Neil Young
Shrapnel
October 2019. 46 pp. ISBN 978-3-901993-74-9 (= PSPS 3s)
£7.00 (+ 1.50 p&p), €7.00 (+ 1.50 p&p), US$ 10.00 (+ 2.50 p&p)


 
"Signalling little but its own manifest poetic virtue, Shrapnel is a finely honed and consistent joy. Brimming with great stories and memorable lines, this is a poetry of real substance and craft. For those of us jaded by the Emperor’s endless parade of insubstantiality, Young’s is a collection that restores faith in what poetry can deal with and so elegantly say. Lost chronicles of Belfast are here reclaimed from history’s disenfranchised to electrifying effect, reminding us of what we lose by ceding ground to the officially sanctioned narrative. Each is rendered by a writer fully alive to his own traditions and skill. Quick-eyed and technically adept, Neil Young is a poet with genuine staying power, worthy of our full attention."
Martin Malone

“Neil Young’s first collection recalls themes with which, you’d hope, our children will find it difficult to connect: war, sectarianism, poverty. I’ve always thought the job of poets wasn’t to secure sales, workshops or honours but to memorialise their people: I don’t mean by that necessarily a race or a country, but those who’ve one way or another touched them, formed them, made them. This is poetry’s oldest duty. Young’s book tells the story of his people frankly, brutally even, but with grace, skill and humanity, love in fact. This is a compelling and accessible book."
Hugh McMillan

"Neil Young is a poet who thinks deeply and notices small things; the ways a war can seep along the back alleys and down the generations of a city in almost imperceptible ways; how a man may distance himself from violence, but those memories are only ever “quarantined”. In poems like 'Shankill Mantel' Young records in crafted word cameos small histories that might otherwise be overlooked and lost. Shrapnel contains poetry that is both personal and political; it is deeply rooted in the working class the poet springs from. As a child in Northern Ireland, and later working as a journalist, Young has rubbed shoulders with violence, and with his “mongrel tongue” he feels he “cannot bear that reek of blood / and all I add to the testimony are smart words.” But words that ‘smart’ may well be the very ones we most need to heal our wounds. Each poem is carefully modulated to achieve the desired effect, whether that's a docker recalling a Belfast lockout in rousing verse or a father tucking his small daughter in at bedtime while worrying about a refugee child. Young brings elegance and sensitivity to everyday language, and where it's needed, muscularity and wit. And though this is not a collection solely about men, it's the men who stay with the reader. Tender men, violent men, broken men, loving men. Men damaged by war, damaged by unemployment, by loss. Men cheered by family, love and friendship. Men trying to do their best in a world where it's hard to know just what you're supposed to do, to do it right. Shrapnel is a very humane collection."
Magi Gibson


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Table of Contents


Excerpts from Shrapnel

A Boy at Bombers’ Moon

Once by a curtained sliver of light
in the back bedroom
you glimpsed the Heinkels
in formation like crucifixes upturned.
This was their approach and their low hum
where Heaven was meant to be;
where the leathery book
of Church and teachers
told you was Christ’s good realm.
Here was a savagery of opposites
that mocked their certainties
when all the evidence of what
heaped from those skies
was ashy-peppered on the street by dawn
and neighbours were laid out on pavement
under torn-out carpet and tablecloth.
Once was all it took to absorb the lesson
that only lead and rain pour from on high;
then at school where a chair was empty,
the desk of a girl you’d hardly noticed
was spare, once more.
 

Mephisto

I am the winged outrider of my God
and godlike when sent forth to do his work.

Your searchlights flit like spotlamps over me,
your guns blow hopeless kisses with their flak.

Your God is useless as I waltz the pitch
abundant skies. My dial is good

for 30 mins of fuel to sink my load
and watch it puff like sulphur party lights.

And I’ll be homeward and won’t even see
how thorough was my work or incomplete,

drinking schnapps as you emerge to weep
for churches burnt and infants stiff with dust.

In virtue’s name you’ll do unto my own
what I have done; and when your sons are men

they’ll name it something else as they condemn
Fallujah to Aleppo to Sudan.
 


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