This is my good friend Andy Eaton. Andy is an American but you’d hardly even know this to look at him. He has spent so much time in Belfast, and done such a good job of tolerating/understanding/replicating all our odd little Northern ways, he is now considered one of us. I have known Andy for about seven years. We almost studied together at St Andrew’s, missing each other by a handful of months. Then, we shared a draughty, big house for a year. Then, we shared a mouldy, small house for a year. Then, he went and married my good friend Holly and moved here permanently, so I guess we’re going to be friends for a very long time to come.
Last week Andy launched his first pamphlet with The Lifeboat Press. It is a handsome little china blue book, containing four shorter poems and a long poem to finish. I brought it with me for a weekend in Dublin and finally got time to sit down and enjoy it with a glass of wine yesterday evening. I’m loathe to write on a book this pretty but there are so many individual lines and sections I wanted to highlight. So many thoughts I wished to jot down and return to later. It is the sort of collection that gets under your skin and itches in a good way.
A lot of my friends write poetry. Sometimes I like their poems. Sometimes I say I like their poems but I really haven’t a notion whether they’re any good or not. This is not the case with Andy Eaton. I’ve always known Andy was a remarkable poet. He approaches language, both spoken and written, with the kind of care which suggests reverence. He knows how to handle a word well. Andy’s poems have been making me cry for about five years now. They are, in places, comparable to prayer, if my prayers were not constrained by hard learnt rules and form, if they weren’t so much about me. As a sometime writer of magic realism I am always drawn to writing which attempts to capture the ethereal, the unsayable and the mysterious in solid words. Andy Eaton is incredibly good at pinning down the sublime. No, that’s not quite right. The sublime is never made static or concrete in any of his poems. Instead it is given room to breathe. It is allowed to hang there, unresolved and open to interpretation. I’ll steal a line or two here from one of my favourite of Andy’s poems, Recollections from the Book of Wind and Brass: “The Book is quiet on the subject of what to do/ when the dead do not keep silent. This is the idea/ of Wind, combined with the idea of doing nothing.”
Even language is not treated as a fully formed absolute in Andy’s poems, “when my father comes into the shed,/ they try to find their way around each other/ with the small and quiet lamp of language.” The meagreness of humanity and humanity’s attempts to console itself, to find meaning and forge relationships are at the heart of Andy’s poems, also the hope of finding beauty in the most broken situations, perhaps most notably so in his poems which focus on his grandfather’s internment in a Prisoner of War camp, “It’s/ that bold tenderness of two men trying/ to be more that what would make them.” People in Andy’s poems are flawed but they are also, “little saviours,” driving themselves beyond the limits of their humanity to try and live well despite circumstances. This is not something which can be said directly, only alluded to, hinted at, told in parables and tiny, fragile glimpses. Such beauty requires a light touch. It is flighty and as easily ruined as the fallen sparrows of the collection’s final poem. Andy Eaton knows how to hold the possible lightly. He lets the words speak for themselves. This is just about the hardest and humblest thing a writer can do.
Andy Eaton’s Sprung Nocturne is the second in a series of Poetry Pamphlets published by the Lifeboat Press. It is available from No Alibis Books and other good book stores and online at www.lifeboatbelfast.co.uk
Andy Eaton was born in California in 1981. Poems have appeared in Copper Nickel, Narrative and Poetry Ireland Review.