Fanning discussed his attraction to light and water, particularly in the poem “Tate Water”: “…The focus is more that water has no color in itself, but depends on various forms of light, though the putative narrator ties himself up in his own hubris and leaves the conclusion hanging. It could be more for a painter’s eye, but that doesn’t stop you trying to catch some of that rich transience. And it’s where I live, the sea nearly always in view, the memory of foghorns, a cruel history of ship wreck and drowning and the harbor at Dun Laoghaire with its relics of empire and emigration. The changing light now seems less a feature of what we live in and more of a miracle, to be celebrated out of the everyday.”

Tate Water

If you ask how a colour might come about
consider the enigma of water determined by the sky,
and by water I don’t mean pool or rain barrel
but the wide expanse of sea or lake.
As with all things, this will depend
on where and when you look
because water absorbs light, and sea water
absorbs the larger truths of late evening
greater than the timid blue of morning.
So if sunlight entering the sea is filtered
until mainly blue and then washed back
to the observer above, who could be you
dawdling on cliff or private promontory,
then like you, a stain of light depends on impurity
just as your purplish skin for cold or bruise
like a Doppler note, brightens and passes and fades.
And if pine lakes deliver a bluish tinge,
remember in that water, increasing salts or acids
can make of the scattered light a trawl from pale
yellow to darkish brown and when peat is washed
down, sunlight may lose itself, cannot scatter
and the lake becomes black. I can tell you,
impasto giving weight, how to make a profession
of mute things, but remain at a loss to figure
how the weight of water can be so sinister.

–Gerard Fanning, from The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry, Vol. III (2013)

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