Review of Dave Lordan’s “Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains”

“Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains” is Dave Lordan’s third collection of poetry, all of which are published by Salmon Poetry. Dave Lordan is a poet, performer, playwright, editor and creative writing teacher based in Dublin. He works in Irish radio and press, in person and with groups. One of Ireland’s avant garde and foremost young poets, he is an arresting performer of his work and infectiously enthusiastic about fostering young people’s natural writing talent. This third collection offers much to readers old and new alike, and is accessible to those new to Lordan’s work, dealing with topics such as fatherhood and everyday working lives.

Who are the Lost Tribes and why have you never heard of them before? The Lost Tribes are not only the mythic people who once lived in the mountains; they are you and me in the modern world, having lost touch with ourselves, with beauty and truth.

Loss is one of the overarching themes of this carefully crafted collection: the loss of truth, innocence, trust, freedoms, identity, life itself – all the things that make us both free and human. Lordan begins this exploration beautifully in “Fertility Poem”. In coming down from the mountains, Lordan takes us from being unflawed, free beings, through the ways in which we are required to leave ourselves, by modern life’s dilemmas. Thus we lose ourselves and realise that “lies are the womb and the seed of us”. Armed with this truth and knowledge, our flaws exposed, we are once again freed to be ourselves.

This freedom to be ourselves unencumbered is another theme throughout. Each poem leads smoothly into the next, creating a dynamic, cohesive collection. As much an examination of the political as the personal, Lordan weaves the reader in and out of mythic lands, either as an echo of the modern politician’s broken promises, resulting in losses of cultural identity and security, or Ireland’s myths and fairytales that have become lost in the modern world. And so we have lost touch with some of our magic.

Almost as if to reassure the reader that the poet is not lost himself, Lordan returns to one of his old forms – the use of Hiberno-English, in “Hope”. In his work, this continues to be an engaging and potent syntax. This is however, no backward glance. It is a moving forward, retaining one of the things that Lordan does best, while integrating this collection with previous collections, weaving another thread for readers familiar with his work.

Using ethereal imagery, these poems are both savage and tender, kicking the reader in the guts at times; considering difficult truths such as the high rate of suicide amongst young Irish men, in “My Mother Speaks to Me of Suicide”, or where our food comes from and who works to provide it, as in “Discover Ireland”. Nothing is taboo. The unseen and unheard are made tangible.

At times, the view is apocalyptic, such as in “The Return of the Earl” and “I Dream of Crowds”. But it does not follow here that this has to be an end. This diverse collection is uncompromising in uncovering the truth, knowing that this is a requirement of recovery of both self and hope. Ultimately, this collection strikes a fine balance between the loss of hope, without leaving the reader hopeless.