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The Clock Flower

Adrian Rice's The Clock Flower, ranges from the lovely opening sequence and his native ground of Northern Ireland in ‘The Moongate Sonnets’ to his chosen ground of North Carolina in the section, ‘Hickory Station’, and concludes with the grimly hilarious poems that lament sectarianism back in the North through the sequence ‘Eleventh Night’.  Throughout, what impresses are the ways in which Rice adroitly wrings heartfelt emotions out of carefully constructed forms, demonstrating his deep commitment to the marriage of form and content.  Rice draws on a variety of colloquial sources from the autobiographical and ribald in poems such as ‘Sniper’ and ‘Tour of Fire’, along with the learned and refined in poems like ‘Verruca’ that compare a Belfast tramp to Beckett's archetypal homeless characters. The Clock Flower demonstrates poetry's ability to be breaking news, as Rice's carefully tuned cultural antennae enable him to speak to what is past, passing, and yet to come in our fluid world.

Richard Rankin Russell (2012 Centennial Professor of English, Baylor University, and author of Poetry and Peace: Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, and Northern Ireland, University of Notre Dame Press.)



from the

Times Literary Supplement



Adrian Rice is a Northern Irish poet who now lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where he teaches English and creative writing. 'The Clock Flower', his fourth collection, adds up to a tale of two localities, his current unhazardous place of residence, and grim Rathcoole on the outskirts of Belfast, where he grew up in the Sixties. The difference between the two is pinpointed in the closing lines of a poem called 'Neighbourhood': sitting on his balmy porch sipping white wine and contemplating the pleasant house across the way, he comments "what a change from the streets of my Rathcoole childhood / when if I stood at our door and simply gazed out / I'd be greeted with Who the fuck are you lookin at?" For all the comforts of Hickory, though, it's Rathcoole that counts, in Rice's Ulster imagination. There are poems here about the impossibility of explaining to American school children the exact constitutional position of Northern Ireland ('Flags'); about standing in "sad ruins in soft Irish rain"; about an old man's recollection of the doomed Titanic sailing up Belfast Lough. The final sequence and third part of the book, 'Eleventh Night', immerses us in the abandon of rowdy Rathcoole estate on the rowdiest night of the year, when bonfires are lit to usher in "the Twelfth's" Orange marches, and a state of Protestant uproar prevails.

But irony isn't excluded from these poems: at one point, for example, the poet's ultra-Protestant father is reminded of his own ancestral "Fenian" affiliation. Rice's juvenile bad boy persona gets an outing too - before he succumbs to the enriching power of poetry (comically evoked). And along with the poetry comes a growing awareness of the "independent airs" of radical Belfast, of the great dissenting tradition of the past, of an integrationist stance. Birds flying in and out of 'The Clock Flower' poems - blackbirds, sparrows, hawks, jays - put us in mind of John Hewitt's lines about staking his future on "birds flying in and out of the schoolroom window". Hewitt, and beyond him the nineteenth-century Dr William Drennan (subject of Rice's MPhil thesis), are exemplars for this poet. But Rice's voice is distinctively his own: forthright, colloquial, wry and persuasive.


Staff Pick at Malaprops Bookstore, Asheville NC