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Born Dublin 1945. Member of Aosdana, nominated by Samuel Beckett and Michael Hartnett.

Bernie Winters


Bernie Winters, who died on 6 April 2015, aged 77, was the inspiration of this photograph and this poem, which appear in ‘Easter Snow/Oster Schnee’, a bilingual book co-published by Salmon, Galway, and die horen, Bremerhaven, in 1993. In a sense the entire book, which consists of photographs of Clare Island taken by Peter Jankowsky and his translations of poems about the photographs by me, was inspired by Bernie.

The Easter Present

‘Unrequited love’s a bore
But, for someone you adore,
It’s a pleasure to be sad’
The old song says, and that
Is enough for love – or is it?

Is it enough to fill with spuds
A plastic bucket – split at the brim,
Its handle broken off, filmed
With dust since water knows when –
And carry it down from your house
While balancing on their knobliness
A plate heaped high with butter –
As always the how throws a glancing
Light on why, as the rim of paint
On the delph, so worn away there’s
Almost nothing left of it, exposes
What time has done – and then leave it
As an Easter present for
The German couple and their boy
Outside the blue-painted door?
Is that enough? Perhaps it’s not.

And yet – seen through their eyes –
How could they requite it ,
Feeling a kind of despair that,
After all, they’re not just
Foreigners out here cut off
In the wild Atlantic, a kind
Of hope that can’t believe
It’s found a home this bright,
As mild and wide and clean
As Easter snow, beyond their grief,
Between the still searching air
And the thick butter’s moisture?
And yet it has – such is the gleam
Of giving – all the room in the world.

But no, it’s not enough. Allowed
To stand while cooling down,
The milk begins to separate,
Disproving with its yellowed cream
The golden rule of gravity:
What’s heavy does not sink,
It rises up, a thickening cloud
That floats on what is thin,
The greater weight of poverty.

You skimmed the surface then –
All this takes time of course –
And dashed its richness in
A churn until you got a fresh
And looseish droplet-beaded curd,
The colour of an apricot,
That’s good enough to eat.

Good enough to eat? No, it’s not enough
To simply mate it with the spuds,
These, now, opposites of flour
Humping their shoulders in the bucket.
No, you salt it first, the salt of earth,
In case it later gets too high and rots
Like apricots, like verse without
The grain of prose to make it last,
And then you play about with it, place it
Between two ridged, biscuit-coloured
Paddle-boards, and pat it into shapes –
Folded rolls and massy globes
Like gathered cones from soft firs.

And then, knowing it is not enough,
Fearing even perhaps, in the Irish way,
That it might well be too generous –
For us friendship is often too close
To sexual love for comfort –
You bring it to the German couple
And their child, leave it there
Without a word and then go back
To your own house and close the door.

No, don’t be sad, although
By now the Easter news is old
And unrequited love is a bore –
Not to have a second self to love,
To be alone when everyone else
In the wide world seems at home,
Kissed on the way in from work,
Talked to while getting washed,
Which you do silently, being fed
With butter and spuds and then –
If only you had someone to talk to –
After watching the late news on
Television going off together to bed
To do what they do in the city –

Still, in this case as in the blue song,
It’s pleasure enough just to shut the door,
To say I love you without self-pity
And be glad as ever Adam was before….

The German couple and their son referred to in the poem were Peter, who died on 17 September 2014, his wife the painter Veronica Bolay, and their son Aengus. One Easter morning they found this present of a bucket of potatoes and a plate of butter left outside the door of the cottage where they were staying on Clare Island. To Peter and Veronica this kind of anonymous generosity to strangers was a reason to come to live in Ireland, which they did. To me, a Dubliner who only visited Clare Island after most of the poems had been written, the photograph was primarily an aesthetic object, and the story attached to it seemed a reminder, a remnant, of an ancient tradition of hospitality, discoverable, if submerged, in all cities and countries, not confined to islands off Ireland, or other remote places.
But when I wrote the poem I hadn’t met Bernie. He was an invention of his gift.
When I did meet him in 1992, and on a few occasions thereafter, I began to understand how the trait of generosity was exemplified uniquely in his character. Does that character have any intrinsic connection with Ireland? I can’t answer that question. I do know Bernie was a highly intelligent person; a complex personality who lived, deliberately, a very simple life. A lover of nature, a lower-case Green, he appreciated modernity when it appealed to him. He loved, for example, the singing of that lone star of Texas, Nanci Griffith, who, Veronica has reminded me, he travelled to see performing at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.
Bernie was – as who could not be living on an island? – an ironist, tempered by the weather. But, in the way he related to the world, there was a touch of the mystic about him. He was also an artist. Quite late in life he took up a tradition he had known since he was a boy – a tradition known indeed since the childhood of the human race – the weaving of objects out of straw, and made something new out of it. He had no pretensions: his craft was utilitarian. Ostensibly, he produced things that could only be used: sugán chairs, baskets and such like. But the ostensible does not conceal the artistic instinct the craft allowed to emerge. One of these pieces, supposedly a place mat, I have hung on a wall beside a window in my flat where it shines back at the sun it resembles. More of these objects, which have a sculptural quality, can be seen in the memorable photograph by Michael McLaughlin that accompanies the piece about Bernie published in the Mayo News on 14 April. See:

Bernie held the key to the Cistercian abbey just a few yards away from his house at Cille on the island. When Peter first brought me there no key was needed: the building was open to the four winds and all that could be seen on its vaulted, rain-sodden ceiling was a few faint streaks of pigment, remnants (that word again) of what had once, some 700 years earlier, been paintings. They were a melancholy sight, glimpses of a former world on the brink of complete extinction. Now, after years of work, mainly by Christoph Oldenbourg and Madeleine Katkov, they have been restored and, at least in part, returned to their original state. See the images at:

But they remain to be explained fully. And these days one needs permission to gain access to the abbey. In a way the frescoes are like Bernie in reverse: he can’t now be visited and he has taken the key to his life with him, leaving traces only in the memories of those who knew him, and a few things made out of straw. This should be melancholy, and it is, but it isn’t sad only. There is as well in the thought of his gift a remaining and abiding freshness, the late present of an Easter Snow.

The Woman Not the Name


The Woman Not The Name tells the story of Will Ferris, a songwriter and amateur boxer from Cork. He’s only twenty-one, but he has a secret past for which he has already paid a heavy price.

In late 2004 Will starts a weekly gig in a Dublin pub and has a brief fling with a promiscuous lawyer in the Attorney General’s office, with disastrous consequences. Two of Will’s new friends grow to hate him. One is a junior civil servant in the Department of Finance; the other a talented brute who teaches painting at the National College of Art and Design.

But Will also has admirers: a quick-witted window dresser from the Brown Thomas department store; the manager of a boy-band; and a final-year medical student, who is extraordinary because she doesn’t drink or do drugs. Will is also a success professionally: within months he’s famous enough to appear on the Late Late Show, Ireland’s premier talk-show.

The novel culminates in a mid-summer birthday party on the Vico Road in Dalkey and a murder trial at the Central Criminal Court, illustrated with photographs and a transcript of the evidence of an eye-witness.

Part tragedy, part farce, part love story, The Woman Not The Name is an intricately plotted novel of modern manners and the myth of Orpheus.

ISBN: 9780956837929
Extent/format: 342 pages paperback
Price: €10.00
Publication: Octber 2013
Distribution: Argosy Libraries and Eason Wholesale
Robert Towers

Trade distributors Argosy Libraries 01-823 9500 and

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was a brilliantly intelligent person. He was – and he knew he was – the best boy in the class. But he always did his best to keep his intelligence a secret.

In a poem in his 2010 volume Human Chain he describes how one day at Anahorish Primary School, which he attended until the age of 12, he was “sent/The privileged one, for water/To turn the the ink powder into ink”.

But the freedom that came with the privilege meant that he was missing a singing lesson, which he could hear “Coming out through opened windows/Yet still and all a world away.”

It was a lonely fate to be a singer and yet excused from singing. This loneliness had another result: he had, as he says in the poem, “A vision of the school the school/Won’t understand, nor I, not quite”.

The irony is that this clever, lonely child, a Catholic nationalist by birth, living in a remote and neglected part of the British Empire, was the beneficiary of Rab Butler’s 1944 Education Act. His education in primary school, in St Columb’s in Derry, and subsequently in Queen’s University, Belfast, was free.

He never raised his glass to the Queen, at least as her subject, and yet London made him. Without the support of Charles Monteith and Faber and Faber, the company that remained his publisher all his life, he could have been another outsider of genius, like Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Durcan or – the writer it is most interesting to compare him to – John McGahern.

It was, and is, of huge significance that his nationalism never became Provoism. Martin McGuinness may rule in Derry but he does so without any direct sanction from Derry’s greatest citizen.

Now that Heaney’s work has ended, the Irish people can begin to see his vision as a whole. It is a complex picture, marked by a great respect for the sound of language and the value of truth.

Long before he died one thing was plain: he had paid a big price for winning the Nobel prize. He exhausted himself in the service of poetry. He was generous to a fault with his time. He was dutiful on behalf of the State. It would be an exaggeration, but not a major one, to say he died for Ireland.

His intelligence was profoundly diplomatic – he could have been a great Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the small and frequently vicious world of Irish writing, he managed to avoid making enemies.

If there was a divide in him, it was between the way he understood how the world works and his desire to say that it is good.

In 2011, I had the good fortune to be one of the judges who awarded him The Irish Times Poetry Now prize for his book Human Chain.

In my speech at the award ceremony, I said all of the judges were agreed on the high quality of the 42 books in the competition.

But when we considered this array of talent, we were always driven back to a puzzlingly pleasurable question – why was Seamus the best?

In the end, I think the answer had to do with his character – I even dare say his moral character.

Throughout his work, he depended on his highly developed tactile sensitivities. Heaney felt as vividly as a baby does, and indeed in Human Chain, which was written after he had suffered a stroke, there is a sad sense of the infant miraculous, of being able to apprehend the physical world for the first time a second time.

The territory of these late poems is the scene of a serious contest, as the book’s title poem makes clear. Ostensibly it is about the delivery of food to famine victims while soldiers are firing over the heads of the mob.

But it is also about the poet’s art. The poems, like bags of meal, are backbreakingly heavy and the reward of lifting them up and passing them on is “A letting go which will not come again./ Or it will, once. And for all.”

Those three full stops and that one half-stop are deliberate. When we consider how sick he was, they give us pause in the throat.

A passage by the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana tells us something about the essential Heaney.

In the simple and ignorant age of Homer, poetry was “the sweetest and sanest that the world has known. . . Nowhere else can we find so noble a rendering of human nature, so spontaneous a delight in life, so uncompromising a dedication to beauty, and such a gift of seeing beauty in everything. Homer, the first of poets, was also the best and the most poetical.”

We can say now that Heaney was the first of our poets, the best and the most poetical of them.

Even at this moment, so soon after his death, when we consider his work as a whole, we are left with the inescapable conviction that we have been given something good by someone of good character.

His intelligence was exceptional because it allowed him to become humble. He was a master who brought his word-gift in by the servant’s entrance. Here it is:

The full of a white

Enamel bucket

Of little pears:

Still life

On the red tiles

Of that floor.

Sleeping beauty

I came on

By the scullion’s door.

Note: for reasons of space I edited the paragraph by Santayana quoted above from his essay ‘The Poetry of Barbarism’in his book ‘Interpretations of Poetry and Religion’. Here is the full quote:

It is an observation at first sight melancholy but in the end,
perhaps, enlightening, that the earliest poets are the most ideal, and
that primitive ages furnish the most heroic characters and have the
clearest vision of a perfect life. The Homeric times must have been full
of ignorance and suffering. In those little barbaric towns, in those camps
and farm, in those shipyards, there must have been much insecurity and
superstition. That age was singularly poor in all that concerns the
convenience of life and the entertainment of the mind with arts and
sciences. Yet it had a sense for civilizations. That machinery of life
which men were beginning to devise appealed to them as poetical; they
knew its ultimate justification and studied its incipient processes with
delight. The poetry of that simple and ignorant age was, accordingly, the
sweetest and sanest that the world has known; the most faultless in
taste, and the most even and lofty in inspiration. Without lacking
variety and homeliness, it bathed all things human in the golden light of
morning; it clothed sorrow in a kind of majesty, instinct with both
self-control and heroic frankness. Nowhere else can we find so noble a
rendering of human nature, so spontaneous a delight in life, so
uncompromising a dedication to beauty, and such a gift of seeing
beauty in everything. Homer, the first of poets, was also the best and
the most poetical.

I Breathe A Drug

This is the text of the poem set to music by Jerome De Bromhead

I Breathe A Drug

I breathe a drug
And what I call it is
The air.

The war against the war,
Against the waste of things,
Gives way to awe,
The poet’s useless pity for
The O in everything
That fights against the law
And fails.

What brought all this about?
What makes the poet think
He has it in his power
To bring his moment out
Of time and burn it in
To someone else’s hour,
To call the laws of sequence false,
And send you walking through
The blueness of an evening town
That yearns for going out
For fear of staying home?
Well, that was done to him and now
He wants to do it in return.

The town knows what is meant.
It’s covered with a sheet of doubt
Imperial in width and length,
And on it all the drops of neon light
Are sequins, like the tears
A youthful woman sheds the while
She’s lying helpless on her back
Beneath her friend the moon.

The moon is glazed with waiting.
The town has emptied out.
But still the traffic lights trip through
Their declaration of inhuman rights,
And still the streets cry Yield.
Our best weapons cannot be used,
But what use could we put peace to?
Atom bomb or Milky Way, both lose.
Victory or defeat ends with a sigh,
Threatening the walls with doors.
And look, here is an open one,
And someone coming through it,
Breathless, impatient, saying,
People have lost patience,
There’s going to be war in the streets,
The place is deserted,
I’m telling you, I was out there,
And it’s the same as in here, or nearly.


for Françoise Connolly

The time will come, perhaps,
(But death will come first)
When we may be able to visit
The dead and where they lived
When we first knew them,
And then, though they will not
Be able to see us, we shall
Look at those faces we
Loved once with better thanks
And more praise than we gave,
Or were able to give,
In those moments – how few
They were – of love expressed, and
More praise and thanks, too,
Than we can show even now,
Even now when regret
For the things we have lost,
Les choses perdus which we chose
To lose, would seem to have made us
Capable of showing,
And of saying, too, what
We are mindful of, so bitterly,
Because we cannot help
Imagining that there is
A heaven on earth at all times,
And those so disembodied bodies
We knew once have found there
A joy that is like our own
In thinking lovingly of them,
Though love maybe was not
What we felt at the time, nor did
The places seem as lovely
As they do now in memory,
So that in this mistaken joy
The dead and ourselves are
Reconciled to a world they grew
Weary of, and that we are
Growing weary of, too,
And refreshed then by
Our shared tiredness,
In the heart-felt way of
What the aging, perforce,
Think is the best way of
Passing their remaining
Time on earth, that is to say
Looking back (unlike the new
Born, who look forward with
The cry of the newly homeless),
In thankful recollection
Of the world as it once was,
Or, rather, as it once
Was not, perfect in –
The French are to blame for this too –
Its imperfection.

The first two lines in this poem were spoken by the poet William Cowper to his friend the Reverend John Newton on the 28th of May, 1781. The general thought is also Cowper’s, but greatly changed, in part by reflection on the way Marcel Proust imagined the past as another world concealed in this one. Cowper, although his attitude to France was very much that of a Protestant Englishman of the revolutionary period – ‘Love your country, beat the French and never mind what happens next’ – greatly admired Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (1648 –1717), the French Catholic poet, mystic and prisoner of the state. An episode in my novel about Cowper, The Winner of Sorrow, quotes briefly from the book of translations he published of her poetry.

Brian Lynch

Peter Jankowsky’s translation

click to enlarge, click image for slide show

L'Imperfection translated by Peter Jankowsky L'Imperfection (2) translated by Peter Jankowsky L'Imperfection explanatory note translated by Peter Jankowsky

The Winner of Sorrow

The Winner of Sorrow
The Winner of Sorrow

Brian Lynch
Published October 2005
New Island Books
PRICE: €11.99

ISBN: 9781905494255
Dalkey Archive, $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-56478-521-3

The Winner of Sorrow can be ordered from New Island Books.

The Winner of Sorrow, a novel about the poet William Cowper (1731-1800), was published in 2005 by New Island Books, Dublin and by the Dalkey Archive Press, Illinois, in 2009. It was shortlisted for the Hughes & Hughes Novel of the Year Award,.

Publishers Weekly
The Winner of Sorrow Brian Lynch. Dalkey Archive, $14.95 paper (364p) ISBN

Irish poet and filmmaker Lynch’s first novel is an engaging fictional
account of the life of the little-remembered 18th-century English poet
William Cowper. Told primarily in flashback, Lynch introduces Cowper as an old man, plagued by self-loathing, sickness and hallucinations. His
formative years are marked by the death of his mother and early inclinations
toward poetry, ‘contemplating the taste of words.’ Along with the major
figures in Cowper’s life‹the charismatic Rev. John Newton, real-life author
of ‘Amazing Grace’; John Johnson, Cowper’s young cousin; and Mary Unwin, the love of his life, Lynch also lends Dickensian detail to minor characters, using them skillfully to provide an orbiting view. Lynch takes a serial approach, managing to take readers by surprise in every short chapter, whether terrifying (as in the height of Cowper’s hallucinations) or hilarious (‘[p]oetry and puking were hardly ideal companions’). This curious novel captures the sad poet from all angles, reimagining his life in a
gracefully sprawling epic.

Library Journal, December 2008

Published in Ireland in 2005, this justly praised novel imagines the
troubled life of 18th-century English poet William Cowper. Along with
Christopher Smart and John Clare, Cowper is often read as one of the
great eccentrics in English literature. Lynch brilliantly reconsiders
Cowper’s life in terms that raise questions about the sympathies binding sanity and creativity, devotion and damnation, as well as the emotional and spiritual austerities and excesses that alternately inspire and inhibit creativity and purpose. Lynch’s portrayal of the poet, however, is neither academic nor sentimental. Rather, he evokes Cowper’s complex interior and exterior realities with a cool affection and humor that ultimately preserve his essential humanity. Lynch is a practiced and celebrated author in many genres – poetry, drama, and film, among them- and this work is a remarkable testament to his gifts as a storyteller as well as his mastery of language. This novel about a largely forgotten English poet by an Irish writer in his prime is highly recommended.
J.G.Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

‘The Winner of Sorrow
By Susan Salter Reynolds
February 8, 2009 LA Times
And Newsday March 3

William Cowper, born in England in 1731, wrote hymns and poems inspired by his
love of nature and his devotion to evangelical Christianity. Cowper suffered
from depression all his life; he tried several times to commit suicide. Brian
Lynch’s novel cleaves closely to the life of the forgotten poet, unlucky in love
and convinced that eternal damnation awaited him. Lynch’s dark humor saves
Cowper from another form of the endless afterlife: the heavy legacy of the
little-read, suicidal poet. Cowper, Lynch writes by way of an introduction, “was
sure that he had always been too contemptible to be loved by any living
creature, but that loving him had destroyed the lives of four women, three wild
hares and a linnet.” Lynch gives us the lovable Cowper, no easy feat. He
resurrects the poet’s immortality, makes him modern in his abject vulnerability. Books online

A fictional imagining of the gentle but troubled zealot William
Cowper–best known as a precursor to Romantics such as Wordsworth and
Burns–Brian Lynch’s The Winner of Sorrow brings to life the mind and
times of an eighteenth-century poet. Intense and exhilerating, this is
literary fiction at its finest–the reader will be hard-pressed not to
rush ahead to see what happens next. Yet you’ll want to savor every word
as Lynch traces Cowper’s tragic descent into madness, which is presented
matter-of-factly so that the novel is not sentimental but austere, not
precious but serious, and yet, remarkably, lively, sensuous, and blackly

Quarterly Conversation
Review by Rebecca Hussey

William Cowper, an 18th-century British poet not widely read today outside of
classrooms, lingers in our cultural memory as the author of some still-popular
hymns and a collection of poems that include “The Castaway” and “The Task.” We
may remember such lines as “Oh for a closer walk with God” and “God moves in a
mysterious way,” even if we probably don’t remember Cowper as their author. But,
he was beloved during and shortly after his time, known as a poet who cared
deeply for animals and the natural world, and one who was sensitive to the
plight of the poor.
In The Winner of Sorrow, originally published in Ireland in 2005 and
recently released Stateside by Dalkey Archive Press, poet Brian Lynch offers a
fictional retelling of Cowper’s life. The novel is, obviously, historical
fiction, and yet it doesn’t feel like it, at least when compared to the kind of
historical novel that packs in period detail. Rather, Winner’s terrain is more
interior: Cowper is a fascinating subject for a psychological study, and, rather
than in describing Cowper’s material circumstances, Lynch’s interest lies in
portraying the depths of Cowper’s consciousness through recurring images and
dreams. Though he focuses tightly on Cowper, Lynch nonetheless captures the
feeling of the man’s era (Cowper lived from 1731 to 1800); he does it through
the characters themselves, utilizing thoughts, conversations, and letters that
evoke an 18th-century sensibility.
Lynch opens the novel with Cowper as an old man, moving in and out of insanity
and living with a young relative and a female caretaker (one of many
mother-substitutes Lynch will discover in Cowper’s life). From here, flashbacks
take us to scenes from his childhood, and we move back and forth between young
and old Cowper in a series of abrupt shifts.
The novel’s early chapters weave a tapestry of Cowper’s troubled consciousness
that then sets up and explains the middle section of the novel—Cowper’s adult
life—where we see how his childhood wounds manifest themselves in maturity. This
middle section is told in a more straightforward, chronological manner, but it
still evidences some of the first section’s formal difficulty: the short
chapters often introduce new material abruptly, jarring readers and forcing them
to situate the narrative again and again. Eventually, a final section returns
the story to the beginning: Cowper as an old man taking stock of his life.
Lynch’s frequent jumps in time and scene require careful attention, but the
attention is well-paid, as the juxtapositions reveal the recurring images and
deep-seated patterns of Cowper’s life and offer the satisfaction of piecing
together an identity and understanding the poet’s mind.
And what a mind it is: Cowper is a psychoanalyst’s dream. His mother dies in
childbirth when he is six, and he never recovers from the loss, spending the
rest of his life searching for replacement figures (which he is able to find in
abundance). In addition to the wound left by his lost mother, Cowper is
impotent: in a schoolyard bullying scene, two boys yank down his pants,
revealing a penis “no bigger than a snail’s foot.” Afterward, a “secret voice”
in his head chants, “I am a different boy, I am a different boy.”
It is a scarring experience, one that leaves him feeling isolated and
inadequate. Snails begin to haunt Cowper, appearing in life and in dreams as
images of sexuality and of death. When the young Cowper finds a snail in the eye
socket of a skull, he picks it up and “he saw what the skull saw, and he
thought, This is death, and this will happen to everyone else, but of all the
people in the world, I, William Cowper, I alone am fated not to die.” This hope
for immortality is soon replaced by an obsession with death and fear of sex,
both of which Cowper continually approaches, only to shy away from.
At the age of 32 he has his first brush with his own death: Cowper suffers a
mental breakdown, attempts suicide several times, and retreats to an asylum. In
his convalescence he converts to Evangelicalism and inaugurates a pattern that
continues for the rest of his life: hope in God mixing with despair,
self-loathing and guilt mixing with compassion and love, the conviction that he
is damned to hell mixing with the desire for life. As the very first paragraph
of the novel explains:
William Cowper . . . believed in Christ and his infinite mercy, although he
was also convinced that God hated him personally and was intent on sending him
to hell, soon, for all eternity. That the belief and the conviction
contradicted each other he understood clearly. He understood, too, that he was
completely insane, or rather almost completely, but not quite. In the same
nearly perfect way, he was sure that he had always been too contemptible to be
loved by any living creature, but that loving him had destroyed the lives of
four women, three wild hares and a linnet.
That Cowper places the three wild hares and the linnet on the same footing as
the four women is revealing; those women become the mother figures he craves, as
well as sisters and almost-lovers in a bewildering combination of roles and
relationships, but they never achieve the top place in Cowper’s affections.
Cowper’s wounds make him capable only of an abstract, partial kind of love, and
it’s a testament to his attractive powers that he is continually surrounded by
women who are willing to live with what he could offer. What we see, ultimately,
is a deeply wounded man seeking the only kind of happiness he is capable of.
Cowper feels both gratitude and guilt toward the women who care enough about him
to make sacrifices for his sake. It’s a sad story: though Cowper knows he has
much to answer for, he is powerless to do anything about it.
The Winner of Sorrow goes beyond psychology: it also hints at Cowper’s
importance as a poet, making him into a quintessential late 18th-century figure
in the way his poetic interests turn away from public, social matters and look
to the interior world: “He was making an exploration out of, or rather into, the
ordinary—like Captain Cook, but in reverse.” However, Lynch resists the common
interpretation of Cowper as mere antecedent to the Romantics, instead portraying
him as an important poet in his own right. Near the novel’s end, Cowper receives
an illustrated letter from William Blake (an invention on Lynch’s part) in which
he hails Cowper as “the Son of Albion in the Evening of his Decay” and claims
him as “Your Friend in Milton.” Cowper wants nothing to do with this tribute. He
thinks only that Blake “is obviously a revolutionary, or an agent for the
government, or a plain lunatic, or all three” and later gives his servant
permission to use the letter as lining for a bucket. Cowper does not understand,
and does not wish to understand, why this representative of a new generation of
poets reveres him. This episode, and the novel as a whole, implies that Cowper’s
poetic achievement is important not so much for the way he helped usher in a new
poetic era, but for his unique sensibility: his tormented mix of compassion,
suffering, faith, and uncertainty. It is here that Lynch’s interests in Cowper’s
psychology and his poetry combine: we should read him, the novel implies,
because he shows us the difficult and unlikely conditions from which art can
In the end, perhaps the novel’s central insight is, as one character says,
“Misery usually stands in the way of creation, William, but in your case it
opens the road . . . because you know that composing puts off your being
decomposed.” We are all composing and decomposing every moment of our lives, and
the best we can hope for, like Cowper, is to compose something beautiful, if
only to postpone the moment of decomposition a little longer. The Winner of
Sorrow is itself a success on these terms: a beautiful composition that will
challenge readers and reward them with both a glimpse into a struggling artist’s
life and a contemplation of what it means to “win” at sorrow.
Rebecca Hussey is an assistant professor of English at Norwalk Community College
in Connecticut. She blogs as “Dorothy W.” at Of Books and Bicycles.


While the €10,000 Hughes and Hughes Irish Novel of the Year seemed destined for Banville’s The Sea, this category’s shortlist selection drew deserved attention to one of the finest Irish books of recent years, Brian Lynch’s beautiful novel The Winner of Sorrow, which was published by Irish publisher New Island Books. Based on the life of the 18th-century English poet William Cowper, this graceful and witty narrative is a study of an eccentric genius which makes brilliant use of the respective nuances of Regency social history as well as the darker themes of guilt and psychological tragedy. If Banville always looked the winner, he had worthy competition in Lynch.
From the report of the award ceremony by Eileen Battersby in the Irish Times, March 2, 2006

At once moving, instructive and slyly funny – that rare thing, a recuperation of a poet by a poet.
–John Banville, The Irish Times Books of the Year 2005

One of the finest Irish books of recent years.
–Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times

The Winner of Sorrow is a novel based on the life of the gentle poet, William Cowper – an evocation of his bizarre households and the wider world of late-eighteenth-century England as loving as it is deeply imagined and wholly original. Brian Lynch’s book is a brilliant tragi-comedy, aswirl with contradictory emotions – piety and passion, pity and fear, despair and hope, madness and practicality. Seen from so insightful a perspective.Cowper’s wildly troubled life is a thriller, and the reader is tempted to rush forward with the plot. Can the women who love William heal the wounds caused by loss? Can peace ever descend on his turbulent spirit? At the same time, one reads as slowly as possible, the better to prolong the encounter with a book that satisfies on many levels – that is profoundly serious, but also warm, witty, and very beautiful. – Nuala O Faolain

If you want the low-down and high-down on the delicate, brutal reality of a poet’s life, you must read The Winner of Sorrow. –Paul Durcan,

Beautifully written, poignant, witty and profound. –Clare Boylan,

The Winner of Sorrow is not just a remarkably vivid excursion into the mind of a remarkable poet cut adrift by genius, but also a brilliant re-imagining of an extraordinary age. –Dermot Bolger

A wonderful book.
–Arminta Wallace, Irish Times. Full Review

It is a tribute to Lynch’s achievement that you close the book with the conviction that reading the work of William Cowper is not simply advisable but necessary. – Eamonn Sweeney, The Irish Book Review. Full Review

A wonderful book. –Rachel Andrews, Sunday Tribune. Full Review

A triumph.–Siobhan Hegarty, Sunday Independent. Full Review

A Cowper for our times. –Tony Seward, Cowper and Newton Bulletin Full Review

As you can see, the narrator of this book is witty, urbane with a sense of the ridiculous and how it touches human sadness. Lynch is also an accomplished poet and there is passage after passage here of startling, verbal beauty, never ostentatious, always integrated into the story. –Thomas Kilroy,The Irish Independent Full ReviewHis fictionalisation of the life of William Cowper, an almost forgotten poet, is so momentous that it would certainly have made a very watchable period drama –Katie Moten, Entertainment Full Review

New and Renewed Poems 1967-2004

New and Renewed
New and Renewed Poems 1967-2004

New and Renewed
Poems 1967-2004
Dublin, New Island Books 2004
ISBN 1904301568

PRICE: €9.99

New and Renewed can be ordered from New Island Books.

Such exceptional talent – Samuel Beckett

Poems 1967-2004
Review by Philip Casey
The Irish Independent
23 Oct 2004

Brian Lynch’s poetry and its rhythms have beguiled me since reading a poem called Panic Stricken Love in his chapbook Outside the Pheasantry, (1975). This poem was included in his collection Perpetual Star (1981), as Panic Stricken, and here it is named Panic. Other than this, not a word has been changed from the original. Other poems have been altered, of course, hence the book’s clever title. The Jews Escape (‘the yellow stars are ours’), previously entitled Ghost House, is practically a new poem.

In New and Renewed, Lynch has not only written powerful new work, but has examined the premise of each line and phrase to realise the full potency of that previously collected. It is a very potent collection indeed, and not just because its theme is often Eros in the everyday.

Even when the poem is not overtly erotic, a sensual energy pervades it. Without artistry it would be as nothing, of course. Lynch’s hard-won imagery stays long in the mind, and is marked by interplay and interdependence. Take Pension Alcoy, which has also had its lines and line breaks renewed. In the original I loved ‘To be empty you must be played upon’, but the change seems exactly right, the gong reverberating through a thousand windows until stillness reigns:

To be open you must be empty
To be empty you must be struck
As if you were a gong.

Outside the window
The window is open
Its window is open
And a thousand more
And suddenly there is no more Mr Lynch.

This interplay and interdependence underscores the noted humanity of Lynch’s work, and is its hallmark. Relationship is central, and meditations on the death of parents, the regrets of love, the complexities of marriage, and the mysteries of parenthood uncover deep emotion, as with the daughters of Myth:

But when they do return
The house is empty in the sun,
Mother has gone north or south,
And, there now, fatherless,
The door is wider than it was,
Or wider than they thought.

The book ends with powerful political poems, including an eleven page excerpt from Angry Heart, Empty House, entitled The Murder of Margaret White, which really belongs in a book of its own. It is based on a harrowing true story, and will stalk your dreams.

Brian Lynch’s poems have always been haunting. With New and Renewed Poems it seems inevitable that he will be given the wider recognition he has so long deserved.

Philip Casey


Pity for the Wicked
Pity for the Wicked. Photo of Margaret Wright © Pacemaker

Brian Lynch
Published 9 May 2005 The Duras Press
ISBN 1-873748-16-7
PRICE: €15

Pity for the Wicked can be ordered from The Duras Press.

What the critics said

“Brian Lynch’s extraordinary testament is like a shattering alarm in the middle of the night.” – Gerald Dawe, The Irish Times. Full Review

“Brian Lynch does Irish society a service by tearing the mask from murder and terror, by dispelling the fog of romanticised amnesia in which horror is embalmed as history is rewritten to justify a campaign of murder, by trying to restore the meaning of language.” – Maurice Hayes, The Irish Independent. Full Review

“One of the most devastating critiques of the savagery of the Troubles and of the hypocrisy of the ‘peace process’.” – Dennis Kennedy, The Belfast Telegraph. Full Review

I believe that the publication of Brian Lynch’s book will contribute to the isolation of Sinn Féin-IRA, and their eventual disappearance from the political map of Ireland.” –Conor Cruise O’Brien, from the Introduction

In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert
In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert
Written between 1993 and 1996, Pity for the Wicked is a contemporary depiction of a momentous period in Irish history. It was first published in a slightly different form in The Ring of Words, the anthology of the 1998 Arvon Foundation/Daily Telegraph International Poetry Competition under the title An Angry Heart, An Empty House. About the section of the poem that deals with the murder of Margaret Wright (which was published separately in New and Renewed), Philip Casey said in The Irish Independent, ’It will stalk your dreams.’ Fiona Sampson said in The Irish Times that ’it is a shaming, difficult and necessary read; and worth buying the book for in its own right.’



Dublin, RHA Gallagher Gallery and New Island Books 1997

Cover Painting by Gene Lambert

This book has a troubled history. Gene Lambert, who had heard me read from ‘Pity for the Wicked’ at the Dun Laoghaire poetry festival, suggested including in the book the section referring to the murder of Margaret Wright. I agreed and wrote a poem, ‘The Childhood of Margaret Wright’, tying it to the cover painting, which also appears on the back of ‘Pity for the Wicked’. There were other poems relating to the theme, and the introduction, which I wrote, explained the connections.

In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert
In Memory of the Childhood of Margaret Wright, by Gene Lambert

The then Director of the RHA Gallagher Gallery, Ciaran MacGonigal, was enthusiastic about the collaboration and, at my suggestion, arranged a co-publishing deal with New Island Books. However, shortly before the book was to go to press, Ciaran announced that he had got legal advice that the Margaret Wright extract was libellous of the people involved in her murder. I agreed reluctantly to remove the extract, the other poems and to rewrite the introduction – some, not all, of the details are set out in an appendix to ‘Pity for the Wicked’. As far as Playtime was concerned, the result was that the book was not distributed to bookshops or reviewed in the newspapers.